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Posts Tagged ‘de-cluttering’

After 99 years, dismantling a life

In aging, antiques, art, beauty, behavior, culture, design, domestic life, family, life, seniors, urban life on June 15, 2013 at 12:50 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

An auctioneer and her assistants scan the crow...

An auctioneer and her assistants scan the crowd for bidders. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She moved onto our top-floor apartment hallway five years ago, forking over a cool $500,000 for a three-bedroom home. She dressed well, had her hair done, and had a ferocious grande dame quality to her.

She was then merely 95, a former interior designer and survivor of two marriages. She had, as they say, “married well.”

I knew her name. We all did. We also knew her live-in nurses, forever scurrying to the laundry room.

While we were away recently for two weeks, she died.

This week the auctioneer came from the Bronx and his men started packing up the remnants of her life into boxes for sale to strangers: china, crystal, oil paintings, chairs, tables, rugs.

I knocked on the apartment door and asked if I could take a look, as it’s now up for sale and one of the building’s most coveted, large and light, with terrific Hudson river and Manhattan views.

Small world — her grand-daughter-in-law was there and turns out to be someone I see at my jazz dance class every week.

It was a sad, odd thing to watch someone’s belongings being carted away, to be sold at auction in — of all places — Atlanta. She had some lovely things, especially the paintings. There were early photos of her.

One of the many challenges of having no children and no nieces or nephews, is whom, if anyone, to leave our things to — or the proceeds from the sale of those things — when we die. I’m at an age when I still very much appreciate beautiful objects and acquiring them here and there.

But, having had to move my own mother into a nursing home directly from the hospital with only a week to ditch  all her lovely things, (or store them, or move a fraction of it into her small new room), I’ve lived the horror and sadness and snap decision-making of selecting/tossing/selling stuff it’s taken decades of taste, income and pleasure to acquire and enjoy.

The marble bust of her grand-mother? Kept. All her many textiles, collected across the world as she traveled alone for decades? In my garage now.

It meant chattering away to her local auctioneer picking through her stuff as if this was not exquisitely uncomfortable and painful. To him, it was just another day of work. To me, a situation unimaginable barely six months earlier on my last visit to her home, a six-hour flight away from mine.

It also meant going through things with my mother, one of the most private and uncommunicative people I know  — holding up for her decision everything from a black Merry Widow corset to her gorgeous red leather knee-high Cossack-style boots. Her Greek texts and travel souvenirs.

My garage now holds her collection of beautiful Peruvian and Bolivian mantas and Indian cottons and silks, her molas from the San Blas Islands.

A Kuna woman displays a selection of molas for...

A Kuna woman displays a selection of molas for sale at her home in the San Blas Islands. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When her mother died, having simply ignored the tedious task of paying income tax on her significant wealth to any form of government for decades, there was very little left. I will not be inheriting anything from my grandmother’s estate. I can visit a museum in Toronto to see her former armoire.

Nor will I inherit from my mother, I suspect, for reasons too grim and arcane to discuss here.

I’ve told my father the few pieces of his art and furniture that I hope he’ll leave to me. But who knows?

It’s all stuff, in the end.

Unlike Egyptian kings, we’re not going to be buried with it.

Have you been through this process?

How do you plan to dispose of your stuff when that day comes?

Get The Flame-Thrower! Two People Need Six Hours to Clear Out Ten Years' Worth Of Crap?

In Uncategorized on March 27, 2010 at 4:06 pm
Storage Unit

Image by Penningtron via Flickr

Exhausted!

We started this morning at 9:30 and simply gave up in weary surrender at 2:30, running to KFC for a little disgusting junk-food solace.

So much crap. Two career journos who like to read: photos, negatives, framed artwork, furniture and cookware he kept when he moved into my small apartment 10 years ago.

I did find some very dear treasures, from the cat hand puppet of my childhood to a photo of me in January 1994 on Ko Phi Phi, a remote island off of Southern Thailand to my sketchbook from 1998 with my watercolors of Melbourne and New Zealand’s Coromandel Peninsula. Then there were the engagement photos of me and my ex-husband and even the seating chart for our wedding dinner.  Former beaux cropped up in numerous photos.

