Living on the road has a much greater appeal now than when I was a kid sharing a tent with a bunch of brothers. At least half of it is probably genetic, and the other half is circumstance.
I remember the family trip that formed my approach to all the packing decisions that followed. I was 16 and we had rented a motor home for a heavily planned journey around the country. As the only female teenager, I was given more latitude than the others in terms of packing. My hair accessories alone, which included soup-can rollers in those days, took up more space than my little sister. She could verify this, because she was not trapped in the bunk with me the night my head got stuck between my pillow and the ceiling. Circling my room, I gathered everything except what I knew I could leave behind.
This is the packing method I used for everything. From purse to diaper bag, car to basement, everything was ready for possible use at a moment’s notice.
Until it wasn’t.
Like car keys that keep burrowing into the bottom of your pocketbook, I eventually noticed that the convenience of owning something was no longer worth the time it took to retrieve it. So now comes the time to stop packing and start living.
Very few of us have the good fortune to start fresh at retirement. Previous decisions restrict our options. Downsizing is a tedious process that takes so long that we sometimes die before we complete the job, leaving the work to those we want least to burden. In a couple of weeks I start the process of removing my Stuff from the house where I spent half my life suffocating in, living part time in a series of small spaces, and returning to the place where I raised my children, refreshed and prepared to waltz where the baggage once covered the dance floor. And free to spike the punch bowl.
We grew up with hamsters. They were only a little bit uglier than chipmunks at camp, but they were sure more cuddly than the field mice who have invaded my current space in suburbia. I know. I’ve only seen that one so far, but like flies, you kill one and a thousand come to the funeral.
Don’t tell me they were here first. I know. My house was built on the edge of a dairy farm. I met them before we moved in, thinking I’d lay out my white satin fabric on the brand new builder’s carpet. When the view was similar to something with Bibbity Bobbity Boo in the foreground, they ran me off. Ultimately, the wedding gown ended up in an upstairs closet, above the only clean carpet left in the house after 32 years.
The secret to keeping mice to a minimum in a neighborhood where corn grows a hundred feet from your front door is to thank your neighbors on both sides for their cat. I get to skip those gifts of dead birds also. Pity the lady next door who finds a dead mouse still attached to the trap, because I am one of those women who think any living thing within my four walls is unwelcome, ugly, and creepy. No spiders. No bees. No stinkbugs. No bats. No woodpeckers. And especially NO RODENTS. Even houseplants don’t survive here.
I’ve seen those Hoarders shows where Matt Paxton can’t get the scientist to understand that her possessions are contaminated because of the mice. I’ve seen Cory Chalmers provide a nebulizer treatment to an asthmatic hoarder because of the mice. I’ve seen a hoarder cry when he had to get rid of his pet mice because they were eating his walls. And now I see me, holding the best excuse for a complete clean-out of the house, wanting to see every piece of evidence that each of my treasures is truly ruined.
I forgive myself for the glitch in my brain, but I don’t think I’ll ever forgive myself for giving up before my children get the job by default. Flylady tells a story about a woman who left behind only what could fit in the trunk of a car, but she had the biggest funeral in town.
I hoard the names of my teachers, as you can see. Add Dorothy the Organizer to the list. And Zach Giffin too.
What has more buts than a locker room? Clutter – But I might need it. But Mom gave it to me. But Toddler made it. But it was expensive. But I could make something out of it. If there were no buts in this world, there would be no clutter.
Clutter overwhelms us because it is the evidence of our indecisiveness. We know – we are absolutely certain – that the moment an item leaves us, we will need it. We have many examples of this from the past, but we can never seem to recall them at the moment they would be most useful in an argument. That’s the thing about clutter. There is so much of everything that we can find nothing.
I had an especially difficult relationship with my possessions while I was deciding to divorce. I simply could not find a way to decide which one of us would be leaving, so I neither packed up nor put away anything. Now that I see that I’m not staying, I can’t decide what to bring with me. Every decision leaves a trail of others that weren’t chosen. I mourn the loss of all the lives I will never have, even as I mourn the life I wasted by not choosing sooner.
