The Sorting

The large cardboard box labeled BOOKS has been sealed tight with packing tape for seven years.  The Bearded One hauls it inside from the red storage shed along with dozens of other boxes, but this is the one I dread.  It’s big and heavy and ancient history.


“Where do you want this?” he asks.

“I don’t,” I say.

I am setting up the house like a thrift store, taping signs to the wall — Le Cuisine, Le Toilette, Le Boutique (two of our kids are in France at the moment…) — to make it fun and easy for my sister, mother, daughter and her husband when they come tomorrow to take what they want.

Shipping to Hawaii is expensive.  We don’t want to take our life’s accumulation anyway, so we are sorting, distributing, recycling, dumping, and generally moving most all of our furniture and household possessions to their next level.  All, that is, except a single 4’x4’x4′ pallet of choice items which will cost $425 to ship, and our 1991 Toyota 4-Runner that we hope will last until we die.  Its postage is $2300.


Family heirlooms like the sewing chair, Grandma’s card table, and the photo albums are priceless and easy and have already been claimed and tagged.  Gowns from both my weddings, the Bearded One’s bomber jacket, and the stained glass window he made may have some emotional value, maybe not.  Vases, casserole dishes, candlesticks, games, two library walls of books.  It all must go.

“It’s just shameful,” says the Bearded One as he makes another trip to the shed, “how much of my crap there is.  I guess I must have thought that the Smithsonian was eventually going to call and ask for all my childhood personal effects.”


Me, too, I think.  I have my Santa letters from 1960.  Do I chunk them?  I’ve got the writer’s disease, I’ve kept it all.  My career has been about paper.  Our eldest daughter reports that one of her first big words was “Manuscript”.  The Bearded One says we could build a house of manuscripts in Hawaii.

Now I’m alone in the upstairs bedroom where I’m making piles for each of the three kids, plus Mom and my sister.  And the time has finally come. I weigh the storage costs, the box contents, the value of a life.  I slice the tape with scissors.  I lift the cardboard top and look down at a familiar children’s book cover published in the spring of 1986.  My first book.

What’s that smell?  Musty.


The spine is slightly warped, the paper lush and fuzzy with mildew.  Whoa, I think, surprised.  Welcome to the Pacific Northwest.  Mold dots the pages.   They’re all this way.  “What luck!” I say, ecstatic that there is no decision to make.

Growth has occurred, they are all ruined, and I can return these decomposing books to the earth from whence they came.


41 responses to “The Sorting

  1. Oh, Christi — I can see how I’ll become increasingly blue as you get closer to your departure. I love your stories and hope that once you are settled in on your own piece of island that you’ll take to a blog again so we can keep up. I’m happy that this seems to be going so well and things are falling into place. It must feel very freeing to reduce your world to a 4x4x4 pallet. Wow. That’s some spring cleaning! And I love the comment about the Smithsonian because I’m the same way. xoxoB

    • Thanks, Becky. My favorite illustration is that Smithsonian with the Glover Collection, and I laughed heartily when I saw the B.O. drawing it.

      It’s all about the energy to change, you know? Since it has arrived, I’m riding it all the way to shore.

  2. I am so impressed and amazed by you two! This takes real courage. I keep EVERYTHING, I attach sentimental value to too many things. My mother liked to write, and I have lots of that in my attic. I think I should do a huge purge one day, I don’t want anyone to have to go through all these things when I die. I agree, it must be so cleansing to purge down to a 4x4x4 pallet. Thanks for posting. I miss your posts when you are away! I truly hope you feel the urge to keep writing for us once you’ve made your transition! I’m inspired by you and excited for you!

    • Thank you so much, Susan. I laughed when I read your comment because the hardest things to deal with are the writings of ancestors. Which are just as copious and mundane as my own. lol Organizing them, distributing them, that’s a job!

      • It is a job! Your writing is mundane! I love your writing! I cherish my mother’s writing. I also drive a 1999 Toyota 4-Runner and it has 144K miles on it. I had to replace the transmission a couple years ago which showed me how committed I am to this truck! Other than replacing brakes I have had no problems with it. They are great vehicles. I am saving money in case I do need to replace it but intend to drive it as long as it will go! So are you guys leaving soon? Are you waiting for your house to sell? If I’ve missed a post about that I’m sorry. I think (hope!) you will have a ton of stuff to write about in your new locale! I’m glad I made you laugh! This weather has been so awful, if I didn’t have so many folks so dear to me I would move! I will probably retire in Florida close to dear friends. Sending positive vibes and all good wishes from Texas.

      • Typo! meant to say NOT mundane!

      • Ha! I knew what you meant. And I love that you drive an old 4-Runner, too. When I see the new ones, I am in shock. They are twice the size of our little “SUVs”. As to the house, we’re sprucing it and hope to put it on the market by March. Then we’ll see! I’ll write about it; I’m driven, remember? lol Hugs to you in Tejas. xxoo

  3. I have a hard time imagining going through such a discarding process unless I were so terminally ill that physical possessions seemed like trivialities compared to what I was facing. You’ll like this, though: guess who else still drives a Toyota from that era? 1990 truck, 2WD, bought new for just over $10K. And still driving it. It was paid for seventeen years ago. I must say, though, that Farmlet has been interesting enough on the wet side (and nice timing, lady, moving away just before I end up living over there!), but will be even more interesting dropped into a Hawaiian context.

