Paring Down


May 24, 2013 by Jean

During the past few weeks, I’ve been absorbed in end-of-semester activities – first grading final papers and exams and turning in final grades; then packing up my office for my department’s move to another building; and finally packing up what I would need for my summer in Maine. As I did all this, I realized that I am now entering my final year of teaching and that next year at this time, I will be turning in grades for the last time and packing up both my office and rented townhouse in Gettysburg on a much larger scale. At the office, I will need to go through a career’s worth of files, papers, and books and decide what to throw away, what to give away, and what to take with me into retirement. At home, I will need to make similar decisions about what to discard, what to donate, what to sell, and what to move to my house in Maine.

By American standards, I don’t have a lot of stuff (well – except for books). I have never understood the appeal of collecting things; I don’t have a passion for shoes or handbags; and I tend to buy well-made clothes in classic styles and wear them for 15-20 years. But even a relatively non-acquisitive middle-class American still has a lot of stuff! And some of my belongings haven’t been used in years. Take my collection of 33 rpm long-playing record albums. I have not had a functioning turntable for more than 20 years, and yet I have moved those records at least three times. Even though they are in plain sight in my living room, they have become part of the background of my life and I pretty much forgot I owned them. But recently they were called to my attention. A student in one of my classes, a music-lover, came to my house to deliver a late paper. When he was in my office a couple of days later, he mentioned my “impressive collection of vinyl” and offered to buy my records from me if I ever wanted to sell them.

This got me thinking. I knew it didn’t make sense to move these record albums back to Maine (where I moved them from in the 1980s), but why had I hung onto them for all this time? I realized that I missed a lot of this music and had dreams of being able to listen to it again someday. Then it occurred to me that my college has equipment for digitizing analog music media and that I will no longer have access to that equipment after I retire. So I made a deal with my eager student; I will “sell” him my entire “impressive collection of vinyl” in exchange for his labor rather than for cash. In the fall, I am going to go through all those old records and pick out the ones I really want. The student will then take those and copy them to CD for me. I will then give him those records plus all the ones I don’t have him copy. He is delighted, and I have made a small start on paring down my possessions.

6 thoughts on “Paring Down

  1. I decided to leave my educational books to a new assistant principal first and then to anyone else who wants them. I cannot use them and have so many books at home for enjoyment. For me I have to sever the ties to education as I move on. I know I will be needed for a few projects this next school year but I plan to teach others how to do my job so I do not have to come back often. I am joyful to sever the ties and move on clean and free to new paths as I wave goodbye with a smile and tears. Maybe it was best I did not have a year to contemplate the retirement as the decision was not final in my mind until April.

    I will let you know how I do with all this….I have lots of ideas for next steps but no formal plans…just taking it as it comes…I am hoping we will finally meet once we both retire….oh and I am paring down my belongings as well…..lots to let go of that no longer serves a purpose.

    • Jean says:

      Donna, Because I was the founding director of my college’s Women’s Studies Program, I’ll give the college archivist first dibs on my records; then I’ll see what could profitably be donated to struggling educational institutions in developing countries; then see if there’s anything my colleagues and students want to take. Having lots of time to think about this is good for me because I tend to approach tasks like this very methodically (but then you already knew that from my approach to gardening :-)). I hope you are waving goodbye with more smiles than tears; I am green with retirement envy.

  2. Jean says:

    I’ve really gotten into bartering lately and love the trade you made with your student. I would make one suggestion to go along with that, though. I’ve pick out one to three album covers that have meaning to you and that fit the decor of your Maine home, then have them framed professionally. My husband and I were huge collectors and I’ve been using the “save the best three” rule as I pare down. I love the idea of still having hints of my past still with me but without the clutter and it’s made letting go easier. Twelve years ago when my husband had his stroke I pared down two houses and a 50×100 storage building worth of stuff into one house. (Had two auctions, etc.) And now I’m working on paring down again so I can eventually move to a smaller condo next spring.

    • Jean says:

      Jean, I love the “save the best three” rule; thanks for sharing it. I am whatever the opposite of a collector is; my motto seems to be, “When in doubt, get rid of it.” So the save the best three rule should keep me from tossing things that I’ll later regret tossing.

  3. Diana Studer says:

    my sister is having a few vinyl records transferred to CDs, but even the CD players, are fading into history. Bringing home my mother’s books … they are quite literally piling up.

    • Jean says:

      Diana, I tend to be slow adopting new technologies — unless it is clear to me that they will improve my quality of life, in which case I am likely to be an early adopter. In terms of music, my procrastination has sometimes meant missing whole technologies (like 8-track players). Since the quality of sound of MP3 players is significantly lower than that of CDs, I figure I’ll still be using the CDs for a long time.
      I know how quickly books can pile up, but your mother’s books must be such a wonderful connection with her.

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I am Jean Potuchek, a professional sociologist who has just stepped into the next phase of my life, retirement, after more than thirty years of college teaching. This blog is about my experience of that new phase of life.

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