In every life there are moments at which a person must ask the question, “What now?”
You graduate. Your service hitch is up. You survive a health crisis, or the end of a marriage.
Your employer goes bankrupt or is bought out. You reach retirement age.
You win the lottery, or inherit a fortune from a distant relation.
You kick a habit.
You have a conversion experience, or realize you have lost your faith.
You realize that the Cubbies will never, ever get back to the World Series in your lifetime.
At these and other junctures, the question arises: “What now?”
About a month ago, I confronted this question in a particularly concrete form. The lease was expiring on my very nice Staunton apartment.
I could either renew it for another year – or move back to Richmond, where I have a dependable option to rent a room with kitchen privileges in a nice neighborhood.
Both options would offer comfortable housing at reasonable rents. Both are near good schools where I could probably substitute as often as necessary to pay the bills.
The problem is that I’m really considering moving. I’ve fallen in love with the Pacific Northwest – particularly the Oregon coast which seems a place where I could focus on writing the novel which has been haunting me for the past 33 years.
And this seems like the ideal time to make that move. I’m not getting any younger.
The thing that prevents my simply picking up and moving is stuff.
Like most people, I have – over the years – accumulated an unconscionable amount of stuff. Moving West would force me to choose among three options: taking it with me, leaving it in storage, or getting rid of it in some responsible way.
Now, taking my stuff with me would be absurd. The cost of transporting everything I own would be prohibitively expensive. And, once I got it all across the continent, I would need to find a place to store it – which might very well influence my choice of housing, and the cost thereof.
Leaving it behind would be ridiculous. I’m very fortunate to have the use of considerable garage space at the family home. Still, now that my sister and her husband are living there, it would be nice to get it out of their way.
Besides, at some point – hopefully many years from now, but at some point – I’m going to die. At which point, all that stuff will become someone else’s problem. Someone who will probably regret my passing but who will, I feel certain, fail to appreciate the privilege of dealing with my stuff.
And so we arrive at the third, and most logical, conclusion – disposing of my stuff in a responsible manner.
There are many options for this. I’ll cart some of my stuff – clothing, in particular – to Goodwill. Some furniture items – neither valuable nor excessively sentimental – can be brought to Staunton and made available, at a steep discount, to entering graduate students here at Mary Baldwin.
Most of my stuff is books, which I can sale to used bookstores. Those not purchased can be donated to a public library, Mom’s church, or a nursing home.
There are other items – including lots of beekeeping hardware – which I hope to sell to other beekeepers at deep discounts.
My beloved colony died this spring – quite suddenly – almost certainly as a result of agricultural spraying. Whether I go west, or decide to put down roots again somewhere in Virginia, I certainly intend to resume beekeeping – but I’m not hauling bee boxes, hive stands, other heavy items around with me.
Here’s my point: Disposing of all this stuff – even the good stuff – will take a good deal of time.
Sufficient time that I’ll need to postpone any big move until I can get rid of most of it.
For the immediate present, I worked out an extension of my present lease through March, which should give me time to dispose of most of my stuff – and get me past the rainy, gloomy months of a Pacific Northwest winter.
By next spring, if I still want to make the move, I hope to be free to do so, relatively unburdened with stuff.
Recently, I heard an interview with an author – I want to say Barbara Kingsolver – who believes that everyone should begin getting rid of stuff by the age of fifty. The aim, she said, is to have very few possessions when you finally shuffle off this mortal coil.
She made very good sense. I wish I’d heard this advice twelve years ago, when I turned fifty, and had started gradually reducing my massive collection of stuff back then.
Had I done so, I’d have considerably more freedom now.
I’d probably be on my way to new adventures out West.
A word to the wise...