    • We downsized 7 years ago when we first moved here, J.K. So this is the second pass through. And even though I’m not terminally ill, I’m nudging 60 and it feels GOOD to have less.

      Ha! I love that you, too, drive an old truck! Toyota put a new engine in ours in 1997 because it blew a head gasket. It has 160,000 miles and just 70,000 on this engine. It’s been driven from Texas to Alaska. It’s been in -70 degree temps and been on a ferry to Seattle. It just gets 17 miles to the gallon, sinful, but we don’t drive much.

      Thanks for the blog encouragement, too. Coming from you, that’s sweet indeed. 🙂

  4. Almost like the pioneers of old, taking only essentials, divesting themselves of the baggage of life. My heart at once groans for your decisions, then rejoices in the outcome. Freedom to live small as we all once did starting out. Not sure I could make a decision like that, but life is full of exciting choices. My best wishes for you. Keep blogging!

    • Yes, Robbyn, it feels like a pioneer experience! The wagon takes only so much. And thanks for the blog encouragement. I appreciate you readers and commenters so very much. Let the journey continue!

  5. I’m starting to wonder if you are indeed my long lost twin sister! I haven’t come across another soul who wakes up one morning and says “Let’s go…” and a month later is disposing of accumulated stuff and going. I’ve criss-crossed the world and my country doing just that – disposing and accumulating, disposing and accumulating. My eldest daughter is like a squirrel and I’m sure it is a direct consequence of having a mother who keeps nothing.

    What a great adventure you are off on – there is always that twinge of sadness when we leave where we are, what we have and who we know there – but the new adventure is always so full of possibility and promise and must be set off on! 🙂

    I am so excited for the two of you – a whole new life on a tropical island, what will you write there I wonder?

    • Ah, Pauline, we are triplets with Fran, I think. 🙂 Let’s go! and we are off and running. Like you, I have thought a lot about the impact on the kids. They (ages 30, 26, and 22) are all Seattle homebodies at this point, although as I said in the blog, two are in France right now. The eldest daughter is really the only one who is settled and she was happy to take the photo albums and lots of other “stuff.” Different stages of life, accumulation and whatever-it-is-I’m-doing, playing out on the stage of life.

      LOL — I’m wondering what I’ll write in the tropics, too. Hope it’s juicy. 🙂

  6. Inspiring post for all of us baby boomers finding the time is right (or necessary) for a major downsize. It CAN be done! Congrats. And I LOVE Glover Collection cartoon. Bon Voyage, Trish

  7. What you are doing runs parallel to what Steve and I did when we headed over to Tassie from Western Australia. We gave our son most of our furniture and we only sent over what we really treasured. We shipped our little ford capris but nothing else :). I don’t know why but I am UBER excited to find out that you have a Toyota 4-runner! The ex and I had one way back in the day and I loved that car. It did everything and you could take the back off and the kids blew in the breeze ;). It’s serious when you take the book boxes and divvy them up. That’s when you know you are just about to do some serious life changing moving.

    I can only see “The Glover Collection” being a new and incredibly distinct art event at the Smithsonian for many years to come ;). Nature made your decision for you…the universe has spoken! Time to move on, compost the old and open up your empty arms for the new to rush on in :). SO excited for you both and so glad it is you doing it and not me. I HATE change and it takes me years to get over it. So glad to be living vicariously through your unctuous and most eventful sea change 🙂

    • Sea change, from Puget Sound to the middle of the Pacific. Not so unctuous to moi. You describe me perfectly right now … composting the old and opening up my empty arms for the new. :)Western Australia is many miles from Tassie. Last time I made such a big leap was 1979 — from Texas to Seattle by way of Montana for 3 months. I’m ready. And very glad you want to vicariously come too.

  8. WOW! That’s all I could think of…oh, and, what will she do with her library wall of books??? You are both courageous I’d say!

    • Thanks, Suzanne. One of the highlights of the Sunday Sorting was my 80-year-old mother climbing the library ladder to get to an interesting book! We were all shocked. Everyone took a pile of books and there are still hundreds. Come and get some. 🙂 love you

  9. Christine Widman

    Having grown up as a daughter of an Army officer, then the wife of an Army officer- Xerox district manager, and having a soul that is constantly intrigued by and “moved by” our human kind migrating all over the earth for centuries, composting one’s life into new flowerings is part of my history and my internal nature, I think.
    Being a word person all my life, I know the dilemma of “too many words” – what to keep…what to trash…what to mull over. Yet since I love our human stories…connect to our human stories…become more human because of our human stories…over all my traveling decades I have toted along family photos, letters, and my journals.
    The rest – furniture, clothes, tools, etc etc – come and go with ease.
    But what I keep always in my heart are the family and the friends that have helped me grow and explore and live fully with zeal and joy.
    You will always be close even though miles of ocean separate our physical bodies.

