Rummage stuff
Books tower and teeter. James and I wield fine-point Sharpies, writing tags. So, Traveling Mercies, we might write. Hard cover. Fifty cents.

I cut a supply of one-inch stubs of masking tape, hang them from the table’s rim, use them to affix tags to the appropriate books.

We write and tape and pile, getting ready for the rummage sale. When we have a reasonable stack, I wrap it with green twine, tie a tight knot, swing it into the far corner of the family room, and we begin again.

Some of the books are used books, books that we gleaned, crowing triumphantly, from clearance racks or community sales or library bookstores. Those books may have names written inside, and inscriptions. When there are identifying characteristics, addresses or phone numbers, we take the Sharpie and blot that out. But sometimes the inscription makes us pause.

“Matt wrote in this book,” Jim says, “for Dad.”

He moves that volume to the keeper-after-all pile.

I do the same when I find a book with Kim’s name on the fly leaf, written in her unique and lilting hand–Kim, gone this past spring, loved and greatly missed. She wanted me to have this book. She wanted me to read it. I put it with the keepers.

But still. By the time we are done, James and I have bundled up many, many books, marking those old friends ‘.50’ or, ‘$1.00.’ There are clean spaces on the bookshelves, which Jim undertakes to organize–fiction in the living room, non-fiction in the family room.  He swoops and dances, formatting alphabetically by author. As he works, the shelves transform from groaning boards, homes to jumbled, jammed-in stacks of random, anonymous volumes, to pleasing, inviting vistas.

We just have too many books.


My friend and colleague Cindi sent out an email: Would you have any interest in participating in a yard sale to benefit my daughter’s swim team?

It seems like a pretty sweet deal. We pack up our stuff according to a firm style-guide provided by the planners, who stipulate size of tag, and placement of info, and how to affix the tags to objects. We drop them off at the school between 9 am and 7 pm on the appointed night. We’ll sort and place on drop-off.

Then they’ll sell our stuff. There’s a five dollar fee to take part. If we work a volunteer shift, we’ll get 80 per cent of the take from our items. If we don’t volunteer, we’ll get 60 per cent. And, sale over, the planners will send all things unspoken for to appropriate charities.

It’s a win-win-win.  We support the swim team. We make a little cash.

We get rid of stuff.


I pull old electronics out of a drawer and jumble them all together in a box. I’ll have Mark go through them, determine which components, if any, we might ever need again. Then I’ll ask him to determine which components someone else might ever need again.

We’ll tape tags onto those that others might possibly use: N600 WiFi Dual Band USB Adapter….50 cents. A landline set with two phones. A tiny tape recorder. A long-since needed modem.

Why did we keep all this stuff?

Why did we buy it in the first place?


We sort clothes according to strict instructions. Hangers hooks must go to the left, like a question mark. Shirts must be buttoned. Every item of clothing–even shorts–must be on a hanger. Labels should be safety-pinned to the upper left-hand front.

We joke that we have an evilly magic closet or two: when our clothes go in, they fit. And then, one day, they don’t fit.  Obviously, the closets shrunk them.

We put hangers into twenty odd men’s dress shirts, size 16 and a half–33/34. We button them up; this sale won’t brook any shirts missing buttons. There are shirts in every hue and stripe–peach and mint and navy, black and gray and blue. When the back of a chair fills, Jim takes them downstairs and hangs them on the drying rack, where they wait to be delivered.

Dresses. Slacks. Skirts. Shorts.


We package up office supplies–three boxes of perforated name tags, unopened, that could be printed via laser-jet. Two thick stacks of USPS stamps for use with a home postal system. We no longer have that service.

Three hole punches. Mechanical pencils.

We put loose items into sturdy storage bags and mark them, “Assorted office supplies. 50 cents.”

We pull mismatched china, glasses, old pots and pans, from their storage shelves, mark and pack them. I take table linens from a drawer, iron them neatly, place them on hangers.


We stack the goods in the back corner of the house, by the door we seldom use. The piles grow to shoulder height.

I feel satisfied and accomplished: we are purging, clearing space. This feels good.

But then I think: we just have too much stuff.


I remember going to a conference where a Native American Catholic nun spoke. She was wearing a blue dress. It was one of her two dresses, she said; blue to honor the virgin Mary. The other dress was red, and it reminded her of Christ’s sacred heart.

She bought both dresses at thrift stores. She didn’t need more, she said; one to wear and one to wash. Any more would slow her down.

I look at the growing stack of stuff in the corner. I think of  money spent, time involved, storage space clotted with unused things. There is something, I realize, something overdone and obscene about this.

We have cleared spaces. We will take those things to a place where they may do some good, where they will be donated if they do not sell.

But how long will it take us to fill the empty spots on the bookshelves, the open spaces in the drawers.

How much do we need?

How much does what we have slow us down?

I have to turn my back on the stack of rummage sale goodies.


Rummaging: lightening the weight of stuff.


Another Fine Mess You’ve Gotten Me Into, Loolie

Ironing the bag

So here I am, in the basement on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, ironing paper bags and tissue paper. I checked my list of ‘Wonderful Things to Do on a Holiday Weekend,’ and you know what?

This activity did not appear. Not even as the 159th entry. Thank you, Loolie.

She’s a madwoman, our Loolie. I have known her since we were both yea high–well, she was always just a yea bit high-er–and it’s always been the same. Loolie reads something or hears something and thinks, ‘Well that’s not right. We have to fix that!’

And suddenly there’s this whirlwind gusting through my life.

I say, “Oh, no, Loolie. Not this time. This time you are ON YOUR OWN! I am not going to [fill in the blank.] No way!

