Thursday, 28 July 2016

A Few Useful Moving Helpers

**Please note that this entire moving experience has made me come to grips with my privilege in a most tangible way. Everything that I have written about, joked about, complained about, or simply observed comes from a place of extraordinary fortune and I recognize that even more today than I did a year ago. I have been truly blessed.**

I have never ever used this space for advertising and I promise you all that won't change. I am not the type to tout a product or establishment that I find appealing simply because I know that every person and every experience is different. If I recommend a particular business or individual, it will usually be offline and only if asked. Frankly, I simply don't need the shit. If your experience is less satisfactory than mine, I really don't want to carry the responsibility for your disappointment. But I felt I might be a bit remiss if I didn't share a few really good organizations that we have dealt with over the course of the last few months in preparation for our move.

At the start of this process, I was adamant that we try to make this downsize shift as green as humanly possible. I did have to shift my expectations slightly when I realized that the amount of garbage was more than we could possibly handle even with diligent recycling, repurposing, and reusing. The number of open garbage bags littering (pun intended) our house currently is in double digits due to the fact that the North Jewish Ghetto only collects trash every other week and this week is an off one. And this is the fifth such week in this year's spring/summer cycle. We have overflowed our blue bins every single week and we have done our level best to find new homes for many items that we simply won't have space for. (Thanks to all who have taken things off of our hands. We hope that you use and enjoy them with our compliments.) And of course, there was our garage sale. But even with all of that divestiture, we knew that we still needed a more professional plan to help rid ourselves of junk and other perfectly good but unwanted items. I wish I could tell you that every  company we used was non-profit. They aren't. But they all do yeoman's work in service to the greater good of the community.

Value Village. The thrift store, which has multiple locations in the Greater Toronto Area, is most definitely a for-profit organization and they have had some issues in the past year here in Canada with  a rising price controversy. That said, with Goodwill still on the sidelines here and my personal concerns with The Salvation Army, Value Village has been an oasis in the desert. They will take almost anything that is gently used, including books, VHS tapes, old clothes, housewares, toys, games, and so much more. We have been there so often that some of the young kids who work there know us on sight. While they do resell most of the stuff for profit, they do offer employment to many who have had it rough and it does make me feel better knowing that the mountains of material that we have donated are not ending up in landfills. I can live with the other side of the coin.

Just Junk. We knew very early on that we would require junk removal. Old building materials, broken office furniture, a huge and non-working television were among the massive amounts of debris that need to be hauled. This company, while at its core is a refuse removal group, also has as part of its mandate, a commitment to re-purpose much of what it receives. A "green junk" removal group. I don't care one whit that they might make money on that old TV. We had zero interest in dealing with Craigslist or Kijiji. Just Junk allowed us to maintain a bit of integrity even while we have been over-contributing to the garbage problem.

The Furniture Bank. This non-profit organization collects gently used furniture and other household items for the purpose of transitioning families out of homelessness into safe, clean, and usable spaces.   Many of their clients are women and children who are escaping domestic violence and abusive situations. We paid a pre-arranged fee for them to pick up our donation and then they, in turn, gave  us a tax receipt for almost twice that amount. (I would have donated without the tax receipt.) Two young men arrived (one was a volunteer) and hauled away our family room furniture and other assorted items. They told me that it would be in a new home by Friday. I was so impressed with their honour and professionalism, that I gave a cash donation in addition to the furniture.

I feel comfortable touting my positive experiences with these organizations. If you and yours have had contradictory incidents, then I'm sorry. All I can say is every situation is different. I am only speaking for myself and they have all worked well for me. I feel a bit cleaner for at least attempting to do right by both my privilege and the environment.

Two weeks today....

Monday, 25 July 2016

Moving Stress

According to healthcare people who know a lot more about this stuff than do I, the five most stressful situations in life are...(listed here in no particular order, because I would never presume that one is worse than another.)

