The Year of Purchasing and Purging

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The pandemic spurred radical to buy. It besides compelled them to shed their belongings and their aged identities.

Roland Mesnier, a erstwhile  White House pastry chef, explained the challenges of creating his dessert molds portion    moving   with the Potomack Company to auction immoderate   of his collection.
Credit...Kenny Holston for The New York Times

July 16, 2021, 10:41 a.m. ET

For much than 13 years, the molds that Roland Mesnier utilized to manner frozen desserts for heads of state, celebrities and the archetypal household of the United States sat successful his basement.

After Mr. Mesnier retired arsenic the White House pastry chef successful 2004, helium began taking his astir 300 dessert molds to his location successful Fairfax, Va., wherever helium stacked them neatly distant and enactment them retired of his mind.

Then the pandemic struck. With nary extremity successful show to the lockdown, Mr. Mesnier began to contemplate the aboriginal of the molds helium had lovingly collected done 5 administrations, starting with President Jimmy Carter’s.

“I americium benignant of a sentimental man, don’t get maine wrong,” helium said successful a caller interview. “They were my babies.”

But keeping them, Mr. Mesnier said, felt a spot pointless.

“I’m not that blessed to fto them go, but what americium I going to bash with them?” helium said.

In September, the molds volition beryllium auctioned off, including a delicate 1 shaped similar a dove that Mr. Mesnier said helium had utilized to marque an crystal pick dessert for the 1993 luncheon President Bill Clinton hosted to negociate the Oslo Accord betwixt Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel and Yasir Arafat, president of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Mr. Mesnier is 1 of galore clients who were spurred by the pandemic to rethink belongings that erstwhile felt intolerable to sell, said Elizabeth Haynie Wainstein, proprietor and main enforcement of the Potomack Company successful Alexandria, Va. The fig of clients who privation to auction items accrued 25 percent successful 2020 and 2021, compared with 2019 levels.

“The pandemic conscionable enactment the mean purge rhythm connected steroids for people,” Ms. Wainstein said.

The months spent successful lockdown compelled radical to reconsider their careers, where they live, and whether they should stay married. The clip astatine location besides caused them to scrutinize what was successful their homes, particularly aft months of stocking up excessively eagerly connected electronics, toilet insubstantial and adjacent suits.

In May and June of past year, 1-800-Got-Junk reported a 10 percent summation successful the fig of customers who the institution said were utilizing the work to declutter compared with the aforesaid clip play successful 2019.

Recently, a idiosyncratic called to get escaped of fractional of a Porsche that had been converted into a grill, according to the company.

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Credit...Heather Steeves/Goodwill Northern New England, via Associated Press

In May, Goodwill asked radical to halt utilizing its donation centers for discarded disposal aft the enactment was overwhelmed by cartons and bags of breached toasters, aged batteries and dolls with missing limbs.

According to Robert J. Foster, a prof of anthropology and ocular and taste studies astatine the University of Rochester, galore piles of clutter tin beryllium straight attributed to the quality request for creator expression. People privation to make creation that reflects however they spot the satellite and themselves, but successful our modern society, astir radical bash not person jobs that let for self-expression, Professor Foster said.

“We’re not each artists oregon artisans of immoderate kind, truthful that enactment successful a user nine gets done by buying,” helium said.

The pandemic accrued our request for self-expression and, successful turn, our spending habits, Professor Foster said.

Later, it forced radical to re-examine however their belongings reflected their identities, said Andrew R. Jones, a prof of sociology astatine California State University, Fresno.

“If they can’t amusement disconnected their possessions, bash those possessions person immoderate different worth than to beryllium shown off?” helium said. “The pandemic whitethorn correspond an accidental for immoderate radical to reinvent themselves — to signifier a caller identity.”

Jess Tran, a marketing consultant and vintage covering trader successful Brooklyn, said she had gotten carried distant acquiring caller tchotchkes portion she was successful isolation.

She recovered a shrink-wrapped VHS transcript of “Dirty Dancing” connected the thoroughfare and decided it had to beryllium hers. She bought an outdoor lounge seat and spent the weeks starring up to the statesmanlike predetermination redoing her full surviving country to acceptable the caller piece.

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Credit...Sabrina Santiago for The New York Times

“It was a nonstop accent response,” Ms. Tran, 28, said. Then she became determined to ain an antique reflector she had recovered connected an auction site.

She had planned to walk nary much than $300, but she got swept distant erstwhile different bidder began competing with her. She bid $900 and won. After fees and shipping, the acquisition came retired to $1,400.

“This reflector became a manifestation of this idiosyncratic I wanted to be,” Ms. Tran said.

She kept the reflector and the lounge chair, but she gave the VHS portion away, arsenic good arsenic galore pieces of covering that she said nary longer reflected whom she had become.

“I don’t privation to proceed to beryllium the aforesaid idiosyncratic I was prepandemic,” she said. “I was, like, moving astir similar a chickenhearted with its caput chopped off, seeking validation from radical I didn’t attraction about, going to places I didn’t attraction about.”

Scott Roewer, a nonrecreational organizer who founded the Organizing Agency successful Washington, said concern was “extremely dead” past year.

But his enactment began getting much calls successful May and June from radical wanting him to travel into their homes and reassess everything they had bought during the pandemic: high-heeled shoes, decorator handbags, cocktail dresses that had ne'er been worn.

One lawsuit “was benignant of surviving this fantasy,” Mr. Roewer said. She had bought $1,000 outfits that inactive had the tags connected them a twelvemonth later. Another lawsuit — an “impeccably dressed” lawyer successful a high-end instrumentality steadfast who decided to commencement his own, much casual instrumentality steadfast — traded successful tailored suits for shot hats and sweats.

Mr. Roewer uses vicinity email lists arsenic good arsenic platforms similar Nextdoor and Facebook Marketplace to assistance clients declutter. He besides encourages clients to wage a $25 appraisal interest to auction houses and sites that mightiness beryllium funny successful selling their belongings.

Mr. Roewer said the immense quantities of worldly helium has seen radical accumulate “tears maine up a little.”

“The magnitude of discarded is obscene,” helium said. “If we could each conscionable bargain a small little and repair thing erstwhile it’s breached alternatively of replacing it, we would person a batch little trash.”

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