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Tossing what the clutter elves snuck in

I felt like Daniel Boone taming a vast wilderness – my overstuffed basement.

Billy Weeks/The Chattanooga Times/AP
Customers at a yard sale in Dunlap, Tenn.

“Oh, no! You’re moving?”

Such was my neighbor’s distress when she saw household items sprouting on my lawn and taking over my driveway.

“Nope. Just cleaning house!” I called back, rather boastingly.

Yes, I was pleased. This yard sale had been the result of six months of preparation. I had rummaged through every messy and overflowing closet and cupboard – obsessed in my quest to find items to sell, much to my 20-something daughter’s annoyance. I had become Daniel Boone taming the wilderness.

It began the day I glanced at the heaps in my basement and asked myself, “How did this happen?” Simple: It represented 30 years of free rein for the clutter elves, who, I’m pretty sure, cart stuff in under cover of darkness.

You know how it is. You generously save things thinking your children will want them when they get their first apartment. News flash: It’s not happening. What was college furniture from the 1980s or your mother’s “perfectly good” floral dishware, no Millennial is touching. Today everything is clean and modern and, of course, easily found on Craigslist or at Ikea. Duh.

My quest was further encouraged by a brilliant little book titled “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” by Marie Kondo, the darling of the
anticlutter scene a few years back. It’s a brutal book, to be sure, and in my case, a very effective one. “Does it bring you joy?” we are supposed to ask ourselves as we paw through books, board games, and bundt pans. 

I had a larger aim in mind. I needed to lighten the load, mentally. How can you be ready for progress and anticipate new horizons if your Conestoga is sagging to the ground? I needed to let go of the past – to open myself up to fresh possibilities.

I was heartened by a chorus of other clutter-conquering Daniel Boones on the internet. Never have a yard sale on Memorial Day weekend or in mid-July, they advised – nobody’s home. “Merchandize” your stuff nicely on tables, and put kids’ items close to the ground where they can see it and start begging. A tip that paid off for me was to put “guy stuff” near the curb, so husbands driving by could see the tools, old mowers, and dart boards and happily agree with their wives to stop and look.

A gentleman friend of mine acted as resident huckster as the menfolk swarmed and circled like vultures, eyeing the rakes and saws, the downspouts and faucets, the brackets and screws – and what must have been 900 feet of heavy-duty extension cords of varying lengths. Everything went.

But then some things, surprisingly, didn’t. Mother’s dishes sat and sat. But a faded wooden toboggan with a nasty splinter was snatched up ($3) along with rusty ice skates ($5) – both of which, according to the happy buyer, were to adorn her vintage-themed Colonial front porch come Christmas. How clever! 

I met loads of interesting and friendly people, in fact. Mirror Lady was thrilled to buy the antique mirror from my first apartment for her daughter’s first apartment; Futon Girl, a college sophomore, said my futon and frame were perfect for her dorm room; and senior-citizen Peggy persuaded her wary husband that the extra-firm twin bed would solve her back problem. 

And how can I forget Camera Man? Bending intently over the “technology” table, he spotted my husband’s faded camera bag from the early ’80s. Zippered compartments revealed a broken Nikon and some old lenses. “Wow!” he said, as he picked it up and made me an offer. I asked what he was going to do with it. “It’s just cool – I have a shelf at home for cool old technology.” So apparently he bought it just so he could look at it. As he walked down the driveway with the dusty bag slung over his shoulder, for a second I pictured my journalist husband doing the same, heading out to report a story. That made me feel good.

This mother of all yard sales lasted two days, surviving even a pop-up New England downpour that sent us scurrying for tarps. Was it worth it? Definitely. As hard as it can be to let things go, the true value of those things is to remind you of a place you lived, a special time in your life, or a loved one in your heart. Those thoughts are the substance that endures forever.

For now, the clutter elves have been rousted. I’m happy I got to meet some lovely people, exchange some lore, watch folks light up with glee, and make a little jack. 

And I’ll never do it again.

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