I haven’t been thinking much about what’s inside the house these days, I’ve been too enthralled by the garden outside-- weeding and mulching, moving plants and shrubs around the way people rearrange living rooms, sitting watching the fish or wandering around. I’ve set up a special garden to try and attract hummingbirds (last chance, you little ingrates), and put down a new floor in the garden room. We sleep there now, drifting off to the soft splash of the pond. The rest of the house feels unnecessary.
Who wants to think about decluttering in May?
This is the perfect month to give yourself a break from worrying about the clothes in your closet that haven’t been worn for years, the papers stashed in cartons needing attention, the knickknacks you’ve been meaning to make decisions about. They aren’t going anywhere. On the other hand, the sun might.
Life is too short not to stop and prune the roses.
Response from Linda L.
"I am just back from a "tour" of my house, and find that I don't have a lot of things that have no use, but there are a few items and I detect a theme.
1) Pillow on a bench in the dining room reads, "Life is too short to drink bad wine."
2) Vase on a shelf filled with corks.
3) Unopened bottled of chianti in the old straw wrapped bottle, really just for display.
I guess the "statement" I'm making is "I'm a lush."
That's funny and I love the photo! I think it shows you're a bon vivant who enjoys life. It’s nteresting what our homes say about us.
Your photo inspired me to take pictures and post mine too. Makes me see them differently.
This past Thursday the NY Times Home Section had an article on “Over-Propping.” It described a “prop” as something you don’t actually use, but which you keep because you like what it says about you, your life, or your hopes and aspirations. One example was a vintage (unused) manual typewriter displayed on your desk. Another was a bar or tea cart that represented the sophisticated entertaining you wanted to do.
The article also pilloried large books filled with glossy photos that exist to be displayed on coffee tables. It even attacked cut flowers, which it claimed lasted only as long as the photo-op.
In college my art teacher, Karl Steele, scorned students who planned to furnish their homes in Early American or French Provincial. “You have to live in your own time,” he thundered. But that didn’t stop me from starting married life with a maple spinning wheel that had room for a flower pot in the center.
Now I wondered if I was still guilty of over-propping and mentally toured the house. I excluded genuine art objects, lamps and chairs, and other things that we used. I found that I still have a weakness for creating “vignettes.” In the guest room is a pretty antique oak rocking chair holding a bisque doll and a stuffed cat, which gives the room some "ambiance." No one has actually sat in the chair for years.
In my office there’s the vintage trunk with tattered stickers from long-ago hotels and airlines; I found it at a yard sale. I had always wanted this kind of reminder of exotic places and other times. But it takes up valuable space in a none-too-large room, and can't be used for anything.
In my kitchen is a large glass jar with exotic orange lilies and apricot-colored roses (artificial) that adds color and “ties the room together.” It also takes up counter space and is one more thing to keep clean, especially as it sits near the stove and gets filmed over.
The article said that if you had three or more such items you are “over-propped.” So I guess I am. Now I just need to decide what I'm going to do about it.
When I was growing up, people sometimes used to refer to retirement as “the Golden Years.” I thought this was a rationalization to make up for getting old--until I reached them. There’s an envelope of time when everything comes together and life is wonderful. You have time, money, energy and good health, a rich collection of family and friends, the ability to pursue fascinating interests and travel anywhere you want. Everything you know has come together; you’re smarter than you ever were.
These are the golden years, a promised gift I never believed in. I sit in our garden which feels close to paradise with its fish, birds, and lush greenery, and I am washed by gratitude. Yet tucked among the hydrangeas and holly is poignance as well because, unlike earlier days when life seemed to stretch out forever, I know this will not last. It might end in twenty-five years or it might end next week.
Earlier in my life, the impermanence might have spoiled it for me; now I just feel grateful to have gotten here.
I could end here, feeling thrilled about being alive in the most beautiful month of the year, and you could go on to spend the day in bliss. But I began writing with a cautionary tale in mind, so you can either stop reading now or go on to the lesson. Last fall a woman I know asked me to come over to seeing about decluttering. Her house was lovely and not that disorganized, but she had many beautiful things she and her partner, now deceased, had collected. She decided that it would be most helpful if I could help her label them so that her nieces would know how valuable they were.
