Not long after I married and moved into a home with my husband, my mother offered to send me a large framed lithograph she knew I loved. She wanted me to pay for the cost of packing and shipping — considerable — and I was delighted to do so.
My mother was in her fifties at the time and was beginning to feel a need to pare down her possessions.
How Do You Envision the Spaces and Places in Your Future?
While my longtime dream may have been a “someday” flat in Paris or a little stone cottage in Normandy or the south — those dreams for now seem distant and unlikely.
Naturally, any future space, from the Right Bank to the Left Coast, would probably require paring down to essentials merely as a matter of pragmatism.
My mother’s goals, I believe, were straightforward. She was very happy living in her rambling New England house, and had already converted much of the first floor to suit her needs without ever venturing up two flights of stairs. (She also rented out bedrooms in her home, and enjoyed the conversation and stimulation of her foreign student boarders.)
As she divested of certain belongings, my sense of her purpose is this. She sought a greater lightness of being, greater freedom from the burden of caring for things, and an expanded capacity to simply “be.”
Her future as she saw it?
Entirely comfortable in her kitchen, in her revised sleeping area and roomy living space — surrounding by her favorite things — and actively engaged interacting with people.
How Do We Part With Much-Loved Things?
As a collector, many of my mother’s objects were cherished, not only for the patina of a worn surface or the impasto of a favored canvas, but for the stories of their discovery and the associated memories. I suspect that at various points in her fifties and sixties, she made several considered selections — seperating her most personally meaningful objects from those that she could more easily shed.
Her decision to offer a few things to me was a logical method of divesting, while honoring the sense of family history that came along for the ride.
One of my sons once made the following observation: The things I am attached to are associated with people, places, memories and heritage. The objects are more than the objects themselves, and while their monetary value may be little or nil, their emotional value is immeasurable.
Some possessions are closely aligned to identity. Case in point — my stacks of books, particularly those that are literature, as well as my references on art. Another example: a friend’s souvenir tankards and small handcrafted sculptures, proudly displayed, and all picked up during a lifetime of traveling.
The Importance of Lightening the Load
As I periodically work to simplify and lighten, both logistically and emotionally, I struggle with efforts to shed. This is not a new challenge, though despite my discomfort with doing it, I’ve been at it again in recent months as I have at various junctures over the past 10 years.
I don’t wish to wait until I am ‘retired’ (a future I can’t even imagine), but rather to gradually ease into a continuous process I like to think of as streamlining.
I use the word streamlining intentionally and not euphemistically. It is truly how I perceive this activity — targeting a more maintainable lifestyle that ultimately yields far more than it sheds. And as I evaluate the process in more detail — certain items for my sons, though not now (they don’t have homes yet), certain items I can give away, other items to donate or to sell — I also recognize the time and skill involved in taking on the necessary tasks of decluttering productively.
All the more reason for approaching it gradually.
On a positive note, can’t we also view this process as necessary and helpful editing? Isn’t this always wise when revising our interiors, whatever the reason?
How Much Stuff Do We Need? Is It All “Emotional” Baggage?
Boxes of photographs dating from the time my children were babies line the top shelves and back area of my bedroom closet. Those are just the loose photographs; albums are stacked beneath hanging clothes and still others are tucked in the closet of another bedroom.
Along with pictures are folders filled with drawings, notes, letters and report cards — yes, my sons’ — and again, I cannot imagine “divesting” myself of these possessions.
Once again, these are close to my heart. To shed these belongings would seem terribly difficult though I rarely use the Wedgwood plates, the crystal stems, the pottery vases… On the other hand, within five years after divorce I had sold or given away about half of what I had previously owned as part of the marital home. This was a function of both financial need and emotional “relief” at doing so.
Emotions are key. Emotions are tied to objects.
And the walls I run into in any ‘shedding’ undertaking are emotional. Clearly, I’m not alone in this particular battle.
The “Fresh Start” per The New York Times
The New York Times takes on this issue, positioning downsizing as a fresh start as we grow older.
Using the example of a 63-year-old woman who was undertaking this process, we are told:
… after living in the same house for 35 years — the home where she had raised three sons — downsizing, she said, was “definitely a big stress.”
Deciding what to do with a lifetime of possessions poses a multitude of questions and typically triggers a range of emotions.
While the process may be liberating in the long run, the emotional issues are nonetheless profound.
… don’t discount the pain involved. The difficulty in discarding things can be rooted in mortality and the realization that no one lives forever. At a certain point in life, there is more past than future, and that, in itself, can be daunting.
The Pleasure of Our Spaces
Simplicity to me is relative. I seek simpler without feeling set adrift were I to strip myself of too many of the possessions that tell my family’s stories. For that matter, some of these belongings are sources of ongoing enjoyment.
By way of example, my stacks and shelves of books, a few antique child’s chairs, a pair of zigzags (beautiful and great for the back!), and the artworks mentioned by my son and friends. Big red chairs delight me with their passionate color and provide another element of visual and tangible comfort. Permit me to mention that in recent months I have tossed at least a dozen pair of shoes (really!) and a half dozen towering stacks of fashion and design magazines.
Have I missed them?
Not at all. Proof positive that I can do this, bit by bit, while still retaining the coziness of my space, with a goal of “lighter” of being, if not some absolute state of imagined “lightness.” And I say as much as I look to streamline for the emotional enhancement to my life as well as no longer feeling like a caretaker of things. Yet I know I must respect my own pleasure in my surroundings, as well as maintaining the sense of home for my sons.
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