Tuesday, October 20, 2009


The rains finally stopped, the clouds broke apart, the sun shone once again, and Noah's ark came to rest on dry ground. Oh, sorry, that's another story.

Here's my story. This past weekend, after weeks of cold, clouds, winds, rain and snow, the temperatures shot up to 70 on Saturday and 80 on Sunday. And I held my rummage sale.

I had planned to hold this sale weeks ago but the weather held me back. I went through all the rooms and closets of our home, choosing items I wanted to sell. Dan had hauled 25 Rubbermaid tubs full of "stuff" up from the basement. I decided what to keep (very little) and what to sell (most of it). If necessary, I dusted or cleaned the items, priced them and packed them into the tubs. Dan hauled each one out to the front yard and set up the tables. I carefully set out each item, put up my signs and banner, and sat back and waited, and waited and waited.

I had very few customers. I don't know if it is the poor economy, or that the sale was too late in the year. All that work for a lousy $205.00. Yes, I know, it's $205.00 I didn't previously have, but it was a small fraction of the profits I've made from other sales. All that work for so little reward! I don't plan to ever go antique shopping again, but if I did, I would respect those dealers who post signs like this: "I found it, I bought it, I transported it, I cleaned it up, I displayed it -  and now you expect me to lower my price?"

I sit here today at my computer, looking out on a world that is cold, gray and wet once again. I am still stiff and sore, my back hurts, and I re-injured my knee. But even if I came away from my sale with aches, pains and little money, I came away with tons of insight.

I realize now that I was a shopaholic. (I say was. I never purchase anything anymore, except clothing and books from the thrift shops/used book shops.)

I've mulled it over and come up with several reasons why I turned out this way (because I wasn't that way in my 20s). First, a little background:

In June 1982, we lost our home in a fire. We came away with only the clothes on our backs, our dog and our cars. When we were finally able to get into our new house, we moved in with nothing but some clothes, a crib and a few baby things (I was 8 months pregnant when we had the fire). That first day, our bedroom set was delivered so at least we didn't have to sleep on the floor. Over the next six weeks - which also happened to coincide with my maternity leave - I was charged with furnishing and equipping an entire house. Baby in tow, I bought cooking utensils and dishes, glasses and silverware, sheets and blankets, towels, clocks and lamps. You name it, we needed it.

Because we had had a good insurance policy, I had carte blanche to spend money. And I think that sense of permission to spend money lasted me way beyond the first six weeks. It lasted for over 20 years, as a matter of fact.

Too, I had an enormous void to fill. I had lost my collection of books, my precious family photos, over 100 houseplants, certain treasures with great sentimental value. Not long after the fire, I lost one of the opal earrings Dan had given me the day Kristen was born. I broke down and wept. I felt as if I was forever more going to be losing things. I rushed to fill that void, and fill it I did.

Finally, the move into our new house marked the time I started buying decorating or "shelter" magazines. These magazines told me that I should decorate the entire house for each season, to change things up for a fresh look, to have different looks for summer and winter. And I believed those magazines. Oh, did I believe in them. I bought Halloween decorations, Thanksgiving decorations, Christmas decorations, Easter decorations. I bought accessories, I bought antiques. I bought pictures - more pictures than I had wall space for. I bought things and put them away, never to use them.

On Saturdays, Dan would babysit Kristen, and I shopped. I went to rummage sales, flea markets, church bazaars, open houses, craft shows, antique shops, gift shops, the mall. I'd load up on decorative items at TJ Maxx on Fridays, the day after they put the "new stuff" out. I carried home bags and bags of stuff. It felt good. This recreational shopping definitely gave me an endorphin high. Some people call it "retail therapy". If so, I was in therapy for a long, long time.

Over the weekend, I had many hours to sit and look at that "stuff" in the yard and was aghast at myself. Why did I think I needed all those porcelain dolls, all those angels, all those bears, all those knickknacks, all those linens I had no room to display? Yes, it's fine to have a collection, but why did I have so many collections? I wondered if our current bad financial situation is payback for spending all that disposable income instead of saving it. I thought of the grasshopper and the ant. I wondered if what goes 'round has come 'round. I wondered if my personal karma in the form of a nasty little snake had finally caught up with me and bitten me right in the butt.

Who knows? But I can't unring that bell. I do know those days are over for good. Even if I won the lottery I wouldn't buy more stuff. I know now (perhaps too late) that I am not defined by my possessions. I know that things don't matter, people do.

And I do know that I promised Dan he would never have to haul those tubs back down to the basement again. Sadly, I know there are as many tubs still down there. (As are all those magazines.) I know I will get rid of them all. I feel lighter and more free already, and soon I will be even lighter and more free of possessions. (Except my books. The books stay put.)

I am determined to live by this motto: "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." ~ William Morris


Annie Jeffries said...

There was such bittersweetness here, Julie. Also, there was a strong sense of resurrection and reinvention. This is truly a beautiful post.

JoAnn ( Scene Through My Eyes) said...

Wow - great insight and thanks for sharing. I think a lot of us have times like that when we realize we have collected for far too long. I think there is a new feeling afoot in this economy of doing more with less. Thanks for sharing so honestly.