    • Stories are my reality, too, Christine, written or otherwise! I am forever fascinated by how we turn huge, oceanic experience into tales. I don’t really “get it” until the story is discovered and then shaped. It’s my organizing tool. Your’s too. 🙂

  10. Wonderful and thoughtfully and movingly written. I too will be sad when you have left. Love you, Sheila

  11. Wow, the adventure of moving to Hawaii must be great. I don’t get envious, but if i did, I would be now. It’s funny, we pour our hearts and souls into our blogs and those that read them become our “friends” even though we’ve never met. I hope you will keep in touch through your blog once you reach your new home!

    • We writers i.e. paper pushers across the globe are revelling in this blog world that allows us to connect with writers and readers without gatekeepers. And without typewriters and piles of paper! I love your poems and insights, Butch. Moving won’t change that. Your friend, Christi

  12. I love this window on your world. Poignant and hilarious. Keep sharing!

  13. Okay, even I, the relentless library weeder, felt a twinge that YOUR book was moldy. But I got over it. Good for you! Every time I get one family member’s treasures cleared out of the basement another one’s moves in. Now it’s my mother’s stuff. I’ll let it stay for the winter, but come spring, buh-bye.

    • LOL! Librarians rule. I’m comforted to hear that you also say “buh-bye” to the accumulation. You have your own huge adventure coming! I just received Isabella Bird’s Six Months in the Sandwich Islands in the mail and will start it soon. Thanks for the recommend. The first chapter of Michener’s Hawaii and the volcano and the ocean are still battling it out. Don’t know how long I can hang with him. Hugs, Christi

  14. Christine Widman

    Christi, forget the first chapter. I had to.
    Go to the human stories. Beginning with the Polynesian migration.
    “It was a time when the gods began to change.”
    The settling of Hawaii has incredible drama and heartbreak. I haven’t read Michener’s Hawaii since I read it in 1966. But I think it is still probably worth the read.
    Michener thought the migration was from Bora Bora but now archeologists/DNA studies are fairly certain the migration to Hawaii was from the Marquesas Islands.
    You may like seeing the documentary, Nomads of the Wind. About the Polynesian migrations to all the islands – Tahiti, Samoa, Fiji etc.
    The Polynesians were such skilled water navigators that they could tell a land mass was somewhere near them by the change in ocean wave patterns!!!
    I know you are on an amazing, unique “journey.”

    • I’m going to keep going, Christine, but the first chapter has been a bit of a slog. I felt the vastness of Ocean and geologic Time, and the drama of island building. Now to the people, though, please. 🙂 And I’ll check out that documentary, too. I’ve been listening to Cat Stevens singing The Wind all month.

  15. Going through same on a much smaller scale. Next month a librarian friend is bringing over an industrial scanner to hook to computer & internet. Then we’re setting up an all-day open house for friends to drop by with their photos & print materials for wine, pupus, talk story, and an opportunity to make a bit of space in their lives by converting paper to bits & pixels. Save on disk or to cloud and you’re free!

  16. Oh i love that nature helped you with your clean up 🙂 so much easier to make the decisions.
    I’m so excited for you both and your new adventure to Hawaii 🙂

  17. You make me laugh, you make me cry . . . I am so happy for your new adventure; if I lived close by, your books would all have a home, mildew or no . . . I think that I’ve moved so much in my life I just want to settle somewhere, but on occasion I find myself thinking about living in Great Britain somewhere . . . or NZ or Aussieland . . . I, too, love your blog and don’t want to hear you say ‘mundane’ about your writing ever . . . it’s certainly not mundane to me!! It will be fun to see what you encounter in the next stage . . . have you noticed that you are on a huge westward migration? Texas, Montana, Washington, Hawai’i . . . next step Tasmania or NZ?? Who knows, eh? That is a great Smithsonian cartoon, by the way; I’m waiting for a museum to call me, too . . . I know I ‘should’ get rid of everything, but am not ready to forget my dreams yet . . . I think I would love your Mum; mine is just like her in that love of books; that’s where I get my own from, I’m sure. And paper and words . . . oh, my . . . take care, both of you, and thanks for the update. Big hugs to you. ~ Linne

    • Thank you, Linne. Blush. And the westward migration is astute…the B.O. also spent almost 3 years in Alaska! And he thanks you for the cartoon kudos. Love to you and your mum and auntie, Christi

  18. Victoria Miller

    I am SOO excited about ur upcoming adventure. Did not surprise me @ all. Exactly how y’all should b spending this time of ur lives. As everyone says, look 4ward 2 ur blog , Kristy. U just have 2 continue telling the story n ur delightful way. Jan & I look forward to it & discuss regularly how cool y’all’s life is. SOO hope y’all will contact me with a way 2 reach u – have been able to 4 about 46 years & makes me anxious not 2 b able 2.

    • From Keith: Greetings in Texas. We’ll swap email addresses when I give you a birthday call (damn you are getting old) and that will equip me to maybe send you some photos and even video of a place in Puna, Hawaii that we are toying with buying. Wild end of the road jungle stuff less than a mile from the ocean. We are working on this place at a furious clip. Bye for now. Love, Keith

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