Peggy North rose from her small blue velvet rocker and carefully made her way to another room.
Her pathway was surrounded by boxes. Each filled to the rim. Each bearing a price tag.
Her three-bedroom house sits on a quaint hillside near Tremont. There’s a small lake in front. It’s a quiet, peaceful place.
This will always be home, although she no longer lives here.
She made the decision to move to a small apartment several months ago. It was not an easy one, but a necessary one. Confronted by recent health issues coupled with the maintenance and care of a large home simply made the timing right. She should move on.
The first step for the 81-year-old former teacher was to let go of a lifetime of things. She opened her home for a moving sale. With the help of family, every drawer was emptied, and every closet cleaned out. Only the necessities and the things she held most dear would be taken to her new home.
Reminiscing with almost every step, North paused in front of a colorful tableau of scenes painted on her cabinet doors.
She uses the words “I remember” as she makes her way from room to room. They have great significance to her.
“I remember when I told my husband Bill, I wanted cabinets above the washer and dryer so I could put my detergent and things in them,” she said. “After they were installed, I painted these scenes on the doors. I’ve always loved to paint.”
She spoke gently as her mind wandered back to the conversation with her late husband. He died in 2006.
Leaving their home behind will be difficult.
She continued to talk about her life with Bill as she looked at the many things they accumulated through their lives. The two met in Memphis. She was attending college on a scholarship she earned after graduating as valedictorian of her Tremont class. She lived at The World’s Young Women’s Christian Association. There were only two phones in the building where she and other young women lived.
“I remember I was walking by the phones one day when my friend asked me if I would answer them while she stepped away, so I did,” she said. “A gentleman called looking for his brother’s wife’s sister to play cards.”
She laughed as she recalled their first conversation.
“He was very friendly and after we talked for a bit, he asked could he call me again sometime and I finally told him yes,” she said.
After many more phone conversations, Bill convinced Peggy to go out with him.
Some might call it a chance encounter, but for Bill, it was divine appointment. As Peggy recalled he once told a friend, “I knew the first time I saw her, she was the girl I wanted to marry.”
And marry her he did. They continued to live in Memphis for several years, but eventually decided Itawamba County was where they wanted to raise their three sons and three daughters.
North paused again by a stack of board games. The copies of Monopoly and Life had been yellowed with time, and the corners of the boxes had been taped to keep them from falling apart. It’s easy to picture yellow and green cash scattered about their table, along with a bit of late-night laughter and a bowl of popcorn.
Such memories those boxes carry, priced at just two dollars.
“The kids always had fun with these,” she said.
In a decidedly sorrowful process, Peggy asked each of her children to choose one item from the home that held sentimental value to them. The rest would be tagged and priced. If there were other items they wished to have, they could purchase them. At her death, the revenue would be split among them. She felt it was the fairest way.
Though Peggy was completely unaware, she was undertaking a task that has become a growing trend in recent years. In Sweden, where the practice originated, they call it “dostadning.” It means “death cleaning.”
The words carry a somber tone, but the “death cleaning” process depicts the natural order of things. The decluttering of one’s life so they can live out their days in a simpler fashion. It also eases the stress of those left behind by minimizing material things.
It’s still a difficult task to get through. It’s a process that’s less about giving up than letting go. It’s meant to be a relief, an unburdening.
Peggy continued through her home recalling how she and Bill had traveled to every state but Hawaii. She talked about the hymnals that were boxed and ready to sell and how she used to play her favorite hymns on the Schubert piano that sat against the wall. It, too, was for sale.
Her sewing projects, finished and unfinished sat amid a room full of ribbon, fabric, silk flowers and baskets. A crafter’s dream, waiting on the next buyer.
She then made her way to a beautifully-carved wooden bench, which she found while on one of her many mission trips to Honduras. She spoke candidly about it and the days ahead.
“I remember when I saw this I thought it was just beautiful, so I had it shipped back,” she said. “I think it would look lovely in someone’s home.”
She said it was her strong faith in God that led her to join in many Central America mission trips. It was that same faith that helped her get through caring for Bill during his four-year battle with COPD. It’s her faith that will get her through the arduous task of letting go and starting over.
“If I could offer anyone advice, it would be to be brave. You will hurt, but in the end, it’s all just stuff,” she said. “I have my faith and I know where I’m going. That’s really all I need.”
When the moving sale is complete, Peggy looks forward to getting her apartment in order and decorated like she wants it. It will be a relief.
“I think I might start painting again,” she said smiling. “I’ve always loved to paint.”