But whirlwinds don’t just clear their own path, they suck in all kinds of things–and people—lying innocently tangential.

So I might find myself delivering some kind of earnest, everyone-should- know-about-this, literature door to door. Or cleaning out poopy puppy cages at the pound. Or baking 480 cookies for the Good Cause bake sale.

And it’s not just me. In our group of five old friends, four of us are tangential to the whirlwind.

The other one, of course, is Loolie.

Of the five of us, only Loolie lives in our old hometown, so it’s a challenge to get us all together. This year, by some stroke of luck, we all converged the weekend before the holiday. And–thank you, Facebook,–Loolie figured this out and invited us over for a just-us feast on Saturday night. Our families sighed and said they could spare us.

“I’ll be back early, though,” I assured Mark, who rolled his eyes.

“Uh HUH,” he said. He’s been to this rodeo a time or two before.

So we gathered at Loolie’s house,where she had a pot of make-me-float-on-the -wafting-scent spaghetti sauce simmering. She had made ravioli from scratch, and there was an enormous stack of them–with our choice, she informed us,  of three cheese, meat, and squash fillings –waiting in a colander to dance in the pot of bubbling water.

And Loolie’s beautiful granite counter tops were covered with flour and randomly tossed cloths, a ravioli cutter, and STUFF. My hands started itching to clean and straighten, and Loolie could tell.

“Dining room,” she said firmly, and she steered me by the shoulder to her huge wooden refectory table. Peggy, TJ, and Jeanne were already gathered…and one wine bottle was already empty. Loolie poured me a glass, and I went around the table giving hugs. I grabbed a chair, reached for the cheese and crackers, and jumped into the conversation.

We talked about jobs and houses, gardens, and families. We dug our phones out of our purses and pulled up photos of grandkids, pups and kitties, landscaping, and vacations. We talked about the things closest to our warm and passionate hearts–the locovore movement, programs that help women in trauma, getting whole communities to read, the challenges young adults with disabilities face, the number of unwanted cats in the humane society shelter.

Loolie got up and brought in a huge bowl of steaming sauce and the ravioli. She passed around plates and handsful of silverware and a rainbow of sturdy new washcloths to serve as our napkins. We scrambled for the delicious food, tong-ing field greens into wooden bowls, scooping up snowy grated cheese to sprinkle over our sauce-covered pillowy ravioli.

Conversation died as we tucked into the amazing meal. And then Loolie said, “I’ve been thinking.”

As a unit, the four of us groaned. We put down our silverware, laid our hands flat on the table, and said, in one collective breath, “NO.”

She ignored us. “Do you know how much paper people in the States throw away every year?” she asked. “Do you?”

Can a silence be reluctant? Oh, let me answer that–yes, it can. Finally, after a silence so long it was not only reluctant but awkward, Jeanne ventured, “A lot?”

“Yes, a LOT,” snorted Loolie. “Here, look at this.” And from a stack of paper on a chair, she deftly pulled out an article and passed it around.

It was, of course, about the amount of paper waste generated in the United States yearly. And Jeanne was right: it WAS a lot.

“Can’t you just see it?” Loolie was standing now, so she could gesture without smacking one of us. “Five hundred years from now, researchers will say, ‘They threw out all this paper, and then, at gift-giving holidays, what did they do? They bought new paper to wrap gifts in! So they could then throw that away!'”

Put like that, it was hard to disagree that our society had a behavior that was not just crazy, but destructive.

After we ate, Loolie brought out coffee and cookies–her cookies are right on par, on a scale of one to delicious, with her spaghetti sauce. She swept the table of the dinner detritus, and she set out magazines and scissors and pots of decoupage paste, and she retrieved a teetering stack of boxes from a hall closet.

Soon we were elbow deep in torn paper and paste, turning light bulb boxes into gift boxes for coffee mugs and sturdy shoeboxes into beautiful treasure chests.

Blue and Silver

Then Loolie showed us how to cut strips of paper and make our own matching bows from scrips and scraps of magazine ads. I have to admit we were all enjoying ourselves.

While we were working, Loolie’s daughter, Kerri, came home from a night out with friends. Kerri is smart and funny and porcelain-doll pretty, and I always sideswipe the fact–because it does not seem to be the defining thing about her–that she is physically disabled. She wheeled her chair deftly into the dining room, looked at us all with glue on our noses and a growing pile of sticky, decorated boxes, and she said softly, “Oh, GREAT. You’re joining Mom’s challenge. She said you would!”

Brown paper

It was like that moment in a movie scene, where the hero is in a wood and she pulls an arrow out of a tree, and you see the knowledge dawn: I have just triggered a trap. And the net falls over her, securely, inevitably, and you see the helplessness on her face.

“Oh,” laughed Loolie, “I haven’t told them about the challenge yet! You beat me to the punch, Kerri!”

Read shoe box

And that was how the four of us left Loolie’s house, in just a little bit of a wine-soaked, gluey haze, having pledged that this year, we will not buy ANY wrapping paper. We will make our own from found materials.

So. I have invested in a couple of jars of Mod Podge; I have dug my old magazines out from the basket where old magazines moulder; I have discovered that I am a pack rat when it comes to stockpiling boxes. I have riffled through those boxes and discovered sheaves and crumpled balls and wrinkled sheets of tissue paper. And I remembered that there was a week, not so long ago, when Kroger ran out of plastic bags and gave us all brown paper. I kept those paper bags. I cut them into long flat pieces. I am ironing them, along with that rescued tissue, right now.

The thing about Loolie is not just that she’s persuasive, but that she’s also always so damned RIGHT. So I’ve taken her challenge, and this year, I PROMISE, I will not be buying one bit of wrapping paper.

This could, actually, be fun.

Santa Box