It doesn’t turn back into a tree again

It started with one person in a difficult situation doing her best but also consciously leaving her problems in somebody else’s lap.

I left home.

You’re reading this blog because I left home.

But before I left home, I had to get rid of my stuff, stuff accumulated over a lifetime, some of it, and some of accumulated over the 18 months I’ve been in this apartment.

The thing about your stuff is that nobody wants it but you. It can be totally great stuff, stuff someone could use for another 10 years easily, but nobody wants it but you.

Part 1: Planting seeds and the ripple effect

I was fortunate to get a call from a woman who was recently divorced and whose husband had taken everything. She came over and declared “I need everything.” I said, that’s great, but I need your promise you really take everything. I have a flight the next day, so if you aren’t going to take everything, I’ll need to have someone come in and take the rest.

She assured me she would.

I guess I don’t need to tell you what happened next.

All this went to the trash

All this went to the trash

The worst part of it was that she wasn’t even going to tell me. It wasn’t until she was walking out the door, my apartment completely a mess, with half of it out and half of it in, that I asked her when she was coming for the rest, and her friends, who had come to help her move, looked at me in shock. Not one of them knew that was the promise. They were professional movers but they’d brought  vans, not a moving truck. “If I’d known…” they said, they’d have brought a truck. “If I’d known… “ I said, I would have helped you pay for a mover. Now I need to pay for a mover myself.

“Why don’t you just leave it?” one of them said. “You’re leaving the country anyway.”

“Because that’s not how it works, that if someone screws me, I screw the next guy. I don’t want to plant those kinds of seeds that will grow into trees,” I answered.

The next 30 hours were a blur, but somehow, 30 hours later, I was on a plane. My apartment was empty, cleaned and freshly painted for the next resident. I thought, isn’t it funny how this cost me 1500 shekels, exactly 100 times what she told me that her husband had screwed her for in the courts? I am left with the small bill, because I cleaned up my mess the moment it happened.

Even so, there was a huge ripple effect. I’m going to list what was visible to me for one reason: you can see how one small act creates dozens of small effects on dozens of people. We don’t like to look at the consequences of our actions, but it’s useful to take something so small like this: 30 hours and 1500 shekels (approximately $380) – a small thing – and just take it apart for a minute. You might not want to read the whole list, just skim, but it’s fascinating to see how big the effect is of one action.

