It’s Not Easy Letting Go
May 8, 2007

Los Altos, CA, Two days before DD — Departure Date.

Last two days in our San Francisco Bay Area home.

I arrange items in the patio for a yard sale.  Linens are on hangers behind me.

I arrange items in the patio for a yard sale. Linens are on hangers behind me.

Tuesday, May 8.  It took A Year of Preparation to Become RV Fulltimers.

A year after the clinical trial, when melanoma did not return, it took no time to decide that Dennis needed less stress and should get away from his business. I knew he loved to drive and would love to travel. We quickly decided to pare down and become full time RVers.  With this goal in mind, it was simply a matter of how and when.

We spent a year in preparation. Dennis had to prepare his staff to manage without his daily presence. And we needed to research the right RV for us to buy. I wanted a bed with side windows for adequate ventilation and I wanted bedside counters with drawers beneath. I also needed table/desk space and Dennis needed a desk. And I wanted to be sure the kitchen had counter space for mixing and preparation as well as enough cupboards for pantry food items, mixing bowls and cooking pots. During that time we discovered Tiffin Motorhomes and the ’06 Allegro Bus. They seemed to offer more of what we wanted then any other maker of motor homes.

It is not easy to get rid of a lifetime collection of… “stuff”. It’s difficult emotionally, physically and mentally. I’m a collector — of books especially but also of objets d’art, and the paraphernalia that surrounds arts and crafts endeavors. I like family history and doing genealogy research and I’ve kept all the family letters and other papers. Some things could be kept in storage but certainly all furniture, kitchen gear, books and most objects had to go.

Big decisions are easy for me. But give me a million small decisions and I bog down quickly. Unfortunately, I’m not good at sorting.   A small and messy drawer full of junk will stop me cold. What is this widget? Do I need it? Is it a part of something else? How do I decide how to distribute a diversity of items such as pencils, pens, small notebooks full of scribbles, business cards, a small framed photo, loose photos, my father’s compass, post-its, passport, a mala bead necklace, small brochures, a small bottle of old pills, scissors, nail polish, pocket Kleenex, and an old pair of prescription glasses.

If items are connected to sentimental memories I am immobilized. A little lego toy, the collar of a pet long gone, childhood junk jewelry, my mother’s favorite teacup, my father’s old and cheap chess set; these items stop me cold. I literally don’t know what to do with them. How can I throw them out? How can I not?

We ordered our new ’07 Allegro Bus in January and Tiffin Motorhomes said it would be ready by June. I struggled to prepare but at the rate I was going, it would have taken five years to get ready to move. On Valentine’s Day I panicked and called my old friend, Becky Pieper. We are opposites: I am artistic, impractical and messy. Becky is practical and extremely neat. She was an executive secretary but since retirement, she’s worked for companies that do estate sales. I knew that she would know how to proceed.

My dear friend, Becky Pieper, helped me every day for two and a half months.

My dear friend, Becky Pieper, helped me every day for two and a half months.

Becky came over that very day and I showed her all that needed to go: the living room filled with book shelves, the kitchen, the office filled with more book shelves, the two bedrooms and bathroom, the patio, the garden room and green house and the small storage building at the back of the property filled with bank boxes holding books and papers and fabrics and craft materials and old clothes. I showed her my work calendar and the dates I’d reserved for yard and estate sales.

Becky took on the challenge and would not agree to be paid. She was vehement about that. Then she took charge. She gave me orders that very day. “Pull out all those big empty pots from the green house. Get out the hose and wash them and stack them neatly.” I’ll be back tomorrow at nine o’clock.” She left and I did what she’d told me to do.

The next morning we pulled everything out of the greenhouse. They went into four piles: Keep, Sell, Trash, and Goodwill. When the greenhouse was empty we washed the windows and shelves. Then we put potted plants, fertilizers, and garden tools on the shelves. We washed ceramic pots and placed them on the shelves. Later Becky put price tags on every item. We finished the greenhouse and in one day I got more done then I had during the previous week. With Becky working beside me I was able to keep going. I was happy and relieved to place all the millions of small decisions in her capable hands. She knew value and what would sell. She knew what to sell, throw out or give away.

At first I argued about prices. “That ceramic pot cost me $20. It’s only worth fifty cents!!??” Then I gave up and left it up to Becky. I needed a leader and I’d elected Becky. What would be would be.

Tiffin upped the pressure when they announced our motor home would be ready by early May.  For the next 80 days, from mid-February until the beginning of May, Becky showed up every morning at nine o’ clock and worked beside me, always for four and sometimes for six or eight hours. She was my partner and my guiding light. I could never have managed without her. She is cheerful and hard working and she has a great sense of humor. She showed up with treats for my dogs and all she would accept from me was a lunch sandwich and sometimes a dinner.

Becky can sort through a bank box filled with junk papers in a flash. In each box she found at least one treasure and I always looked forward to hearing her soprano clarion call, OH MY GOD!” Amidst old bills and magazines she’d find my high school diploma or some other equally important item. Becky is a treasure who knows how to find treasure. She emptied our garden room and then set up tables to display yard sale items. She declared all craft items to be valuable. She took my sewing notions and distributed them into Ziploc bags filled with a hodgepodge of threads, buttons, snaps, trims, and quilting squares of fabric. She ironed and folded linens and fabrics. She bundled everything from stationery cards and wrapping paper to boxes of costume jewelry. I never looked at the sales price tags. I didn’t want to know.

I had a camera light and we set up a place to photograph art objects that Becky declared could be sold on e-bay. I started an e-bay store and spent a lot of time putting things up for sale. Other sales items were put on Craig’s List but most items were set out for future yard or estate sales. My sister, Sally, still works full time but she came over to help on weekends. She and Becky had a great time teasing me over the things that I had saved in some box. Sally made all of our sale signs and always worked as my sales cashier during our yard and estate sales.

Lilia Welsh, James Boyer, Sally Barlow-Perez and Becky Pieper got us through our sales days.

Lilia Welsh, James Boyer, Sally Barlow-Perez and Becky Pieper got us through our sales days.

All in all we had five sales days. Many friends came over to help and to buy. For the indoor house “estate” sales, I had friends and family stationed throughout the house and yard to guard our sales items and make sure that every shopper ended up purchasing from Sally. Our dear friend, James Boyer, stood by to help dismantle stereos and TVs and his girlfriend, Lilia Welsh, also pitched in. I had sons like Brent Walton and Jeff Parry to help move heavy furniture items. My son, Jeff, is a gardener so he dismantled the green house and kept it for future use. The sales days were huge and exhausting efforts that began at 7:00 AM and didn’t end until 2:00 or 3:00 PM. When the last shopper left and the pizza arrived that was the signal for everyone to collapse into whatever chairs were still left unsold.

Unexpectedly, the sales were also lots of fun. They were successful and productive. I mourned the departure of beautiful possessions but I took joy from total strangers who were clearly thrilled with their new purchases. Instead of weeping over the loss of beloved items, I began to see them as being reborn into new homes with newly appreciative owners.

I realized that I had come to feel weighed down by my possessions. I had too much and I felt guilty about my accumulation of unsorted boxes filled with books and papers and crafts. I had trunks crammed with old clothes that needed to be eliminated. The more we sold, the lighter I felt. In the long run, it was a relief to let them go.

I think what I regretted most was leaving the garden and patio that we had designed, built, planted and nurtured. Los Altos and the San Francisco Bay Area in general have a moderate climate. It was possible to spend many leisure hours outdoors — whether gardening and reading or cooking, eating and entertaining. I will always miss my wonderful and beautiful garden environment.

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