A Nice Story About Death

I used to work for a company that did maintenance work on properties that were foreclosed upon and had become bank-owned. Our company contracted with vendors who would do lawn work and maintain the interior of these non-lived-in homes all over the country. Among other things, we also did clean outs of homes that the previous tenants or owners had left their stuff in for one reason or another, typically for the most depressing reasons. I didn’t feel particularly good about that work, but this post isn’t about that.

This post is about one particular clean out a few years ago. Crews would send photos of the interiors and the debris within before removing it so we could determine if there was anything of value–specifically something we called “personal belongings”–left behind. Of course, “of value” has a different definition in that world, and very few things (among them mostly irreplaceables like family photos or obviously expensive jewelry) constituted stopping a trash out and holding up the bank from getting their hands on an empty and marketable house. But one day a crew called me with one of those very few things.

Typically we identify this kind of stuff prior to beginning the trash out, and then put the whole thing on hold as when one thing is identified as a “personal belonging” then everything in the home falls under that jurisdiction, but in this case, the crew was halfway through when they called me. Dear Reader, you don’t want to get a call from your crew saying they’ve already brought a load to the dump and then found “personal belongings.” And you definitely don’t want them to tell you that what they found was a fucking urn.

To make this news doubly stressful, my manager was out of the office that day, so I had to go to another manager who I did not know that well for help. (This other manager had, in fact, trained me when I first started at this company, but I have always been incredibly forgettable most of my life, and she didn’t remember me though she seemed to remember literally everyone else. So I guess it wasn’t that I didn’t know her that well, but more that I felt very small and embarrassed that she didn’t know who I was and I had to do that whole introduce myself to her even though we’d met and worked together a lot already thing that only you other poor, forgettable fuckos understand.)

So I went to this manager, reintroduced myself, and explained my predicament. Her eyes went wide. “An urn?” she asked with both the horror and excitement of the realization we almost threw away human remains and now we’d have to deal with this. “An urn,” I told her with a solemn nod, holding back laughter because humor is how I deal with everything and this was, at its core, kind of ridiculous.

We shut the trash out down, obviously, and the manager set to contacting everyone she could in regard to the house in question. Somehow, through the long line of everyone who had handled the house thus far, she had gotten in contact with the former owner of the house. This was unprecedented as, in my particular position and department, we were typically very far removed from the former occupant of the houses. Talking with people who think you personally are taking their home from them is particularly terrible–I would learn this a year later when I picked up overtime by answering our emergency phones after hours and got yelled at and threatened by all sorts of people who didn’t pay their mortgages–but speaking with someone who has lost their house AND the remains of their family member? Horrifying.

So the manager called the woman (thank the gods) who was now residing on the other side of the country, and when informed we had found an urn amongst her abandoned belongings, do you know what she said, Dear Reader?

“Well, I thought we left someone behind!”

As it turned out, the remains were not human, but of the family dog, and we were all a little relieved this wasn’t someone’s grandma, but still, right? You see, a lot of people, when they’re foreclosed upon, leave behind a bunch of stuff sometimes out of necessity and sometimes out of spite. I don’t blame these people, I basically had a job because of this, but very rarely was something of this caliber discarded so thoughtlessly.

So the manager asked the lady what she’d like to do. This was, after all, all that was left of a beloved pet, and the family had already been through enough losing their home and packing up with little they could take and relocating, so we were willing to send the ashes to her–something we wouldn’t have done for any other belonging–and the manager was going to pay for it out of her on pocket.

But to our surprise she said no, and for a moment I was particularly upset and not just because I like animals more than people. First she forgets Fido, and then when given a second chance through an incredibly kind gesture, she blows it off! But her reasoning was thus: that house we found the ashes in had been the dog’s home its whole life, and that was where she belonged. Not tinned up on someone’s shelf or, worse, in the back of a closet, but there, at home. So she asked us if we could bury the ashes on the property so the dog could “watch over the house forever.” Those words will stick with me my whole life, Dear Reader, and I don’t think I will ever be able to tell this story without crying.

The crew completed the request and sent me pictures, digging the hole, putting in the ashes, filling it in, and even placing a handful of wildflowers on top of the spot. We sent the photos to the woman and received a heartfelt thank you. People who clean out houses for a living are incredibly tough, foul-mouthed, strong people. Often they lied to me because the system was a game and they needed to win so they played dirty, and to be honest I respected that, but I think in just about everyone’s heart there’s enough room to get it together to bury someone’s pet with the love and honor it deserves.

I like to think that even though she was abandoned for a bit and never reunited with her family, that dog is very happily haunting that yard to this day, raising the hair on the back of the mailman’s neck and chasing off the errant squirrel, and, pleased with a good day’s work, she curls up on the back porch every night to sleep. So yeah, I helped trash out foreclosed houses–I don’t feel great about that–but I know I did right by that ghost doggo.


Letting Go

Saying goodbye to Tampa, to work, to my friends, these things will be hard. But saying goodbye to my stuff? Dear Reader, there is little else in the world I love as much as throwing shit away.

