There's a fruit cellar in the basement of our old house in Redford, right at the foot of the stairs. My father in law bought the property in 1949 when the neighborhood was nothing more than a large apple orchard, being sold off in parcels for eventual development. For two years he had his own little farm on the land, selling the fruits and vegetables he harvested from the trunk of his car to his co-workers at the Chrysler Assembly Plant in downtown Detroit. In 1952, he built the house, and I imagine that adding a basement fruit cellar was a big priority in the planning. My father in law was a farmer through and through, so like a photographer needs a darkroom or a dancer needs a barre and mirror, he needed a fruit cellar to contain the "fruits" of his labors. I always hated that fruit cellar. When my in-laws moved out and we moved in, they left behind a number of useful things...like appliances and furniture, stuff all newlyweds need and are happy to have provided for them. But they also left behind a lot of junk, stuff we couldn't get rid of while they were living, and by the time they died we were too busy or too tired to care about it. Over the 37 years we lived there, naturally we added our own stuff to the mix. In the fruit cellar, along with odd assortments of dishware, some old easter baskets with fake grass spilling out, an ancient rotary telephone, and some musty books, there were still a few jars of fruit my mother in law had canned sitting on the top shelf, the year it was placed there scrawled underneath in my father-in-law's handwriting.
During this past week the entire remaining contents of our old house have been removed. The upstairs rooms were mostly cleared already, but the basement and garage - repositories of six decades worth of stuff - are now completely empty.
Including the fruit cellar.
Over the past few months I've completed a major purge of our possessions, paring down the contents of two homes to fit into one 1900 square foot condominium. It's not been easy, but is HAS been incredibly freeing. I literally feel 100 pounds lighter without the burden of all that STUFF.
Don't get me wrong, it was difficult as hell to get rid of things that were an integral part of your life for almost four decades. How to decide which of your child's school papers and drawings to keep and which to toss? How to choose which paintings from the walls will work in the new house? How to grapple with the fact that your circa 1973 stereo equipment is worth more (financially) than your baby grand piano?
Since I turned 50, I've had a real sea change in my feelings about possessions. No longer do I crave the latest fashion in clothes, or a purse to match every pair of shoes. I'm don't care about souvenir coffee cups from the places I visit. It doesn't matter if I have different placemats for every season, or a different teapot for every day of the week. I have moved out of the collecting phase of my life and into the dispersing stage, knowing that as we age, we need less and less to survive, and that possessions are not what make us happy.
As I went through everything we owned, picking and choosing what to keep, the things that consistently ended up in the Save piles were photographs, jewelry, and books.
Photographs are obvious - they capture moments in time, moments that were obviously important enough to preserve. They reflect the essence of people at all stages of their lives. They are incredibly meaningful to me.
My relationship with jewelry goes back to preschool days when I asked for a ring for my 5th birthday. My uncle bought me a tiny gold ring with and aquamarine stone in it. I wore it all the time, loved seeing it on my chubby little finger while I typed stories on the old Smith Corolla in the attic. I developed a nervous habit of taking it off and chewing it, so the band is slightly dented in the back, making it uncomfortable to wear.
Yes, I still have it, and it does fit on my baby finger.
As for books- you all know how I feel about books. But I will say that I must have donated 200 books to the library over the past six months. But I also saved out a selection of children's books that belonged to my son during his lifetime, books that I've begun to pass on to my grandson, who is a true bookworm just like has grandma.
So for those of you who are still in the collecting phase, my advice to you is start thinking about what really matters in your life, what are the things you want to carry into old age with you. Will it be trendy outfits or cute figurines from the gift shop? Will you find smoothie makers and cupcake makers and coffeemakers to be essential to the life you want to live?
Or will it be things that have memory and meaning attached, things that evoke a person, time, or place, things that reflect who you've become and how you got there?
Certainly 40 year old canned fruit doesn't fit into any of those categories.