Step 2: Sell everything … then have a good cry

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Not just a house but a lovingly curated show of the life and times and aspirations of Rose Alcantra.
Not just a house but a lovingly curated show of the life and times and aspirations of Rose Alcantara.

A cynic, wrote Oscar Wilde in “Lord Darlington,” is “a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

Which brings us to item No. 2 on our list of things to do as we move to Belize: “Sell everything.”

Here’s the problem, Oscar, we know the value of everything and the price of nothing. So that makes us, what? Stricken with emotional rigor mortis, I think.

But here’s what we are discovering: Stuff is memory. Stuff is identity. Stuff is emotional. Stuff is expression. Stuff is defining. Stuff is functional.  Stuff is connective tissue. Stuff is comfort. Stuff is self. Stuff is continuity. Stuff is nostalgia.

Anybody want a baby grand piano? A nice living room furniture set? It's all got to go, folks, during our "Going out of country sale"!
Anybody want a baby grand piano? A nice living room furniture set? It’s all got to go, folks, during our “Going out of country sale”!

Stuff is also self-defeating. You collect a lot of stuff and then you install a security system to protect it. You stay awake at night worrying about your stuff and how you are going to pay for it all. You begin to measure your stuff against other people’s stuff. Pretty soon, you feel you have to have the biggest, loudest, most obvious and most expensive stuff in the neighborhood. You are always wondering, do I have the right stuff….

Oh, my god, I’m channeling George Carlin!

Here’s a great video that I think puts our consumption economy into perspective.

It is complicated.

Rose and I have two very separate sets of stuff. Although she has insisted from the beginning that what is hers is mine, I just can’t bring myself to feel that way. For one, she has a heck of a lot of stuff. It is tasteful, elegant, functional and valuable. She has collected it over decades, fought off the banks on her own and raised two children to adulthood in her home.

Some stuff is harder to let go, like this Phillip Glashoff sculpture. In 1996, Phil called it "Ugly Bird." Today, I'm sure he would call it "Angry Bird" to appeal to all you phone app gamers out there ...
Some stuff is harder to let go, like this Phillip Glashoff sculpture. In 1996, Phil called it “Ugly Bird.” Today, I’m sure he would call it “Angry Bird” to appeal to all you phone app gamers out there …

I basically got rid of nearly everything that I owned before moving to Northern California. I’m not dumb. I saw the scene in “When Harry Met Sally” where Bruno Kirby and Carrie Fisher move in together and try to merge households.

My stuff was the equivalent of that wagon wheel coffee table.  Or, as Billy Crystal says, “This stupid wagon wheel Roy Rogers garage sale coffee table.”

Rose, on the other hand, is on a first name basis with both Ethan and Allen. My San Diego apartment was filled with scruffy stuff. Just guy stuff. Her home is a thoughtfully curated affair of good taste, functionality and warmth.

Not one stick of furniture that I owned would fit with her decor. It would be like a rogue atom, bouncing off all the other good and tasteful atoms, sending them careening into a chaotic chain reaction that could only end with the two of us on the curb overseeing a most dreadful and embarrassing yard sale.

So a few days before moving north I Craiglisted the hell out of everything I owned — except my 1991 Trek Antelope bicycle and my Cobra Explorer kayak. And my 10 boxes filled with 40 years’ worth of newspaper memorabilia and kids’ schoolwork. Oh, and the cast iron-and-wood schoolboy’s desk that I used as a child, that my brothers and sister used, and that all three of my sons used. The desk is now in my grandson Brody’s bedroom.

But to be fair, I only had stuff. She has things. Beautiful things. Real things. Real memories. Real furniture. Plus, a real Pilates studio, chock full of equipment. It is amazing how much you can accumulate in a five-bedroom house

Rose insists that she wants to get rid of nearly all her things but I know this is going to be hard. She put so much heart and thought into this house. I see sad and painful days ahead as memories go out the door with leather sofas and antique dressers, Glashoff statues and beautiful tapestry wall hangings and music instruments personally collected while living in Gambia.

“Now that we’re selling things I see them differently,” Rose was telling her friend Laura this morning. “The memories come out.”

As for big ticket items: The one-eighth share in “Lucille,” the Lake Tahoe house where Jon and Caira grew up hiking and skiing, is going. The time share on Nob Hill in San Francisco is not going, because we can use it when we come back to visit. The Mercedes convertible is going. The Ford Hybrid SUV is either going, going into storage or going with us to Belize. My Saturn sedan, inherited from my late-parents, will go to Caira, so she can add Arizona State stickers to the windows and cruise around Tempe for a couple of years.

The main house here in Fairfield will be rented out, ideally to a nice Air Force officer and his or her family.

Face it: Letting go is hard. But I know from experience that the pain is fleeting. And, in the end, there really is a euphoric feeling of lightness, not unlike the high you get when a credit card is finally paid off and cut in half or a mortgage is retired. Or so I’ve been told.

