When Evan and I first met, I was sleeping on a set of pillows covered with a blanket that had been spray painted “Food Not Bombs” with the iconic carrot logo, from back when I hosted Food Not Bombs in New Mexico, five years prior. This was all covered by a yoga mat, for stability, and I slept in a sleeping bag, which invariably slid off the pile before the dreams took hold. I owned this stack of comfort, a patched up cargo skirt I’d owned since high school, a sweatshirt I stole from an old roommate, a couple t-shirts, a pair of jeans, and a computer that barely worked, that I purchased from another roommate for $50 and a promise to water the plants. I also had a few records, but no record player, and couple books (namely Best American Travel Writing of 2005 and the Portable Beat Reader), and a couple of bicycles (the most important things). I bought some Christmas lights for ambiance, and had a few photos and maps pinned to the walls. It was stark, but it was all I needed.
I moved into a house that came with a bed, desk, and bureau (previously owned by a seven-year-old), which I took with me to my next residence, which I shared with Evan. I picked up some furniture at thrift stores, combined my life with his. When we moved into the house we bought, I was amazed at how much my material possessions had amassed. My books, records, and clothes filled box after box, and even the bikes stacked deep against each other in the moving truck. Over the past 8 1/2 years, we’ve filled this tiny house with appliances, doodads, dead plants (that’s my fault), books, bikes, furniture, and general “stuff.” Where did it come from? Why did we buy it? Everything has a story, but sometimes the story is pretty boring or meaningless.
We try to stay on top of it, getting rid of records we don’t listen to, books we don’t read, clothes we don’t wear (sometimes they don’t fit, or were gifts, or we’ve owned them for so long the armpits are ripped open and the crotch is nonexistent and it takes someone else to say, “No, Lovey, you can’t wear that to work. It’s time to retire it.”). My friend Stephanie Perkinson shared a great article, How to Deep Cleanse Your Closet, a while ago that was inspiring to me this winter. I’ve been channeling it in the sweeps of the house in our preparation to drastically downsize.
Ultimately, everything will be non-magical, because the emotions and memories will have been put to their rightful spots in my head, rather than in objects. I have the same history (plus almost nine years) as when I lived on a floor in a drafty apartment in the Bloomfield/Friendship neighborhood of Pittsburgh. But it’s a process. When I wash the kitchen floor, I do a rinse, a wash (or two), and another rinse, because we are muddy mountain bikers and own a dog. Why shouldn’t everything be allowed the same practice in patience?
Some things, like these knickknacks we’ve collected on trips together, as well as a hand-screened poster, a painting Evan’s dad made for Evan’s grandmother, wedding photos, and a sentimental wedding gift copy of Billy Idol’s White Wedding, will be likely kept in a storage container somewhere. They are the magical pieces of our lives (well, maybe not the poster, though it is pretty cool), even though so many have been broken over the years, and it’s important to recognize that. I’ve never been a sentimental person, but I think that part of the process of letting go of the unnecessary things is accepting and appreciating the necessary artifacts. If the house burned down and these all went to smoke and ash, we would survive and likely only miss them passively, while looking at our new shelf in our new home, and sigh to ourselves that we’d just have to start collecting again. But in the meantime, these are our little belongings we own together. They are more than the Ikea or hand-me-down furniture, more than the bikes (well….maybe) or appliances we’ve collected over the years. With the exception of a few books and records, and the computer I use for work and don’t have money to replace, the little trinkets that fit on the shelf and a few photos across the room of my family might be the most important material possessions to me.
So where do we go from there? How much do we get rid of, and what shall we do with what we choose to keep? That’s what the next few months will figure out.