Culling, Packing, Moving On

Yes, I’ve been MIA for a few weeks. Thanks for your patience. I’m back.

You may recall my house was for sale. My son the realtor, Joshua Domke, aka my Son the Marine, treated my home’s listing like a military mission. One listing, one caravan, two open houses and dozens of home-showings later, the house sold. Escrow closed yesterday. Glory hallelujah!

Leading up to putting my house on the market, my sister Shelly Shively the interior redesigner helped me stage the house. She forced me to box up personal clutter like family photos (I know – “clutter” is a harsh name for those precious images). Then I stashed the stacks of boxes in a little storage area near my courtyard, totally out of view. Out of sight, out of mind.

It’s a challenge to show a house to prospective buyers while you’re still living in it. One must be at the ready every day for a realtor to call and bring by a potential home-buyer. The house must be kept tidy at all times, just in case. Waste paper baskets dumped. Sinks wiped out. Toilets pearly white. Clutter stashed. Dishes in the dishwasher. Personal papers put away.

There were a few times when I’d get the call that a realtor was heading over that I’d be literally running to scoop up laundry and shove it in a box that I’d toss into the garage just moments before the realtors and their clients arrived.

Once, just as I was leaving, I spied a pair of my underwear on a chair in my bedroom, so I grabbed them, shoved them in my purse and ran out the door just as the realtor was pulling in the driveway. You can only imagine what a memorable event it was a few hours later when I opened my purse to extract my wallet at Safeway.

I learned so much during this process. First, I learned that realtors do a boatload of work and spend countless hours drawing up tedious paperwork and taking clients to look at homes, most of which will not pan out to be The One. I was especially aware of this when I put an offer on a house in the Garden Tract that the seller eventually declined. It turns out that “put an offer” in realtor talk means “tons of papers to fill out”. Realtors earn every dollar of measly commission they get.

Next I learned to not get too excited when buyers expressed interest in my home. The first day of the first open house three people said they wanted to buy my house. None followed through.

But finally, a serious buyer made a serious offer. It was time for me to pack and move. I’d put an offer on a house in west Redding that was accepted, but the timing wasn’t working out so that I could seamlessly move from one house to another. My plan required packing and storing most of my belongings not only until escrow closed on the new place, but until some of the home’s issues were taken care of well enough that I could move in.

I’m staying with a friend during this transitional time, living out of a couple of suitcases stuffed with clothes and shoes. Baskets and shopping bags hold a tiny office and my specialty food stuff. My biggest concern is that our friendship not be strained from overexposure. We’re two single people, accustomed to living alone. I know I’m a loud typist, for example, which is just one of my many known shortcomings. It’s not lost on me that I’m twice divorced, which must account for something.

Packing to leave my Garden Tract house was one of the most difficult, emotionally and physically taxing things I’ve done in many years. My daughter came to help me deal with just my office, a place I really never used as an office, but a room in which I stashed stuff.

Doni's daughter came to town to facilitate her mother's office intervention.

Doni’s daughter came to town to facilitate her mother’s office intervention.

My daughter called me a hoarder. I like to think of myself as a collector.

She identified that I have some “issues” with collecting organizational and stationery materials, like file folders, stickers, envelopes, and specialty paper. Ironically, I never got around to using these things, to you know, organize. She culled my office-supply collection down to one box. It was painful to see the boxes of things she had marked to get rid of. I had to look away. OK, so I may have retrieved one really pretty packet of paper. But that was all.

She encouraged me to part with some of my other collections, such as sacks of wine corks that I was sure I’d do something crafty with one day. I put them on my front porch and put a shout-out on Facebook for anyone to come get them. Within minutes, they were gone.

Doni has saved wine corks for decades, just waiting for that day when she'd do something creative with them.

Doni has saved wine corks for decades, just waiting for that day when she’d do something creative with them.

My wise daughter said I also have issues with make-up, because I had six drawers of various drug-store variety make-ups, none of which were of any quality (because I’m too thrifty to buy expensive make-up). By the time she was done, she’d thrown out about five pounds of redundant old make-up and allowed me to keep one small make-up bag with the bare essentials. She pointed out I’d be better off spending a little bit more money on a few nice make-ups, rather than buy a large quantity of cheap stuff. It was liberating.

In addition to my daughter’s help, I literally could not have made this move without my friend Chris and my twin Shelly, each of whom worked many, many hours helping fill and stack boxes. They endured my asking them to be more frugal with the packing paper, and if they thought that I had a ridiculous amount of stupid crap, they kindly kept those thoughts to themselves.