Some of it was sad and painful — lots of cards from and photos of the woman who was my closest friend for a decade, who dropped me forever after she married. I found tons of art supplies: pastels, sketchbooks, my colored pencils and watercolors. I loved seeing my paintings from Mexico — where I took an afternoon art class in Spanish in Coyoacan, a suburb of Mexico City. Serendipity turned up some materials that exactly fit my current needs, from a book on handling arthritis pain to a labor study from a week-long journalism fellowship in September 2001; I was on a suburban Maryland college campus on 9/11.

We also, eerily, found a color postcard of the World Trade Center — the day my partner was to move from his Brooklyn apartment into mine was 9/11. Instead, he edited photos for his newspaper job from his apartment and I spent the day in Maryland wondering if he was alive or dead.

My sweetie found a ton of memorabilia — like the color photo of him with Larry Hagman dressed as Santa Claus with Nancy Reagan, in a typically red suit, laughing behind the three of them. Or him posing with George H.W. Bush and Barbara. (White House annual holiday party, open to all members of the White House Press Corps.) A deeply mushy note from an ex? Torn to bits. Ouch!

He’s a Buddhist, but boy do we have a lot of crap. We barely got through half of it today so next Saturday is devoted to finishing the job. Out forever will go the four-foot high stereo speakers as we try to compress everything left into a much smaller, cheaper space. It makes me crazy to spend good money to store…junk. It’s not junk, but what is it? Memories. Stuff, for now, we’re not ready to toss entirely.

I’d flame it all, but I treasure my mother’s typewritten letters, photos and negatives and slides dating back decades and, yes, my bloody clips. His life, like mine, has been filled with adventure, sports, travel and some historic news photos, by him and by others. I adore the 1959 black and white photo he found of his Dad — a Baptist minister long-dead who I never met — complete with those wavy 1950s photo edges. In it, he’s wearing three pairs of eye-glasses at once.

I’d never pictured his Dad being goofy and playful so this is a new image, and one worth framing.

Next week…who knows?

All Your Stuff Sold Without Your Consent? Ouch!

In business on March 24, 2010 at 8:30 am
ray and my stuff, storage locker, dufferin

Image by PinkMoose via Flickr

It’s rare I identify completely with a celebrity who’s made the top of the Post’s Page Six, but this item did it for me:

Anthony Haden-Guest — the legendary British journalist and bon vivant who inspired the cynical Peter Fallow character in Tom Wolfe‘s “The Bonfire of the Vanities” — has been cleaned out.

The writer is distraught over the loss of a lifetime’s worth of valuables he put into storage when he moved back to London a couple of years ago.

In January, when he returned to New York, Haden-Guest learned that Public Storage, an international chain with facilities in Long Island City, Queens, had sold everything he owned to a single buyer. “Papers, books, art, furniture, clothes, 30 years of everything,” he told Page Six.

His art collection of more than 100 works — including pieces by David Salle, Ashley Bickerton and Donald Baechler — was said to be worth more than $1 million.

“I owed them $1,350 dollars. A couple of months before, my lawyer had asked them to give me details so I could wire them monthly payments. They refused. I called them to say I would settle when I got back to New York,” said Haden-Guest, the son of an English baron and the brother-in-law of Jamie Lee Curtis.

This happened to me, and to a close friend in Manhattan — where only the wealthiest (or most ascetic) don’t have a few storage lockers thanks to tight living quarters — a few years ago. I used to get monthly statements which, of course, I paid on time. They stopped coming….I got a notice giving me…days?…to deal with it, or maybe telling me they sold my stuff. I was so in shock I still don’t remember it.

