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 what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is 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 lives in Redding, California.
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37 Responses

  1. trek says:

    Having moved more times than fingers in search for the “perfect” country to live in I can tell you that only labeling the top of a box will come back to haunt you more than once. You didn’t mention if you have any of your kids personal box’s too move and store?

    • Yup. Boxes marked on the top and one side. Yes, I have some bins that belong to two of my three kids.

      • Grammy says:

        When my kids bought their first home I gave them all their year books, report cards, craft projects, scout stuff…everything.  Told them also that I didn’t want anymore dust catchers for Christmas/Mother Day gifts.  Now I give THEM stuff that has to be dusted (imagine me smiling on this one.)

        Good luck on your new home.  Hope you are happy and content in west Redding.  Lots of walking areas await you.

  2. Beverly Stafford says:

    Oh my dear, what a chore.  My mother played bridge with several of her friends, and the subject came up of moving.  One lady said, “I’d rather be pregnant than moving!” to which another replied, “I’d rather be moving.”  And that’s how the others learned that a late-in-life baby was on the way.

    The worst is behind you, and now the fun – really, honestly – starts with making your new home your own with all your own crap junk things put where you want them, one box at a time.

    I’d write more, but I need to continue culling, paring, sorting, donating, tossing – and I”m not even moving.

  3. Randall R Smith says:

    Our son calls our garage the hoarder place you had and it is worse than you knew.  After 43 years here, we are awash in things that need to find a new home.  May be you can hire out for doing Align work at our home when the dust settles near by.  Thanks for sharing and I am a little surprised mention of the heat never occurred in your writing.  Moving this time of year has to be especially enjoyable.

    • It took me seven years to get to this state, so I can only imagine what 43 years would produce.

      I didn’t mention the heat because all my packing – with the exception of the garage – was done in the air conditioned house. Speaking of the garage, my helper-friend Chris has an almost savant-like organizational ability. I gave him permission to use his judgement to pack one large tool box with everything I’d need, and the rest of the odds and ends, we got rid of. I won’t even miss it.

      I didn’t actually load any boxes or furniture into the container bound for storage, but hired a couple of young strong guys to do it. I wouldn’t dream of asking family and friends to do that kind of moving grunt work at this stage of life.

      • Grammy says:

        Please please do not keep the storage unit after you are finally able to move in.  I see this as a total waste of money and after a year the contents are usually not worth the money you just flushed down the toilet.


        • Oh, believe me, I won’t.

        • Larry Sparman says:

          The last time I moved it took six months before I reached the conclusion, I was paying $65 a months for stuff that I didn’t even know was in there

          • Beverly Stafford says:

            I read an anti-clutter book – you know, the kind where you see yourself on every page – and one suggestion in particular stuck with me.  The author described the stuff we hold on to and came to books.  How could anyone chide you for having shelves of books, she asked.  She went on to say that you should analyze just how much real estate was being  used – and paid for – to house all those tomes.  We donated literally hundreds of books to the library after that revelation.  I still have more books than I should, but they are on my tablet now – costly, but they don’t take up shelf space.

    • K. Beck says:

      As the child who ended up cleaning out my parent’s house after them living there 40+ years; on behalf of other’s children: PLEASE CLEAN OUT YOUR HOUSES!!! Thank you!

  4. Congratulations on getting through the hard part! With three grand darlings living with us, we are up to our ears in THEIR stuff — but  we’ve been tossing out and giving away a lot of OUR things that just seem to weigh us down and crowd us – or get broken or covered with sticky fingerprints.

    We’ve assisted people with many estates and have learned that pretty much NOBODY wants the stuff that’s cluttering the drawers and closets. It is a genuine kindness to get rid of it now.

    Hope you get a little break and a breather before tackling all those boxes. 🙂

    • Erin, you are so smart to start getting rid of your stuff now, and you’re correct that nobody wants their relatives’ stuff, mainly because they have their own stuff.

      We will soon be going on our annual family camping trip at the coast, and I plan to spend a lot of time relaxing.

  5. Ginny says:

    Wonderful you are moving on, Doni, from the house you made into a beauty, but in some ways wasn’t the best of memories either, to possibly become the best days of your life!

    Just enjoy!!!!!!!


    • Thanks, Ginny. My Garden Street house was a seven-year sanctuary for me at a time when I needed my own sweet healing space. I’m so much stronger now, and you’re correct that the house holds memories and reminders that I’m ready to put behind me.

  6. A. Jacoby says:


    well . . . I laughed right out loud at the Safeway/underpants story!! In fact, I’m chuckling again as I write this comment. If that sort of thing has happened to you . . . and to me . . . makes you wonder what kind of stuff those clerks have seen. Maybe one of them should write a book.

    And reading the part (and seeing the picture of your daughter) about the office and the collection of reams of “cute”paper gives me the shudders. Why? because I’m sitting in my own office space FILLED to the nth degree with odds and ends of “cute” paper. I look at it all and think, I’ll let the kids worry about it. But I KNOW how much better I would feel if I would just take the shelves by the horns and do extraneous stuff surgery! Maybe next week.

    • AJ, don’t wait. Do it asap. You’ll feel so much lighter without the burden of all that stuff. And it can be passed on to someone else who needs it. Just sayin’ 😉

  7. btw, someone emailed me to ask what I’m doing between houses. I added a paragraph of explanation, above. Gotta love online.

  8. Melody says:

    We have been planning our great escape for 2 years now. First we quit buying, no more yards sales, auctions or oh I gotta have it. Then came the slow purge, a yard sale a year until this year. A yard sale first weekend in May, house on the market, house sold in 2 weeks, a single young  woman (but I  wanted a family to live and live in house for 30 years like we did). Yikes this is serious now. My gut said it would fall through and it did. Another yard sale in June,  house back on the market and sold to first family who viewed it, 12 hours after going back on. Now THIS is serious.  Got to find a place to live, decide and conquer all the memorabilia. The boomerang child leaves for Humboldt on the 20th, house closes on the 24th. We will be having 1 more sale on the 22nd. We are keeping NOTHING, Well almost nothing. No furniture,  no misc. And the kids have the memorabilia. We are driving to Florida to pick up our new home,  a 37 ft 5th wheel and we will become vagabonds, travelling on a whim to here and there. Excited yes apprehensive YES, worries, only of the unknown, of which most of our future is. A bold step but a necessary one in order to LIVE our life the way we have dreamed. Throughout this experience I have discovered that memories mean more than stuff, and that for us this is the right thing to do and the right time to do it. I hope and pray that the new owners build memories for their young family in their new home as we do the same. 18 days and counting…

  9. Linda Gutierrez Bayless says:


    Congrats on your new home! Looking forward to reading about your new place! I know wherever you move, you will have it looking like a million bucks! Your new neighbors will be lucky to have you! So happy for you! 

  10. Hal Johnson Hal Johnson says:

    If I were given the choice between cleaning out our garage in 24 hours, or jumping off of a bridge, that bridge might look rather attractive.

  11. Cathy A. says:

    Doni, having cleaned out and sold my parents house this past winter through spring, I can only echo your refrain. Please clean out your things, people! No one wants your stuff – especially not your tax returns from the 1970’s. Oy.

  12. Karen says:

    I shed a tear of mirth at the underwear story!  You described moving so beautifully that I think I will print it out and put it in my paper drawer!  My kids will enjoy it someday.  LOL

  13. Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

    Few housekeeping tasks are as satisfying to me as losing 50% of the stuff filling a room.

    But culling is difficult when you live with an anti-culler.  I won’t call her a “hoarder” because she’s not all that interested in the acquisition phase of hoarding.  But try getting rid of something that has the slightest bit of sentimental value, especially if it’s attached to memories of the kids, and be prepared to lose an arm.

  14. Having lived in the same house for 44 years I know what purging means. Even though the house was small, we managed to squirrel many things in the attic. We would bring stuff down, go through it and sort. If we were to keep it, it would get packed up in a box. Some became junk, some to give away, some for recycling. Weeks bringing down stuff from the attic. Of course packing everything up from everywhere else was an extreme chore. When done we filled a 26 foot truck and brought up here from the Bay Area and put in storage for 3 months. Then later another 16 foot truck when the house was sold. The final move we filled pick-up truck and car. There was no room for anything else. Then we had the fun part of moving everything out of storage from the first load. Life changes and I wonder even now at 2 years later what else could I purge. It is amazing how much stuff we collect and thinking it was a good idea at the time. I am sure you will be so happy when you are settled in your new home.

  15. pmarshall says:

    Very scary.  After 63 years of “gathering” stuff, it will be a nightmare to move.  Might be easier to burn the house down.  I am kidding, of course.  But I know who will have to do most of the “culling”.So, I know Doni had a lot of work to take care of everything.  That’s  all for now. Ha.

  16. Jorgi says:

    Oh, my! I also have a bunch of “stuff” to get rid of. When we downsized, our  daughters did most of the packing. Some is in storage, a lot in the garage, etc. In the interests of yard sales, both daughters brought some of their “stuff” to  add to the pile. After this last sale, I said something about no more yard sales. What didn’t sell I’m giving away, tossing, etc. Now, all I need to do is do it! Thank you, Doni, for your inspiration! And blessings in your new house.

  17. T J Gold says:

    I realize this was meant to be a funny article…but what about folks who  “downsize” that don’t have helpful daughters or sisters to help? Where do they find help?

    • Well, I was in a time crunch with a super short deadline, so I was in a frantic-move mode. If you’re not on deadline, start NOW, and chip away at it every day. Go through every item and ask yourself if you love it or if it’s necessary. If you don’t answer yes to those questions, then get rid of  it.

      There’s also the option to pay someone to help cull – which I’ve also done. It helps to sometimes have an impartial detached person to help.

      Good luck!

  18. henry asturi says:

    Congratulations on your move. I hope your new house brings a lot of joy.

    Happy Birthday,


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