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Russell Frank: Take My Worldly Possessions, Please

by on June 01, 2012 6:00 AM

Is the war still on? Is the presidential election campaign heating up? Isn’t that Sandusky trial about to start?

I wouldn’t know. I spent the entire month of May moving out of my house. Ridiculously, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

Last week came the yard sale part of the operation. We had two primary goals: to get rid of the furniture we didn’t want without having to move it ourselves, and to give away a bunch of odds and ends that would otherwise go to the dump.

We achieved both. Away went two bureaus, two bookcases, a desk, a bed, and best of all, a wardrobe the approximate size of D’Brickashaw Ferguson. And away went the metal brackets, the lamp parts, the Tupperware, the Supersoaker, the cookie tins, the electric fans, the waffle iron, the Terrible Towels, the bats and balls . . .

Then, when we put the remnants of the sale out at the curb, most of that stuff went away as well. If I saw students poking around out there, I invited them to the back porch to see if there was anything else they needed. When I saw two guys humping our sideboard down the block, I asked them if they needed carpeting. They did. Hurrah!

In addition to the enormous pleasure of seeing all this stuff leave our driveway, there was the pleasure of meeting an extraordinary cross-section of Centre Countians, from guys in camo caps asking if we had any firearms or fishing equipment (we didn’t), to Turkish graduate students looking to furnish apartments.

A full professor tried on an orange clown wig (but didn’t take it). A woman would have taken the grass skirt if she’d been daintier. A D’Brickashaw Ferguson-sized guy carried off a massive air conditioner like it was a lunch box.

Then there were the neighbors. Svitlana brought us pastry and an offer of Ukrainian language lessons (useful if you happen to be going to Ukraine, as I am). Roslyn brought us sandwiches (and threw a going-away party for us). Nina helped us cover the furniture with trash bags when the storms hit. (We had the best neighbors.)

A common refrain among many of the browsers was that, really, they shouldn’t be buying anything; in fact, they should be holding their own sale. And then they’d give us a buck or two for a poster or a pitchfork.

Some of them said their spouse would kill them if they brought another thing home. Others said they couldn’t buy without getting their spouse to sign off on the deal.

We human beings have a complicated relationship to material possessions. We’re both extravagant and thrifty. We never outgrew our childhood desire for a new toy. Then, when the new toys get old, we can’t bear to throw them away. Part of that is sentimentality: call it Velveteen Rabbit syndrome. Part of it is the belief that it’s just a cryin’ shame to get rid of stuff that someone, someday might have a use for.

Thus basements, garages and attics are full to bursting, shelves bow under the weight of books and knickknacks, and a burgeoning empire of mini-storage facilities catches the overflow. A close friend confessed that she and her husband have been paying for a storage unit for 10 years.

And all of us dream of flying free of our possessions. Well, it took a stager, a yard sale, multiple trips to Goodwill and a massive pile of junk at the curb, but, by God, I’ve done it.


I’d say I’ve purged about three-quarters of my possessions. What remains fits snugly into a 10-by-10 storage space. And still I expect to unlock the unit a year from now and wonder what in the world I was thinking when I boxed up the hats I never wear and the CDs I never listen to. Why didn’t I resolve to treat myself to new bedding and a new omelet pan when I move into a new place instead of packing away the old ones?

On the other hand, I think how tickled I’ll be when Hanukkah 2013 rolls around and I’m able to plug in my ultra-kitsch electric menorah.

On Closing Day I woke up all Velveteen Rabbit-ish. That was my last night’s sleep in the house where I raised my family, I thought. This is my last cup of coffee.

Later, when the only items left in the house were the vacuum cleaner and the telephone, I thought about having a last celebratory beer, but realized I’d packed all the bottle openers.

So I left the beers in the fridge for the new owners, unplugged the phone, took my key off my key ring, swept the front steps and closed the door.

Farewell, house. Farewell, neighbors. Farewell, Wonder Years.

Period. End chapter. Enter new stage of life.

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A collection of Russell Frank's columns from the past 20 years, titled “Among the Woo People: A Survival Guide for Living in a College Town," was published this fall by the Penn State University Press. His columns for won first place in the Commentary-Non Daily category of the Society of Professional Journalists Keystone Chapter 2017 Spotlight contest. Frank is a member of the journalism faculty at Penn State. Before launching his academic career, he worked as a reporter, editor and columnist at newspapers in California and Pennsylvania for 13 years. He is, by academic training, a folklorist (Ph.D., UPenn), which means, when you strip away the academic jargon, that he loves a good story. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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