Five unexpected pleasures of being single again in my 50s

#1 City living. The need for an affordable house pushed me into a city I had originally intended to avoid, if only because of resale issues. But I’m glad it did, because I really like it here. People often think of this city as dangerous and poverty-stricken. It does have some downtrodden neighborhoods, but it’s also beautiful and interesting and lively. In my little subdivision, built in the 40’s, we each have a little lot and a little house – and it’s plenty enough to live in comfortably. I don’t feel unsafe. I don’t have to worry about bears, either. And I’m close to everything.
#2 My space. Even though it’s a much smaller house (less than half the size of the old one), I feel as if I have more space. This isn’t so much because of downsizing as the reason for downsizing — my ex has retired to his beloved Puerto Rico (and we are legally separated). My son has his own TV in his own room now (he’s nineteen, so I don’t feel guilty about that). That means I actually have a living room that I can use as I wish — for reading, or for watching what I want to watch. It’s strange and quite pleasant, after nearly 24 years of marriage in which the remote largely sat in the hands of someone else and togetherness meant watching vast amounts of TV. Also, while sharing the single bathroom with my son does require some adjustment, at least now I can insist that he lower the seat. His future wife should thank me.
#3 No honey-do list. This means it’s entirely up to me to get stuff fixed, or fix it myself. No waiting around, no hinting, no days or weeks or months or years of frustration. Just do it or don’t do it. If it’s not done, it’s on me. Mind you, I miss my husband’s easier fixes (he could easily hang a new fan or light fixture, for example), but a large part of our marriage consisted of me wishing I could fix or replace something and him saying that he would do it – but who knew when – or telling me that it didn’t need to be done, which meant I didn’t feel I could spend money on it. He did come through in a big way once in awhile, but this is not generally an area of our marriage that I will miss – any more than he will, I’m sure. (It’s worth noting that this does NOT mean I’ve become a model of efficiency in getting these things done.)
#4 No tense interior design negotiations. I can hang the pictures I want wherever I want them. And then I can take them down and hang them somewhere else. (Yep, there’s been quite a lot of that.) Since my walls are papered-over paneling and due for painting before too long, I don’t even feel guilty knocking all those holes into them. I’ve also been rearranging furniture to my heart’s content.

Mozzarella, goat cheese, strawberries, peppers, balsamic vinegar, scallions, and oil on romaine. Not bad.

Mozzarella, goat cheese, strawberries, peppers, scallions, crushed almonds, and balsamic vinegar and oil on romaine.

#5 Nuts and berries. Seriously, add cheese and salad fixings and the occasional restaurant foray to that and we’ve pretty much got my diet at the moment. My husband would have been pointedly bringing home packages of steak and chicken by now. (He might well have cooked them, too, mind you.) My son is often away for dinner or just not interested in what I make, so I’m pleasing myself with lots of salads, or just noshing on cheese and bread and fruit. Since much of the cheese is interesting stuff from Honest Weight Food Coop or the Troy Farmer’s Market, it’s been quite really nice. And easy.

Now, I’m not saying I recommend any of this over the benefits of a loving romantic relationship — but when you don’t have that, for whatever reason, you might as well appreciate the unique pleasures of your situation.

Weird lasts (my continued chronicle of a downsizing)

Our house sale officially closes this coming Wednesday, which means the truck gets loaded Tuesday, which means this week I am experiencing the anticipatory wistfulness of moments that I’ll never have in this place again. For example…

The last lobster dinner Thursday night, and the last Pad Thai dinner Saturday night. My (now separated) husband traditionally cooks the lobster in this house, because I’m too much of a wuss. I’m glad he surprised me by taking advantage of the sale this week. (Best separated husband EVER!!!) I am the Pad Thai chef, inspired in this instance by the last half-bag of rice noodles and some chicken breasts I discovered in the chest freezer.

I can’t bring myself to kill lobsters with my own two hands, and I’m not sure how often I’ll bother with Pad Thai for just me and the kid who picks out all the shrimp and veggies, so there was definitely something a bit final-feeling about both meals.

The last spelunking dive into the chest freezer before cleaning it out for the new owners, who are buying it. If only those chicken breasts were the only thing I discovered. Clearly I’ve been making and storing far too much recaito for the last four years (recaito is a Puerto Rican mix of chopped peppers, onions, garlic, tomatoes and cilantro that I lovingly make from my own garden each year). Most of it was either too old or unlabeled, so it had to go into the trash.

