Is My Stuff Worth Moving?

“Everybody’s gotta have a little place for their stuff. That’s all life is about. Trying to find a place for your stuff.” — George Carlin

You spent half your life acquiring stuff, and then once you hit that third age, egged on by the likes of organizers and ephemeral sensations like Marie Kondo, you’re supposed to get rid of your stuff. Downsizing, they call it, as if it were some kind of virtue. Or Swedish death cleaning, decluttering like there’s no tomorrow out of consideration for those left behind.

More than a few schools of thought come into play. One says to divest yourself of everything, pretending that you like minimalism and are happy, with enough possessions to furnish a modest monk’s cell. Some like to buy new, starting all over again.  Others see themselves as conservators of precious artifacts, handed down from since-forgotten ancestors. The frugal and utilitarian can’t jettison perfectly good stuff, like that never-used orange fondue pot. And then there are those who view their stuff as part of themselves, a continuing project.

Langley Wakeman Collyer saved newspapers so that his lawyer brother, Homer Lusk Collyer, who had gone blind, could catch up on the news when his sight returned. They both died, buried beneath their largesse of junk, which included some 25,000 books and fourteen pianos, in 1947. For a literary account of the Collyer brothers, see E.L. Doctorow’s novel Homer & Langley.

Will it fit wherever you’re moving?

If you’re moving from a four-bedroom three-story suburban house in the Midwest to a one-bedroom Miami apartment, you might have a hard time fitting your lifetime accumulation of stuff in. And even if there’s no shortage of space, some items might be as useful as a snowblower in the tropics.

What will it cost to move your stuff? Can you afford to move it?

Let’s answer this one with a question. Will you be moving with a rental truck, doing the driving yourself, or will you call a moving company? Will your move be local, long-distance, or international? Brace yourself for some wildly-ranging estimates.

Will you be insuring your stuff during the move? Is it even insurable?

What is the replacement cost of your stuff? If it’s irreplaceable, is it even worth replacing?

Is that stove a 1949 Chambers stove or a Viking range of just about any age? Does the replacement value exceed the cost of moving – and do you even like those stoves?

Do you like your stuff?

If you like your stuff, you can keep your stuff. Or at least, you should.

Your stuff doesn’t even have to be useful to merit retention. If three sets of sterling silver flatware mean something to you, even if you never use some of it, keep it. It doesn’t take up that much storage space. That Pony Club trophy from 1964 may hold meaning only for you, and if you like it, you should keep it.

Kayla moved across the country from 3-floor townhouse to a single-story house, only moving a few items. Handing over already-read New York Times bestsellers to friends, she doesn’t store books. Her tastefully decorated abodes are always magazine-worthy, minimalist and featuring the year’s fashionable color. Even her Le Creuset® cookware is the right shade: mist grey.

And then there’s Rima, whose collection of books and magazines are her pride and joy, lining the walls of a house that blends mid-century with shabby chic, her décor inspired by John Waters and Amy Sedaris. A life-size flamingo and a bronze chimp compete for attention with a chair covered in bottle caps.

Or are you keeping it out of a sense of obligation?  Two decades of harboring that etagere late Aunt Hattie left you is enough if you hate it. And the same goes for those awful Hummel figurines. You’ve earned a full release.

Are you holding on to stuff, because you view yourself as the custodian of family heirlooms? Let’s get real. Unless you really fancy antimacassars, even the ones crocheted, tatted, and embroidered by some long-forgotten ancestor, it may be time to pass those on to the natural objects of your bounty. And if they don’t want them, and if you don’t want them, it’s time to re-home those relics.

Sometimes heirlooms are just meant to die. My mother’s pool room harbored a non-performing, ancient Christmas cactus. While she was in Mexico and the cactus under my care, like most house plants, it up and died. Driving her back to her home in Iowa one spring, bracing for a lecture about my irresponsibility and failure to respect others’ property, the same lecture I’d heard for four decades, I waited until we were an hour or so away, driving along the two-lane blacktops of northwest Missouri, before I broke the news to her. “Thank God you killed that damn cactus,” she replied. “I hated that plant, your grandmother hated that plant, and all we ever heard was ‘don’t kill the Christmas cactus’ from your grandfather’s mother who gave it to her, like it was supposed to be some treasured heirloom.” Now I get more mileage out of having killed the Christmas cactus than if the damn thing was still alive.

Is there anyone who would actually want your stuff? 

In the February 28, 2022 issue of The New Yorker, Patricia Marx sets forth avenues for getting rid of stuff in A Guide to Getting Rid of Almost Everything.

