Category Archives: The Stuff

Library Hero(es)

By Donna

All those books that we have been taking to the library for the Friends’ Book Sale did not make their way in the door and down the stairs by themselves. Library staffer Alex gallantly transported them for me. Alex is unfailingly helpful and also runs a vibrant events program. Here’s Alex helping me out.

But, this is just the front end of the sale. As of today, it is in full swing. When I was down there this morning, the lines were backed up waiting to get into the sale room. I signed up to staff the check-out desk for a few shifts in the coming days. There are a limited number of slots remaining, so get on down there, buy some books and sign on to help. It’s a great chance to enjoy the library and this small town community.

Join Alex, the members of the Friends of the Library, and the other volunteers and be a hero yourself. The sale runs through noon on Saturday.


Hitting the Books Again

We’re are back and getting to work. I last addressed our books In April, then took time out to get rid of old paperwork through the generous shredding day held by a local bank. Next it was a month away in Italy. But now, the local library book sale looms next week. Time for action.

We took up where we left off and dove into the basement to start on the boxes we brought with us eight years ago. Should be easy, right? If we haven’t needed them in eight years, we must not need them. We’ll see. So far I have managed to come up with five bags and two boxes of books. They were delivered to the library this morning.

IMG_1906Here’s our down payment on the pledge. Now it’s down into the depths of the cellar for the next round. We’ll keep you informed of the results. Oh, yes, and it’s time to schedule myself to help at the sorting and selling at the library next week. It’s the very least I can do for their taking this burden from us.


Shedding and Shredding

We did  it!  A trunk load of excess paper has been taken to the local shredding event and sent on its way to recycling.IMG_1070

We spent a good bit of time this past week going through the paper on our first and second floors. We went through our file cabinets, our bookcases, the tax return boxes going back eight years and the piles of unsorted odds and ends.  We consigned research notes, medical notices, receipts for tax years, old financial statements and just plain unnecessary accumulations to the boxes and bins we dredged up from the basement to handle the stuff. We wondered at some of the paper we have held onto for so long. Inertia.

On arriving at the local credit union’s shredding site, we found a good number of others waiting to drop off their stuff. None could hold a candle to ours. There were folks with wimpy shopping bags and copy paper boxes but nothing that amounted to our full trunk. We were greeted by credit union representatives who welcomed us and asked how we had heard about the event. No, we aren’t members of the credit union, but we were welcomed nonetheless. Free and open to the public, we were assured.

We unloaded and waited our turn(s) to send the boxes up to the master shredder. A veryIMG_1073 efficient operation, though loud. Everyone was in a good mood and there was a pleasing sense of community. Who knew that old paper could engender such camaraderie? Mission accomplished, we rewarded ourselves with lunch at a Mexican restaurant with neighbors.

More paper awaits us in the basement. This is the stuff that we brought with us eight years ago. Some we didn’t have time to sort responsibly; some is family history; and, some is our children’s papers. Interestingly, one daughter, in reading the blog, emailed to implore us not to get rid of the books she and her sister have treasured since childhood. She also included a commitment to come up this summer and go through those kid bins that we brought with us. We’re making progress.IMG_1078

If there is one thing I could say in the wake of the past week and today’s event, it is thanks to the credit union for their public spiritedness, but I would also be willing to make a donation to a local charity in appreciation for their making this day possible.

It’s back to the books now.



Books: Time Out

We set about winnowing the books with some vigor. The first five bags/boxes went quickly, and there are more in progress upstairs. See our effort thus far.IMG_1068

But we have called a temporary halt to the book purge. Here’s why.

April, as we all know too painfully, is tax filing time. Having put that behind us, we noticed that there is a big push by institutions and the media to get rid of the resulting excess paperwork. One of our local banks is offering a shredding event this coming Saturday, so we plan to take them up on the offer. We off-loaded a bunch of paper last year at a local secure paper recycling place for a reasonable fee. Still, as we looked around this month, we realized that we have only scratched the surface.

As with clothes and books, sentimentality and sheer inertia contribute to an indefensible amount of stuff. Now, this is not easy or quick in our case. In going at it with our file cabinets, I found so much paper has been saved for things and services that we abandoned long ago. Out! But, there are files also that contain our past including, once again, the records of our children’s growing years.