Hands down, the best part of moving is the opportunity one gets to purge. I don’t even think Husband and I acquire that much stuff in general, and yet there is always something that can just get the fuck out of my house. I have been donating stuff left and right–clothes, books, small kitchen appliances–and I keep finding more!

The last time we moved, from three bedrooms to two no less, I didn’t get this exact opportunity, so I am going hog wild (except kinda the opposite of a hog). I am sort of utilizing Marie Kondo’s KonMari method, but to be honest I haven’t read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I’ve just read articles and watched some YouTubers try it. Sidenote: If you ever need to clean, but you don’t want to, watch a YouTuber organize something. Motivation will come swiftly. (Brittany is my favorite.)

My favorite part of what I understand of the KonMari method, and probably the most popular part, is the concept that the things you keep should “spark joy.” You hold everything in your hands and you assess the feelings that thing stirs in you. If you truly feel joy, you keep that thing. If not, bye bitch!

Too often we keep things because we think we should, but we don’t utilize them properly or at all, and they end up causing us anxiety and taking up space that could be better filled by something we love or maybe nothing at all–empty space itself deserves more credit, I think. Imagine looking into your closet and thinking “I love everything in here!” That’s #fuckinggoals or whatever the kids say.

In order to do this, though, you have to be able to say goodbye to things. And in the case of KonMari, that might literally mean saying “goodbye.” Kondo suggests speaking directly to items and thanking them for their service to you in order to let go. Does this seem crazy? Yes. Does it work? YES. I guess Kondo considers stuff to be alive? I would be lying is I said I didn’t feel bad when I knock down a teddy bear, but that’s because it has a face. And yet, when I think about my stuff, especially the stuff I really treasure, I guess I kind of do assign human characteristics to it. Those things that have impacted my life carry their own stories and trigger specific emotions, and really isn’t that all any of us do anyway? We’re just walking, talking stories, after all.

There are a number of things I’ve read about being in the book that I am sure I disagree with (I will wear baggy sweats to bed or out on the town, I do not give two shits, and she can’t convince me I need to wear something “elegant” to bed because I know I’m going to sweat overnight and be a “hotmess” in the morning either way), but I do think Kondo’s heart is in the right place. She wants you to value your things so you can value yourself. Sometimes it’s really tough to love yourself, so you have to start somewhere else, somewhere easier. And it’s really easy to love a shirt.

I’m decluttering to make moving easier, of course, but ultimately I want to shift out all the bullshit in my house because I want to cultivate an environment in which I can thrive. I want to be creative, but I can’t do that around clutter. Messiness makes me anxious, and having access to the things I need lets me jump headfirst into tasks. Kondo promises right in the title that tidying up will change your life. Our big move, surely, will be life-changing, but clearing out all the nonsense will be a nice boost too.

Blogmas: Tannenbaum

One of the most basic of basics at Christmastime is probably the tree. I ordered a new fake tree from Amazon a few days ago and the miracle of fast shipping got the 7 and a half foot synthetic spruce to my door yesterday. But the living room wasn’t really setup to properly display it, so redecorating was in order.

Hubs and I have a pseudo-contemporary-bungalow which means an awesome, if small, open concept, but also a really weird layout for the furniture we bought for our first house (three pieces we haggled the price low enough to justify their unsightliness). There was basically only one way to setup the living room, so we’ve had it that way for two years. Then I wanted to make a desk area, so we modified things a bit and kind of moved one of the pieces of furniture in front of the world’s most non-strategically placed fireplace (it’s basically in a hallway, filed under Things I Don’t Fucking Understand).

So today we were trying to figure out what to do, and Husband mentioned offhandedly moving the TV into the bedroom, something he’d been suggesting for a while. We don’t have cable and very rarely watch anything on the actual TV, but removing the TV from the living room was an idea I was resistant to for a really long time until today when I realized there was no reason not to. Keeping the TV as the focal point for the sofa was just another thing I felt like we needed to do because that’s what one does.

So we rearranged everything and I cannot even begin to explain how comfy the living room is now. Like, omg, just letting go of the dumbest things makes a world of difference. And the tree has a nice spot to set up as its home.

We went to Target today to get lights for it, but didn’t buy enough, so it’s looking a little sad:

Sad and weird. To be fixed in the near future.

But better than even having it up was probably putting it up. As we did so, we started speaking to one another in Spanish and German, two languages that we know very peripherally, and of course had to head off the littlest of our cats so he didn’t eat every fiber that fell off the thing. Husband complained about pulling down all the individual branches and asked what I would do if he just pointed all of his side in toward the tree instead of out which was an image I almost wanted to see, but secretly I know he loved it.

More lights and ornaments are still to go up and some other rearranging needs to happen to finish out the rest of the indoor decor I have planned, but so far, so good. Blogmas is on a fucking roll.

Now please enjoy this alternative Christmas song to an already alternative Christmas song that someone on Youtube synced up to the original movie: