Our house lift is scheduled for November 5th, so we spent last weekend securing things. We packed up the Lenox dishes, the good wine glasses, and tied the kitchen cabinet doors shut. Then we took pictures off the walls and packed up any breakable items resting on the bookshelves.
Just when I thought we were done, my husband dragged over some large boxes and a pile of newspapers and placed them in front of the corner cabinet in the living room.
“You forgot to pack the stuff in this cabinet,” he said, and started taking down vases, and wrapping newspaper around them.
“There’s nothing I care about in that cabinet. In fact, I hate everything in there,” I said. “I don’t care if the cabinet falls and breaks with everything in it.”
“You hate this vase?” he asked, taking it off the shelf and looking at it from every angle.
“And this?” he said, holding up another. “I thought you liked this vase?”
“I like it fine, but how many vases do I need?” There were nine vases in all. Nine.
Then I packed the teapots – all seven of them, none of which are ever used. There were random Chinese plates that I bought when we were first married, some forty years ago, during my “I-love-anything-Asian” period. I hate them now. I’m sick of looking at them. There was a gigantic cookie jar that took up most of the bottom shelf – a gargantuan piece of pottery that I took from my mother when she wanted to get rid of it several years ago, and now I want to get rid of it. Then there were the little decorative porcelain flowers and knickknacks shoved in the corners – garbage, dust collectors, all of it.
Why was I holding onto all this crap? I remember when we bought that corner cabinet 36 years ago, used, for $75. It was functional and necessary then, holding my everyday dishes in a tiny rental house with limited kitchen cabinet space. It was only supposed to last a year or two, until we could afford something nicer, or until we moved to a bigger house with a decent sized kitchen– whichever came first. Instead, we took that piece of cheap furniture with us when we moved twice, to two different homes, and then we filled it with unnecessary superfluous things.
I think about all the things I left behind in our home, and how I’m getting along just fine without them. This temporary move into a small apartment has given me a keen sense of what is necessary in my life and what is not. But I also think that the desire to scale down and unload the excess baggage of useless possessions is something that occurs naturally as we age. Maybe it’s nature’s way of telling us we have to lighten our load because our bodies aren’t physically able to carry as much anymore.
My mother started emptying her closets and cabinets several years ago. Whenever I visited, it looked like she was having a mini garage sale on her dining room table. On display were sweaters and blouses that didn’t fit her anymore, and gifts that family members had given her through the years. I remember admiring a hurricane lamp on the table and telling her, “I’ll take this off your hands.”
“No. No,” she said. “Your brother gave me that years ago for Mother’s Day. I have to ask him first if he wants it back.”
When my mother-in-law was in her seventies, she asked her children to “claim” certain items for themselves, in the event of her demise, and then she wrote their names on the backs of plates and paintings and on the inside jackets of books.
But my mother-in-law had nice things – authentic Delft plates, original paintings, solid silver flatware, and a set of one-of-a-kind hand painted formal dinnerware.
I doubt that anyone would want a single one of the nine vases, seven teapots, or random mismatched Chinese plates that were sitting in my $75 pinewood corner cabinet. I told my husband that I wasn’t going to unpack that box of junk when we moved back into the house.
“Then what will we put in the corner cabinet?” he asked.
“Nothing,” I said. “We’re going to get rid of the corner cabinet too.”
“Then what will we put in the corner?”
“Nothing?” he asked. “We have to put something there.”
This conversation was starting to sound like the dialogue in a Dr. Seuss book.
“Why,” I asked him, “should we put a piece of furniture in our home that we don’t like, and then fill it with stuff that we never use and don’t even want to look at anymore?”
He stood there thinking, and then he said, “I know what I’ll do. I’ll build a bookshelf in that corner someday.”
Ah! There was that operative word – – someday. Translation: that corner will be bare forever. And that was just fine with me.