Well, they are adults long since. Originally I kept them because they were in regular transition from school to school, job to job with no place to store them. Secretly, I also thought they might not have the proper reverence for their early writings and report cards. Now, having spent a good bit of time going over the files and reliving those years, I am satisfied that they reflect the promise of what our daughters have become. It’s up to them to decide what to keep and what to let go. We’ll be delivering their past to them on our next visit.

For a start to your own undertakings, I recommend a look at Michelle Singletary’s site at Ms. Singletary is a wealth of information and advice on financial matters overall. She knows personally whereof she speaks, but she has a recent column on what to hold onto and what to let go of, with some honest backtalk from her readers.

We are filling plastic tubs with paper stuff for disposal this Saturday. We’ll let you know how it went. Then it’s back to the books.



The Next Step: Books, etc.

             I can not live without books.

                                  Thomas Jefferson

We are still  working on the Stuff. There is satisfaction in having gone through the closets and discarded and donated many items of clothing. Now, as we pledged, we are turning to the books.

IMG_1059Books are hard for us. They are the stuff of our daily lives, our excursions to other realms and our maturation as thinking people. Nonetheless, it is time to take the hard look. Actually, this is the second hard look.

We let go of so much when we relocated eight years ago. At that time we were guided by a good friend – an author, book dealer and member of the friends of the local library.  She was brutally kind enough to tell us that no one  wants our college text books, much less our high school texts. If we had to hold onto a high school French book, surely one copy would suffice. (We went to the same high school and both took French.) She also warned us that we should not plan to abandon just anything on the loading dock at the library: there was a five box per day limit. We were in trouble.

So the sort began those many years ago now. Anne pointed out that there was a trailer for paper at the local recycle center and that we should make use of it. Get  rid of the text books, the magazines, the yellowed paperbacks. The  Friends of the Library had enough to deal  with already; they did not need to take on our decades of neglect. After days, weeks of culling, I estimate that we disposed of 40 to 50 percent of our books either through the recycle trailer or donations to the library.

Now we start anew. Who knew how many books we could accumulate in the space of eight years? All those added to the ones that we could not let go of when we came to the Finger Lakes.

On day one, we looked around our immediate space. Here’s our down payment from that review and our contribution to the local library’s friends’ sale. We’ll keep you posted as we go.


The Dead Toubab Pile: A Tale of Scarcity and Excess

When we piled all the discards in one place, we had what amounted to seven large shopping bags of clothes, two boxes of shoes and a yard bag of miscellaneous items.


This is the dead Toubab pile: not a term known to most in our society. We learned about the Toubab pile from our daughter who was a Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal. She lived in a remote village — where I once paid her a visit — on the edge of the Sahel and was given the African name Mariama. There was electricity in only a few of the elders’ houses, fueled by generators; water was drawn from common wells; and, nearly every house was made of millet stalks and built on a dirt floor. A former French colony, Senegal’s language of commerce and  government is French, but each region has its own distinct languages and ethnic groups. For our  daughter, the language was Wolof, and the Wolof term for a white person is Toubab.

As you can imagine, this is an economy of scarcity. Food is precious and largely locally grown or sourced; water is a precious commodity and its drawing occupies a large part of the  women’s time; and, there is precious little money for clothing. All three of these needs are precious, and the first two of them are essential to life.

West Africa is rich in traditional textile designs which, over the decades, have been manufactured increasingly within its own borders, a good thing. Still, new clothes are well beyond the reach of most inhabitants of Yassy village. Moreover, Western clothing is a sign of status. While these proud people cherish their heritage, they also want to be part  of the modern world.

Throughout much of Africa and the developing world, clothing is imported in large bales. TheseIMG_1036 clothes are the castoffs of Western societies. They are pulled together by commercial jobbers, in our case in the US, and shipped in bulk to developing and third world nations.  Much of the clothing has already passed through several handlers. The best items are isolated at the beginning, and the remainder are bundled for shipment overseas or sold for scrap. These bales land in local markets, where the clothes are sold to the inhabitants. If you have traveled overseas and wondered how your favorite team, local church or alma mater tee shirts came to be sported on the streets in Africa and South America,  this is a likely answer.

