A Lesson From the Great Flood of August, 2018

Gerry House

Recently, SAIL member Gerry Campbell had an eye-opening experience. During the August 2018 flooding, there was significant damage to his home and possessions. He learned about how he thinks about items he’s accumulated over the years, how to assess certain items’ value, and how to part with things he may not need. At the same time, he realized the friends we collect are invaluable.

Gerald wrote this post about his experience, hoping that all readers can begin to think about their “stuff ” as they age. He encourages people to comment on this piece to ignite an important discussion.

That day or days when you were going to get rid of the stuff you are not using and not likely useful to you in the future again can come with vengeance.

Things you own, own you. Many of us, whose parents lived through the Great Economic Depression of the 1930’s and World War II rationing treat things we own with a sense of obligation. We were taught that having things was not assured. We knew that we were blessed to be able to afford things and were blessed that they were available to us. We became stewards of our things. We cannot cast them into the garbage heap willy nilly. We know what these things cost us. We know what pleasure and useful benefit these things gave us. We have a sense that they should have value to others as they had value to us.

So many of the things which occupied space in our house were remnants of previous activities we had abandoned some time ago. Some of these activities were on the list of “well I might need that when”. Most people who are lucky enough to own things to support their work or their hobbies have items like this. Nature’s invasion of our home forced the consideration of whether our things were still useful.

So, I have extensive recent experience with the Good Will and St. Vincent de Paul Society donation centers. I know pretty well what the Habitat for Humanity Restore needs. I am working through the groups that might see my things as historic objects worthy of their care.

I am learning again how to use Craigs List, Facebook Marketplace and maybe even E-bay to test “the market” thinks of my treasures.

The week of August 20 I was in Kentucky visiting my only brother John and his wife Regenia. My wife Karen was in Indiana visiting friends and relatives. A good friend was watching our house and taking care of things. We lived just east of Middleton in a raised ranch house with a fully furnished basement.

Then Middleton received 11 plus inches of rain in 24 hours and our home was invaded by nature. Our friend reported that when she examined our house they found soggy carpets, wet books, wet drywall and a serious threat of further damage from water and mold. She took action. She ordered a POD to hold furnishings and goods temporarily. She alerted movers and professionals to clean out the lower level of our house.

I returned to Madison the first week of September to find that the lower half of our house was drying out. The carpet was gone. The drywall had been removed from the lowest 2 feet of the walls, the lower level 3/4 bath no longer had a sink. The storage POD filled over half the driveway and was full of things. The garage was also full of its normal array plus many other things.

Gerry House 2

So what have I learned from this:

Friends are extremely important as are loyal workers who have aided you before.

Friends who have had experience with past emergencies have important skills.

Friends that know when a life situation requires action now are invaluable. Thinking about the “best” action is a luxury when wet warm environments are allowing mold a hey day.

SAIL’s new SAILing Into The Future series features a program taught by Kristen Litzelman, Assistant Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at UW-Madison, who gives tips and advice on what to do when life takes an unexpected turn, including the need to downsize.  Keep an eye on the SAIL messenger and SAIL website to find out when this program is coming up! Also, remember that SAIL has excellent pre-screened vendors that specialize in downsizing and transporting unwanted items to the recycling center, donation sites, or other proper disposal locations. 

Have you experienced something that gave you similar feelings? Do you have some tips to share for parting with “stuff?” Please feel free to add your comments below! 

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