In the beginning, all the boxes were neatly and specifically labeled.

In the beginning, all the boxes were neatly and specifically labeled.

Friends Jim and Darcie from Elk Grove, who felt (unnecessarily) guilty for not being here to help me pack, gave me the most awesome gift of having my house professionally cleaned so the new owners would have a sparkling clean new home on move-in day. It was a godsend, because by that point, I was exhausted, and would have done a lousy cleaning job if it were left up to me.

In the beginning of packing, everything was clearly and specifically marked. Fragile items were carefully, individually wrapped in tissue paper.

But the last day, I was using pillow cases, pot holders, paper towels and even Kleenex to protect stacks of breakables. My labeling took a turn for the indifferent. There were many boxes marked “miscellaneous” which I will need to deal with eventually.

Labeling took a turn for the worst by the last day.

Attention to detail was abandoned by the last day of packing.

Either way, I had a lot left to move, and that’s after I’d held a two-day moving sale, and made many, many, many trips to People of Progress to donate stuff I found I could live without after all. The closer I got to moving day, the less attached I felt to my precious stuff. I shocked myself how easily I got rid of things that I once liked. Suddenly, it all seemed like just so much, too, too much junk.

Let me just pause here to implore you to learn from me: Start culling your belongings now, before you move.

But I digress. The last few days of packing were the worst. Shelly and Chris were gone, and it was down to just me in my increasingly empty house.

In the end, it was down to the bare necessities.

In the end, it was down to the bare necessities.

Most of my belongings were now in storage, waiting for when I’ll move them into my new place. But there were so many odds and ends left behind, and the dreaded miscellaneous boxes seemed to multiply.

Finally, there was just one weird bin that held all kinds of random leftovers that hadn’t made it into a special box.

Random miscellaneous stuff seemed to multiple.

Random miscellaneous stuff seemed to multiply.

After spending two nights on a blow-up bed (thank you, Tom, for the loan), it was the night to leave. By midnight, my car was packed “Grapes of Wrath” style. I was punchy tired.

Doni's car was packed up for her final departure at midnight.

Doni’s car was packed up for her final departure at midnight.

As much as I was ready to leave this house behind, there were some things, such as a pair of vintage bank doors that I bought at an Epperson’s auction in the ’80s, that I schlepped around for years and through two marriages until I turned them into linen closet doors in the new house. They’ll remain with the new owners.

Doni bought these doors in the '80s, and they stayed with her through two marriages and many moves. Now, they'll remain in her old house.

Doni bought these doors in the ’80s, and they stayed with her through two marriages and many moves. Now, they’ll remain in her old house for the new owners.

And there was a pair of office windows that were left over from my former Igo dream-house construction job.

Doni salvaged these windows from her former Igo construction project. They will remain in her old house.

Doni salvaged these windows from her former Igo construction project. They will remain in her old house.

The thing about my Garden Tract house is that it was the perfect project for a time in my life when my second marriage had crashed and burned in an especially ugly way. I’m a slow healer, and the remodeling of my Garden Tract house was a wonderfully healing distraction.

Yes, there were a few months early on when my ex and I were going to marriage counseling, and during that time my then-husband did some fine woodworking in the house, such as a Japanese joinery header between the entry and kitchen, a wine cabinet, a bathroom cabinet and a kitchen cabinet. All are beautiful pieces, but when the marriage ended, I continued to see the woodworking and remember him.

Now, someone else owns my house. I hope they love it as much as I did. And I hope they enjoy the best parts about living in the Garden Tract, such as the wide, tree-lined streets, and being able to walk to Sequoia Middle School to watch the fireworks (or better yet, see them from their swimming pool). I hope they enjoy hearing the middle school band members practice for parades twice a year, as the kids march throughout the Garden Tract. If the new owners love trick-or-treaters and Christmas carolers, they’ll love their new house.

Most of all, I hope they get to know and enjoy some of the wonderful neighbors on our street. There are so many I won’t identify them by name lest I forget someone.

Meanwhile, I’m moving on to a new place – eventually. First escrow must close. After that, I’ll introduce you to my new house. It’s smaller than my old house, but it’s pretty adorable. I love it already.

Unpacking, I won’t love so much. But I don’t have to worry about that today. Right now, I have more pressing demands, like finding my checkbook. I’m pretty sure it’s in the miscellaneous box.

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate. Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments