A few years ago, when I was packing up to move to LA, land of no clouds and overly happy people, I realized I had too much stuff. I decided to deal with it. I held up each item, asking myself, “If this went in a flood, would you cry?” If the answer was no, I got rid of it. If it was yes, I put it in a pile for further consideration later. I was uncomfortable with all the things I have carted around for years and years. They haven’t any use to me, have no sentimental value, and take up space that I do not need or use. And, because my apartment in LA was substantially smaller than my house in the Hamptons, I had the dilemma of expensive storage or carting it across the land.
I have now moved, permanently I hope, to Maine, where I have a small cottage and love every inch of space in it. I decided I wanted every single thing in it to reflect what I love. And, that I didn’t want a lot of things cluttering any room. That meant another purge which I just finished.
I thought of my long ago deceased mother-in-law. She was very wise and taught me many things. She was here for a long time and lived in a huge apartment on Fifth Avenue in New York City. She had tons of stuff. Lots of times when I would visit, she would encourage me to take something that I’d admired.
“I’m not taking your things.”
“I don’t know why not. I promise you when I’m gone, they will be disbursed within days and you won’t even know they were once the culmination of my life’s experiences. At least I know if you take it now you will get it.”
She was right. Within days, everyone took everything. Really fast. But I never saw the pillboxes she collected put out on living room tables the way she had them all those years. They were divided up between a ton of us, and the power of them as a group together was lost along with my beloved mother-in-law. I use the one I have for pills and think of her whenever I use it. I also took a small green marble elephant that travels in my handbag with me, and because my handbag’s journey in a given day can be tantamount to one of those disposals you have in a sink, it lost its leg. I feel badly about that. I feel like I didn’t caretake it the way she did and it suffers because of it.
I look at the hundreds of books I still cart from home to home. I rarely look at them. My daughter will never look at them. Never. I think about a close friend of the father of my child (I am pleased when I call my ex that instead of my ex; he’s really not an evil man), Joseph Alsop. Alsop was a political writer (after JFK did the rounds on inauguration night, he took a girlfriend to Alsop’s house, woke him up and they all had eggs). He had a massive library filled with books he bought at used book stores. He wrote in them – in the margins and on Post-its that would stick out of the top and side of the book. You would pick up a book when in his library and read his notes. He actually had a card catalog for the books as well. When he died, a good part of the book collection came to live with us. We actually built a library for it and my stepson from H1 (my first husband), who later became Obama’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, spent the good part of a summer cataloging it. Again, I rarely went in and looked at the books. My ex would tell you he does, but he would be lying.
Truth is, Alsop used the books for his writing and his pleasure. The way I covet film and television. They didn’t mean the same to those left behind. I realize that my view of myself as a book person is limited more to fantasy, not my reality. The idea of the books around me is what I like, not actually spending hours looking at them, or even reading them. So, I am sending them to the local library for their book sale. And, I’m going to buy more books on my Kindle where they will not take up space I no longer have instead of hard cover. While I do prefer to touch a book when I’m reading it, truth is I can regroup.
My sister when she moved from two houses to one, told me how mad she was at herself with the culmination of stuff she had. She said she had tons of broken suitcases (you know the kind on wheels where the wheels break off). She called ‘We Cart Your Stuff’ or some such company, and it actually cost her thousands of dollars to dump it. If she’d thrown things away along the road of her life, she wouldn’t have had the trouble she did moving.
So, between my sister’s experience, my mother-in-law’s lesson and my recent expedition in looking at my belongings, I’m traveling the road of life a little lighter these days. Feels good. I highly recommend it.