Saturday, September 29, 2012

Are We Done With This Yet?


We need to downsize.  The task of going through a lifetime of things stored in our basement seems a bit daunting at the moment.  We decided that the only way we can possibly accomplish the task of moving and downsizing is to do it in stages.

Stage One

Sort through professional papers, books, notebooks, teaching materials and memorabilia from the classroom and our professions.  

Most folks don't have to close down two complete offices during a lifetime.  Many just retire and walk away from the job they may have performed for many years.  My husband and I were educators.  We have a lot of teaching materials that we either could not give away when we retired because we weren't sure if we would need it for consulting and such, or we didn't have time to sort through as we went through the process of working right up until the last day on the job.  Hence, we brought it all home with us with the best intentions of going through it all later.  You know how that goes.

Well, later is now.  We must make those hard decisions.  What shall we keep?  What shall we toss?

Thankfully, there are those who understand.  There are those who have been there and done that.  My dear friend Dixie has been a teacher, and she has moved a lot of times.  She has the skill set I needed for the task that I face.  I didn't even have to ask her for help.  She just picked up the phone, called, and said, "I will come and help you pack.  When do you need my help?"  She came for three hours one day, and she came back the next day to finish up with what we had started.  

Dixie holds two books.
Are we done with these yet?
Yes, for sure toss No Child Left Behind!
We are happy to get rid of that for sure.
Some of my best friends are ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers.  We share a special bond.  We love our profession where we were blessed to teach immigrant children who were learning English while they tried to adjust to life and school in a new country.  As Dixie and I were going through endless books, papers, and professional notebooks I had acquired during my career, I found the training notebook I had put together for a professional development course I taught to teachers in the local school district while I was working at the Colorado State University-Pueblo as a program coordinator and professor.  When I opened the notebook to see if I should keep it, there was Dixie's name and phone number on the first page.  I had taken the number down so I could come to visit her at the school where she taught.  She was actually teaching in the same high school and had the same job I had held before I left to go to the University.

Back in January of 2004, I had been hired to write the curriculum and develop the program that would allow teachers and pre-teachers to add an endorsement to teach the Linguistically Diverse (ELL - English Language Learners) Education Endorsement to an existing teacher license.   I left the public classroom at that time.  After I retired, I met Dixie again.  We taught together when I took a semester position to teach reading at an elementary school where Dixie was teaching ESL.  We became fast friends and have remained so ever since.  I recommended she be hired after she retired to help teach the same course I was teaching to foreign students learning English at CSU-Pueblo during the second semester of 2011.

I love Dixie's approach to most things in life.  She is very practical and level-headed.  She is great sounding board for me.  She also is a faithful friend.  She has long time friends all over the country.  Once you are her friend, she is there for you forever.  I don't think I could have accomplished much of this move, been able to survive the death of my daughter, or been able to cope with my health issues without friends such as Dixie.  Thanks, Dixie!

The emotional side of downsizing

I think I could write a book on this topic.  Our basement, the mess that it was, had been culled over and over by my husband and myself over the past seventeen years, and yet it still remained the repository for our lives.  When we married 20 years ago, we combined two families that were well established with a lot a stuff.  We thinned out many possessions then.  The scrapbooks and mementos from the past were relegated to the basement.  The textbook we saved from college were still there.  The books we read in the 60's, 70's, 80's and beyond were there.  We are readers.  We have books.  Our professional books and papers were there.  Our children's games, books, and even many toys were there.  The grandkids played with the Lite Bright, played UNO, played all those other games from the 70's.  There were Fisher Price people and animals, Barbie dolls, and G I Joe toys in the basement.  There coloring books, crayons, legos, small toy trucks, and puzzles.   I'm a mom who has a hard time getting rid of those things.  I got a bit emotional about donating the small children size  table chairs where my children sat to eat and play games when they small.  I almost gave it away, and then rescued it in the end.  

We tried to be objective.  Dixie was most helpful with assisting me in objectivity when it came to professional items.  She guided me to ask the good questions.  "Is this outdated?"  "Will you use this to teach again?"  "Do you plan on doing any more consulting?"  "Are there duplicates?"  "Was this book one you bought for a course you took, or was it for one you taught?"  I was able to get rid of many things based on answering these questions.  We made our piles of things as we sorted:  to storage, to the new house, to donation, to shred, to throw away.  We got it done! 

