The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

August 8, 2012

Zachary Hubbard | A moving experience with downsizing

Zachary Hubbard

— We finally did it. My wife and I just sold our beautiful mountain home overlooking Johnstown and we’ll soon be condo dwellers. It wasn’t an easy decision, but our mutual bouts with chronic “A.G.E. Syndrome” finally tipped the scales in favor of a condominium lifestyle.

In case you’re unfamiliar with our ailment, let me explain. We’re suffering from many of the symptoms that appear when one’s body starts to respond to a lifetime of wear and tear, i.e. the advanced onset of middle age (also known as O.L.D. Syndrome). Some of the symptoms include gimpy knees and backs, acid reflux, leaky faucets, unruly eyebrows, drooping bags beneath the eyes, and other droopy body parts.

Thus the condo choice – no more shoveling snow, cutting grass, edging sidewalks, weeding flower beds, raking leaves or cleaning gutters. We’ll now spend our energy on more productive endeavors. We now must discover what this will entail for each of us.

Moving is no new experience for us. Since tying the knot 35 years ago we’ve moved 17 times. The first 16 were courtesy of Uncle Sam. I served 24 years in the U.S. Army. Army moves are frequent, usually every three to four years. In periods where I was required to attend various military schools and courses, we occasionally moved twice and once even three times in one year.

Despite the frequency, moving from place to place in the military is fairly straightforward. There’s a transportation office to help plan and schedule the move; professional movers pack, ship, break and unpack your possessions; and on-post lodging is available for the service member and his/her family while they’re waiting to depart the area or when newly arrived. Best of all, it’s free. American taxpayers pick up the tab.

Military moves are neatly packaged and have been performed millions of times, so most of the bugs have been worked out of the system. Our first 16 moves were all done within this system.

Move number 17 was quite different. This time we enjoyed none of the military conveniences. We had to plan like regular people. Finding the right moving company was a challenge. Then we had to figure out what we would ship and to leave behind. The fewer pounds in a shipment, the lower the cost.

Our new condo is much smaller than our house, so we had to part with about three rooms of furniture and other belongings. A local church was happy to pick up the excess furniture and take it to a family who badly needed it.

Getting rid of the excess “stuff” one accumulates over a lifetime was an entirely different story. The drama for me began around the workbench in our garage. That’s where I spent a lot of time tinkering. I’m one of those people who likes to store nuts, bolts, nails and other paraphernalia in empty coffee cans.

You never know when you might need an extra rubber gasket for your garden hose connection. One thing is certain, though – the item you need is in the last can you search and it’s always at the bottom. During the years, I accumulated an impressive paraphernalia collection.

“Away with it all” became my new battle cry, as I purged the precious stuff, all in the name of reducing our shipment weight to save money.

During the weeks preceding our move, I filled trash can after trash can with those precious items I had hoarded over the years. Now, they’re gone with the wind, including a half dozen pairs of worn-out blue jeans I’d been saving for yard work, but never seemed to need. There were also several worn-out pairs of combat boots that have been hanging by their laces from nails in the garage wall for years. They’re part of a landfill now.

I also parted with my beer-bottle collection. These weren’t valuable, collectable bottles, just cases and cases of empties I’ve been packing around in plastic crates for over a decade … held in reserve in case I ever decided to restart my home beer brewing operation that I gave up long ago.

The toughest things to part with were my “man toys,” those big red machines lined up along the garage wall that made the toils of homeownership so much easier. I’m forfeiting a bit of my manhood by moving into a condo – no need for man toys there. My son-in-law got the electric-start Troy-Bilt snow blower.

The buyer of our house also bought my beautiful Toro lawnmower (with electric-start of course) and the grand prize of my collection – a Troy-Bilt leaf blower.

Now to most people a leaf blower might not sound too exciting, but this wasn’t your commonplace, wimpy blower. It was one of those big walk-behind models mounted on wheels. With its giant fan it could generate a local hurricane up to 200 miles per hour, removing anything in its path. It could nearly blow the fur off of a squirrel’s tail.

For those old enough to remember the Tim Allen television character Tim the Toolman from the “Home Improvement” series, my leaf blower would definitely rate a big autumn “ar, ar, argh” from Tim or anybody living in a house totally surrounded by giant deciduous trees.

Like every move before, we’ll eventually adjust to our new surroundings. This time we’ll also have to adjust to having fewer possessions, which is already beginning to feel more like a blessing than a curse. As the comedian George Carlin once said, “A house is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out to get more stuff.”

Fortunately, I’ve learned that the best things in life aren’t things at all. They are the family, friends and loved ones in your life. Cling to thoughts of them and they’ll be with you always, even long after they’ve departed this life.


Zachary Hubbard is a freelance writer and retired U.S. Army officer residing in the Greater Pittsburgh area.

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