Seduced by Antiques Roadshow and 1stDibs, spying a 1950s lunchbox at a thrift shop that’s just like the one that held your first-grade lunch, you may think you’re sitting on a gold mine. Chances are that you’re not.

In certain markets, your stuff might be valuable, but time and place may make it practically worthless. No one seems to want pianos these days. Goodwill in San Mateo County doesn’t accept furniture as donations.  No one wanted my father’s like-new green velvet sofa or plaid wool love seats. But in my neighborhood, definitely a mixed one, socio-economically, anything left, even a broken toilet, on the sidewalk will disappear within minutes.

Ten years ago, no one wanted LP records. Now LPs and flip phones are popular again. No one wants the Waterford, Limoges porcelain, Lalique, Murano glass, linen tablecloths, or the Ranch Oak furniture your grandfather bought in the 1940s, but that could change in the next decade. Today’s trash, tomorrow’s treasures.

Twenty-five years ago, I moved from Iowa to Mexico. In the decade preceding, I would wear out a Suburban, stuffed with more loot than the Jed Clampett brought with his clan from the Ozarks to Beverly Hills, road trip after road trip, maybe four years road trips a year, shipping books by mail. The bids that moving companies gave me were shockingly ridiculous, one ignorant mover insisting that Mexican cities were accessible only by dirt road and another saying the household goods would be shipped by rail to New Orleans and then by ship to Veracruz, and then overland to Morelia, which was just plain crazy. I finally landed on a company in Laredo that would contract with Mexican movers to move my stuff across the border and another thousand miles to Morelia, but it would be up to me to get the household goods shipped to Laredo.

And so, I hired professional movers to pack my worldly belongings in the largest truck Ryder rented, a car trailer hitched to that, and embarked on the most exhausting thousand-mile drive ever, driving the largest vehicle in my life.

You already know the rest of the story. That moving van contained all my stuff that I didn’t sell or jettison: a 1959 Evergleam Christmas tree, two leather sofas, old chairs, the damn Ranch Oak furniture, a dining room table and chairs, wrought iron patio furniture, more books, enough kitchen wares to stock Williams-Sonoma, a health and beauty belt massager, copper trays and Turkish artifacts, my grandfather’s tuxedos, sewing machines, my childhood bedroom furniture, Chinese Coromandel lacquer screens, a Turkish brazier, a samovar, an antique pine primitive corner cabinet that my mother bought at a thrift store long before I was born, most of my typewriter collection, an Ironrite Model 85 mangle and a Philco TV console older than I am, computers, printers, oriental rugs, an antique garden hand plow cultivator, a 1959 Encyclopedia Britannica, the J. Peterman Company 1988: Owner’s Manual N°. 1, a 45-rpm record of Witch Doctor and assorted LPs, and clothing spanning generations. And even more stuff that I’ve since forgotten about.

I left behind paintings of ancestors I didn’t recognize and that Coke bottle filled with oil from my grandfather’s foray into the oil business back in the 1940s.

Would I do that again? Sure. Unquestionably, I am a shameless maximalist. I have no plans to change. After all, I’ve got the makings of a museum of the mundane, which will surely support me in years to come.

Salad Days

Salad gets a bad rap. At best, it’s viewed as a perfunctory and pedestrian part of the meal, highlighted only during hot weather. Or as a course for dieters and dainty appetites. Go to a restaurant and order only a salad, maybe accompanied by an appetizer, maybe not. And you’ll get that look that says “Is that all you’re having?”

When was the last time someone asked for a second helping of salad?

Lettuce, tomato, maybe a slice of avocado, a touch of grated carrot doused in some glutinous slop masquerading as French, Italian, Ranch, or Thousand Island masquerading as dressing that just tasted like food-grade Drano, that’s the kind of salad my mother made every night, always served on the same wooden salad plates or bowls. Or chopped cabbage drowning in mayonnaise.

Could there be anything worse than Waldorf, a gooey mixture of apples, celery, grapes, and walnuts, in some kind of creamy mortar? Only Caesar gets that touch of theater.

There may be only 2,493 ways to make a meat loaf, but there are a gazillion ways to make a salad, none of them evoking sour, limp greens, dripping in oil.

Restaurants that would never think of serving tainted chicken or over-the-hill fish don’t give a second thought to charging customers for wilted greens, brown at the edges, ingredients better suited for the compost pile.

My favorite go-to restaurant serves up the best beef between here and Chicago, mastering creations of potato and conjuring up fabulous desserts, but it’s still serving the same three ho-hum salads since its opening a decade ago. Most restaurants just give salads short shrift.