Some professional files etc.
To some, all of these boxes, files, and notebooks are just a bunch of junk.  To me they are my body of work that represents my professional life.  Many of my files of lessons taught, curriculum developed, and presentations given are saved on thumb drives.  Despite this, I felt the need to keep some hard copies because they give me a more clear picture of what I developed.  I may yet decide to consult again.  I was not ready to throw it all away.

Going through the remnants of my professional life gave me renewed confidence.  I was reminded that I have accomplished a lot.  I was a stay-at-home mom until my divorce in 1982.  I had five children between the ages of five and fifteen.  I had not finished college.  I went back to school and earned my first BS in Business Administration in 1987 while I worked full-time and went to school full-time.  I finished my second degree, a BA in English with an added teaching certificate to teach secondary Language Arts (grades 9 -12) in 1995.  I was 50 years old when I began teaching,  and I finally reached a lifelong goal by doing so.  From there, I earned the long sought for MA in Teaching Linguistically Diverse Education in 2002.  

Cultural responsiveness, assessment, lesson plan guide, second language learning strategies, content instruction to English language learners, L1 and L2, Lau vs. Nichols 1974, and other such terms no longer seem relevant to my everyday life.  I no longer look forward to monthly meetings with my great friends and colleagues at the Colorado Department of Education - English Language Acquisition Unit where other colleagues from universities around the state and I met while we worked on projects funded by a Teacher Quality Enhancement Grant we had received.  In fact,  the ELAU no longer exits in the same form.  I remember meetings at BOCES and the CDE Talking Book Library.  After fondly going through my meeting notes, I  finally throw out all the agendas and notes from those days.  

I look at Socratic Seminar Grading Criteria forms I created while teaching World Literature at the high school level.  I ponder the EQ's (essential questions) for lessons on Beowulf, The Inferno, Oedipus, the King, and other pieces of literature we studied.  I read the list of Habits of Mind to use while responding to literature:  give evidence, state connections to other topics, state the significance of what you are arguing, etc.  I look at the handout for a unit a work by Shakespeare where students were to write a personal commentary on one of three topics:  Power relationships, Courtship/dating, Sisters.  Most of all of these final bits of teaching materials that remained after other times of getting rid of things, I finally tossed, but I remembered those days of teaching with such fondness and a bit of longing.


I take with me fewer concrete reminders of my teaching days.  We have lightened our load considerably when it comes to books.  Some books, mostly or personal reading books,  were like dear friends that I had to send away.  This quote says it best:

Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers. ~Charles W. Eliot

Despite these feeling and emotions surrounding our beloved books, we just could not move them all.  It is too expensive, we can't carry the loads up and down the stairs, and we have no place to put them in our new place.  So, we donated many to a local bookstore that takes donated books, re-sells them, and the proceeds go to the local library.  We donated 35 boxes of books filled with about 20 books to each box.  That means we got rid of over 700 books.  That was just with this latest book culling project.  About five or six months ago, we probably go rid of at least 300 more.  Believe me, we kept plenty.  We still have our most beloved books to take with us.  Plus, I have many, many of Julie's books.  She had great books!  I treasure her reading choices and selections.  Those books are not going anywhere except with me in my lifetime.

Stage One Completed!

Stage Two 

Move the things we have left from the basement to a storage unit.

Yesterday, after receiving much help from wonderful friends and family members, we finished stages one and two of our move.  The basement is nearly empty.  The box after box of canning jars are gone.  Childhood toys, games, and books are mostly gone.  Jim and I made the run to Colorado Springs with the U-Haul truck last night and loaded a much lighter load than we thought it would be into the storage unit.  We promise ourselves that this is a temporary fix for stuff we will revisit once we are completely moved.  