  • 7 people who came to do a good deed for a friend left the site feeling horrible about screwing a total stranger.
  • 4 of those people were children / teens who watched the shocked look on their parents’ faces and mine as they saw how they left me. I hope they didn’t learn not to help a friend, instead of learning to help a friend.
  • I never found the key she had borrowed from us, and I keep wondering if she lied about that and is going to rob the people who are moving in next, since she lied about other things.
  • At 10 pm at night, a moving company made tons of calls to find people to help with the move in the morning, to no avail.
  • At 10 am the next day, the owner of the moving company (a guy about 30 years old) showed up at my door, alone, and single-handedly decimated every item that was too big to fit into the elevator and dragged it all out to the street for the city to pick up. (Part 2 talks about the decimated furniture aspect of all this.)
  • My landlord had to pull strings at the municipality to get them to pick up on a non-trash day, and presumably the drivers and trash guys had extra work.
  • The mover, who was supposed to have the day off, had one of the hardest days of work possible, right before a day where he has two jobs in front of him. Presumably, he came home tired and hungry instead of full of energy and ready to spend time with his two-year-old.
  • Two parking spaces near the center of town were taken up by trash on the busiest shopping day of the week, so numerous people ended up driving around looking for spaces.
  • Because of the panic there were a number of small things that ended up my ex-husband’s problem instead of mine. I gave him the wrong key to the storage unit, left him with some bags I’d forgotten to pack, had him deal with the phone roaming, etc.
  • I spent a good part of the day lifting and helping him, which was good, because, obviously, I didn’t get to the gym. I also didn’t get the time to buy any gifts for my friends and family who I am visiting.
  • My good friends who wanted to have time to say goodbye on the phone with me found me stressed and preoccupied and unable to speak to them for five minutes that last day.
  • The storage company was worried I didn’t show up until the last minute with the few things I wanted to store and called me several times during the day.
  • I postponed or cancelled my call with my best friend several times during the day, and he was left worried and unable to support me because I was so stressed.
  • I fielded about 100 calls and messages from people who wanted the sudden free furniture I offered online, and everyone ended up disappointed (everything ended up in the trash). I’ll write more about that below in Part 2.
  • My daughter had to deal with moving her cat alone because I was preoccupied.
  • The house didn’t get as clean as I would have liked so the next resident was left with extra work.
  • I didn’t get to spend any time with my children that last day, except for the time they were helping around the house. I left my daughter for at least 3 months without properly having a nice meal with her on my last day.
  • I slept 3 hours over 2 nights.
  • I ate 1 proper meal over 2 days and just managed with fruit or whatever I could grab.
  • A number of phone calls for a client were postponed to the following week, further delaying a website project.
  • We cancelled a meeting about the Voice of Humanity Branding, meaning we are another few days late in starting to raise money for an amazing cause.
  • 3 days later I found out that someone who had put something out back for herself to pick up later didn’t and the house residents had to deal with additional trash.
  • The mirror in the elevator was damaged because the mover didn’t have the staff or equipment to properly protect everything.
  • The stairways and the elevator were left dirty because I didn’t have the time to clean up after everyone.
  • My landlord ended up dealing with one giant cabinet I didn’t have the heart to destroy or to make the lone mover carry down the stairs. (Hopefully he at least found someone to take it free so someone could enjoy it.)
  • We got to the airport an hour later than we wanted, our luggage didn’t get on the plane, and we spent 5 days without our luggage, costing the airline a good $700 and allowing us a new wardrobe.

Nothing tragic. No human lives. And all of this is just what I saw. Who knows what else was affected because the person in charge of the building got upset and was grouchy all day, because the mover was with me and not somewhere else, because I could have spent that money elsewhere, because the trash went to a landfill, because the bed went to the trash instead of a family who needed it? We’ll never know how much damage there was.

Part 2: Planting trash and our disdain for stuff

Stuff has no value anymore. I just bought a used car, which, for some reason has some value, but when you look on the road, you know that 99% of cars as old as this one don’t.

Throwing out so much stuff pained me. I wanted it to go to someone who needed it, someone who wouldn’t cherish it as much as I did, but who would use it. But stuff is less valuable than convenience. Used stuff for sure.

Two guys came in to take my cabinet, but all they took was one look and decided it was too much trouble to take it apart and put it back together. At retail, they’d spend $2000 to get something this nice. But convenience is more important, so maybe they found something else for free, or maybe they didn’t. Who knows?

All that stuff, it doesn’t become a tree again. It doesn’t go back to earth like our bodies or our excrement. It becomes junk on the earth. All the toys we got our children and all the books we used to read, all the cassette tapes, and all the fridges that no longer work. All the concrete that used to be a building and all the fiberglass that used to be cars. A little of it gets recycled, once, maybe twice. But most of it just becomes junk on the earth.

I’m not saying anything you don’t know.

I just had the horror of witnessing half of the contents of my apartment filling up 2 parking spots and being picked up by the municipality.

Almost all of my stuff was already second hand, some of it more. It had, by most people’s standards, been recycled more than the average number of lifetimes. None of that makes it take up less than 2 parking spaces.

Everything I own is now either with me where I travel, or in storage in 4 cubic meters somewhere, and the only things I kept were the art work my family painted, sculpted or drew, all the physical written letters anyone has ever sent me, and a few personal items. Nothing with any money value.

And so it goes. What has value can’t be bought with money. So why do we own so much stuff?

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