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I would rank the downsizing of my house, which began about 18 months after my husband’s death, as one of the hardest emotional experiences of my life.  I needed to confront his closet and bedroom dresser, with all his clothing: the tuxedo he wore to my senior prom in college, the two sports jackets I always loved, the crew neck sweaters with the holes in the sleeves, the suits, the ties….

My son and son-in-law claimed some things, which made me feel better.  What didn’t get recycled for the next generation went into big, black trash bags for a donation.   It was a heartbreaking process and one which didn’t end until the not-for-profit who got the donation picked up the 7 bags of clothes that sat for a week by the door.  I could barely look at them.

And then there was his briefcase, which sat in the study during most of the time books were being taken off shelves and put into boxes.  It sat pretty much in the same spot where my husband had put it 18 months before, on the last day he worked before he needed heart surgery.  It was just where the briefcase always stayed and nobody felt the need or will to move it.

It was an old-fashioned brown leather briefcase with a flap, that closed with a brass clasp.  It was battered from decades of holding legal documents, newspapers and miscellaneous papers but that only enhanced its character.  My husband always held onto things and certainly wasn’t interested in the latest fashion statement.  Somehow, it was an extension of him in many ways.

Luckily, my son came to the rescue and issued a pardon.  He would take the briefcase for safekeeping.  Maybe, someday, a grandchild will use it.



When you downsize out of the house you’ve lived in for over 4 decades,  you need to excavate top shelves of closets, among other less frequently visited crannies.  It was on such a shelf that I noticed a brown corrugated box, behind other boxes, that at one time I had labeled with black magic marker “Wedding Memorabilia”.  I opened it with some trepidation.

Inside were RSVP’s to our wedding invitation to a luncheon for 50 at a midtown hotel in mid-September 1968, a blue garter and lace handkerchief someone had given me to meet the requisite “something blue” and “something old” must-have list.  And there, underneath these, was the cake’s wedding topper, with its styrofoam wedding bell, framed by an arch of artificial flowers.  Although my husband and I were married under a chuppah, the bell and arch were standard fare for cake toppers in the late 60’s.

It was the plastic groom, with a smear of what looked like old cake frosting stuck to his left eyebrow, that held my attention.  I marveled at how well both he and the bride had held up during the last 4 decades, but, of course, they lived in a box, were made of plastic and didn’t need heart surgery.

I then had to decide what to do with this box and its contents,  after reckoning with the fact that my son and my daughter would likely only want their own wedding memorabilia, living as they did in NYC apartments with limited storage space.

I had a large, black trash bag sitting next to me on the floor and the sentence I would hand down for the box’s contents seemed fairly obvious.  But the only way I could carry it out was by closing my eyes before I stuck everything in.

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Before I could move out of our brownstone,  I needed to pack up my belongings and make some difficult decisions.  I was moving out of a 4-story Brooklyn brownstone into a 2 bedroom apartment in Manhattan, which was less than half the size of the house.

Among the pieces of furniture that wouldn’t fit was our beloved kitchen table.  It was a rectangular light-colored wood table that could comfortably seat 4.  It was plain and undistinguished but very much the epicenter of the house.   It was the place where we ate all meals, celebrated family birthdays, discussed and planned family trips, opened the mail, drank countless cups of coffee, occasionally had help with homework, read the newspaper, reckoned with bad news,  the list goes on and on.

A few days before my move, the moving company sent a team of workers to disassemble furniture that would be packed and stored in a warehouse while my apartment was being renovated, donated or trashed.  The kitchen table would be trashed, after being rejected for a donation to a local charity.  But to to reduce the cost for the trash pick-up, it would need to be dismembered, and its legs removed.

In truth, it was just a piece of furniture, but it had seen so much action, had been part of so much family history that watching it come apart became a poignant symbol for me of the end of an era of us as a family of 4.



The Wedding Cake Topper

It is just amazing how many things you accumulate in a lifetime: children’s drawings, pasta necklaces,  college notebooks, awards, scrapbooks.  They’re put lovingly into dresser drawers (where they inevitably get pushed to the back), or into boxes on the top shelves of closets. They are the artifacts that we hang onto because we want to remember.

I think many of us are loath to throw things away because, at the decisive moment to keep or not to keep,  we can’t really decide on something’s worth to us in the future.  Maybe our grandchildren someday will want it.  Or maybe it will be valuable someday. Or maybe it will help us remember that person or experience.  At that moment, we have decided to not make a decision.

I had set mid-January as my target moving date.  Since I was also hosting the family Thanksgiving, I decided to wait until Black Friday to start my serious downsizing campaign.  After all, there was no way the contents of a 3,000 square foot house could fit into a 1,600 square foot Manhattan apartment with limited closet space.  I thought there was some irony in my starting on that Friday after Thanksgiving.  As most people were bulking up with possessions, I would be trimming down.

If you are reading this and have ever engaged in this process, you know it is both emotionally and physically exhausting.  On the emotional level are the constant decisions you need to make about whether what you’re looking at has a future for you or someone else you care about.  If not,  you have to then decide whether a charity might want it or whether it needs to be trashed.   Then there is the physical labor involved in actually hauling away heavy trash bags, collapsed boxes, or stacking other boxes that you may want to move or store.   I am 65, and reasonably fit.  I had many thoughts during these daily pruning efforts but one kept coming back.  I wondered how people much older than I am managed to do this without constant help.

One of my first forays was into a closet on the 3rd floor next to the master bedroom.  My husband’s sweaters were still on a shelf  (as were all of his other clothes in a bedroom closet and dresser). On the top shelf was a brown carton. I got onto a stepladder and pulled it down.  At some time in the distant past, I stuck it up there and had written “Wedding Memorabilia” in black magic marker on top.

What I found as I excavated the time capsule of this box was the  cake topper from our wedding, a luncheon for 50 at the Waldorf Astoria in mid-September 1968. I carefully liberated the occupants: a bride and groom smiling under a styrofoam wedding bell, framed by an arch of artificial flowers.  Some dried frosting from the cake had possibly stuck to the groom’s left eyebrow.

My first thought as I stared transfixed by the plastic groom was that he had lasted longer than the actual groom, who died during heart surgery.  My second thought was, “What should I do with this?”  I thought  of the amount of closet space I had in the new apartment and how this memento from our wedding would not have the same emotional resonance for our son and daughter as their own wedding cake toppers. I reached for the black trash bag, closed my eyes and stuck the topper in.  Somehow closing my eyes just made it easier.