Creative Downsizing: Selling a Collection for a Cause

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Sara Somers, wearing her (signed!) Frank Thomas jersey, with Dennis Eckersley.

Sara Somers is a retired psychotherapist from Oakland, California. Three years ago, after  vacationing in Paris, she began the process of moving her home base there. She is currently back in California, preparing for the next stage of her international move. When I read about a unique approach she had come up with for dealing with her collection of baseball memorabilia, I wanted to know more, and thought her story might inspire others who are contemplating downsizing, or who are already in the process. Sara kindly consented to answer my questions via e-mail: our exchange follows.   (Questions by Janet Hulstrand)

Thanks for doing this, Sara! First of all, why have you been downsizing?

I started downsizing seriously when I was packing up my apartment in Paris to move back to California for four months. It was a shock when I saw all the STUFF I had accumulated over the period of just two and a half years. Instead of loving all my purchases, I was hating the growing pile: it started to resemble some kind of monster, and I hated the time it was taking me to deal with it. It actually paralyzed me for a few days.

Once I got back to California, I saw the exact same problem in the hidden areas of my house. Everything had been put into storage: those storage areas were bursting at the seams with things I didn’t even remember that I had.

I seem to be the only person surprised at this knowledge. I think my friends are all saying “It’s about time she acknowledged this.”

When did you begin your baseball memorabilia collection? And how big is (was) it?

I have been a true baseball fan since 1987. I lost what memorabilia I had in the Big Oakland Firestorm of 1991. Some part of me thinks that when you lose everything, the need to replace it all with twice the amount takes over. Since 1991, I have collected mostly Oakland Athletics things. However, as I learned more about baseball and its history, my collection expanded to include the baseball greats. I went several times to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and to a few baseball shows. These are places where memorabilia is bought, sold, and traded. I didn’t really think about what I was doing. Learning the history was a great source of joy, and I somehow convinced myself that having something tangible would make it that much more real and memorable. I think that a large part of the collecting was a way of being different than my other baseball friends. Having something to talk about, to show people, and to brag about. I love talking baseball, and I love that I know so much more than the average person.

I would guess that the bobbleheads, signed baseballs, bats, jerseys, bases, programs, etc., take up about half of what I am selling. The other half is made up of T-shirts, many of them signed, and also jackets, stuffed animals, and books, lots of books!

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What gave you the idea to sell the collection, and donate the proceeds to organizations you want to support? Has it been hard to part with the items in the collection? Will you keep one or two items for yourself?

When I got to California in early January and my jet lag wore off, I began to experience the depression about the new era of politics that most of my friends had been feeling since November 9. It was a deep depression that caused me to feel extremely helpless and powerless. Since I write a blog, I decided to write about my state of being, and I came to the same conclusion that most of my friends had gotten to weeks before: the only antidote to the depression is action.

I had no idea what I could do, as I am scheduled for surgery in two weeks. Then, while meditating, the inspiration hit me: I could sell my baseball collection and all that goes with it. I’m sure that since I’ve  also been downsizing, somewhere in my unconscious, the two things intersected, but prior to this moment, I was not thinking about selling the baseball things. I hadn’t yet gotten to the place of wondering what to keep and what to throw out.

I decided to pick two organizations to support that I knew were going to lose federal funding if the wind keeps blowing the way it has been. One of the organizations I chose to support is Planned Parenthood: this organization is a gift to every girl, boy, and family if they take advantage of what is available. The lives of many of our loved ones would be in great danger if Planned Parenthood disappeared, and without a doubt would make life miserable for many women.The immigration issue is also close to my heart, as my father’s family immigrated here from Russia. Living in Paris, I also periodically see those who have escaped Syria, and hear heartbreaking stories.

It hasn’t been too hard to let go of things. And it’s fun watching people find things that bring them happiness, especially when everything is so cheap. I decided today that I will keep a 1989 Oakland A’s World Series bat signed by Tony LaRussa, who was the manager of the A’s then. The A’s beat the Giants in four games in what has now become known as the Earthquake Series. An earthquake hit the Bay Area in the middle of the World Series!

I will also keep the cover of a Sports Illustrated magazine showing Dallas Braden jumping after he pitched a perfect game (there are only 21 of those in baseball history). It is signed by Braden and his catcher.

What kind of response have you had from friends, and strangers, to this project? Has anyone wanted to buy the memorabilia but not donate to the organizations you are choosing to support? If so, how did you handle that?

Within days of announcing on Facebook that I was going to do this, I realized I had to have a separate page just for the memorabilia. People’s responses have been extremely warm, cheering me on. To my knowledge, I have had only one ugly post on the page. The fighter in me wanted to defend my actions, and the causes I’m supporting, but I decided that’s a battle no one can win, so I just deleted the post. How simple!

A lot of the younger men that have wanted to purchase objects have asked for a “deal” if they buy a lot. I did my research on eBay and I am selling things very cheaply. I explain that I am not in the profit-making business, I am just raising money and that is why everything is so cheap. So far, that has been accepted. And by the way, I have raised almost $1100 in just over a week!

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What do you hate most, and what do you love most, about downsizing?

What I hate most is the time it takes to move things around—and that is what I have been doing until now—just moving everything around. When I was moving to Paris, it took me several months to make my home in Oakland clean and simple, but I was just moving everything  into storage. I couldn’t throw things out. Now two and a half years have passed, and it is easy to ask myself “Did you miss this? Did you even remember that you had it?” It is still hard. I HATE throwing something perfectly good and useable out. So I am having a garage sale, and what doesn’t sell will go to charity. All of this takes time. Time that I hope to use in a completely different way when I finish all this!

What I love about downsizing is looking forward to simplicity. A friend sent me Marie Kondo’s book, Spark Joy. I have read the first part, and the first instruction was to visualize my ideal space. It’s not so different from what I have had. I like the warmth of a home with well-loved things that  bring me joy scattered here and there. What hopefully will be different after I’m done with all this is that there will be enough space to really enjoy each thing and not be overwhelmed by the amount. And there won’t be anything in storage!

I also look forward to the fact that cleaning the house will take a lot less time and will be that much easier.

What I neither hate nor love, but find very hard to do, is to not pause over things as I rediscover them. The author of the book says absolutely do not do that, don’t spend half the day looking at photographs of the past. I can understand that. My inclination is to reminisce, and then each thing is that much harder to throw out. And then the time is gone, and I can’t get it back.

Do you have any tips or advice for those just beginning the process of downsizing, or those who are perhaps dreading it?

I am probably the last person in the world to give advice about this. However, I am sure of two things that are true for me:
1—Have someone else there to keep you focused, and to be harsh. They aren’t attached to any of your stuff, and will help you make good decisions.
2—Get some instruction, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. I had been at the downsizing for about three weeks when I received the book Spark Joy from my friend. This is not a minimalist book: the word is never mentioned. Ms. Kondo gives very clear instructions and asks terrific questions, and I feel a renewed spark of energy to continue at what for me is a massive job. And, as with all things instructive: Take what you need and leave the rest!

I will let you know how it all progresses. My goal is to get rid of 50% of what’s in the house!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.