Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Trying to be Wise

Why grab possessions like thieves,
or divide them like socialists,
when you can ignore them like wise men?

-Natalie Clifford Barney

Ordinarily our small, two bedroom apartment consists of just my Spouse and myself. Since we usually work and read together in the same room, we do manage in this environment. A few weeks ago, though, we had occasion to invite five other people from a long distance. Thus, for two nights at Summer's end we had seven people sleeping in our home.
We had about one month to prepare for this and when we began, the situation was desperate.
Something had to be done urgently about the lawnmower that hibernated in our kitchen, along with the superfluous washing machine and dryer. Believe it or not, this was the most we had seen of our apartment since moving in: it had been so much more dreadful just months earlier.
Every corner had been occupied with cardboard boxes. Most of those boxes contained, as it turned out, unfamiliar and needless things that should never have been packed in our previous place.
We do not usually live that way but circumstances had brought us to a very odd situation.
My Spouse moved into the apartment a few months before I saw it; I had been warned it was cramped and that our possessions were taking up all the breathing room. I thought I understood what that meant but I truly had no idea. When I walked in the door that April afternoon, I took two steps and could go no further. For days my suitcases remained by the door, the only space left for them. I didn't find the couch for three days. We hung clothes on the workout equipment that lurked in the living room. We literally did not have an inch of space to spare.
And yes, the lawnmower had pride of place in the kitchen.
We had already decided that this was going to be the start of a new way of life and although it seemed an impossible task, as we opened boxes we simply found ways to deal with the items. Everything had its place and if not then it was not going to remain in our home any longer. We did it piece by piece and felt elated whenever another cardboard box could be emptied, crushed and taken out to the rubbish. Some of what we got rid of in that period includes the workout machine, a lumbering metal bookshelf, a kitchen table, a very heavy computer chair, an extra vacuum cleaner and finally, the lawnmower, washing machine and dryer. Without the blessed facility of 'craigslist' to find people who would merrily buy or take our unwanted goods, we never would have conquered the mass of contrivances that cluttered our lives.
Along with removing things, we needed to economise on space with the things we were keeping. One of our first ventures was to purchase DVD and CD wallets. We unburdened ourselves of a significant stockpile: every slip cover went to the rubbish pile and every plastic case was consigned to a giveaway pile. When this job was completed we could hold our entire film and music collection in our arms and they took up no more space than a few books. One of the advantages was that we could continue to add new discs without visibly sacrificing more space, as we had left a good number of empty sleeves in the wallets. Even if we eventually had to add another wallet it would scarcely be noticed.
That made a considerable difference but there was always more to do. A couple of months passed where we felt the majority of the work has been done—after all, we now could see our carpet and we were not tripping over garden implements to make breakfast.
But then, of course, we invited a large number of people, and the stakes became higher. We had become complacent and reluctant to get down to the real, personal treasures that were causing our boxes to overflow. Despite an improvement, it was acceptable for us only, and there was absolutely no possibility that we could have anybody to stay with us that way.
A month before our guests were due, we aimed to have another sweep of the place with all the energy and conviction we could muster. This time around there was far less obvious clutter which is why it was so much more dismaying to let things go. I am convinced of this: that we were only able to get through that time, and have five people to stay, because when it came down to it, they were more important to us than the stuff we had been carrying for years. It was clear; we said to ourselves and to each other: you can keep all this, be sentimental, hang on to everything and go easy on yourself –but if you do that, you cannot invite anybody. There just will not be room. Choose.
We found it as straightforward as that to sum up. We wanted room, but we also wanted to hold on to Christmas and birthday cards—many of which had no year stated—ornaments, old notebooks, old electricity bills and credit card statements 'just in case'. Most of the above could be scanned and saved onto the computer and then shredded, finally. It helped, when we were addled, to question if this item or that had been used within, say, six months? In general the answer was that we did not even know what we had, yet we were paying a lot of money to move it all.
We hardened our hearts, to an extent, which is the best advice I can offer at this time as to to how to tear oneself away from what seems essential. Almost everything requires a second, third, fourth examination, and sooner or later you will view it as an extra appendage. Within four weeks we said farewell to three tables, a large lamp, old backpacks, a few hundred magazines, numerous personal papers and about 150 books we knew we would never read again and which were readily available in the library should we change our minds.
They all found fine homes, and we discovered that ours could be wonderful with hardly a stick of furniture in it save for what we actually make use of, every day.

No comments:

Please look around, explore my writing, leave a crumb:
I welcome comments and thoughts.