We are tired, yet we are also most relieved to have this part of our move done.  Now, we await the final closing and hope it all comes off according to plan.  Then, the professional movers will come in and pack up the house and we will make the move to a new home and in a new town.  I will be going home, but for Jim this is a very big change.  He is very excited, and so I am I.  I am finally over a lot of the nostalgia and sadness over leaving this home.  I am ready to move on.  We are tired.  We are stressed!!!  We are happy.

State Two Completed!


Rita said...

What a huge undertaking! Kudos to you both and what a great friend you have in Dixie. Time for huge changes. Enjoy them. :)

That corgi :) said...

First time visiting your blog; what an undertaking you had but good that you got it done (although it did seem like it was a necessary thing to do if you are moving). I can tell you, having to deal with this in my own life, going through people's things and downsizing or getting rid of things after they pass can be very stressful; so you undertaking this and not leaving things behind for your children to do was very wise, even if it did involve a move. We are still clearing out things from my hubby's parents' estate 18 months later and probably close to getting rid of 20,000 pounds of stuff. So like I said, it is truly good you got it done sooner than later; I can guarantee you have saved someone a lot of grief about it all.

good luck with your move!


DJan said...

Congratulations! That is a huge accomplishment. I had a much, much smaller version of it last month, and I had already accumulated hundreds of books that I sold back to the bookstore or donated to the library. I can understand why you are not ready to get rid of those teaching things, since it hasn't been all that long since you started working as an educator.

In a week we will be together! See you soon... :-)

Olga said...

Such a big task and it can begin to feel like throwing out little bits of yourself. You are fortunate indeed to have a friend like Dixie.
It is a recuring nightmare of mine that I am packing a room full of stuff in advance of some kind of move.

MerCyn said...

Congratulations on a job well done. It is hard to part with so many things, but worth the time to declutter your mind and your houses. Good luck in your new digs!

thisisme said...

Hi Sally. That was a very interesting post. My goodness , you did so well to get those teaching qualifications with working full time as well. Good friends are so important in our lives , aren't they? You are blessed indeed with Dixie. I'm glad you now feel ready to move on.

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

I totally understand the difficulties of having to sort through a lifetime of work, and it's wonderful that you had a friend so willing and so perfectly positioned to help. Glad that you have both survived this part of the ordeal and are ready to move on. Wishing you smooth sailing!

Linda Myers said...

Oh, excellent, Sally!

I was a part-time and stay-at-home mom until my divorce in 1985. I went back to school and earned an A.S. in computer programming technology so I'd be able to support myself and my two boys. I was able!

We just recently listed many books on Over the past two weeks we have mailed most of them off, to all parts of the country. Now a closet that had five messy shelves has three neat ones and two still-messy ones. But it's a start.

Kudos to you and Jim!

Terra said...

Oh friend, that is a big deal, downsizing is a big task physically and emotionally, as you point out. I imagine the storage unit rental might be shockingly expensive, will you be using it long term? Your plans to move sound exciting.

Jeanie said...

It sounds like you have done well in completing a gargantuan task. Even with a little sense of loss, you must be pleased with all you have done.
That Corgi, above, made a good point about not leaving so much for others to deal with once we are gone.

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

Oh, my gosh ... Good for you! I am proud of you, but I DO know how hard it must have been to let go of some things. My ex got rid of a bunch of my stuff that I was crushed by when I left ... esp. toys that my kids had when they were little and Fisher Price stuff from my church that we had closed down. Hopefully, they went to new people who appreciated them.

I know that you guys will be happy in your new home, and that others will be happy with the stuff that you let go.

I am so glad to catch up with you too! Best of luck on your move.

Kathy M.

Jackie said...

I am in awe of your progress...and smile to know that you have Dixie (a very wise friend) that is guiding you with the good questions. She's a 'keeper' for sure!
As you continue toward your goal, my friend, I know that you will make good decisions as to what needs to go and what will remain with you.
Those are always hard decisions (especially the toys and dolls from your children's play days...sigh. I would have a terrible time parting with those. They would probably stay with me forever...and that's OK too! :)))
Hugs and love to you,

Muddy Boot Dreams said...

It's hard, but it is doable...what a great friend you have, she's a treasure.

Jen @ Muddy Boot Dreams

Chatty Crone said...

