It dawned on me this morning that some of my readers have never seen or been in my house. Not that one would expect that, when writing at a distance, but the neglect of that fact serves to leave the reader without necessary information. For example, when I say I attempted to buy groceries for a month, the reader is left wondering why “attempted” was the chosen verb. I apologize and will attempt to explain a little.
Our house has a footprint of 20′ X 35′, of which 20′ X 20′ is our living area (the rest is bathroom, wasted space under a staircase, and a large closet.) That 400 square feet is one large room that accommodates our kitchen, dining area, living room, office, sewing room, library, storage, workspace, and so forth. We have a loft for sleeping, but this room is our life, when we are not outside on the farm. I think you can understand that purchasing, canning, or drying foodstuffs to pack away a month’s worth of provisions is fairly simple…where to put them is not.
Currently, there are probably 30 cases of canned goods (mostly tomato juice) under our bed…in case we get thirsty and want a Bloody Mary in the night, I suppose. A closet holds a case or two of dill pickles mixed in among empty canning jars, sewing and craft supplies. Dry dog and cat food make their homes in shiny stainless steel trash cans next to the kitchen island. Clean cat boxes, filled with office and school supplies slide under the couch for ready access… I could go on.
I think you get the picture. Storage for anything, not just food stuffs, is a problem and things are cached away all over the house. I recently doubled the size of our kitchen island and added a lower, upper, and pantry cabinet to the kitchen area thinking we would have more room and the pots and pans sitting above the cabinets would have a home. Wrong! Even with clearing out and organizing, we still do not have enough storage.
Starting last December, I went on a storage rampage. It took me awhile, but I finally came to the conclusion that the eleven rooms of junk I brought from my old Victorian cottage cannot be forced into this footprint, no matter how hard I try. Bringing my stuff in was easy. Mike, afterall, only had a desk, television and stand, and a dresser when I got here. His 30 year old bed and cat-shredded sofa and chair already met their end, having looooong overstayed their usefulness. While he had a washer and dryer, he had no pictures, no lamps, no rugs, nothing to make this house feel homey, welcoming, and warm.
I brought more than enough to fix that and watched in horror as his animals destroyed much of my “new” furniture. In a way, they made things easier because with each newly destroyed item removed from the “inventory” we found floor space. Now, don’t get the wrong idea. I did not bring all that furniture into this house. I have two storage buildings the size of this living room full of it, but as an item had to be thrown out, an item from storage took its place. By the way, there is still stuff in the building.
I am down-sizing, though. Bit by bit things are disappearing. My own sentimentality for “things” continues to be in my way. Across the room, for example, sit two dining chairs with arms that I bought for $15 (for both) at an end of the year clearance sale. The white seats on them were stained, thus the deep markdown. I brought them home and stapled new seat covers on them. At one point, I gave them to my parents who in turn donated them to their church until money could be raised to put pews in their new building. They had them for a few years, then returned them. I recovered them again and used them in the parlor of the Victorian for years. Children swung their feet off them, teens rough-housed in them, family opened Christmas presents while seated in them, and my own cats lounged in them, occasionally opening one eye to peer out the window near where they sat.
Yes, they have sentimental value and I certainly got my $7.50 worth of use out of each.
In this house, one serves as a valet…a place to remove mucky shoes as you come into the house or a place to drop a too-warm sweat shirt on a chilly day. I had thought we could use them for dining, if we ever had time to entertain, but the reality is one is useable, the other is excess. How do I break up the set? How do I give away the memories? I still see my father perched on one, scarfing down a piece of Poor Man’s Fruit Cake and laughing at the family’s antics. I guess, the reality is, holding onto the chairs is holding onto happy memories of my father and my own family that is now grown and making their own memories.
Still, I keep reminding myself the chairs are just “stuff.” Besides, we can’t move in this house for all the “stuff.” Here sits a crystal candy dish given to me by my brother, there sits and antique given to Mike by his mother. Over there is a ceramic horse that belonged to my mother, a pendant candle holder given by my son, pottery made by my daughter…All the “stuff” of memories and of love.
It just dawned on me… Am I replacing the stuff of love with a love of the “stuff?”
I am working to remedy that. Two end tables that we used as a makeshift coffee table are gone. Mike knows my difficulty in letting go, so he kindly took them to the garage as a first step to permanent disappearance. I am not as sentimental over them, though. One was my aunt’s and from the 1970s with a formica top on it. I spray painted it Chinese red years ago, then streaked on a coat of stain/sealer to resemble wood grain and popped in some marble floor tiles for the top. The other I found near the dumpster of an apartment complex and did the same treatment. Both are 24 inches X 24 inches and have been replaced by a 24 inch by 40 inch glass topped dining table base we cut down to size with a grinder. It saves us 8 inches, but visually disappears and makes the room look larger. I have absolutely no attachment to the glass top, but it presents a different problem.
What do I do with the asian-inspired carved wood, huge smoke glass coffee table that is in storage? I will have to think about that.
Meanwhile, I literally live with memories represented by the “stuff” around me. Mike is tolerant of that, thankfully, but I need to ask myself why I cling to my memories so hard. Why do I need “stuff” in order to have the memories? The memories are there, regardless. Why do I associate these things with the love given by its donor or user? Can I not feel their love without the “stuff?”
I believe I can.
On my agenda today, therefore, after feeding, is to get rid of ONE memory-packed item in the house. My goal is to do the same every Monday. I want to think about what the item represents and hold that dear, rather than keeping the “stuff” that clutters my life.
I challenge you to do the same.