Trash or Treasure–It All Depends On How You Look At Things

Thumbnail image for Antiques Market Istock.jpg
It’s time to make a confession.  Remember Helen Henry in Wedding Ring?  That’s right, Helen, the grandmother who had just the teensiest problem with throwing out things she loved.  Problem was, Helen loved everything that couldn’t talk back to her.  Old papers.  Furniture.  Dishes.  Seed catalogs.  Broken appliances–after all somebody ought to be able to fix them, yes?  So many of you wrote to say you had a Helen in your life.  Some of you wrote to say you were Helen.  And did I understand?

You bet I do.

I will confess that like Helen, I have just the teensiest problem tossing junk.  Invariably, once I screw up my courage and pull out the black plastic bags, I find the very next week that some discarded item was essential to my well being, or my accountant’s records, or the ultimate survival of all earth’s species.  Yes, throwing out anything is an issue for me.  And now, thanks to a stagnant real estate market and a lucky break, I have an entire cottage of someone else’s rejects to explore and debate and most likely, not to throw away too soon. 

This past week my husband and I traveled north to clean and declutter the summer cottage near Lake Chautauqua we bought last fall, just as it was being put to bed for the winter.  This was our first chance to actually spend a few nights here–and I will continue my stay to write for the next two and a half weeks, interrupted only by my fabulous neighbors and the friends I’ve already made.  I look forward to the solitude and the togetherness.  Life is good.

Still, there ought to be a rule that people like me are never presented with all this remarkable “clutter.”  Because in every object in this cottage, I see a story.  And abandon a story?  Are you kidding?  After days of debate we now have an attic full of forgotten tales, and the cottage looks fairly presentable for a lady who’s 115 years old.  I’m sure that eventually I’ll go upstairs and say, “no reason to keep this,” or “isn’t there a flea market nearby?”  But not yet.

How do we tell the trash from the treasure in our lives?  I realized on the second day of hauling and considering, item by item, that this is the theme of my newest novel, Fortunate Harbor, to be released at the end of this month.  The same women you met and enjoyed in Happiness Key–plus one–are faced with decisions about what to throw out in their lives, what to retrieve, what to value, and what to be wary of.  They learn the ways they’re truly fortunate, and the importance of harboring those people, possessions and values that really matter. (Now you understand the title, right?)

I feel so fortunate to be here, to have this funky old cottage filled with trash and treasure, to be writing the last novel of a three book series with characters I’ve grown to love and themes I enjoy exploring.  I feel safe here in this unique New York community, harbored, you might say, by tradition and long acquaintance.

I’m learning that it’s easy to get busy, easy to forget or ignore how many things we have to be grateful for, and how many ways we are taken care of and protected by people we know.  I’m learning that when I start to pay attention, even when life is far from perfect, I am surrounded by the people and small treasures that matter most to me.

Is that true for you, as well?  That even in the midst of sorrow or difficulties, there are people who harbor you and blessings you are fortunate to have?  We’d love to hear about them in your comments here.

Now I have an attic filled with potential, a tiny pile of garbage at my curb–some of which other residents have already spirited away–and old friends to revisit in real time and on paper.  Last night’s downpour did not carry off the best of the ancient wicker we assembled on the porches.  The temperature has not dropped low enough to make me wish the house were insulated, and what mice and squirrels made nests in our walls and attic over the winter have apparently gone to open their summer homes, as well.  I hope life is always this simple and dear, and that even when it’s not, when presented with trash, I am patient enough to find the unseen treasure waiting to be discovered.


  1. Joan Leopold on June 3, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    I just read your June 1, blog. I can’t believe you are hear in a new cottage. My house is just south of the grounds. We emailed last summer before you arrived at Chautauqua. I invited you to the Westfield Quilters Guild.
    I am wondering what I am going to do now because I am reading Sister’s Choice. I will miss that series more than you know. I have loved them all.
    I was in Mayville at Tops yesterday and saw Happiness Key. I guess that will be next on my list.
    This will be a great place to write. Please let me know if you have any free time for local quilters. We so loved your program at our guild a couple of years ago.

  2. Emilie Richards on June 3, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    I hope to do another Shenandoah Album book. Meantime, hope you enjoy the new trilogy which begins with Happiness Key. And I’d love to get together with your group again. Here to work hard, but will be back this summer. Maybe then? Thanks for the welcome. And maybe we’ll run into each other at Tops.

Leave a Comment