I didn't understand what all downsizing a life all meant. This was a huge job and I am sure you had some big emotions going on at the same time. I am so proud of you. I know it must be hard and you have had a lot of changes.

#1Nana said...

Good for you! About a year after I retired I started getting rid of books and papers. I said I was not going back...and then the district hired me to write grants and I'm back in the thick of it. I don't miss the stuff I let go. Most of it can be found online now. The harder thing is the items with memories attached. I've still got a bunch of stuff from my mother. They were important to her...not so much to me, but I can't seem to let them go yet. Fortunately we're not moving yet. Maybe by tht time I'll be ready to let go.

Looking forward to seeing you next week.

Kay said...

I'm so relieved to see that "We are happy." at the end of your post. Moves are very stressful and you KNOW I can relate to everything you're saying. I wish we could all have someone like Dixie for a friend. She is certainly priceless!

Rose said...

Sally, I can so relate to all of this! When I retired, I took several days after school was over to sort through all my papers and mementos from school; after awhile, I got ruthless and threw many things away--if it was a blue copy made on a ditto machine, I knew it was outdated:) Still, I brought several boxes home; I just couldn't part with some papers and notes that reminded me of the joys of teaching, especially thank-you's from students. I left many handouts and information for my successor, though; I think he appreciated them that first year.

I also have a stuffed basement, including lots of my children's toys that hold nostalgia for me--my grandkids are now playing with them!

What a wonderful friend Dixie is; you are so fortunate to have someone to pitch in so willingly. It helps to have an objective person when you're sorting through so much that has personal memories, too. Good luck with the rest of your move!

rosaria williams said...

Oh, I can feel the pain! We basically went through the same process to move here. Our children, fortunately are teachers, and took a great deal of stuff. The rest is still in boxes, in the garage. I can only imagine the condition!

Tom Sightings said...

Like Olga said, it "can begin to feel like throwing out little bits of yourself." No fun at all, but you're lucky to have someone like Dixie in your life. Just remember, though, those books are not really gone. You can find all of them on amazon, or down at your local library.

Betsy Adams said...

So proud of you and Jim, Sally.... You are doing GREAT--and I know how excited and relieved you are, getting as much done as you have so far.

You are doing the right thing by getting that storage unit. That will buy you some time --as to what to get rid of and what to keep...

God Bless You both, my friends.

Barb said...

Dixie is a keeper - don't toss her! I still have some of the textbooks and tests I used 30 years ago. Not many, but enough to remind me of who I was and what I did back then. You're getting the job done, Sally - soon you'll be starting a new chapter. Thinking of you.

Janette said...

We are right behind you. Twenty five boxes on the floor of the barn waiting for a spring sale. Another 30 boxes of books awaiting new homes. You gave me an idea though. I might just open up my classroom to the ELL students at school and give them away there!

It is difficult to let go of 30 years of teaching. After this stint of coming out of retirement, I am ready.

Thanks for added inspiration!

Cheryl said...

I was a School Social Worker for 28 years but had to retire last year due to a rare bone disease. I loved every second of it. I have many, many teacher friends, who have been in your situation. It is not an easy task, so pat yourself on he back, this was a huge accomplishment!! Congratulations on this next phase in your life, I am positive it will be a joyful journey!

Lynilu said...

It's a pain, but it feels so good when each step is accomplished! It took me several years after I retired to clean out, so I understand how difficult it can be when it has been your life for such a long time.

I had to downsize from nearly 3000 sq. ft. to 1300. It is a huge task, but so worth it. I need to do a small culling again after being here 5.5 years. How do we accumulate things without even realizing it?

My last two posts have a point of interest you might enjoy and understand. ;-) Read them chronologically.

Dee said...

Dear Sally, there's so much to respond to in this posting: the blessings of your friendship with Dixie; the admirable way you took charge of your life after the divorce and went on to study and teach and do those things you'd always longed to do; and the way you and your husband have gone about de-cluttering your basement--and your life--in preparation for this new adventure.

I moved three years ago and made many of the decisions you've described so well. Making so many decisions, one right after the other in nanoseconds, is so tiring. So I hope you are taking time to simple "be" and to relax in contentment at all you've done. Peace.

