Burning a House Down in Slow Motion

Today is the big day!  Tonight we board a plane and wake up in Brazil tomorrow morning.  This is my last post about selling our house and all our stuff.  I’m getting a little tired of talking about it, too.  From here on out, I document this adventure.  

I watched a house burn in slow motion. 

We sold everything we owned except for what we could fit into 20 suitcases.  The bureaucracy in Brazil is such that getting a shipment of furniture and boxes can be very expensive and take 6-9 months.  So, our school pays the extra bag fees and furnishes our apartment.

So for our last 6 months in Nashville, we burned it all down.  Everything in our 4 bed, 3 bath bungalow had to go.  But, as opposed to an actual fire that eats up your whole house in a a night, I had time and I got to choose.  I set aside the things to keep: the mandolin came off its hook on the wall and went into its case.  It will be going in the overhead bin on the plane.  Our wedding photo albums and the kids’ hospital bracelets and the clay owl creation from camp have been packed into boxes for my mom’s basement.  I fished out the baggie of baby teeth from the drawer in the bathroom.  I almost threw it in the keep box, but then I felt like that was a bit nuts, so I stuck them back in the bathroom drawer.  I’ll sleep on it and decide, I thought.

But almost everything had to go.  If I had to guess, we got rid of 95% of our possessions.  The ugly hand-me-down chair that I tried to sew a slipcover for, gone.  The ironing board and the rack that held it on the wall, gone.  The martini shaker made out of a mason jar, gone.

Many things we sold online, still more of it went to Goodwill.  My in-laws came into town and we asked them to bring their pick-up truck to haul off more big things.  As my husband and father-in-law were getting ready to carry a load to the dump and Goodwill, I grabbed a framed IKEA print right off the wall as I walked by and added it to the bed of the truck.  Mismatched winter gloves were gone.  Tiny toddler sandals that lost their matches, gone as well.

Another way to look at it is that it’s a little bit like dying before I’ve died.  This is what someone would have to do with my stuff if I died.  They’d have to sift through each thing individually, deciding if it was useful or sentimental.  What about the giant cup of pens?  What about the awards I won in middle school?  The stained glass rooster?  But I’m not dead, and I get to do it.  Or rather, I have to do it.

It’s exhausting.  It takes an hour to go through a shelf with 30 books on it, asking myself if I love this book enough to put it in a suitcase to Brazil (Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, yes) or enough to put it in a box in my mom’s basement in Cincinnati (Speak with my teaching notes in it, yes.)  I feel terrible deciding the fate of books I’ve loved so much.  Nicholson Baker’s The Anthologist was such an amazing book.  But it doesn’t make the cut for our 20 suitcases, and it doesn’t make sense in a basement in Ohio.  I’m a fat Roman emperor holding a thumb up or down to the poor soul in the ring.  I’d love to just stop and not have to make all these decisions.

But I can’t stop, because we had to burn this all to the ground by the end of June.

It’s the decisions.  So many tiny decisions that pile up.  Everything needs a decision.  The two opened packages of solo cups?  Plastic disposable cocktail weenie forks?  A stack of handmade ceramic appetizer plates my sister-in-law gave us for Christmas?

It’s the Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up on steroids.  The Life Changing Magic of Throwing it all Away, no tidying needed.

For David, the challenge was the Buffy the Vampire Slayer DVDs.  All seven seasons on crappy DVDs with terrible disc menus: bad graphics and cheesy, looping music.  He’s having a hard time getting rid of them.

Buffy was his joy and first binge-watch during college and beyond.  He joined the Buffistas, a web forum for fans of the show, and met many friends that way.  We watched those DVDs together early in our relationship.  One of our closest friends in Nashville is a Buffista who responded when David posted that we were moving there.

Throwing Buffy away feels hard, so he wonders aloud if anyone would want them.

No, I say.  No one wants 15-year-old DVDs.  Oh, and there’s 28 of them.  It’s a real commitment to take those on.

It feels like our stuff is alive and somehow we hurt them with this treatment.  They judge us and glare from their Goodwill garbage bags by the front door.

But a few weeks after verbally confirming that Buffy needs to get thrown away, we actually get around to doing it.  We slide all 28 DVDs out of the DVD binder where they were stored and put them in a garbage bag.  On top of the Buff DVDs we throw in old couch pillows that no longer have slip covers, school binders and binder dividers, old scrapbooking stickers.

(Remember those giant DVD binders that were our pride and joy in the ‘00s?  We curated our entire collection, painstakingly tucking all the booklets behind each DVD.  Yeah, that had to go too.)

Before I put them in the garbage bag, I take a photo of the Buffy DVDs fanned out across the floor.  I thanked them for their joy, and I posted the photo on Facebook.

The next day, I get a ping on my phone telling me I have a Facebook message.  A friend from high school who lives in Salt Lake City wants to know if I’d be willing to ship her the DVDs.

I thought the bag had already made it out to the garbage can, and I wasn’t about to go dumpster diving in for the discs.  I told her I was sorry.

And then I noticed a garbage bag in the corner our closet.  I could see through the plastic that the DVDs were at the bottom.  I fished them out, wiped off the goo from a half eaten Nutragrain bar, and we popped the DVDs in a box to Utah.

One gladiator was spared the tiger.

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