The Upside of Downsizing

I’m not a hoarder, at least not in the classic sense.  You don’t have to negotiate a path from my front door to the kitchen among mountains of old irons and typewriters and pool toys and waffle pans.  But I do seem to be challenged when it comes to shoes, clothes and hats.  I can’t make myself throw out clothes or shoes that aren’t torn or dirty just because they are old.  I dress nicely enough, but I care little for what is in style at the moment.  I care more that the clothes are flattering.   And it’s not as though I grew up in an underprivileged environment where we couldn’t afford to discard the old and buy new.  I’m just a very utilitarian type.  I throw out rotten fruit but if a banana just has a bruise, I make a smoothie rather than toss it. 
Luckily, or maybe not, when the kids grew up and moved out, I was able to use their closets for my out of season or out of fashion or too-small clothing.  And so it happened that I ended up with three closetsful of clothing that I mostly did not wear.  I had very good intentions, and every winter and summer, when I switched wardrobes, I took inventory and was determined to winnow out whatever I hadn’t worn for a year (or decade) (or quarter-century).  But somehow nothing ever seemed to qualify for the rummage pile.  I nursed the dream that I would lose those ten (twenty) (thirty) extra pounds, and wear that designer suit next season for sure.  No question.  Absolutely.  Not.
But push has come to shove.  After five years of spending winters in Israel, we are making Aliyah (woohoo!) and preparing the house for eventual sale.  We are not putting it on the market immediately because my elderly mother still spends the Jewish holidays with us in the US, but the day is approaching. 
Downsizing is a miserable job.  I have always paid lip service to the idea that less is more.  I am not particularly acquisitive, and I hate shopping.  I tend to wear the same skirts and tops over and over.  But all my declarations of non-materialism notwithstanding, I seem to have amassed a pile of garbage.
I know how hard it is to separate the wheat from the chaff.  For some people, it is all wheat, and those people will have a much harder time than I did.  When I cleaned out my aunt’s house with her to prepare for her entry into a small assisted-living apartment, she told me the history of every object I touched.  Many of them were hard-earned items she had saved to buy during the Great Depression.  That they were broken was no matter.  She couldn’t bear to part with them.  It was a traumatic process for the both of us – her because her heart broke with every discarded item, and mine because I had to be insistent, and my insistence felt cruel to her.
And so I bit the bullet and decided to divest, as much to spare my children the task as to prepare for an eventual house sale.  Because of all my failed previous attempts at discarding my junk, I knew I couldn’t do it alone so I called in reinforcements in the form of my sister-in-law Rona.   I instructed her to be brutal, and brutal she was.
We went through four closets and six dressers.  I would hold up a dress that I recalled was expensive, and she would tell me that nobody wears those collars anymore.  I would plop a hat on my head, and she would say the brim is flabby.  I would hold up a pair of shoes, and she would ask me to name the last time I chose high heels over sneakers. 
We filled up eleven garbage bags.  I went online and found a tzedakah that would pick them up – no small feat.  I never heard of it before and I am hoping it is legit, but legit or not – those bags are out of my possession.  I haven’t told her that I retrieved one skirt after she left but still, one skirt from eleven bags is pretty good.  And one blouse.  But that’s it. 
Even Rona couldn’t believe what I did with the photographs.  I am almost embarrassed by my lack of sentimentality.  They went into the wastebasket.  After 47 years of marriage, two children, twelve grandchildren, 68 years of just plain life its own self – I trashed them.  I took pictures of the ones that meant the most (relatives who passed away, bar mitzvahs, graduations), and let ‘em go.  The kids don’t want them, and in a few years, nobody will be able to identify who’s who.  Quite the humbling reality.
And I haven’t mentioned my seforim.  I am an avid reader, but dumping my secular collection didn’t hurt a whit.  (I took them over several days to the train station where there is a window sill intended for give-aways.)  But donating the seforim that I have bought over the years when I went to Tanakh conferences really hurt.  The apartment we will occupy in Jerusalem is not huge, and we have space for only two or three bookcases.  We won’t know how much room we have for books until we get there and start furnishing.  So I gave away a set of Mikraot Gedolot, a set of the Zohar, duplicate machzorim, haggadot, commentaries.  I found appreciative homes for them, but each time the new owner’s car pulled away, I got teary.  Parting with my seforim – which is to say, my friends – was wrenching.  So much content is online these days, and I read my secular books on Kindle with no hesitation, but somehow physically holding a sefer is unduplicable.  Turning pages is not the same as swiping a glass screen.  It’s like peering at a newborn through the hospital nursery window.   I have several shelves still to go, and I will do it, but with a heavy heart.
The antidote to that heartache is the lift (no pun intended) I get when I picture living in Jerusalem with just the essentials (which includes my husband, Allen).  A couple of chatchkes, a set of dairy dishes, a set of meat dishes, a second bedroom for guests, an expandable dining room table – home sweet home.  All those “things” we are leaving behind are just that: things.  I can conjure them up in my mind’s eye if need be, but it so freeing not to be surrounded by the accumulated stuff of decades.  I have hoarded my memories, and those will fit quite neatly in my two suitcases of fifty pounds each.   Thankfully, there is no need to downsize the recollections that float around in my head.  Prepare for lift-off!