1. The death of a loved one.
2. Job Loss
3. Major Illness
4. Divorce

Even if the move is a wanted upgrade or a downsize, moving is a cataclysmic disruption to one's routine and an all-around pain in the ass. There is little to no downtime during a move and the continual need to maintain organization and a composed non-confrontational demeanour is taxing on the psyche, especially when one's default emotional response to any situation trends more to the batshit crazy side of the ledger. But I believe what really has most of us movers skipping over to the "lock me up in a rubber room and throw away the key" side of the scale is that no matter how much we plan, no matter how organized and colour-coded our strategy may be, no matter how efficient, neat, and tidy we are, there is still an enormous amount of control that must be relinquished, and it is that dependence on the kindness and competence of others that is making me cuckoo for cocoa puffs. 

The Husband and I moved four times in the first ten years of our marriage. Of those four, only one went smoothly, and strangely enough, that is the one I can't remember at all. (I think it has something to do with being more preoccupied with a 9-month old at the time.) During our second move from an apartment to our first house, the movers simply didn't show up. When we finally managed to cajole them into making an appearance, the building we were moving from threatened us with police action because we were moving after hours. When the movers heard that the cops were on the way, two of them bade a hasty retreat citing the fact that they were on parole. We were left in a half-completed mess. When the cops did finally arrive, they were really cool and said (and this is a quote that is etched in my memory even after thirty years) "Fuck 'em. I'd move!" That particular move took over twenty-four hours, ruined our brand new couch, saw us threatened with legal action from  subletters for not vacating the apartment on time, (even though they weren't moving in for another two weeks) and left us freezing in the new house for another day because we weren't there in time to let in Toronto Hydro.

When we moved into our current location I was actually far more relaxed. We literally moved around the corner. I sent the boys to school in the morning from one house and told them to walk back at the end of the day to the new one. We were able to walk most of our most fragile items over ourselves and there were no traffic or city headaches to deal with. I was stupid and I got complacent. I wasn't paying close enough attention to the details and thus was repaid with a nightmare. The people who were living in our new house were renters. They vacated without issue, but the actual owner, an expatriate gentleman who was no longer residing in the country, had stored most of his personal and business effects in the basement. It was packed floor to ceiling with boxes of shit that he no longer wanted nor required in his new digs. We were assured for months before that he would have everything out by our moving day. We were blatantly lied to. 

On the day of our move, he showed up and started hauling his crap out of the basement and dumped it on the driveway and in the garage. His shit covered the entirety of both. We couldn't park our cars, nor could the moving van properly access the house. The movers had to run a gauntlet of broken toys, old building materials, bulky trash, and anything that wouldn't make his return trip abroad in order to walk through the front door. We had neighbourhood kids and out of area locals stopping by asking if they could rummage through the trash. Our new neighbours, already less than enamoured with us because of our big goofy dog and our two goofy kids, threatened to call the cops and have us cited by the city. (That bastard came face to face with karma. A few years later the cops came and arrested him for spousal abuse. He was gone a few months later.) The Husband chased a garbage truck down the street and offered the maintenance guys $20.00 each if they would haul the stuff. Thank God for unethical people willing to succumb to bribery. Yup. That's the strangest prayer I have ever uttered.

So it is with great and understandable trepidation that I face our move in two weeks. We have cleaned and sorted and emptied and packed. We have arranged and managed and organized and calendared. We have dealt with cable and internet and alarms and mail. 

And yet....

I know that deep in that deepest recess of my soul that it still may not be enough, that something could easily and without warning fuck up from the inside out, and that has my stress levels soaring into the bright red zone. There simply aren't enough breathing exercises available to calm my palpitations. I am the person who likes order. I am the person who likes neatness. I am the person who revels in calm. Moving involves none of those things.

If you have some kind of zen technique for quelling stress, I am open to anything natural and without the need for a prescription. Oh...and I don't imbibe. Ready...set....comment....

Two weeks and counting...

Sunday, 17 July 2016

The Art of Garage Sales

Garage sales are just not my thing.

There I said it.

I understand why some people enjoy the experience. It is the thrill of the hunt. It's like an urban  safari and the weapons of choice are loonies and toonies. A giant Pokemon Go discovery/scavenger experience whereby the loot is real rather than virtual. There are treasures to be uncovered, bargains to be discovered, deals to be negotiated and consummated. 