I know, I know….How important can your things really be if they are in storage for years? Very, actually. We don’t all live in 4,000 square foot houses with tons and tons and tons of room to keep your stuff close at hand. I live and work in a shared one-bedroom apartment. We have several lockers, a few small ones and one very large one: it’s filled with out of season clothing, negatives and photos dating back decades for my partner, a professional photographer, sports gear, suitcases, furniture (sigh) we haven’t been able to sell or agree to donate, books, papers.

But also…artwork by my Dad, the Kevlar vest my sweetie wore while on assignment for six weeks in Bosnia, childhood artifacts.

We’re spending all day Saturday going through it — my goal to get rid of at least half so we can put it into a smaller space and pay half as much.

They sell your stuff before you can get to it and take the %#@!@#$## hours you need to sort through it all thoughtfully?

Yeah, that hurts.

Ten Reasons My Home Is Starting Look To Like The Collyer Brothers' — Help!

In behavior on February 1, 2010 at 10:44 am
I love clutter

At least this guy even has a desk...Image by sindesign via Flickr

Whatever happened to the paperless world? I know, I know, some of you are 1000000% digital and every single piece of crucial data — from your pet or child’s next/last vaccination to every checking account entry — is digitized.

I wish.

I have been home from vacation (the word “vacate” is key here, as in vacating the premises) for one week and am already drowning once more in *&%$@#! paper: 1099 tax forms, old letters and cards, income statements, magazines, catalogs, theatrical and musical and academic direct mail pieces, bills, the book manuscript I’m working on, article ideas, newspaper and magazine clippings for my book and article ideas, recipes.

This, in addition (!) to the bloody bags and boxes of more of this paper in the garage and storage lockers. Yes, plural. Cringe.

As my partner says, in his doom-and-gloom broadcast voice: “Police tried to rescue an elderly couple today, but were barely able to gain entrance to find their emaciated bodies because the door was blocked by mounds of paper.” Yup, pretty Collyer-esque.

We’re not elderly yet, but the paper monster is really starting to fray my nerves. With so many of us now working from home, it all sounds so cool. No commute. Clutter! Not everyone has a 3,000 square foot home with multiple rooms, one of which you can simply fill up with crap and never have to look at.

A flame-thrower? An organizational maven who will charge me a LOT of money, so much it will really hurt? I am not, I swear, a hoarder. (Am I?)

Here’s why I’m drowning in paper — and will happily take practical suggestions to get rid of it all:

1) I’m working on, at all times, probably six+ projects at once, both current and future. That’s probably not very many, but each of them comes with paperwork somehow attached.

2) I read, a lot. I get behind in my reading, hence multiple — current count, three — stacks of unread magazines 2+ feet high.

3) I want ready reference to visuals and ideas; see, stacks of magazines, close at hand.

4) I live and work in a shared one-bedroom apartment whose five closets are filled with clothing, linens and household goods. There is very little storage space for all this bloody paper, which is why I try — hello, Augean stables! — to get rid as much of it as quickly as I can. Today I found my tax returns from 2003. Do I still need them? Time to check with the accountant.

5) I have yet to find a way to data-mine and efficiently store all the ideas, sources and contacts I come across in even one month, any one of which might prove useful to my future work.

6) Cleaning up and deciding what to do with all this crap takes hours. Every hour cleaning up crap is an hour I am not, as someone wholly self-employed, earning income. Ergo, cleaning up = lost wages.

7) Cleaning up and organizing is booooooooring. It never ends. There’s always more of it to do. My role model, totally, is Gustav Klimt, a man who really knew how to handle his mail — it’s said he saved it up in batches, unopened, and simply burned it. He might never have gotten anything decent out of his studio if he’d  wasted his precious time with all those envelopes and their dreary contents.

8) I love to travel and to plan future trips. Much of the material that helps me think about it is in paper form: maps, books, articles.

9) Ambivalence. Do I really want to take a watercolor class or see that Broadway show? Out of sight, out of mind. What if I change my mind?

10) Sentiment. I don’t, in any way, need to keep old cards from my Mom or sweetie, but I do. I value them and those memories.

Is anyone else out there struggling with this? Solutions?

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