Marie Kondo notwithstanding, restless women know about downsizing. It is what we do best.
After retiring a few years ago, I faced the monumental task of downsizing sixty-two years of accumulation into a ten-by-ten storage unit. I was going to have to cut WAY back.
The first sweep was fairly easy. Lots of junk, no longer needed.
Then I began a second purge. My rattan furniture, a beautiful sleigh bed with its Indian canopy; all sold. I gave away my bike, bedding, blankets, glassware, and linens. I gave away so much an alarmed colleague, (worried about my mental state) asked me if everything was OK.
By the end of May, my apartment was almost empty, and I felt a giddy sense of liberation. I walked from one empty room to another, opening equally empty cabinets and closets. I’d measured out a spare bedroom to a ten-by-ten space and began stacking the items on the floor, boxing up what was left. There was still too much.
One morning, I sat down surveying the selected items with a creeping sense of dread. Instead of practicalities such as cookware, household goods and electronics, the allotted space was rapidly filling up with books, framed artwork, and miscellaneous bits.
I tried to reason with myself. Could I really part with a sixty-year old copy of The Secret Garden; its beautifully illustrated pages worn from many rereadings? Could I give up a painting of snow cranes dancing across pale green rice paper or leave behind a Thai spirit house I’d hand carried back from Chiang Mai?
I’d saved a small carved chest filled with mementos and letters from friends and lovers. Pulling the letters out, I saw that few were dated beyond the early 90’s. Technology had taken its toll on written correspondence.
I’d kept the ones my ex-husband sent me before we were married, and temporarily living in different States. I hadn’t realized until that moment, looking at the faded postmarks, that he had written me every single day of our separation.
Among faded rose petals, Heathcliff’s dog collar, and a beribboned lock of hair, there was an old fortune cookie paper I’d split open one sunny afternoon, seated next to a man I’d loved and lost. I squinted at the fine print: do not look for happiness, it is sitting next to you.”
I never showed it to him.
Then away in one corner, I spotted an object not yet wrapped. It was a small porcelain bust of Clark Gable. Painted black hair, moustache, rakish eyebrows, and protruding ears just above the jaunty bow tie. My brother-in-law made it for me when he was twelve years old and found out I adored Clark Gable. I’d kept it all these years.
I felt very tired. What was going on here? Where would it all end? I glanced around the room and my eyes fell on a small container of sea glass. Sea glass! What was I thinking? I scowled and looked again at the bust. Clark definitely had to go.
A true minimalist takes photos of sentimental objects and then tosses them out. So the next day, I threw Clark out. Took his picture, and threw him out in the downstairs dumpster. Then I got in my car and drove out to do errands.
A few hours later, coming home, I had a sudden vision of him sitting in the heap, his rakish eyebrows arched in dignified horror.
Feeling ill, almost crying, I parked the car, and ran back to the dumpster. He was still there. I took him back upstairs and carefully washed him off, restoring him to his former glory. I placed him on the windowsill and sat there looking at him.
A Japanese phrase popped into my head— ‘yohaku no bi’
Loosely translated, it means ‘the beauty of the space left empty.’
I’d tried to empty my spaces; to find the beauty somewhere between my old apartment and a new life. Sitting in an almost empty home, I realized that the things we cherish most are the things we pack up from house to house, never giving a thought that we should not do so.
Clark was a keeper. My box was a keeper. These things are who we are. It defines us.
I got up and put Clark back in the room next to the sea glass, framed pictures, and books. They were all keepers. And it all fit into my ten-by-ten storage space. I was set to go. I was ready for my new life, and happy to be taking just a bit of the old one along with me, for the long journey home.