I am in the process of clearing out my Syracuse, NY home, the majestic and blissful stage where I raised my four children who are all grown now and living mostly far away.
The house has sold. Unlike the day I moved us all in 18 years ago, this one is a contraction of my life and it hurts.
I thought I was prepared for what I faced upon my return from Cape Cod last week. Recalling what my friend Catherine recommended-- that I should conduct my own furniture sale instead of hiring a company to do it for a large percentage of the proceeds, I turned into a one-woman, by-appointment-only estate sale and I sold more than I ever dreamed of. Thank you Catherine.
That was the first lesson from this sale. Even if all your friends advise a particular course of action--in this case, to hire an estate sale firm to do all the work and get most of the money, go with your gut. Catherine was the only pal who recommended I not do that and in the end, she was right. It really was the best solution for me.
I knew it would be difficult for a homebody like me to let this stuff go. I had spent more than three decades accumulating and enjoying it. The easiest thing would be to lug it all to storage on the Cape so I could use it again someday. But I know the reality.
By the time my own parents realized they had too much stuff, they were too old and too sick to do anything about it, so the job of disposing of 7 decades of stuff fell to my sister Karen. I want to deal with my furnishings while I still have muscles and a mind. Decades from now my children will not be burdened with my furniture and collections. They'll have furniture and collections of their own by then. And spouses and children and careers too.
I was ready. But I was not prepared for the flood of memories that rushed in to fill the empty spaces in the rooms picked clean of everything else.
As I killed off the place I saw the house in an old light, the way it was years ago when my life kept expanding: more children, more promotions at work, more cars, more homes and more furnishings to fill them.
The problem was, I had forgotten so much. My memories of raising the kids had been reduced to the events. I could always recall Christmas morning in the living room, the Easter egg hunt in the yard, Thanksgiving dinner in a candlelit dining room, the birthdays, the celebrations.
I had forgotten the day to day routine when a single working mom raced to attend to the constant needs of her four kids. With the rooms emptying out, those early routines came back in. I could hear my daughter chastising me for lingering over a book with the boys at bedtime and making her wait her turn. I heard the call "I'm all done" from the bathroom for a little one who needed assistance. I remembered the sticky cereal milk dripping down the kitchen cabinets everyday where the kids all crammed chairs into the corner to watch cartoons on the little TV before school.
The laundry, the groceries, the dishes. I thought I would deal with them forever. But as the children grew, one routine replaced another routine and those seemingly insignificant snapshots of daily life disappeared. In isolation the grind was just a grind. In sum, it totaled the most productive stage of my life.
I poured with emotion at the realization of that, and it both hurt and felt good at the same time. That was a gift from my sale. I got the old days back. I'm so happy I was there, in that happy and beautiful home in Syracuse, one last time to receive them.
Here is what else I learned from my sale.
1. People really are inherently good. You hear so much about online scams and the need to be hyper-vigilant these days, but the dozens of people who came to my home, many of whom offered to remove their shoes first, and at least one who inquired if this was difficult for me to do because he had to clear out his childhood home when his dad died last year, were so dear.
2. When conducting a sale of something, it's best to incorporate the following rule from real estate, "create excitement and urgency". I made it clear this sale would be three days only and I stuck to it. Buyers seemed desperate to make an appointment.
3. If you are just one person handling it all, as I was, don't set a start time for everyone at once. Tell interested buyers by email that you are taking appointments and will provide the exact address once an appointment is confirmed. My ad stated the home was in the University area, but the address was deliberately withheld so people wouldn't just show up when I wasn't equipped to handle them.
4. One of the blessings of conducting the sale myself is it allowed me to make split-second decisions to let something go or to keep it. It definitely got easier to sell off as I got rolling, but there are some things I planned to sell that I just could not let go. This is one of the regrets my friend Katherine had over the professional estate sale of her own home. She let go of too much and now it's gone forever.
5. The best way to advertise home furnishings is to photograph them in a completed room, if possible. That way people can see it all in relation to everything else. I was charmed by the people who said I had great taste, and I owe that to the photos of fully furnished rooms.
6. Finally, alert your friends you are selling off part of your history so they can check up on you from time to time, either for safety's sake, but especially for a shoulder to cry on. Remind yourself of the favor you're doing the children down the road to clear this out and then treat a friend to dinner with some of the proceeds.
That's what life is about anyway. It is never about the stuff.