When Mariama’s villagers were queried about their Western clothes, she learned that they came from the Dead Toubab Pile. Senegalese and West Africans in general can not believe that any live person would give away clothing in such good condition, so  they speculate that all these clothes must come from dead Westerners. Wolof people also call these the “Fuggi Jaay” which translates as the “shake and sell,” because the vendors shake the clothing in front of you as you walk through the markets.

So: our Dead Toubab Pile and what  to do with it.

Likely we have all sent things to the Goodwill, the Salvation Army, or other charities or dropped them in clothing drop-off sheds. Let’s just be done with them, we say. Here’s what I have concluded.

In our small rural community, there is a great need for reasonably priced clothing and household items.  The local Council  of Churches operates the Once Again Shoppe, a true service to the community not only for the  goods it makes available to local residents but also for the ways in which it uses the proceeds from their sales for other projects and causes. In fact, all segments of our community, whether year-rounders, seasonal cottage owners or vacationers, patronize the Once Again Shoppe: it has wonderful items and they are reasonably priced, so you can outfit your cottage for a pittance.


We also have commercial drop-off sheds in the area. Most of them support local causes through contributions from some portion of their proceeds which is commendable. Still, I like to know that my community is getting the most bang for the buck from my cast-offs. So, I take our excess to the Once Again Shoppe. The staff will not find every item worthy, but they will make the first sort. If they can’t use it, it will be sent on and ultimately land  in a jobber’s bale or a rag pile. The important thing to me is that my local community, which needs these contributions for our citizens and the work of the institutions, gets first chance.

This part of my journey through the Stuff has been a time to reflect on scarcity and excess, thanks in large measure to Mariama and my visit to her village. While working to minimize, I have been struck by how much I have that is not essential and by how many others’ needs are satisfied only with great sacrifice, if at all.

Now, it’s time to start going through all those books in order to benefit the local library’s book sale. Opportunities abound.





The Stuff: Odds and Ends

Sock drawer before

Sock drawer before

A few things to wrap up here. I’ve talked about the clothes rack and the shoe rack. Still, there were the cupboards and drawers. I tackled them as well.

The cupboards were repositories of things that didn’t have a place elsewhere: pajamas, tee-shirts, swimsuits, scarves, and handbags. In brief, I got rid of a good bunch of stuff. In the process, I came to the conclusion that KonMari’s principle of rolling clothes to make them happier was good advice in the case of tee’s and turtlenecks. They had been stacked in quarter-fold in the cupboards, and I was forever leafing through them. I shed some of the ones that were ill-advised and rarely worn, then took to my bureau.

There, I realized that rarely or seasonally-used items took more than their deserved space in drawers. Shorts were sent to the cupboard, making  room for tee-shirts. The turtleneck drawer was reorganized to take shirt rolls.  Here’s what the bureau’s lower drawers look like now.
IMG_1029 I am happy with the result and can say that my tee’s and t’necks are less creased than before. Thank you, Marie Kondo.

While I was doing my cull of the closet, Ray undertook his own examination of his half of our “dressing room.” Bunches of stuff came off the shelves; serious decisions were made about shirts and pants that had hung there for years. As was the case in my clearing out, virtually everything was still  serviceable, just not for us.

So what about the detritus?

Next up: The Dead Toubab Pile.




The Stuff – Closet Results

My closet -- before

My closet — before

You have seen the situation in our closet, and you’ve seen it all laid out across our bedroom in preparation for doing the KonMari sort.

(We appreciate correspondent Joan’s concern regarding how we would ever be able to go to bed with all that stuff piled on it. No, problem, Joan: we moved to the condo for a long weekend. Kidding. Before taking off, I went through the entire mess.)

Picking through the stuff one item at a time, I tried to be brutally honest about each piece’s worth with respect to its place in my “wardrobe” and my affections. The results were probably divided between decisions based on “bringing joy” as Marie Kondo would have it and serving a function. I was surprised by how little sentimentality played in deciding. It was much easier to cast off my personal belongings than to relinquish my daughters’ childhood outfits, many of them made by family members. (That was largely dealt with years ago when we relocated to our current home.)

In general, this is the way it shook out. Many items had not been worn in years. Whatever the original need or attachment, I was able to let go. Next, many were a poor fit, either because I was no longer that size or it was an ill-advised purchase from the start. Out!