No more chest freezers for me. I just don’t need that much food, especially if I’m not going to eat it for years because I can’t find it.

The last trash pick-up/the last dump day. This time of year, going almost a full week without it is a little scary. We have to pay for trash pick-up here, so it wouldn’t be cool to just leave it for the new owners. Fortunately, a neighbor has already volunteered to take some. Still, this means that any further de-cluttering has to be thrift-shop-worthy (and since I volunteer in one I know better than most that a lot of our crap isn’t), or it has to wait until after the move.

In the city, trash pick-up is included in my taxes. Yay.

It's called Furniture Inertia Syndrome.

It’s called Furniture Inertia Syndrome.

The last days sitting on this old sofa that we bought at IKEA when our 19-year-old was a toddler.

It’s comfortable as hell and has stood up better than anything else we’ve ever owned, but I can’t move it, let alone re-upholster it myself (though I did buy some fabric to try it — another uncompleted project). The last dump day was our last chance to get rid of it ourselves, but we had no truck yet.

Nobody wants this sofa bed, not even anyone on freecycle,org. Even the local charity I called said “Nobody wants that sofa bed.” They will discard it for a fee, though. Now I just have to pray that they really show up when they said they will. (They do want one of the beds.)

Since they’re coming at just about the last possible moment, we’ll have to leave room in the truck in case they don’t show. And then we may need to take an axe to the thing just so it’s possible to carry it.

(Note to self: Don’t pack the axe yet. Question for self: Why do you need an axe in the city? Answer to self: Doesn’t matter, because you can’t do anything about it now.)

Oh well. I think I’ll go enjoy some of the last central air conditioning.

Cleaning out: the slightly traumatic upside of moving

Usually at this time of year I’m starting veggies and dreaming about the next garden. But this year I’m getting rid of stuff and reorganizing what’s left as we prepare to put the house on the market later this month.

It’s all bringing back memories of putting our starter home in New Jersey on the market back in the summer of 2002. We had done a lot of painting and carpeting and such when we first purchased it, especially to the former smoker’s apartment upstairs. We also covered up ugly old asbestos shingles with new siding, and I landscaped with a passion.

But we didn’t really do anything with the cranky little kitchen. We didn’t take out the moldy carpet in the basement or even dump all the junk that had come with the house, like the cabinets from the one-time upstairs kitchen — not until the real estate agent told us we should.

Then when it was done and everything looked better, we wondered why we hadn’t done it earlier. We could have done a great deal to make life in that little bungalow more pleasant while we were still living there, and not all of it would have required big bucks.

The truth is that I’m just not HGTV material. Once things become so much of a part of everyday life that I am no longer actively annoyed by them – even clearly unacceptable  things like the white poster board we used to cover gaping holes from a burst pipe in the kitchen ceiling — I can live with them for just about forever.

I think of this as I check Zillow periodically to see what’s selling in our area. I can often guess just how old the sellers are (or were, in the case of estate sales), by the decor in their homes. A lot of the houses in my price range clearly haven’t been touched since the 70’s or 80’s.

And I can relate.

(This is also something I have in common with Mary in The Awful Mess, obviously. She  fails to redecorate her tiny little house. Later, Winslow shows what a sweetheart he is by taking charge. In real life, I suspect I’d be totally annoyed by that.)

In late 2002 when we moved into this lovely house, it had just been freshly painted almost wall-to-wall in Baltic White. And until last month, it still was. I finally bought paint with some personality back in 2006, but I never got around to doing anything except the downstairs bathroom, which had suffered from a leak from the upstairs toilet and therefore had to be done. I told myself I’d get the rest of the house painted every summer. I never did.

Now we’ve been forced to paint by the necessity of moving, and it’s amazing what clean, freshly painted walls can do for a room. (We hired a guy – it would never have gotten done otherwise.) The paint I’d bought in 2006 was still good (here’s a shout-out for Sherwin Williams Duration paint in plastic cans), but few of the colors were safely neutral enough for a house about to be put on the market.