We talk about moving to Belize with no more than two suitcases apiece and carry-on bags. Or less.

It won’t be easy. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy. But it can happen.

19 thoughts on “Step 2: Sell everything … then have a good cry

    lifeagain said:
    October 24, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    Robert, thanks and thanks again….i think you and Rose are going to enjoy being a minimalist and I am going to keep this note forever as part of my motivation……


      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      October 24, 2013 at 6:50 pm

      I think so too, Don. In the 1970s, it was something of a spiritual challenge to reduce your burden to 10 possessions. If you added a new one, an old one would have to go. I don’t think I could ever go back to quite that austere a life but going minimalist I think is something we should all aspire to! Thanks for reading!


    maura said:
    October 24, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    When John left,and I was going back to Baltimore I thought of the 10 most loved things I could put in my car,and made believe I was leaving Russia :). Amazing what they were…My Raggedy Anne from age 6, 2 paintings, my Labrador, coffee pot, Silver sterling flatware,cobalt Victorian flower vase


      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      October 24, 2013 at 6:46 pm

      Hi Maura! I love the “leaving Russia” idea. Back in the 1970s, when I was still single (an irrelevant point …) I found an old Japanese incense vase in a junk and curio shop in Lawrence, Massachusetts, a decaying mill town at the time. A tree grows up the side of the vase in full relief and when you look past the tree to the inside of the vase there is a palapa hut with two tiny people kneeling before a table. There are mountains in the “distance” and a river runs beside the hut.
      It has always held a magical fascination for me.
      Ever since I found it, or it found me, the vase has signified home. I’ve built a ritual around it: Where ever it is, I am home. So, it is the last thing to leave a house or apartment when I move and the first thing to enter my new home. When I move, I wrap it in a towel and put it beside me in the car.
      It reminds me that live and relationships are fragile and must be treated with the greatest care and attention.
      If I were fleeing czarist Russia, this is what I would carry out!
      Love you dear cousin. Hugs to our family when you see them at Thanksgiving.


        maura said:
        October 25, 2013 at 3:37 am

        Love you too. Be sure to take that vase and add a Belize flower or green stem upon arrival.New dream,home and path!


    Kim Scholefield said:
    October 24, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    Beautifully written, so true!


      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      October 24, 2013 at 6:30 pm

      Beautiful compliment from a beautiful friend. Thanks Kim!


    Connie said:
    October 24, 2013 at 5:39 pm

    I was born & raised in Fairfield, graduated from Armijo High School in 1962. I have been reading your blog & much to my amazement see u live in Fairfield & I also love San Pedro. We have visited many times. A lot in common although I don’t live in CA anymore. What a coincidence !


      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      October 24, 2013 at 6:29 pm

      Connie, that is amazing! My wife lived just over the line in Napa for many years before moving to Fairfield about eight years ago. Her kids went to a little elementary school near Mankas Corner and to Rodriguez High School. Do you still have family in the area? Perhaps the next time you visit San Pedro we’ll be settled in. If so, look us up! Thanks for reading the blog.


    Karen Kelly said:
    October 24, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    Yes, gut wrenching! Yes, nostalgic! Yes, very painful as we separate ourselves from our life as we know it. So many goodbyes, yet so many hellos are waiting for you from those you have not met. That which is important will always be with you. Your family and others, that you both hold dear, will never leave you. Look at me. I’m still loving you guys from the other side of the country! So….stay strong. Love life enough to truly live it!


      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      October 24, 2013 at 6:24 pm

      Karen, I can hear your voice as I read your posting. Thanks so much for this. I should blow up your message to poster size and put it on the wall. So very very true. Rose is so excited to be seeing you soon. When she arrives, you guys go easy on Washington, it’s been through a lot lately


    Marge said:
    November 16, 2013 at 11:18 am

    We sold everything and moved to Belize in 2006. Seven years later, we have not regretted selling anything we sold, and still consider it an enlightening experience in every sense of the word. In fact, we just moved house in Belize, and upon having to move a number of boxes which we haven’t opened since we got here, we realized that we brought too much, despite the fact that it all fit into a Ford F250 and a 17-foot travel trailer.


      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      November 16, 2013 at 10:58 pm

      I hear what you are saying! With every possession you let go of, you learn a little something about yourself. I sort of suspected as much. Thank you for confirming this, Marge.


    Dolly Peters said:
    November 19, 2013 at 6:15 pm

    Nice piece. I know the feeling of letting go things that have emotional attachments to you. Before I sold most of them out, I had to debate with myself if which ones gotta go and which ones stayed. Thanks for this amazing piece. Good luck on your new life in California!


    Bound for Belize said:
    January 6, 2014 at 4:47 pm

    […] Step 2: Sell everything, then have a good cry […]


    […] Step 2: Sell everything, then have a good cry […]


    […] Step 2: Sell everything, then have a good cry […]


    […] Step 2: Sell everything, then have a good cry […]


    […] Step 2: Sell everything, then have a good cry […]


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