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Downsizing isn’t easy. Just ask our armadillo

TARYN GEE/The Globe and Mail

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We're told that moving is a top stressor in life. There is nothing funny about it; my husband and I can attest to that.

As a young couple we had inherited antique furniture, and when we bought our 1920s home in St. Catharines, Ont., more than 40 years ago, we added to the mix by purchasing vintage items when we could afford them. Years later, as empty nesters, we discovered – as so many do – that the kids wanted nothing to do with Victorian furniture or a rarely used 80-piece wedding service.

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A friend suggested we just trade our china for theirs, to give us some variety, as their boys didn't want their "good china" either.

Our downsizing began in earnest years before we contemplated moving. We would watch Antiques Roadshow on Sunday afternoons while performing a triage of sorts – a pile for "must pitch," a pile for "definitely keep," and one with items "open for discussion."

Among the to-be-pitched went all of the kids' report cards, school awards and letters. We took one batch to our daughter in Toronto and the other to our son in Britain. I mailed back letters written by former college roommates. One answered: "Thanks, roomie. I've read them and will now burn them as there is no way my kids are ever going to read this."

The crunch came when various parts of our old house gave out. Pipes broke, electricity needed upgrading, an old tree fell onto the hydro wires, causing huge damage. The time to move had come.

Kijiji became a kind of comfort. We sold things or just donated them to local charities. Finally, we simply left some Victorian furniture and two Persian rugs to the young couple who bought our home. Letting go is good. Through Kijiji, our 1910 Heintzman piano, with ornately carved legs and lid, went to a local family. They got it gratis by paying to move it.

Ridding ourselves of a lifetime of things was oddly freeing. However, we did run into a few glitches trying to give away or sell a few oddities.

In our Kijiji ads I always stated: "For pickup in Niagara only!" But for some items a bidding war began. Certainly that happened with a mantel clock and a vintage glass lamp. Some local traders were pleased with our low-priced deals, but one upbraided me online for setting such a low price on a mahogany music cabinet. She screeched by e-mail that I should know how rare these were: I could have added a couple of zeroes to my stated price. Well, thanks. You could have called me, lady. For you, I would have allowed you to overbid and come and get it.

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That's what happened with the animal figurines. Years ago, a friend noted we had an animal figurine atop the piano in our living room. Since then, various visitors would add a figurine to our increasingly eclectic collection – a blue porcelain hippo, hand-carved wooden chipmunks, a large balsa wood rabbit and a stuffed armadillo. I confess I purchased this piece of taxidermy from an antique shop on a whim.

We put the menagerie on a table, took photos and put the lot up on Kijiji. The e-mail exploded. We were stunned. People wrote from across the country saying that they didn't want it all, just the armadillo. Bids were flying in. The top bidder, from Alberta, insisted he wanted it so badly that he mailed a fat cheque directly to us. We cashed it before finding a box for the armadillo.

The tail was curved over its back, so the box size was tricky. My husband John carried said creature first to Staples, where we thought we might find one. As he entered the store, young men said, "Cool, man," when they saw our armadillo. John noted he has rarely, if ever, been called "cool." Staples sent us to Purolator, where John placed the creature on a table while we waited our turn. Much comment from customers ensued. "Wow." "Way cool."

Purolator staff called head office and informed us they could not ship the armadillo as it was "an animal." Our argument that it was hardly an animal any more, but a piece of taxidermy, fell on deaf ears. Shades of Monty Python's "late parrot" sketch.

The post office also declined delivery, though everyone there agreed our beastie was most unusual, and indeed "cool."

So we notified the Alberta purchaser that we would return the amount of his cheque to him, with regrets. He immediately said: "Try Greyhound. They will deliver to me C.O.D."

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"Done this before," he insisted.

Off to the bus depot we went. Safely boxed, the armadillo made for a rather large, but light, package.

At the depot, an attendant inquired what was in the box. Honest John started to say "armadillo" when a deft kick to his leg allowed me to interject that it was an "animal figurine."

What kind?

"A balsa wood rabbit," I lied. "That is why the package is so light."

Off it went to – as they say in advertisements for pets – a good home. Out of a stressful time leading up to our move, we found interesting buyers, and in this case, even some levity.

Gail Benjafield lives in St. Catharines, Ont.

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