Leanne said...

... and such honesty, well done julie. here's to better times for you, i truly hope they are just around your personal corner..

Leanne x

Autumn Leaves said...

So much introspection Julie, but I am proud of you, truly. My sister-in-law is a shopaholic and it drives my brother bonkers. (He is an alcoholic, so I suppose tit for tat...) I would imagine the trauma of having your life go up in smoke, literally, could easily do this to all of us. Something about security in things. It sounds like your purging was needed though and I do hope and pray that things get better on the financial front. We're in a bad financial place ourselves.

Ruthie Redden said...

Hi lovely, that is such a good motto to live by! I think i was quite like you for a while, when i was unhappy i bought stuff to fill a void! Now i am happy i am stopping buying - it is a revelation that actually as you say we are not defined by our posessions. Whenever i get rid of more "stuff" i feel quite liberated! heres to gettin rid lol. ps "when" you do come to scotland, i shall have the kettle on ready & waiting x x x hope you are feeling better very soon.

Colleen - the AmAzINg Mrs. B said...

Hmmm..this story sounds familiar although I didn't have the devastation of a fire..I need to really look at why I spend..I will still enjoy the occasional Estate sale..I try not to go garage saleing anymore..somehow I feel if I go to an Estate sale and find one or two different small items and give them a forever home..see? There I go trying to justify why I do it..

I need to get rid of a lot of "stuff" and not look back. You are strong to have taken that first step..I admire you for that.

You are a good example for me - thank you :-)

gma said...

I love the motto...My problem is that I think everything is beautiful LOL
What a chore you've accomplished. Julie good for you going through all of your stuff. Can you sell it on Craigs List or Ebay? Or maybe a consignment store? Sending you a wish that you will find a new home for your stuff and get a good price for it.

Lila Rostenberg said...

A real catharsis (sp?).
We all have too much stuff, and even as I say this, I have been creating more "stuff". At least I was able to leave several Halloween decorations in the store just now, though the temptation is to decorate for the holiday to welcome Mr. Pear home from his surgery. Instead, I will de-clutter and make room for all his Physical therapy equiptment and perhaps find last years Halloween things to put out for this season!
I'm sorry you didn't have more customers...but I feel like many are trying to sell rather than buy now!
Vintage things can be listed on ETSY.

couragetocreatewriteandlove said...

I love this post.
And I kind of understand what you feel.
and I agreed with Gemma, that's my problem too, everything is pretty and has memories and magic, of course.
yesterday, i read also a similar post, it moved me, too.
if you list your stuff maybe we can buy from you and we can help for sure, you know you can count on me, i am a magpie ;-)

Shopgirl said...

This post says so much. I too was a collector...if one is good, 20 would be better. I bought and sold antiques for a few years and I felt really good because I could keep what I wanted and the things I sold paid for it.I understand what you are saying, thank you for sharing.
This all came to a end when we moved into this ole farm house. I sold things on e-Bay for about a year and had one really big yard sale. Then gave away anything that I didn't need or love. Leaving me with not much. It was good and I have stuck to it. I have no desire to fill every corner of my home. I didn't have much as a kid, so like you said, it filled a few holes. But in the adventure of life, I find that less baggage is just fine. Less to do and more time for things I really do love. I would think, I will use this later. Or maybe the kids will want this.
This is a very good thing dear friend. Hugs, Mary

Naturegirl said...

Live life simply that's my motto now. We also have been purging and editing...it's just stuff..hearts and souls is what's important in life. love and light aNN axo

Rowan said...

I've always liked those words of William Morris, it's a good maxim to live by. It's a shame that your yardsale didn't go well after all that hard work but there are some good ideas from other commenters about selling on Etsy or E-bay. Otherwise you could just donate things to charity shops - anything to get it all out of your life. The grey weather won't have helped your mood so I hope you have some sunshine and blue skies now - in all senses of the words.

mxtodis123 said...

I have nominated you for the Honest Scrap Award. You can pick it up over on my blog Finding Faerieland.

Joyce said...

Sounds to me that you have had a strong "revelation" in your life.
I appreciate your coming forth and telling all of us what WE ourselves sometimes need to hear.

Honestly I live in one of the MOST materialistic cities I have ever lived in in my entire life...and at first it was HARD and I felt as though I had to compete.
And now I don't.

But like you said....."you can't un-ring the bell."

I don't frequent yard sales..and go to very few thrift stores.....but boy have I bought some stuff over the years. AND we too sell it in garage/rumage sales and what a huge hassle that is....blah.

HOPEFULLY we both will be wiser for the wear now. HA!!!
Sorry about your knee.......
SAVE that stuff and have a sale at another location in the next week or so...see if that will do better. IF not can you donate it and pick up a tax credit of some sort?? It's not like "cash in the hand" though that is forsure.

Weather and various other things certainly make a difference.....
Believe me I HATE to have Garage Sales....ugh. But my husband loves to do them. He's a born haggler....HA!

Hang in there my friend...

Shopgirl said...

Wish you lived closer, i would clean your cupboards!!! I made cutains today for my entry room. They will match my pillow top for the window seat. I will post them soon. Big Hugs, Mary