My creative solution for my indecisiveness is to live a week a month away from my hoard, not unlike my earlier test runs in the mountains and foothills of New Hampshire, trying on different lifestyles and noting what items I regret leaving behind. I hope to report my struggles and achievements here, while learning to deactivate the glitch in my brain that says I must keep my entire collection of cast iron pans, even though I only use one.
Thirty two years ago we had not yet moved in. Finally, after sorting and piling and flinging and stashing, we have figured out which one of us is leaving. Me.
The kitchen table has been a hot spot for thirty-two years now, and I can finally say that it has seen its last Thanksgiving Dinner. And the TV room has also seen its last football game.
My oldest son is at Base Camp on Mt Everest. The mountain here at home is sure to tumble. I took the other sons to a restaurant. Spouse remained at home, as always. It was great.
However thankful I may be for the years of overabundance, I am ready now have Less Much. Nowhere am I more aware of this than when I see my kitchen table. What I mean to say, of course, is when I DON’T see my kitchen table.
We are all such creatures of habit. Whenever I crack an egg into a pan, a voice inside me says, “This is your brain on drugs.” I can’t help it. I’m pretty sure that if I didn’t hear that voice I would notice, and thus I’d hear it afterall. And so, whatever is in my arms when I walk into the house lands on the table. A couple of things have been there for a year. Seriously.
The good news is that I’ve had a table at all. The better news is that it isn’t coming with me when I leave. I have finally begun to see these Things as stuff that sucks the life out of me, and I’m almost ready to live.
When you purchase a builder’s house, they give you a year to watch for nail pops and other consequences of letting the house settle into its new home. That was 30 years ago. I’ll bet you don’t know how much life fits into a three bedroom two and a half bath walk-out basement colonial home built on a dairy farm. I know. If you aren’t a speedy decision maker, you’ll fill it up as soon as the first child is born. The space between objects fills quickly from there.
So why is it called an Empty Nest, I’d like to know? The only emptiness I can find is in the time that has passed unnoticed. I have settled into a routine that fills the hours and the corners of the space. Deciding what I will no longer have time to do or to be or to learn is harder than ever.
And the house hasn’t settled, the ground has… to the point where everyone on both sides of the street has to meet code by raising their front yard up to 10 inches at the front door so solicitors won’t sue for damages. Was I ever really that naive young woman who wondered if the house would be too big?????
What exactly is left behind when we move on to a new lifestyle? This question hit home for me last week when a health issue sent me to the Breast Surgical Oncologist.
My left breast. It took up a lot of room. It was no longer useful. I couldn’t sell it. I wouldn’t donate it. It was only the memories attached to it that I really wanted.
But when push came to shove, I couldn’t imagine having to part with it. Or part with part of it. Unless I was dying, I wanted to keep it. And so I did.
Fortunately, the surgeon agreed and I came home with it and found the perfect spot to give it the honor it deserves. I will take it with me when I leave here, knowing that I will always be able to revisit the decision at a later time.
It is mostly because I have given birth in a barn of a hoard with a bunch of asses shouting “push” that I know the real miracle to celebrate is Easter, not Christmas. Anyone can be born. Most of us can live. We all die. But to come back from death and give birth to hope and faith and love is quite an accomplishment. Whether a Phoenix or the Son of God, coming from the depths of darkness to the light of possibilities and dreams coming true, it is the guidance of these few examples which allows any of us to enter a tunnel with any expectation of coming out on the other side of the mountain.
If you are trying to help a hoarder, your gentle guidance is going to be far more effective than a big production. Ultimately, the hoarder wants to crack its own shell as it sees the light, taking all the time it needs to adjust to the bright light of spaciousness. If you are walking on eggshells around a hoarder, you are beginning to help. You are to be commemorated and celebrated.