At some point in my early life — back when I still lived with my folks and brother — I made a chain of paper dolls labeled “A Happy ? Family.” Judging by the shirt my brother is wearing, this was probably created after his skiing trip to Colorado. I was too old, by then, to be making (really badly drawn) chains of paper dolls, but my lack of artistic talent has been written about before today.
I cannot figure out Dad’s sweater. I don’t recall him ever wearing a red sweater like that. Or plaid trousers. And I might be on the far left in brown instead of next to Kevin in green. Dang, I should have labeled them when I drew this.
Today I went through a box of letters. I found three that I could toss. One was a birthday greeting from Sue, one was a Christmas postcard from my Auntie June and Uncle Harold and the last was a thank-you card for a baby shower gift from the first friend of mine to have a baby .
The correspondence went into the fireplace and burned in a glorious blaze.
Declutter 2018 count 18:
2 crystal unicorns, broken
9 letters from Sue
1 Loon Magic sweatshirt
1 shedding scarf
1 pair of fingerless gloves
1 wool underlayer shirt
1 birthday poster from Sue
1 baby shower thank you card from Chris and George
1 Christmas postcard from Auntie June and Uncle Harold
A note on that last one — I saw her a couple of years ago at my high school reunion. She was in a wheelchair (fuck MS) and she and her husband had just moved in with the child whose shower I attended in 1977. [↩]
Clare left a few days ago and took with her some items of clothing that I could have kept, but also was also okay giving to her.
Loon Magic Sweatshirt — bought years ago, possibly in Wisconsin, because I loved loons. More recently I discovered a fellow bird-loving Twitterer, blogger, Facebooker had the same sweatshirt. Even more recently I learned she died and whenever I put the sweatshirt on I sadly remembered that I’d unfollowed her on Facebook because she was a little annoying.
Shedding scarf — I bought it at Traditions in Olympia. Most of the items I have bought there have either fallen apart or were otherwise less than perfect. When I wore this scarf I wondered whose dog I’d brushed against because my black trousers were covered in long blond fur. It turned out to be my scarf from Traditions. Thank you Clare for taking it away.
Fingerless gloves — Also purchased from Traditions in Olympia. They were fine, but they did not have fingers. I didn’t mind giving these away at all.
Wool bottom layer from REI — I went to the new REI store in Bethesda/Rockville during a sale. I was buying clothes for my upcoming trip to Olympia where I worried I would be wet and cold. It was November after all. A sales person showed me a sale on Smartwool bottom layer clothes and I almost bought them, but worried about the wool layer being next to my skin. I wandered around and found another bottom layer long-sleeved shirt and decided to buy it and a turtle neck of the same brand. It was not until I was about to fly to Seattle that I realized that, not only did I spend a lot more on the bottom layers than the items offered in the Smartwool sale, but they were also wool and meant to be worn next to your skin. Someday I will tell you about my abhorrence to wearing wool next to my skin in cold, wet weather when there was a possibility of someone smoking nearby and if my hair might not be washed. Oh, I guess I just told you that. Never mind. Clare wanted an undershirt so I gave her the wool bottom layer.
It’s hard to have nice things, she complained to herself as she contemplated her ruined green guest towels — one covered in white splotches, the other tinted orange — when her husband was not careful with bleach and her daughter gave herself turmeric facials.
Back in my youth I collected many things including crystal unicorns. Most of them were broken in an incident involving a bookshelf, a child and a stool.
Dean just had Clare go through her many boxes of memorabilia in the attic and she pulled out two crystal unicorns, both broken. I am pretty sure she pulled them out for me, not her, but I don’t want them anymore. I don’t care about crystal unicorns and these are broken.
They are sitting on the kitchen counter waiting to be tossed tossed in the trash  as long as Clare doesn’t want to keep them.
I met Sue in 1974 when we were scheduled to host British high school students for a month, then go to England to be the guests of our hosts. We hit it off right away and are still friends, although we have not seen each other in 15 years. 
Back before email I wrote a lot of letters and received as many in return. Sue was one of the most prolific writers of letters and I still have a few of them, mostly from her days at the University of Illinois. She went away to school, but I didn’t so I loved reading about her experiences. She wrote about studying for exams:
“…so this weekend will be very busy, besides beginning to study for my comprehensive exam in zoology on Tuesday.”
