The spring of 2012 is one season that I never want to relive. Any sense of renewal or rebirth had been stomped out in March when the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation unilaterally ended the highly successful Slots at Racetracks Program. (I was co-owner of a business that supplied printed programs to the majority of the province’s racetracks and they had just been handed a death sentence.)
In early March I sat down with my business partner, Gord Irwin Jr., and we agreed to get through the busy summer racing season and re-assess the situation in the fall. It looked particularly bleak as we did business with the province’s smallest and most vulnerable racetracks. (My salaried position with the largest track operator in the country was not in affected.)
The situation wasn’t looking any better come early May but to be honest, I really didn’t see how it could get any worse. But it did. Much worse. In the early morning hours of Sunday, May 6, 2012, I received a call informing me that my friend and business partner of 25 years had suffered a heart attack. At the age of 55, Gord was gone.
As you have probably guessed, the fallout from this double-whammy was that I decided to make some major changes in my life. I had previously arranged a three-month sabbatical from Woodbine and was planning to spend August, September and October of 2012 in Spain, walking the Camino de Santiago, drinking red wine, and generally celebrating the Big Five-O. That plan was quickly shelved and instead I spent two of the three months in Orangeville (Ontario) wrapping up a business that had been a going concern since 1968 and a part of my life since 1982. Some red wine was involved but the task of cleaning out a 10,000 square foot printing plant was anything but fun.
As I watched a scrap metal dealer tie the last of six extra large filing cabinets onto his truck, I vowed that within two years my worldly possessions would fit into one of those filing cabinets… and a medium-sized backpack. It was time to downsize and transition into a life with more spontaneity and fewer deadlines and schedules.
Selling my house in Toronto’s red hot real estate market was a snap – 36 hours from MLS listing to signed deal – but the rest of the 200-point plan was a little more complicated. Thirty years of near perfect attendance at weekly auctions and flea markets had produced a sizeable collection of furniture, art, books, signs, curios, bric-a-brac and ephemera. I’m told that normal people don’t have 100 piece collections of antique cast iron bathtub feet stashed under their basement stairs. And apparently a 60 piece collection of framed art and memorabilia on a single wall is something of a rarity, as are end tables made of 400 pound blocks of compacted scrap metal. (There is no truth to the rumour that Jimmy Hoffa rests at the end of my sofa.)
On top of my own World Class collection of “junque”, I had inherited a number of heirlooms, three big boxes of photos and slides, numerous examples of my mother’s oil painting, sketching, rug hooking, needlework and leather craft, all of my mother’s and grandmother’s recipes, and stacks of winner’s circle photos from my dad’s 20+ years as a racehorse trainer. You don’t just haul such items out to the driveway on a Saturday morning, slap on a few price stickers and watch them disappear by noon. But after two years of sorting, boxing, cleaning, scanning, photographing, advertising, listing, donating and delivering, I have knocked it down to a very manageable pile.
I’m still planning a mid-June Open House to clear out a few items that I’ll use until the last minute, but the purge is now 99% complete. And man, does it feel good.
BootsnAll blogger Jennifer Miller recently wrote, “I’d rather have options than possessions”, and I couldn’t agree more. All that “stuff” was beginning to feel like an anchor tied around my neck. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that 800 pounds of crushed metal was weighing me down but subconsciously or not, it was.
I can’t claim to have done a complete purge as I still have a 4’ x 5’ locker in Toronto. While I’m unlikely to “need” any of the items that are now stashed away, it is comforting to know that I have a few physical links to my past. It’s also quite possible that I’ll be game for a second round of “letting go” at some point in the future.
“1-800-GOT-JUNK” is one number I will keep in my (downsized) address book.