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.
I came across a book called The 100 Thing Challenge by Don Bruno and downloaded it--even while wondering what I could learn from a 38-year-old man and outdoor enthusiast in California. But I figured if a 76-year-old nun living in New Mexico could inspire me to simplify my life, Bruno could teach me something.
The gist of Don Bruno’s story is that he pared down his belongings to under 100 items and lived that way for a year. With some caveats. His books were counted as one thing, his “library,” but clothing items like jackets or slacks were listed individually. Furniture, such as the bed he shared with his wife, everything in the kitchen, the TV his family watched and so on, were exempt since they weren’t his personal items. At least 25% of what he retained was sports equipment for camping, surfing, fishing, and so on.
More than simplifying his life, Bruno’s goal was to stop himself from heading to the mall to buy stuff. He wanted to get over the idea that a new possession could make his life happier. During the year he succeeded in suppressing his consumer gene.
It was an interesting experiment and he feels it made a permanent difference. But I don’t think it’s where most of us are at. I stopped in at an antiques show in Port Jefferson village on Saturday and didn’t see anything I had to have, though there were some things I own or used to own. There was nothing I saw that promised to make my home or my life more interesting--especially not at the prices they were hoping get!
I don’t think I’m unique. A lot of people I know tell me they hate shopping and I believe them. And yet . . And yet. I bet every one of us has way more than 100 things. While we were sleeping, stuff crept in on little cat’s feet, books gave birth to other books, gifts were left on our door step. We adopted family members’ belongings when they passed away. We accumulated plate by plate and sweater by sweater, without giving the same amount away.
So what would be a good challenge for people like us? It seems to me that Don Bruno spent a lot of time cataloging everything he owned, deciding what he could most live without, and then selling it or giving it away. Most of us don’t have that much time or inclination.
But I’d like to find a challenge that would inspire everybody. I’m sure you have some great ideas.
April is the season when writers, agents and editors get together in London or Los Angeles or New York and talk about the world of magazines and books. I spent Wednesday at the Mystery Writers of America Symposium, and yesterday at the ASJA (American Society of Journalists and Authors) Members Day. These groups are the ones who would most like books and publishing to stay the way they have always been, but who admit that they won’t.
Once the genie’s uncorked, iceboxes, LP records, and travel agents have already faded into the world of Endangered Species. In my lifetime I’ve gone from my family’s manual typewriter to a nifty electric Olympia to clunky Apple computers in the eighties. I ditched my desktop computer and accoutrements for a MacBook Pro laptop, and recently took on an iPad. Before I die, I expect I’ll be writing on something the size of a lipstick tube.
What’s pushed us past the point of no return in books isn’t TV or amazon.com or ebooks or the Internet; it’s social media, Facebook, Twitter, texting, and the like. We’ve changed the way we communicate with each other and what we talk about. As soon as we pass a station, it gets shuttered and the track behind us torn up. We can only keep through moving ahead.
If you’re retired or otherwise uninvolved, you can always dig in and refuse to move on. The only tweets you’ll have to pay attention to are the ones from your backyard. The rest of us have to change or die.
What does this mean for the future of stuff? I predict that it will gradually become obsolete, that people of the future will have less need to surround themselves with physical stuff.
If you’ll excuse me, I have to go read Twitter for Dummies.
Growing up, the refrain was always, “Just do your best.” It sounded as if the outcome didn’t matter, as long as you put your heart into what you did. But that wasn’t true. The subtext was that if you did your best you would come out on top. If you didn’t get an A or place first, or get publicly commended for doing a great job, it meant you weren’t trying hard enough. You weren’t doing your best.
I was thinking about that because this past week has been devoted to working in the garden and starting on my final novel revision, as well as the usual obligations, and some lunches and dinner with friends. Meanwhile, I still haven’t unpacked my suitcase from the trip to Italy (I’m pulling things out of it on an as-needed basis). My kitchen looks like I just cooked dinner for twenty people. And I haven’t finished reading the second half of The Last Report on Miracles at Little No Horse for my “History Through Literature” class this morning.
Obviously I’m not doing my best. But I may be doing the best I’m capable of. When I thought about writing this blog, I had this vision of everyone else who reads it being raised to do their best too, with the same feelings of ineffectiveness when they fell short. You work hard, you think about the most ethical way to live, you do everything as well as you can. So in the end run you’re hardly a failure if you haven’t cleaned out your garage or own too many knickknacks.
Sometimes you can keep all the balls in the air and think that you’ve finally found the secret of life. Other times you’re running around trying to put out fires that keep popping up. When that happens, you have to remind yourself of how extraordinary you are.
We’ll go back to talking about scaling things down or living a simpler life later in the week.
But for today, give yourself a break.
I’m expecting that my lifelong love affair with books won’t end anytime soon. And why should it? Books stimulate you, teach you, and take you to new worlds; they make you laugh and cry. And they never leave the toilet seat up.
But I’m beginning to feel that I don’t have to physically own so many. Reading books on the iPad on the trip to Italy was game-changing. I never had to try and remember what book I was reading and find it, or try to figure out what page I was on when I did. Everything was right there as soon as I rolled back the cover. The iPad was small and almost weightless, easy to hold and read from.
One reason I held off getting a Kindle was the idea of having to buy every book I wanted to read, since I read a lot. But even that has changed. I can take out e-books from the New York Public Library system for 14 or 21 days, 12 books at a time. If you live on Long Island, you have equal borrowing rights. And the system has millions! I did buy two new novels from amazon for the trip since I wanted to read them right away, but downloaded the rest from my home library and the NYC library.
This has changed how I feel about the books I own, making me see them as something to be read and passed on, as well. Classics, paperbacks, books that I’ll never read again, books I got as gifts because I thought I’d want to read them. Books that I don’t feel an emotional attachment to, or that aren’t collectible first editions. Illustrated books I won’t refer to for inspiration and information.
I made a quick pass-through of the bookcase in the sunroom that covers one wall and took two cartons to the MADD book bin yesterday. I never touch Tom’s books, of course. But maybe I’ll buy him an iPad one .