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Silver Threads: Extreme downsizing nothing new for this senior

One of the incompatibilities that my husband and I struggle with almost daily stems from the fact that I come from a family of “pitch-it-if-you’re-not-using-its” and he has the genes of a long line of “keepers.” (His daddy had floor-to-ceiling shelves in a storage room that contained many, many items neatly wrapped and taped up in brown paper and labeled — for example — “coffee pot: retired in 1962.”)

I do not meddle with that which is precious to my spouse, having learned my lesson very early on when I attempted to give to Goodwill a shabby corduroy jacket he’d worn in high school. My daddy, on the other hand, once commented that there had been spool beds in the country house in which he grew up, “but we burned them when we got the iron ones.” My mother consigned to a garbage can an ancient Kodak camera that opened up on a little track like an accordion and for which she could have gotten $300 according to an antiques column I was reading when I asked her about it.

I got to thinking about all this the other day when I read an article about “extreme downsizing,” a trendy if not practicable subject in home sections these days. Lots of folks, it seems, are into redefining their needs for space and divesting themselves of the clutter acquired over the years.

When I arrived in New Orleans in 1958, post-college and beginning a new job on a daily newspaper, I rented a furnished “efficiency” apartment of about 300 square feet with pocket-sized kitchen and bathroom and Murphy bed that swung out of a closet. My belongings, which my mother transported there, barely covered the backseat of her car.

A year later, my new husband and I took up residence on one side of a double-shotgun that he had rented pre nuptials and furnished with lots of stuff his mother had left behind after a move to Illinois. I’d estimate our premises there at about 750 square feet, barely enough room for his family treasures and the baby bed, chest of drawers and washer and dryer we‘d had to acquire with the birth of our son.

Then, with the acquisition of our first mortgage, we moved into a luxurious 900 square feet. Plenty of room for us, a toddler, and an infant — and the stuff. We moved twice again over the years — my husband was a home builder — and wound up in a 3200-square-foot two-story that we lived in for 20 years. Plenty of room for everything. (But somewhere between these last two moves I discovered that about 15 boxes we’d had the movers put in our new garage hadn’t even been brought into the house — or indeed, opened at all in about three years — so I did the prudent and sly thing and pitched them with my husband none the wiser except on Easter, when he wondered briefly about that “ham-carving rack” he used to have.)

We downsized 16 years ago, moving into about 2100 square feet on one floor to accommodate the needs of our empty-nest, golden — possibly infirm — years. And also all the stuff we — or he — just couldn’t throw away. We’re full up.

But I’ve been looking around for treasures we can either toss or give to somebody who can use them. The other day, after The Salvation Army called, I emptied — with spousal permission — an entire closet shelf of extra blankets and towels. I’ve also been sorting through drawers and boxes and finding that I’m constantly wondering whether or not our daughter — who’s, naturally, a keeper and has stuff issues and a full house and garage of her own — will want this or that after I’m gone.

But after rediscovering some silver pieces I‘ve collected over the years, consigned to a guest room bureau and almost forgotten, I’ve decided to pitch ‘em — right in the direction of one of those guys who deals in gold and silver and will buy them.

A nice Christmas bonus for yours truly!

Bettye Anding is a former editor of The Times Picayune Living section, for which she wrote Silver Threads until her retirement. Email her at


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