But she kept putting it off and, to be honest, I didn’t push her because I was busy and don’t do much professional decluttering anymore. Recently she fell and wasn’t discovered for several days. In the hospital she was confused and, though she’s only in her mid-seventies, probably won’t be able to live in her house again. So: it’s never too early to designate recipients for the things that are meaningful to you, and start getting rid of whatever is not. Part of the Golden Years means facing that eventually someone else will have control over your things.
So enjoy today in the garden, and think about this tomorrow when it’s raining. I mean Tuesday, not some metaphorical
Tom found a story on line last week about a man who lives without money (“One Man’s Quest to Be Penniless” on Yahoo). He lives in a cave out west and forages for his food--in the woods or on the side of the road. He does use the free computer in the local library to blog about it.
No, I don’t want to live that way, especially the road kill part. But I was surprised at the vitriolic responses the story generated. People called him a “moocher” because he walked on public roads and used the library. They wondered what would happen when he got a toothache, and complained that when he died the government would have to pay to bury him.
What came across was how threatening someone trying to live off the grid was to other people. They were self-righteously indignant because this man was refusing to pay his “fair share.” But there was also envy of someone who didn’t have to go to work every day to pay bills to buy what they felt were the necessities of life. Why should someone else get to live scot-free?
My feeling isn’t of envy but more of interest, of thinking about ways that his attitudes can be adapted to our lives in less drastic ways.
I’ve been thinking more about the 100 Things Challenge. The number of belongings that you decide to keep is unimportant; it could be 50 or 500. What is appealing is the sense of control it gives you. If you choose 100 items to keep, you are in charge of your stuff; you won’t have the sense of helplessness that looking into a closet or basement filled with stuff engenders.
The idea of paring down to 100 items (or 50 or 500) also promises to help you see what is truly important to you, unclouded by sentiment and past history. It offers the ability to live a simple, streamlined life with time for the things that are important (once you have finished counting . . . ). When you reach the place in life where you are defined not by what you have, but by who you are, it is easier to let go of what you no longer need, as well as the fear that you may need it “someday.”
I don’t get the sense that Jesus owned much more than the clothes he wore; from what the Bible says, he just wasn’t that into stuff. Mother Teresa wasn’t either. Gandhi, on his deathbed, left behind two dinner bowls, a wooden fork and spoon, a set of porcelain monkeys, his diary, prayer book, watch, spittoon, letter openers and two pair of sandals. I mean, did he really need two pairs of shoes?
My weakness, one of them anyway, is interesting art, especially from around the world. I like to arrange it to entertain people who come to our house; we bought two carnival masks in Italy, our only purchase on the trip (except for grandchildren T-shirts and books). They lokk nice, displayed with two we bought years ago.
But what would Jesus or Gandhi or Mother Teresa think?
I was happy to hear from several of you about this blog. I'll post more about it on Monday, but it was good to get some responses:
I liked the 100 thing blog. It makes me want to count the things I actually use. Funny, I have absolutely no room here for any more stuff, literally, and I love going to stores and not buying a thing because I know I could not find a place to put it. I will, however, indulge in some new clothes because my clothes are too big, but I don't know if I will have the courage to throw the old ones out.
I just said to Phil 2 days ago, “We’ve got a lot of stuff”. What’s interesting is, I think we’ve got a lot less than most people. With no basement, and no garage, it’s not like we’ve got tons of space to put things, and we really don’t have much clutter, yet I feel like we have so much. Using a gift certificate I got for Christmas, I just bought a shiny new Panini Grill. I love it and we’ve decided to bring it upstate with us to keep in our second home, but as I opened the box I thought, there couldn’t be another thing I could ever want. Yet I’m sure this is or will be.
I actually DO like to shop if I am alone. I like to look at everything and touch everything. I don’t care much for clothing anymore. I get a real kick out of finding stuff that’s second hand. It’s kitchen gadgets and gizmos that get me. I am on my third electric wine bottle opener. The second one lives upstate now. I like outdoor stuff too. Patio furniture, bird feeders, oh my, the list goes on and on!
I really do believe in the principal “Simplify, Simplify” and I go through periods of total contentment and then…I see something shiny and like a fish, I’m hooked! Linda L.
My favorite Tee Shirt says it well. Phil L.