Forty Year Old Canned Fruit, and a Word of Advice

There’s a fruit cellar in the basement of our old house in Redford, right at the foot of the stairs. My father in law bought the property in 1949 when the neighborhood was nothing more than a large apple orchard, being sold off in parcels for eventual development. For two years he had his own little farm on the land, selling the fruits and vegetables he harvested from the trunk of his car to his co-workers at the Chrysler Assembly Plant in downtown Detroit. In 1952, he built the house, and I imagine that adding a basement fruit cellar was a big priority in the planning. My father in law was a farmer through and through, so like a photographer needs a darkroom or a dancer needs a barre and mirror, he needed a fruit cellar to contain the “fruits” of his labors.

SAMSUNGI always hated that fruit cellar. When my in-laws moved out and we moved in, they left behind a number of useful things…like appliances and furniture, stuff all newlyweds need and are happy to have provided for them. But they also left behind a lot of junk, stuff we couldn’t get rid of while they were living, and by the time they died we were too busy or too tired to care about it. Over the 37 years we lived there, naturally we added our own stuff to the mix. In the fruit cellar, along with odd assortments of dishware, some old easter baskets with fake grass spilling out, an ancient rotary telephone, and some musty books, there were still a few jars of fruit my mother in law had canned sitting on the top shelf, the year it was placed there scrawled underneath in my father-in-law’s handwriting.

During this past week the entire remaining contents of our old house have been removed. The upstairs rooms were mostly cleared already, but the basement and garage – repositories of six decades worth of stuff – are now completely empty.

Including the fruit cellar.

Over the past few months I’ve completed a major purge of our possessions, paring down the contents of two homes to fit into one 1900 square foot condominium. It’s not been easy, but is HAS been incredibly freeing. I literally feel 100 pounds lighter without the burden of all that STUFF.

Don’t get me wrong, it was difficult as hell to get rid of things that were an integral part of your life for almost four decades. How to decide which of your child’s school papers and drawings to keep and which to toss? How to choose which paintings from the walls will work in the new house? How to grapple with the fact that your circa 1973 stereo equipment is worth more (financially) than your baby grand piano?

Since I turned 50, I’ve had a real sea change in my feelings about possessions. No longer  do I crave the latest fashion in clothes, or a purse to match every pair of shoes. I’m don’t care about souvenir coffee cups from the places I visit. It doesn’t matter if I have different placemats for every season, or a different teapot for every day of the week. I have moved out of the collecting phase of my life and into the dispersing stage, knowing that as we age, we need less and less to survive, and that possessions are not what make us happy.

As I went through everything we owned, picking and choosing what to keep, the things that consistently ended up in the Save piles were photographs, jewelry, and books.

Photographs are obvious – they capture moments in time, moments that were obviously important enough to preserve. They reflect the essence of people at all stages of their lives. They are incredibly meaningful to me.

My relationship with jewelry goes back to preschool days when I asked for a ring for my 5th birthday. My uncle bought me a tiny gold ring with and aquamarine stone in it. I wore it all the time, loved seeing it on my chubby little finger while I typed stories on the old Smith Corolla in the attic. I developed a nervous habit of taking it off and chewing it, so the band is slightly dented in the back, making it uncomfortable to wear.

Yes, I still have it, and it does fit on my baby finger.

As for books- you all know how I feel about books. But I will say that I must have donated 200 books to the library over the past six months. But I also saved out a selection of children’s books that belonged to my son during his lifetime, books that I’ve begun to pass on to my grandson, who is a true bookworm just like has grandma.

So for those of you who are still in the collecting phase, my advice to you is start thinking about what really matters in your life, what are the things you want to carry into old age with you. Will it be trendy outfits or cute figurines from the gift shop? Will you find smoothie makers and cupcake makers and coffeemakers to be essential to the life you want to live?

Or will it be things that have memory and meaning attached, things that evoke a person, time, or place, things that reflect who you’ve become and how you got there?

Certainly 40 year old canned fruit doesn’t fit into any of those categories.





8 thoughts on “Forty Year Old Canned Fruit, and a Word of Advice

  1. Good for you! I am applauding. I can imagine just how you feel, so much lighter. Many of us are where you are. I continue the reduction, having just dropped of a batch of clothes to sell at Style Trader and created a large bag for Salvation Army. Next comes ebay, to continue last summer’s successful purging of still useful, perhaps valuable but no longer necessary to me STUFF. I have linen closets that can now breathe. It is a wonderful feeling. But don’t forget about repurposing. I very recently reconfigured a handful of my mother’s rings- pieces I inherited from her but would never wear – to a beautiful engagement ring and wedding bands for my future daughter in law. The valuable but no longer useful to me will live on, just in a different form.

    • Haika, I love your story about the engagement ring. What an incredibly meaningful piece of jewelry, and I hope it’s handed down to Sam’s son and his son after that.

  2. Oh, Becca — I feel it. I’m in that zone right now. Looking toward retirement and while I don’t have to size down for moving, I do need to use it or let it go. I don’t have fruit from another generation but I do have a cereal box (full) with Larry Bird’s picture from the championship days. I have the rotarys and enough Easter baskets, with and without fake grass, to host an egg party. Books are the hardest. And art supplies, but I can USE those. And the clothes are going this summer — and I think most are old enough that they won’t even go to Goodwill. This is part of my retirement 101 phase coming up soon. And I’m not looking forward to it, so I may be coming to you for therapy sessions in the not-so-distant future!

    • I thought I was ready for it, but it’s been wrenching in so many ways. I was lucky to find a fabulous estate sale businessman who has helped me do this amazingly easily. I wish you luck, Jeanie!

  3. Boy can I relate. We had a garage sale last weekend and got rid of a lot of unnecessary “stuff.” I could probably get rid of more but I know in less than five years my husband and I will also move into a condo or towenhome because the yard work here is just getting to be too much for us. So, at that point I’ll purge some more.

    • It’s easier if you can do it in little bits all along, and I wish I had been smart enough to do that a long time ago. I give my Mom so much credit. Unlike most 80-something year olds who have lived in one place for 40 years, her basement and garage are virtually empty. She is not a keeper of stuff, and has purged all along the way. I should have taken a lesson…

  4. I’ve begun the process. Actually, I began it about three or four years ago. One of these days I may have to move to a smaller apartment, and if I’ve already done the work, it will be so much easier.

    One thing I’ve always remembered is the estimable Erma Bombeck’s line: “When in doubt, throw it out”. Or donate it, of course, or pass it on or whatever. I’ll say this – it surely has made dealing with hurricane season easier. I always felt that if I had it (like my mom’s Haviland, my antiques and such) I needed to protect it. I did a pretty good job, but it involved a whole lot of stuff-hauling to inland locations. Just crazy. Now, I can fit the true family treasures and photos into the car a little more comfortably – and there’s much, much less to move inland!

    There is a freedom to clearing out. I love the space around me, and not having so much to care for gives me a little more interior space.

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