Me? I simply don't enjoy that kind of procurement. I prefer to instead laser focus my purchases, attend to my needs in a timely fashion, and to not worry as to whether it works or has acquired bedbugs in a prior life. And...for every Pissarro that is uncovered under that picture of dogs playing poker or every piece of Limoges glass discovered in the "everything for a buck" bin, there are ten DVD players that are broken and dozens of purses with holes. Ya..garage sales are for those with a strength of shopping character that I simply don't possess. 

Also, the introverted me is just not that fond of conversing with strangers. In fact, the whole idea gives me a combination of the cold sweats and the dry heaves. So when it became obvious early on in the moving process that a garage sale would be one of the necessary steps in the facilitation of our junk removal, my panic attacks began in earnest. I honestly had no clue where to begin.

Thank God for competent help and that help arrived like manna from heaven in the form of Younger Son's B'Shert. An experienced garage "saler" and a natural conversationalist with a lovely outgoing and personable demeanour, she was our saviour. She came armed with an organizational plan and basically just took over the sales and bargaining. She intuitively understood each and every customer and I marvelled at her PR skills that came easily to the fore. This woman could sell space heaters in the tropics. I was in absolute awe when she made a deal for the obsolete technology that is a laser disc player and threw in the complete collection of discs with a guy who was clearly in need of ego-stroking. In short...she was remarkable and her dexterity allowed both The Husband and me to remain quietly in the background until needed for questions. My gratitude and love for her are off the charts.

But, it was the people that really made the day. The mixed multitude of personalities that visited was fascinating, at times a bit creepy, and always entertaining. 
  • There was the extremely early riser (Hello! 7:00am on a Saturday??) who came in search of fishing gear. Dude. This is the North Jewish Ghetto. The only fish we know of up here is of the smoked and gefilte varieties.
  • There was the millennial who showed up before 8:00 wanting only '70s era speakers and stereo components. Strangely enough, we were able to accommodate the lad. 
  • There was the gentleman who browsed for over a half an hour hoping to outfit his man cave. When he bought the tree shearers in order to help with his "manscaping" we could not contain our giggles. the words of Inigo Montoya "You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means."
  • There was the Aussie senior who absolutely loves these sales but was under strict orders from his wife to NOT buy anything. He was infatuated with the dog and playfully offered Younger Son a healthy sum for him. When he finally left with several unopened cans of Thompson's Water Seal, he invited us to attend his funeral which he figures will be held this coming Tuesday because his wife was going to kill him. People like this gentleman renew my faith in humanity.
  • There was the slightly off-centre young guy who perused ever single cheap item available, asked us if the movie posters were vintage-aged, (like we were descendants of The Warner Brothers) haggled for quarters over some hand-held games, and finally made off with a single issue of Mad Magazine. Younger Son, who figured he needed some fresh bathroom reading, came within thirty seconds of escorting the hombre off of the property.
  • There was the young married couple who bought the seven foot MGM movie poster for eight dollars and then realized that they couldn't fit it into their Japanese compact. The wife wanted the husband to walk it home, an approximately 45-minute shlep in the summer heat dragging a seven foot MGM movie poster. He looked at her with bemusement until he realized that she wasn't fucking with him. They heatedly argued about it in a language we were all grateful not to comprehend. Suffice it to say, we refunded the eight bucks. It's still here if anybody is in the market for a fabulous seven foot MGM movie poster. Free to the first taker.
  • There was the lady who bought the brand new pool noodles for her grandchildren for a quarter each but was insistent that she would only purchase two and not the third that still remains. Really lady? It's a fucking quarter. Couldn't you have taught them lessons in sharing for a fucking quarter?
  • There were the "window shoppers" who were either too lazy or too important to get out of their cars to browse. One woman actually drove onto the curb on the opposite side of the street because she wasn't paying attention to her driving.
  • There were the kids who came along with their parents who were so excited to spend allowances on games and toys. We went really easy on them because they were just so damned cute and polite.
  • There was the kindergarten teacher who bought all of our K'nex toys for her classes and complimented us on our choice of children's toys. I would have given her the entire collection for nothing, but that really isn't the point of a garage sale. We gave her a deep discount. This woman is doing God's work and spending out of her own pocket to do it.
  • There was the middle-aged absolutely not Jewish guy who bought the "Blessing for the Home" pewter plaque inscribed entirely in Hebrew without any knowledge as to what it was or what it meant. For all he knew it could have been a Wiccan curse.
By the time it was all over and we had packed up most of the flotsam and jetsam into the car to take over to Value Village, we were all at the end of our garage sale ropes. Even the dog looked like he had had enough of people for one day. A green junk disposal came to remove the trash and the rest is being repurposed at Toronto's favourite thrift shops. There are still some posters in the garage and we will give them away gratis to anybody who wants them.