Shoes: oh, my. With my years of knee problems and trying to get comfortable walking, I had amassed a collection that was approaching Imelda Marcos’s legendary stash. I am now able to assess most pairs and decide whether they solved the problem or were just hangers-on. A few more pairs to be put through their paces, but this won’t take too much longer. (Aside: I have found a British shoe company, Hotter, that makes my feet happier than they have been in many years. Three pairs came home with us last fall, and two more pairs arrived recently for the warmer months.)

What about the stuff that stayed? Many items were pieces that filled a function. This is quite different from bringing joy. If I kept only things that bring me joy, I could well be wearing the same thing every day. Also, I want clothes that are functional and make me feel good about being seen, but I truly do not want to enter into a deeply personal relationship with them. For me the concern is that they do their job.

I have a few old standbys. There’s the very nondescript sun-blocking shirt that can go with anything when we travel and works with most casual attire. I have dubbed this my “essential shirt.” Joy? No, but grief should it self-destruct. There are sweaters that I can throw on after 10 or 20 years and feel enveloped by their warmth. They stay as long as I can keep them in repair.

Other items are just plain mundane. Some are carry-overs from our previous professional lives. In the year before I retired, I bought a good three piece suit. Why? I told myself that it would get me through the last year at work and that, being black, it would be suitable for funerals and other formal occasions thereafter. It has not disappointed. In fact, I may have to replace it. There are a couple more “business” suits that I brought with me. (A great number went to a church shop before we left.) While most have both a skirt and pants, it is the pants that are most used. Which of us wants to get into stockings anymore? Still, I keep the suits intact.

After all that, here’s what it looks like now. Not a result that would earn anything much more than a D+ from KonMari, but so much better than when I started.




Next up: Odds and ends.

The Stuff – Catching Up

My closet -- before

My closet — before

Where was I? Ah, yes, August. Small progress here and there, but not the promised full-bore, have-at-it that I fooled myself into thinking I would undertake.

Well, I can report that attention turned recently to dealing with the clothes. The situation had become dire, in part because I tossed the occasional item into the large yard bag you see. That only added to the congestion. With a day that had no other claims on me, I set about taking the closet down as dictated by the KonMari Method.

Where will we sleep?

Where will we sleep?

I pulled everything off the clothes rod and arrayed the items across the bed, the chairs and the floor. A good way to start and a revelation to see how much stuff there was. I knew that there were things that needed to go. Some would never be worn again: too small. If I fooled myself into thinking I would get back to fighting trim, I would really never winnow the pile. Besides, I told myself that if I dispose of it now and need its equivalent in the future, I can always buy something that actually fits. Other items represented buyer’s remorse. Yes, it seemed right at the time, but it wasn’t really me.

It took time to assess each item. Some I tried on; others not. I did not find the test of whether it brought me joy helpful. Come on, there are some things that we have of necessity; others are needed to complete an outfit. In the end, it came down to “go or stay,” for the most part. A few items were duplicates that would go to our place in Virginia.

The elect were dispersed in several directions. The everyday went back to the bedroom closet; out-of-season went upstairs; and, outdoor items were sent to the front hall and back door closets. There were piles of hangers to be recycled. Some would go in the recycle bin while others were used to replace the wire ones that left my shirts with strange knots on the shoulders. That was enough for one day.

Next up: the drawers, the cupboards and the shoes.



Ray Recycles

Here I am, getting ready to take a CRV-load of scrap off to B&B Recycling, our friendly local metals re-processor. B&B paid $6 for the lot — better than my paying them, which is what I had half expected.Ray to recycle

Where did I get all those aluminum chairs? You may be asking yourself this question. Years back, I was a member of a lawn chair drill team. I can’t find a photo, but this Youtube video of another team will give you the idea. Once people found out I was on the team, chairs just seemed to come to us.

The video reminds me of an experience the team had at a Fourth of July parade in the village of Branchport. We paused to run through our routine, as a young father watched with his son, about 10 or so. After we finished, the father leaned over to the boy and said, “You see, Johnny? That’s what happens when you get old.”

Well, we did it for a good cause — to advertise Milly’s Pantry, which works to assure that children in our community do not go hungry. So what if we made fools of ourselves!

The chairs are history now. What with the bikes we gave away a few weeks ago, an entire corner of our basement is now completely empty!