Terri Tiffany said...

You are moving home?? oh wow--so you know my feelings.

I was 50 years old when I began teaching-- I couldn't believe this! I admire you so much more for doing this at 50! Amazing!! You are a wonderful role model!

LC said...

Everyone facing a move should have a Dixie as a friend and helper.My sister-in-law was our Dixie when we had to empty her apartment after she died. Your experience has opened my eyes to the fact I could downsize and simplify now. with my SIL's help instead of waiting until we have to accomplish it on a deadline.

I enjoyed your look back on a wonderful career and courageous life well-lived. The fact that the look back was triggered by the need to empty the basement was one more benefit of downsizing!

Sandi said...

Oh Sally! So glad you had lots of help in sorting through all the boxes of memorabilia. I'm not even retired yet, but you described much of my "savings". We are voracious book readers (and keepers) as well! Every room in our house has full to overflowing bookshelves, and there are many boxes more in the garage and in the attic.

I was the same age when I returned to school and began teaching! Right now I have two four-drawer file cabinets full of teaching stuff (one at home and one at school) and both are so packed I can hardly find anything! (And I sorted the one at school ruthlessly a year ago!)

I'm so looking forward to meeting you this weekend!

Crystal Jigsaw said...

It's so hard to get rid of such sentimental items that you think you will just keep forever. I do sympathise. I have bags and bags of childhood items that belong to Amy, my daughter, and occasionally I put things in a charity bag. But there are just some things that I can't part with. Memories are so very special.

CJ x

Isabelle said...

Well done! British houses don't usually have basements. I think it's just as well! Best wishes with your move.

Friko said...

I really like the last statement.

So often, a daunting prospect like moving and downsizing leaves you drained, a little fearful of the future and your own emotions. You've got it sorted. Well done, both of you!

Jeanie said...

You are pretty darned awesome. I can't even clean and purge without the packing part. You are lucky to have Dixie who is levelheaded and a good friend to help!

I know what you mean on the emotional part. That's why I look like a hoarder. I just have a hard time getting rid of anything with a personal connection. Or a book I remembered reading. Or, or, or. So, three cheers for you, my friend! You are rocking it! And I'm impressed, a tad envious and very happy for you!

troutbirder said...

We went through an short version of this when we moved into our new house... next door. I feel good about donating many books to our local library as well. It was in dealing with our sons things that was by far the hardest.

fiftyodd said...

Know just how you feel. I have slowly thrown out dated text books, both as a teacher and learner. The last things I kept were my university notes from lectures (that others used to borrow) when I realised that none of my own children would study anything remotely connected to what I had done. Now, I'm throwing out the last of my essays for which I achieved good marks. My children have been unimpressed/not interested in these. Still, like me, I hope you are keeping all the letters anyone has ever written to you.

Mare said...

God bless ya! Moving is high up on the stress scale and forces a lookback on life. Sending some cyber smiles your way!

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

I have learned quite a bit from you here about trying to make sense of it all.. I have a basement on over 3080 boxes that came back from the restoration after our house fire. I have emptied about 80.
And I find myself having trouble deciding what can go.
Now all I need is a real friend willing to guide me through the whole mess. That's where I have issues. I stopped having close friends when I found they could not assist me after the huge fire and the cancer within months. I just feel lost that I was so abandoned. My closest family was there. Sadly they have the image that we are well off and can just hire help. Well that we do but there's also a need for some compassion.
Sadly even after supporting so many in need they did not really care to have our back as the saying goes.

Grandma Yellow Hair said...

The main thing is YOU both are Happy!
I too went through this when I left my home after 30 years to move out here in the country. It is so hard to do but thank goodness you are both together and excited about the new home and life.
Sorry I have not been around lately. I have been a bad blogger.

Maggie May said...

You are really brave to be downsizing with so much to get rid of but you've reached the point now when its going to happen! I just couldn't entertain the upheaval at the moment. I should have done it years ago. Sigh..... Maggie X

Nuts in May

Ashling said...

Perhaps you should write a book! I find it easier to downsize than some, but have lived with two people who find it deeply challenging. I applaud your efforts and hard work.