I have a new appreciation for garage sales. I grasp the people who attend them with a greater understanding and a renewed compassion. I still can't imagine myself shopping at one, nor do I ever plan to hold one again, but I do feel a lightness of body and spirit for having shed pounds of stuff that simply wasn't being used any longer and will find new life in other's homes. I am also slightly less the consumer whore that I felt I was as we began to clean and purge in preparation for the move. 

A sincere thank you to Younger Son and His B'Shert for everything they did to make this happen; Older Son for his shlepping; my parents who came to donate even more stuff and to support us; Sister/Cousin for the delivery and hopefully the pick-up of tables; and to all the friends who came just because they love us. Your presence was far more valuable than any purchase.

There is still more to do before moving day, but a big step has been taken.

Less than four weeks to go.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Am I Erasing Memories?

How do we draw the line between straightforward downsizing and memory erasure?

If moving into a smaller space were simply all about shedding the detritus that we no longer want, use, or realistically require, it would be really easy. I would simply call 1-800-Junk and dispose of everything except the bed, a TV (Hello, Murdoch Mysteries!), a couple of place settings, and toilet paper. (I tend to splurge in this area.)

But reality's a bitch, right?

I wrote the other day about the "rules" we have adopted and attempted to adhere to during this time of upheaval. But I have also become acutely aware of the passionate sentimentality associated with each and every item we are sifting through. Everything from old toys to broken picture frames seems to have a memory attached to it. I must admit that I wasn't fully prepared for the tsunami of emotion that has flattened me as we purge and pack. The Husband has taken to gently mocking me for assigning double the amount of time to every task because I have either had to take photographs of things or write full-throated blog defenses in favour of keeping them.

I know that I can't possibly keep it all and we have already divested ourselves of huge swaths of possessions in order to start afresh. But every so often I am struck by yet another wave of angst that suggests that perhaps I am not paying proper respect to the past and the memories of those whom I cherished.

Yesterday I came across this.

This old-style tin coin bank was given to me by my grandfather. He passed away when I was only three and half years old and my memories of him are reduced to a few old pictures and stories from my mom. I have nothing that belonged to him. He was a man of simple means and there were a lot of us grandchildren, so gifts were rarely extravagant. This child's toy is the only gift that I own that he gave exclusively to me. My mother can't recall if it was a birthday or Chanukah present, but for years she wouldn't allow me to part with it. When my parents downsized from their house to a condo, I took it and it has been in my basement ever since.

Will I display it? Probably not.

Do I have a use for it? Absolutely not

Will I sell it? Positively not.

Will I donate it? Well...therein lies the conundrum.

To the untrained eye, this is junk. It belongs in a garage sale. To me, it is the only tangible connection  to a long-lost member of my family. To me, parting with this item is like erasing his memory, my only memory of him.

This moving exercise has opened up a lifetime of emotional responses. I am living in daily conflict between brutal reality and sepia-coloured reminiscence. isn't at all fun.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