And that’s why I took to making salads at home, lavishing the kind of attention that some might give to beef Wellington or a chocolate cake. Before long and before I started sharing the salad of the day on Facebook, I became known as the designated salad person, the one people would ask to bring a salad to any guest-sourced food gathering. What a score! You see, before then, any self-respecting potluck host would ask me to bring something store-bought instead of anything I might’ve made myself.

Netflix-famous cooking queen Samin Nosrat tells us that it’s all Salt Fat Acid Heat, but she doesn’t always get salad. She’s compelled to add cheese to nearly everything, which just ruins it for this cheese-hater. Don’t get me wrong: I still worship her. To the Samin’s holy quartet of salt, fat, acid, and heat, I’d add sweet, crunch, and surprise.

Start your salad by settling upon the two or three ingredients that will be the base of your salad. There isn’t an item on the produce aisle of the local supermarket or greengrocer that can’t find its way into a salad. Maybe shredded beef or chicken will be the salad’s focal point. Use vegetables not usually associated with salad: zucchini, okra, grilled peppers, roasted radishes, cooked winter squash and sweet potatoes, chayote, or raw corn. Berries, cherries, mango, melon, pineapple, and jicama are all fair game.

We all love carbs, and you can’t go keto or paleo all the time. Add a spoonful of bulgur, quinoa, farro, barley, Israeli couscous, wild rice, brown rice, garbanzos, white and other beans, roasted corn for a change of texture, to sate that carb craving, and to provide an interesting contrast.

Everyone knows that the probability of a pistachio, macadamia, or cashew ending up on your fork makes each bite of salad exciting. One thing that Samin never mentions is the importance of some sweet nugget in salad: hard candy in Xmas salad, praline pecans, raisins, dried fruit, candied ginger, silver dragées. A handful of pomegranate arils. Add something interesting and unexpected to salad – nasturtium seed pods can double as capers, green or unripe coriander or cilantro seeds, bougainvillea, marigold, rose petals, squash flowers.

Zhuzh it up with horseradish leaves, radish leaves, mint, fennel fronds, nasturtium flowers, or fresh pea tendrils. A few toasted pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, or sesame add excitement and crunch.

Let’s move on to the acid and fat. Be miserly with both.

Living in Dorothy Lynch country can drive a person to desperate measures, so about a half century ago, I became a fan of Girard’s Champagne Vinaigrette, thinking that it was a sign I’d arrived, given that it was just about the fanciest offered up on the shelves of Dahl’s in Des Moines. And then I realized I was paying $5 and more for canola and soy oil, water, vinegar, sugar, salt, and seasoning, all of which I could conjure up easily from my own pantry.

The fat doesn’t have to be EVOO or even poured out of a bottle. Nuts, bacon, cheese, tahini, avocado, anchovies, and tuna are all sources of fat. Keep that in mind when you reach for a bottle of oil. I prefer to spray or sprinkle the oil lightly and directly on the salad.

Acid doesn’t have to be vinegar. Citrus juice is acid. A splash of wine is acid, and so is pickle juice. Tomatoes, nopal, pickled ginger, and other vegetables are acid. So are honey, pomegranate molasses, crema balsámica, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, rose water, and dairy. You get the picture. You can drop the acid, or you can microdose. The decision is yours.

A little garnish always makes a salad special, whether it’s freshly zested citrus, gomashio (a Japanese seasoning of slowly-toasted sesame seeds ground with sea salt, sending forth a buttery, oily, salty sweet flavor), toasted nori, or even the crumbles and dust from the bottom of a bag of barbecue potato chips or Fritos.

Make your salads interesting and exciting, and become the person known for your salads. Experiment with your salad. Play with your food. Get creative. Make others crave your salads. And remember that you can also order in Chinese food or Domino’s if you fail.
But since all food pieces are supposed to include a recipe, here are three, each yielding enough salad dressing for a small army:

Pomegranate Molasses Vinaigrette

by Victoria Challancin

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
2 tablespoons unflavored rice vinegar
1 tablespoon agave nectar or honey
A squeeze of fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground sumac
Sea salt and fresh pepper to taste

Nora Ephron’s Really Good Vinaigrette

2 tablespoons mustard, either dijon or champagne
2 tablespoons good vinegar (I really like Noble’s Tonic No. 4)
1 small shallot, minced evenly
6 tablespoons olive oil

Villa Montana Salad Dressing

1 medium onion, diced
3 medium cloves garlic
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/8 tsp. pepper
3 tablespoon sugar
2 cups oil
3/4 cup apple or cider vinegar
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon celery, chopped

Put all ingredients in a blender and stir until well blended. Makes 1 quart.

Note: this recipe was created in the 1950s, when oil was oil, and vinegar was vinegar.