All the right stuff?

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 25, 2013

There comes a time in life when it is necessary to downsize after years of stuff accumulation.
The realization that you are overstuffed in the material possessions sense may be prompted by the children growing up and moving away or the dog departing to dog heaven, where dogs not only chase cars but also catch and eat them, the vehicles up there being made of hamburger with salami wheels.
It was for some of those reasons that downsizing came to my wife and me last month. We sold our house of 19 years and moved about a mile away in the same town.
This may not seem a great trek, but in terms of effort it was epic. Like the Ancient Mariner who came back from his own ocean of torment with a lesson for others, I have been on a wide sea of stuff and boxes with wisdom to impart.
For example, before you move, make lots of friends. I would take my hat off to all these good people if only I could find it, but it got packed up somewhere. Our friends were amazing. They toted boxes, they brought food, they used tools to dismantle things that would still be mantled if left to me.
One told me — and this was typical of the spirit of generosity — “Just let me know when you are moving …” and then added “… and I’ll make myself scarce.” That was not typical, although at least he provided us a laugh, sort of.

Another thing to know is that however much stuff you think you have, you have 10 times more than that. It is lurking in spaces unseen.
I discovered that I own 18 pairs of khaki pants, on top of all the other pants I own. In fact, I found I had enough pants to wear every day of the month.
While I think it is important for men to wear pants, I concede this abundance is obscene in its own way. I blame the coat hangers. They are known to breed in closets, and I think they encouraged khaki pants to come over because they feared being made redundant by a shortage of coats.
It is amazing what you find when you are in a fit of downsizing. I never dreamed that I owned two boomerangs, when most families get by perfectly well with just one. What can you do with two boomerangs? You can’t throw them away. They come back.
But time and tide and boxes wait for no man. Some sadness attended this packing, because every ridiculous knickknack or outlandish piece of furniture was a memory, if only of stupid spending decisions.
Yet there was no time for sentiment. Unexpectedly, our house sold in 10 days. The relief from the tyranny of having to keep the place neat for public showing soon gave over to panic. Store-it-or-sacrifice-it was the order of the day.

The process reminded me of passengers on a sinking ship lined up for the lifeboats. At first the scene is orderly, all stiff upper lip and women and children first, according to the traditional drill. But as the hour of doom approaches and water laps the deck, all lips are quivering and to heck with the women and children.
In the same way, the boxes — our passengers with a ticket to the new life — at first were packed and clearly marked on the outside with explanations of contents and destination: for example, basement, family room or master bedroom. That last is a quaint term meaning a bedroom that a husband shares but has no say in the decor or arrangement of. Master? Ha!
But in the end, it was chaos, with random stuff desperately stuffed in unmarked boxes. Anybody who sat down on one of the few remaining chairs was in danger of being boxed up and hauled onto the truck. (Reminder to self: Check basement for muffled cries of friends.)
Downsizing has made me humble. I realize that if I had not wasted so much money buying useless stuff, I would be rich by now. I could have downsized and moved to St. Barts instead of a few blocks away.
But I am troubled by the thought that to discourage trade of any sort is un-American. So I recommend that you follow my example and live frugally from now on, buying only items you absolutely need and only then those advertised through this newspaper or website.
Then, newly rich, you can join me in St. Barts, which is better than dog heaven. No need to bring any boomerangs. I just happen to have two.

Reg Henry is a columnist with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Email: rhenry@