First World Moving Rules

Before I delve into the real core of this post, I cannot and will not pretend that the things that I am describing are anything other than first world problems. When I talk of moving and the inevitable "downsizing" that goes along with it, I am continually aware of how fortunate I am to have been in a stable home for all of these years, to have had the luxury of accumulating the massive amounts of "stuff" that we are shedding, and to recollect the memories that go along with all of those possessions. I am making every effort to make certain that these things are not just disposed of but instead are being carefully recycled, reissued, reused, and reinvigorated. We are donating, sharing, giving, and repurposing. We will be holding our first-ever garage sale in a couple of weeks, (I am certain that it will be the subject of a stand-alone post) an event we both have carefully avoided for over three decades but understand the necessity of if we want to properly divest ourselves of more shit. But, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the intense feelings of obsolescence and advancing seniority that has come along with this endeavour. When The Husband posted a picture this week of all of our outmoded electronic components, I had to laugh, but I also despaired just a bit at how much money had been invested and how easily we tended to discard the "not-so-old" and replace it with the "not-much-better."
We have had to adhere to some carefully crafted rules for this downsizing project as to what is a "keeper" and what is a "toss". Most times it has been easy. I mean, who really needs to keep the lucite Magen David paperweight given to Older Son as a Bar Mitzvah gift? Certainly not Older Son. (If you were the person or persons who lovingly chose and gave this as a gift, my sincere apologies, but somebody who shopped at Value Village probably has it by now.) It does get a bit awkward when we can't seem to agree on the inherent sentimentality of an object or if said object meets the standard of our collective taste. Thus, the rules.

1. If it hasn't been used or worn in over a year, it's a toss.
This has been our rule of thumb for clothing, linens, towels and the like. Yes, there are exceptions like the Elmo sweatshirt that Older Son wore every day for a solid year or the children's sweaters knitted by The Husband's grandmother, but keeping a worn-out blanket because it used to be on the boys' beds and may invoke nostalgia for those nighttime parent/child reading rituals, is not enough of a reason to retain it and have it take up precious storage space. Find a book that conjures up the same memories and treasure that instead.

2. Try to not become a slave to new technology.
Yes, you read that correctly. I said new technology. I wrote last week about my dilemma of disposing of our vast collection of vinyl, cassette tapes, VHS tapes, and DVDs. While digitizing much of the music has already been accomplished, we are still hanging on to the original recordings. I just cannot seem to part company with the music sources of my youth. That said, we have thus far donated almost one hundred boxes of books and there are more still to come. We are keeping important volumes, hardcover children's classics, a few autographed editions, and our Judaic collection, but the old textbooks, beach-reading novels, computer manuals, and 3 sets of encyclopaedias are gone. We have thoroughly embraced e-reading and would rather keep the space for multimedia.

3. Photographs NEVER get tossed. 
I don't care how old or ragged they look, photos are an always keep. The same goes for family videos, the boys' plays recorded on VHS, wedding albums from our parents, and yearbooks. This should not require explanation or justification.

4. If you can't identify it, it goes. 
I had a true WTF moment with this charming little gadget.

We later identified it as a citrus juicer but just the mere fact that we had no idea what it was, sent it off to Value Village.

5. If it makes you weep uncontrollably, it is a keeper. 
Such was our find of a 1995 recording of Younger Son chanting the Four Questions. I. Could. Not. Stop. Crying. The Husband, visibly touched by my waterworks, immediately set about transferring the old cassette to digital. It is now safely catalogued on my computer, but the original stays.

6. There is no sentimentality attached to furniture...unless....
Some of our furniture is being donated. Some of the smaller items are being sold at the garage sale. But what of those pieces that fall between the house/condo cracks?

My grandmother did all of the needlework on this bench back in the early 70s. It used to sit at the foot of my bed in my childhood room. I haven't had a place for it in years but it has followed me around through five moves and 31 years of marriage. This one is still in the toss-up category.

7. There is no sentimentality attached to dishes...unless...
My Sister/Cousin told me this week of her quietly absconding with her mother's rolling pin during the packing up of their house. There is no monetary value to the item, but the memories are precious to her. I get that. There is a tea set that my grandmother's brother brought over from Germany after the war. It was owned by a Jewish family and kept hidden. They didn't survive the war but the tea set did. It's a keeper.

8. Elmo stays. It's a hard and fast rule.
Older Son had a bit of a think over Elmo yesterday but chose to leave him behind. I said that there was no way that was happening. He is getting a bath today and will make the move with us. Space be damned.

And therein lies the true complication of downsizing. How do I separate a battered and worn stuffed doll from its cornucopia of memories? Which items go and which items stay? It is the Unetaneh Tokef of moving. Who shall live to see ripe age and who shall not....

5 weeks and counting.

**Look around your personal space. Are there things that you could easily do without? Are there things that are must keeps? Let me know in the comments section.**