And then there’s all the clutter we’ve been living with, like…

  • The kitchen cabinets I somehow managed to over-stuff even in a dream kitchen that has more cabinet space than I will ever have again for the rest of my life. I’m talking dishes used twice a year, uni-purpose kitchen appliances, enough wine glasses for a wedding reception, and bulk-buy pantry goods that not only filled the cabinets but spilled over into the dining room and the basement.
  • That basket of menus and phone books. Who even uses phone books anymore?.
  • Binders and binders of gardening articles and notes from lectures and such that I spent hours neatly tearing out of magazines and organizing and then never looked at again because googling that stuff is way easier.
  • The workbench in the basement so piled with miscellaneous tools and junk that no one can ever actually work on it.
  • At least three large boxes of electrical supplies, cables, chargers, extension cords and power strips – enough to electrify a village. And at least half of these were probably purchased only because we couldn’t find the ones we already had.
  • Boxes and drawers and shelves of gardening crap. Yes, I did use a lot of it — but did I really need ALL those recycled yogurt containers, newspapers for mulch, panty hose to tie up tomatoes, blankets to cover plants, old milk cartons for winter seed sowing, plastic produce containers and pie pans for drip trays, and old feed bags once used to haul horse manure? (No, clearly I did not.)
  • Scores of Tidy Cats yellow plastic kitty litter buckets, enough to fill multiple station wagons with free wood mulch from the town. A dozen of these buckets: Handy. Thirty: Obsessive-compulsive.
  • Bathroom detritus: I thought I was keeping things pretty neat, until I tallied up all those old toothpaste and dental floss samples from the dentist, make-up I’d never wear again (never even wore twice, in many cases), expired medicine, band-aids that fell out of their ancient wrappers when I touched them, weird medical devices I hope none of us will ever require again, and enough ivory soap bars to last a decade.
  • The chest freezer that I’m still too afraid to empty out. Yes, it allows me to save my tomatoes for winter cooking, and put away meat when it’s on sale. But the good buy I got on Price Chopper butter did not turn out to be very cost-effective two years later when it happened to taste just like freezer.
  • Clothing. My husband hoards clothes. Our basement is full of them. It doesn’t help that my friends at the thrift store save ugly Hawaiian shirts for him for the sheer joy of hearing my reaction later.
  • Art, photos, and photo albums. I still have old negatives and slides from when I first started using my dad’s old Miranda SLR at the age of ten. Jaime and I managed to take apart a few old albums that needed to be divided between us, but that still leaves three boxes of neatly organized albums for me to lug around, plus two more boxes of loose photographs. It’s ridiculous, really. Let’s not even discuss all the framed and unframed art.
  • CDs and DVDs. At least changing formats made it easy to decide to dump ALL the old VCR tapes and record albums. Yes, I could probably scan all of what’s left into digital files that I could carry around in a purse. I’m sure it would only take a year or two of my life to get it done. (I did at least get rid of a ton of old books because they are now free for downloading off the Internet.)
  • Writing stuff. In a way, foreseeing this day helped me make the decision to publish. I figured it was a way to not have to lug around piles of manuscripts anymore. But I still have the urge to lug them around, if only because I know that famous authors sometimes make big bucks selling their papers. Of course, my chances of ever being famous are probably right up there with pigs flying, but a girl can dream. When I’m in a more practical mood I use old drafts to mulch the garden.
  • Other files. Ugh. I still have six file cabinet drawers to go through, and that’s AFTER weeding through my teaching materials and office supplies. Then there are the boxes of records in the basement…
  • Baskets. They are everywhere. What is it with me and baskets? I’ve managed to let go of about half of them at this point. That still leaves at least twenty, only half of which are actually in use. And I’m still tempted when I see new ones at the thrift store.

As we clear each room of excess furniture and stuff, it becomes so much more pleasant. Check out the difference in just one room:


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Probably we should do more. I’d hang the art over the sofa back up, but it’s heavy and I don’t want to make a hole in the new paint. And that tall shelf perhaps should go, too. But I hope this shows how clearing stuff out of a room can help make it more appealing. Which is why moving is very useful, really. Even if I manage to stay put in the next house, I think it would be a good idea to pretend I’m moving every five years or so, just to keep the place in good condition.

Jaime is doing even better at divesting than I am, since he’s moving to an island. Anything he takes either has to fit in his luggage or has to be mailed over, and then he has to find a place to put it on the other end. Sometimes I think I should pretend I’m moving to an island, too.

Are you in control of your clutter? If so, what are your secrets?