Packing it out

I already had tears in my eyes when the big box truck backed into the driveway. 

Every time I walk into my house since the tree fell on it, the sight of the damage makes me cry.

hole in ceiling

We loved this house so much from the moment we first walked in, nine years ago. The open floor plan, the raw wood walls, cedar beams and trim, pine floors and stone fireplace… and most especially, a wall of windows looking out to the view at 2,000 feet elevation – a world of trees and mountains.

We love the community, a bird sanctuary where no one is allowed to have a water-wasting lawn or non-native plants, where cutting down a tree even on your own property is an offense that draws heavy fines. There are no street lights, and most people just have little solar-powered lights lining the driveway.

You might think that living so close to nature would have made us more conscious of our consumption. Instead, the usual homeowner rule applied: If you have the space, it will get filled with stuff.

And so I spent six long hours today with a crew of eight people to sort out our belongings in every room and closet of our 2,100-square-foot home.

I had to decide what is going to the rental, and what would go to storage for at least six months while the house is being restored.  The crew boxed, labeled, numbered and inventoried everything we own. 

They helped me separate out the few things that were damaged or destroyed from the tree and subsequent emergency work – our grill and two deck chairs, a wooden hutch, some odds and ends.

They won’t touch jewelry, checkbooks or cash of any kind (including rolls of pennies), medications, guns and ammunition. I had to gather those up myself from around the house, and take them out to the car. 

They can pack but won’t store food, even dry or canned; paint, or any type of chemicals, including ordinary cleaning fluids and art supplies; so all of that has to go to the rental house.

The mound of boxes for the rental house grew to quite an alarming size. I pinged Judy, the owner of the house we’re renting, to warn her. She was lovely about it, and offered another room to store our things, even though she herself is trying to organize and pack to get out of the house next month.

It sounds straightforward, even simple, when I write it down like this. The devil is in the details … the endless details.

Judy had told me I should bring pots and pans, but I don’t want to bring every single one. So I have to go through the rack. Should I bring the big pot? Hmm, we’re there six months, that means gumbo season, so bring it. And the cast iron wok? Well, with Tom’s diabetic diet, more stir-fry might be in order, bring it. Double boiler? The only things I can think of making with that – chocolate, Hollandaise – are off-limits now, so at least I can put that one in storage.

I had to go through Tom’s dresser while talking him through it on the phone. It’s worse than Charades, trying to describe which kind of socks I’m holding – color, fabric, length, and approximate level of wear – so that Tom can designate them for rental or storage. Then briefs, then shorts, then jeans, then shirts …. it’s a relief that the stuff in the destroyed closet all went to the cleaners. 

The worst is my office and art studio. It had taken me so long to get it back together after the water damage in the basement … And now I have to tear it all up again, take what I need but not too much.

I have to be sure I have the paperwork for next year’s taxes, find the files I will need even when my Pakistan project is still up in the air, find the special cable for my ancient iPod shuffle, get the glass grinder and its spare parts so that I can work on my fused glass, decide whether to trust the crew to pack my glass scraps and glass panes, think about the art projects I’ve wanted to do and then be realistic about how much of it I can do in these crazed six months ahead.

My divided life: I will spend half the week in Atlanta taking Tom to therapy and doctor appointments, and the other half with him here in the mountains. I try to anticipate the good times as I choose each item.

The crew can’t possibly finish today. It will take at least one more full day, even with all these people working on it.

Not for the first time, I feel despair at just how much stuff we have. So much that we don’t even know what we have and buy the same things again, or don’t use them and then they’re outdated.

I made some exclamation about this and Angela, the crew boss, says, “Yeah, lots of people downsize after they go through something like this.”

I bet they do.

Today’s penny is a 2007, the year we bought this house and started filling it up.

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