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Moving On: Decluttering, Divesting and Downsizing

While I was resting in bed all last week with some sort of cold or flu or whatever it was that had rendered me weak and prone, the weather turned to spring without me even realizing it. The sun came and went into the windows, but by the time I ventured out of doors, I immediately discovered that the heavy sweater, wool coat, fur-lined boots, gloves, hat and scarf were a bit over-the-top for the mild mid-March temperatures. It was a welcome change, but psychologically was unprepared for the shock.

Normally at this time of year I am anxious to get blooming geraniums back into the window boxes, but with the unusually cold weather this year, my housekeeper (of 23+ years) and I decided to wait a bit — perhaps a week or two longer. If the geraniums are not in the nurseries for sale, then that’s a sign that planting now is premature. Little did we know then that spring would be sprung upon us with such a sudden landing.

The moment an ounce of energy flowed through my veins, the idea of spring cleaning and replanting grabbed hold and wouldn’t let go. I had the perfect person ready, willing and able to help me — the very person I recently wrote about — the author of “Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home,” Janet Hulstrand.

Janet lives about 2.5 hours from Paris in the town of Essoyes, in the region of Champagne, but didn’t hesitate to say “Yes, I’ll take a train to Paris,” when I invited her to come for a long weekend to help me “downsize” — really more a process of decluttering and divesting, than downsizing. This isn’t just a process for those who are moving to smaller spaces, as we all know how easy it is for those empty cabinets to get filled with stuff we can’t seem to live without.

I was still not 100% healthy when Janet landed on my doorstep Friday evening, but it gave me the mental and emotional goal of rising to the occasion. As long as she was willing to unearth the unnecessary, and do most of the heavy lifting, so I was willing to make the effort. The process of decluttering, divesting than downsizing can be more mental than physical, anyway — you really have to be ready to let go of material things in exchange for the freedom from their possession, while maintaining the associated memories. Once you’re ready for that, it’s amazing how much you can be willing to say so-long to.

Adrian's geraniumsAdrian’s geraniums

Adrian going through photos

The bag of bags

The Brocante along boulevard BeaumarchaisThe Brocante along boulevard Beaumarchais

The Garde Manger, outside the kitchenThe Garde Manger, outside the kitchen

Zatarains Seafood Boil

We started on Saturday morning bright and early, beginning with one corner of one closet piled with my daughter’s childhood stuffed animals and keepsakes. They hadn’t been touched since she left for college in 2002. I went through the photos and got seduced by seeing the images of her with her friends — friends with whom she is still close today (many now married with kids,) having loads of fun doing what adolescents do — and of course, I kept every single one. This takes time and is part of the “process.” Janet warned me not to let the experience of reliving the past be pushed aside for the other tasks. It’s part of the “fun” of the overall experience and shouldn’t be denied.

We then tossed all but one stuffed animal — “Louie” — Erica’s favorite dog that had been stitched and restitched a dozen times to keep him in one piece. The little white French poodle with the internal wind-up music box that used to sit in the corner of her crib and sing her to sleep, went into the give-away bag. (So long, Fifi.) That one corner of the closet was then reduced to half its capacity of “stuff,” and already we were feeling accomplished.

Later in the day, I texted a note to Erica: “Wait till you rediscover what I discovered today — your life in Paris told in photos and keepsakes.”

“Awww, can’t wait to c,” is what she texted back.

Next came the bags of bags. I have the habit of keeping paper, plastic and cloth bags that might be useful “one day” — and fold them into another bag. Then, one day I realize I have bags of bags and could open a retail store well supplied with them! It’s totally insane (or normal?), but there they were. We sorted them into piles: “toss,” “keep,” “maybe.” Then, re-sorted the “maybes” into “keep” or “toss.” The best ones were from sexy stores where expensive purchases had been made (not even my own purchases, but of my visitors’) or bags that had some sort of intrinsic meaning. Those were the keepers, along with really big bags that might have use when disposing of big things. In the end, three bags of bags turned into one. In hindsight, those should have been the last to go, since the bags would have ended up useful to dispose of more.

Next, we dumped the five blankets/spreads that have clogged up the top of the closet for too many years to count without any use. We needed one of those really big bags for that.

My strength had given out and I needed break for a bit of real life. We deposited the bags on the street for anyone passing to rummage through and take what they wanted. I don’t believe the City of Paris agrees with the idea of just leaving your rummage on the street, but it seemed like the “Good Samaritan” thing to do with so many homeless who could use the blankets (if not the stuffed animals). Within a few hours, it was all gone — either taken by the passers-by or the garbage collectors. It didn’t matter. It was gone.

On the way to a manicure appointment that afternoon, I passed the bi-annual “brocante” along boulevard Beaumarchais, (sponsored by the OHVL from #2 to #102 Friday, Saturday and Sunday) filled with the remnants of other people’s lives. I eyed the stuff and thought, “Nope, that’s not for me. That’s just the kind of stuff I’m getting rid of!” For sure, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.

By Sunday morning Janet and I were at it again. First, I trimmed back the geraniums to discover they were alive, if not very well. I watered and fed them — hoping to see some new growth in the next couple of weeks. Then, when they seemed happier, we got out the bag of bags to find toss-able containers for the dozens of plastic planter pots tucked away in the “garde-manger” for some future plants that would likely never come. (A garde-manger is a cabinet that can be found under a kitchen window in older buildings which acts as a kind of natural refrigeration for foods stored there.) In the back buried under the “stuff,” I found Bananas Foster mix, Zatarain’s Seafood Boil and other New Orleans goodies from 15 or 20 years ago that will never get made, nor should, since they had outlasted their expiration dates. Out they went.

That led us to the food cabinet where we found even more outdated jars of things that will never get eaten. Some of the only things we kept were the treasured cans of cranberry sauce imported from the States for our next Thanksgiving dinner. Wow, the cabinets were becoming empty, and clean…sparkling with new life.

Tucked away in the top of the kitchen cabinets, we located and tossed out the dozens of glass bottles and candle containers that had long ago bit the dust, but were still on the shelves. I found old U.S. 110 voltage kitchen small appliances that I’d never used and never would, that didn’t need to take up space. One thing led to another and before long we were cleaning the dust that one never sees from the ground looking up.

Janet and I thought about taking pictures, but there’s nothing pretty about old junk. The bags of stuff were just eyesores and I couldn’t wait to get them out of the apartment. By Sunday noon we had divested of about 10 bags of stuff — stuff that had no meaning or purpose. It felt freeing.

And guess what? The stuff is gone, I’m still here, and so are the memories.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds - Paris, France

Adrian Leeds
Adrian Leeds Group

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P.S. standing rally to call for gun control reform NOW in support of the Parkland survivors and all gun violence survivors across the United States! Standing Rally will be held at the Trocadero Plaza Saturday March 24th, 2:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. Be there with us! For more information, visit their Facebook page

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