“Last night was the Beach Boys’ concert. I had the most wonderful time. I even danced! There were more than 8000 people there… I really wish everyone I know could have been there to enjoy that concert! We were in the 18th row in the front and middle! We could see them perfectly! I just love the drummer (Dennis Wilson) there. What I would give for a guy with his looks, his talents (his money!!).”
“My Mister Right has not yet come along. However I am dating a really good looking guy named Tom. We’ve been going out for a couple of weeks. In fact last night we went for a 2 hour walk, tonight we’re going to a movie, and tomorrow we’re going to see Dimitri, a famous pantomimist and clown in the auditorium. He’s (Tom) a year younger than me, and he’s been going out with a girl for 3 years (marriage is more or less understood). She goes to Bradley and they both go out with other people to be certain they want each other.”
I’ve written Sue a late Christmas letter and am going to enclose the letters she sent me so many years ago. I figure she will get more out of them now than I would — and I didn’t want to throw them away after keeping them for over 40 years.
Last year’s declutter project was haphazard at best. I didn’t count how many things I tossed, gave away, recycled or donated, but I know it was a lot. If you count everything that I wanted to take from my mom’s house that was sold, given away, recycled or donated — that’s even more.
This year I hope to be more organized and keep track of what leaves the house.  Thanks to Kate/Indigo Bunting, I now have a chart on my refrigerator that will track how many things leave the house in 2018. The goal is 2018. Because I am still going through my mom’s stuff, I am pretty sure I can meet that goal.
My rules are simple:
Nearly anything other than food or meaningless scraps of paper counts. Letters, photographs, old Christmas cards in addition to more substantial items such as furniture, clothes and other objects count.
I am also trying to not buy things that I don’t plan on eating or using. I admit to having a small addiction to the website Woot.com and have bought items that seemed to be exactly what I needed, but were exactly what I didn’t need. [↩]
A faux alligator skin briefcase sat unopened in Mom’s attic for several years. I brought the briefcase home after one trip to Elgin. Its contents were a jumble of receipts for a Harriet G. Switzer of 270 Watch St. Elgin, Illinois; a newspaper clipping about a meeting featuring Seaborn Wright , a well-preserved Switzer family tree ; and tatting thread, needles and some unfinished bits of lace. I’ve carefully untangled the thread, stored it and the needles with my grandmother’s tatting supplies, I blogged about the newspaper clipping and now I want to discover who Harriet was.
According to Ancestry dot com, Harriet was born Harriet G. Van Volkenburg to Nancy Plummer and John Van Velkenburg in Hampshire, Illinois, September 1871. She married Howard Switzer on January 1, 1889. By the turn of the century Harriet and Howard, still living in Hampshire, Illinois, had two sons, Albert (9) and Elmer (1). Howard made a living at farming. Tragically, Howard died in 1904 at the age of 48.
The 1910 census lists Harriet as living with her 19 and 11 year old sons at 366 Yarwood Street in Elgin, Illinois. She is listed as being employed by the nearby Elgin Watch Factory as a polisher. Albert is listed as being a carpenter. Another tragedy befell the family when, in 1918, Albert, by then a farmer, died in Hampshire.
In 1920 Harriet and her son, Elmer were living at 332 St. Charles Street. Harriet still worked for the Watch Factory, but was now a “piece worker.” Elmer worked as a truck driver for a thread factory . In August of 1920 Elmer married Emma Sommerfeldt.
By July of 1921 Harriet had moved again, this time to 270 Watch Street. According to the 1930 census she owned this home. Harriet began furnishing her home with flooring, rugs and furniture from the Wait and Ross Furniture Company and A. Leith & Company .
Harriet not only furnished her home, but she hired O (?). W. Bayliss (Bayless?) to do some work around her house on 3 separate occasions beginning July 1, 1921.
She bought something from H. B. Cornwall in November 1921 for $40.
In March of 1923 she bought insurance from Ellis and Western for $12.
In March of 1924 she bought 3 years worth of tornado insurance worth $1250 from Edward F. Prideaux for $5.00.
In 1930, Harriet, now 59 years old worked in the spring department of the Watch Factory. Her home was worth $5000 according to the census.
Harriet continued to live on Watch Street until her death in 1943. She is buried in a small cemetery outside Hampshire called “Old Starks Cemetery.”
It’s been fun spending a morning and part of an afternoon learning about Harriet’s life. I’m glad she spent her last 20 or so years in her own house.
which has been published in a book called Atlanta Beer: A Heady History of Brewing In the Hub of the South [↩]