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HOME DESIGN ISSUE | In the course of six moves, Ciji
Ware and her husband discovered that shedding their
belongings improved their quality of life

Small. Smaller. Smallest.

May 21, 2006|Ciji Ware | Ciji Ware is the author of the forthcoming book "Rightsizing Your Life: The Midlife Guide to Simplifying Your Surroundings While Keeping What Matters Most." She is also the author of five works of fiction and a former health and lifestyle commentator for radio and television.

There comes a moment in life past the half-century mark that is hard to predict, but you know intuitively when it has occurred. It's a flash of recognition, the instant you realize it's time for a change.

It's the day you put your youngest child on the plane for college. The day you sign your divorce decree, or your beloved family dog dies, or your spouse has open-heart surgery, or the company that's employed you for decades gets sold to a competitor and your job is handed to a 25-year-old. Such a day is usually bittersweet, yet can be strangely full of promise.

For me, there was absolutely no missing the moment.

A few days after I'd received the second renewal notice for my AARP card, the telephone rang. On the line was my boss at the radio station where I'd served some 17 years as the health and lifestyle commentator on a highly rated morning drive-time show. There'd been a budget meeting, the big boss reported. He figured he could hire three Cijis for the price of me, so he wouldn't be renewing my contract. As of that phone call, I was off the air.

I started to laugh. My yearly salary wouldn't buy a fully loaded SUV. But before I could respond, Mr. Big advised me solemnly not to take this change in the show's direction personally, and then hung up.

I relate this tale more than a decade later not as a whine-fest, but to emphasize that you never know what's around the corner. As fate would have it, at the precise moment I was getting unceremoniously canned, my husband was on line 2 talking to a recruiter about a new and quite fabulous job opportunity. This subsequently led to a chance to become one of the oldest dot-comers in Silicon Valley during the Internet revolution, serving as an "adult supervisor" for packs of whiz kids forging the Web-based New Economy.

So we headed for Northern California--me licking my wounds while trying to turn my part-time novel-writing career into a full-time gig, and my husband, Tony Cook, a former magazine journalist, assuming the corporate role of managing editor and publisher of Intuit's Quicken.com.

We were by then in our mid-50s and embarking on what we now look back on fondly as "Mr. and Mrs. Toad's Wild Ride."

we had lived for 22 years in the same Spanish-Revival house in Beverly Hills with the same phone number, the same low property tax rate and the same neighbors we didn't know before trading it for a Victorian with a guest house in Santa Barbara. Now we were plunged into the extreme housing shortage and real-estate frenzy of the booming Bay Area, a situation that would prompt six more moves in as many years.

There was the purchase of a low-ceilinged, ridiculously priced, 950-square-foot condo we quickly hated and sold four months later because of a neighbor who refused to take his meds, dressed head to toe in cat-burglar attire, toted a legally registered gun and "arrested" people in the building's underground garage for "stealing" their own cars.

Welcome to San Francisco.

Our next address was an improvement: a one-bedroom apartment on fashionable Nob Hill. What wasn't so glam was its proximity to the neighborhood cable car barn, which prompted me to wear earplugs to ward off the incessant bell-ringing that could drive a writer 'round the bend.

Yet another of our housing adventures involved renting a charming Victorian duplex in pricey Marin County that we soon discovered had a creek running underneath whose waters bubbled very, very loudly--and for days--after a good rain.

If none of this was enough to convince us that the moving gods weren't smiling, there was that raw Saturday morning in March when we stood shivering on the loading dock at a storage company in San Jose, determined finally to sort through everything we had put on ice during these years of barely controlled domestic chaos.

We watched a forklift operator line up five 10-foot-square wood containers filled to overflowing with the accumulated goods of 25 years of marriage. Not only were there the usual outsized family "heirlooms," along with four couches, two terminally ill vacuum cleaners, wicker porch furniture that seated 10 and a soup pot that could hold seafood gumbo for 40, there were also rafts of decaying photo albums, cartons of books stacked 10 feet high, 26 boxes of my 5,000-plus radio scripts, not to mention voluminous files of research materials for stories Tony had churned out over the years for Forbes, Money, Life, GQ and the late, lamented New West magazine.

The first object to emerge from the first open container was a child-size rocking chair with a petit-point seat cover that I had crafted for our son during my only pregnancy decades earlier. My adored husband picked up the little chair and swiftly consigned it to a pile next to a sign we'd scrawled that read: "Throw Away."

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