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I slam the laptop shut, lock my fin­gers behind my head and lean back in a self-con­grat­u­lat­ory stretch. I’ve just flogged off a room­ful of fur­niture. After all the advert­ising and auc­tions and auto­bids, I’ve made a sweet $1,700. On the oth­er side of the room sits a man star­ing glumly into the dis­tance. He’s the man who paid, oooh, roughly $20,000 for the ‘bar­gains’ I’ve just sold. But his mel­an­choly can’t wipe the smirk off my face. It’s not the stack of dol­lars I’m stoked about; it’s the space I’ve cleared.

The Trade Me auc­tions were the final bru­tal act in a three-year-long ther­apy ses­sion on downs­iz­ing. I’ve already shif­ted us out of a sub­urb­an house with four bed­rooms, two lounges and a hun­dred bath­rooms, into an apart­ment small enough to vacu­um from a single power point. I’ve sold my car and banked all the hours spent try­ing to find a park­ing space. I’ve boxed up our CDs and replaced them with an iPad stocked with an Inter­net-sized sup­ply of music.

You see, I’m tor­men­ted by our assets. Every stripe of sun fade on an expens­ive pil­low, every tear in the chaise longue and every chip from a crys­tal glass reminds me I’m get­ting old. Break­ing down. Devalu­ing. One day, me and my pre­cious belong­ings will be so decrep­it one of the grandkids will cart us all down to the dump and the old people’s home. If the couch is in bet­ter nick than me, it may well win the avail­able spot at the rest home.

But for the man who bought all the fur­niture, it’s Trade Me that’s the tor­ture. Every vase that walks out the door for $10 takes a story with it. He remem­bers buy­ing that couch, where he first saw it, who helped him load it onto the trail­er, how sad he was that year. He thinks we might yet regret the sale of the Black & Deck­er pop­corn pop­per on a stormy week­end of movies and junk food. I think not. Plus, he’s just made $1.50 he didn’t have before. Score.

The man also remem­bers when chat­tels were cher­ished. Back then, dank air from the Great Depres­sion still lurked in some unopened cup­boards. Plastic covered the car­pet in front of the couch, to pre­serve the threads from scuff­ing feet. Anti­macas­sars pro­tec­ted the arms of the favour­ite chair from the scratch­ing of fin­gers. Trans­par­ent vinyl wrapped itself across the din­ner table to absorb the scrapes of the cut­lery. He remem­bers a more noble time than these super­fi­cial days of annu­al col­our updates in the end­less march of chan­ging interi­or dec­or­at­ing trends.

But, some­where between fan­at­ic­al con­ser­va­tion and wan­ton con­sumer­ism, the man and I are redec­or­at­ing a home. In that home, tod­dlers will smear pea­nut but­ter on car­pets without set­ting off an epis­ode of Jerry Spring­er, friends will tuck their feet into couches, rel­at­ives will spill wine on din­ner tables. In that house, we’ll value fam­ily over fur­niture and people over pre­ser­va­tion. To get there, we just need to clear some space to fit the people in.

By the way guys, there’s still a stor­age unit full of fur­niture. Bar­gain prices.

Heather du Plessis-Allan

Heather is a Jafa who's called Wellington home for seven years and counitng. The wind still drives her crazy, but the bucket fountain still makes her smile. She's running around Oriental Bay and learning to surf Lyall Bay. Her day job is reporting for TVNZ's Seven Sharp.