Having successfully changed the overhead light bulb, Jessica tentatively balanced on a collapsing packing box, and proudly surveyed her treasures clustered below. She had liberated her small hoard of favorite possessions from the garage. Would they, in turn, liberate her?
Changing the light bulb was child’s play compared to her struggles over the last three weeks to realign her world to her satisfaction. She had taken her husband Terry’s advice, though she doubted he would be happy with the choices she’d made, which was not surprising as they seldom agreed.
One thing they had agreed on was their need for some guidance in their downsizing exercise. The Chaos to Control workshop, hyped as it was, had been worth the effort. At considerable cost, she and Terry had ended up with a step-by-step how-to to go from a crammed garage, cupboards that belched angrily when opened, jam-packed drawers that hid necessities underneath never used items, to a clean sweep: everything divided as directed.
The manual was written in what was referred to as “accessible, practical steps to move from chaos to order.” While Terry was in Ontario, seeking a job and affordable (cheap) accommodations, Jessica was left behind in Vancouver tasked with taking the downsizing and packing process from theory to practice.
Her husband, anxious about leaving Jessica to do the job, had decided to use his sweet side and leave on a high, hopefully effective, note. Before departing for the airport, he had sailed in the door with a pot of flowers in hand. She doubted that Terry remembered that the heavy scent of lilies made her think of funerals and took the high road. After all it was the thought that counted.
“Sit,” her husband had commanded thrusting the flowers at her. He then pulled up a dining room chair opposite, taken her hands in his (as he had when they first dated) and smiled.
“Your friend Alice chided me for leaving you with so much work. She has a point.” (Impressed by Alice’s position as vice-president of a local moving company, Terry was inclined to listen to her advice.) “Getting rid of things is a lot for someone like you to take on.”
“What do you mean, someone like me?”
“Don’t be mulish. You know you don’t like to throw things out, even things you don’t need. And you attribute feelings even to inanimate object. Who else, over 6 years of age, would worry about chucking an old guitar?”
“It was my first one. I feel sorry for things that aren’t appreciated.”
“Very worthy, I’m sure, but now you have to be mature. Money’s tight and the new place will be smaller. We’ll be spending time with my family so we won’t need extra china and chairs. And a lot of what we have is junk. When I get the job I deserve, I don’t expect to entertain the boss on an IKEA dining room table.”
Jessica promised to be strong and follow the Downsizer’s advise to the letter, at whatever cost. After she dropped Terry at the airport, she retreated to a local café. Her spirits buoyed by a cappuccino, she reviewed the manual, did some deep breathing and headed home for the face-off.
Following the professional Downsizer’s advice, she divided Terry and her belongings into three categories: What you need to survive, what makes you happy and what just takes up space. Demoting things to that last category was a challenge.
Years earlier, Alice had christened Jessica The Hopeful Hoarder because she kept things such as her scuba gear that she hoped to use in happier times. But she’d also kept things—a broken rattan chair and tattered beaded jacket—she felt duty bound to repair.
Inspired by the Downsizer¹s speech, she’d relegated the “need some work” items to the taking up space category and dragged them off to the thrift shop.
Necessities had been delivered to her funky new apartment or shipped across the country. Now, scattered on the living room floor were things that Jessica had kept because they would make her happy: the green pup tent, downy sleeping bag and fold-up chair, ready for her first camping adventure in a decade; the scuba gear not needed on museum holidays; the leash waiting expectantly for a dog (Terry preferred cats); mystery books not learned enough for their library.
Soon, Terry, himself a victim of downsizing, would return from his foray east having instructed her to trim their possessions to the bone. “I’m not paying to drag your odds and ends across the country, so follow the Downsizer’s criteria to a T.”
She had done as asked.
The phone rang. Jessica rushed to answer it. Leaping over the debris, she splattered on the freezer box, hopped across the room, and grasped the receiver in time to hear the message. “It’s me. I’m in a taxi heading home a day early. Job secured. We can stay at Aunt Betty’s short term. Heat some soup and open a bottle of bubbly. Time to celebrate.”
Jessica sunk onto her camping stool. She had no speech prepared. Terry was better at responding to unwelcome announcements: quick, decisive, allowing no room for interjections. She wasn’t as fast on her feet.
Her message would have said: Your furniture shipped to Ottawa, bachelor apartment rented here for me. All packed up: no pot for soup, and no glasses for champagne.
The key turned in the lock. A head poked around the corner, “Oh God,” her husband groaned. “You got rid of the sofa to make room in the van for junk? I told you to follow the Downsizer’s advice.”
“I did,” Jessica replied cheerfully, rubbing her swollen ankle. “As he instructed, I’m getting rid of something that I don’t need to survive, takes up space and doesn’t make me happy.”
Published at Pilcrow and Dagger, July 2017, Vol.3, No.5