It’s been a month since my last post here, and for good reason: I moved to a new home two and a half weeks ago.
Well, sort of moved. I’m still somewhat in transition between the old place and the new — living in the new place, but going back regularly to the old to sort, organize, and get rid of before the place is officially sold. In other words: There’s a lot of letting go going on right now.
I lived in the house for ten years. When I first saw the second floor apartment (it was a two-flat), I had this inexplicable feeling of being home, and I knew I wanted to live there.
There are a number of complex reasons for my leaving the house, but let me just say that, over time, I have become the sort of “default” property manager.
And, as a friend of mine once wisely said, “houses are very greedy.” Especially old houses (this one was built in the 1880s). Although the house is in good shape for its age, its care, ultimately, has felt like too much for me to manage.
Still, I hung on until May, when some offers were made on the house and it became real to me that I really could not stay.
I am in a place in my life where I want to travel a bit more lightly in the physical world — and that means, less house and less stuff. But, as it’s becoming painfully clear, oh, do I have stuff!
When I moved into the house, I had been living in a teeny-tiny apartment, and I wanted to expand. I wanted to have people over for dinner. I wanted to have get-togethers in the backyard. I wanted to have more room for beautiful things.
So when I moved my two-small-rooms-full of furniture and belongings over to the house (which had seven rooms), I could not begin to fill it up. And I kind of went hog-wild doing so. I had space! I was going to fill it with exactly what I wanted. I bought artwork — tons and tons of artwork — to cover my walls. I bought mirrors, and lamps, and ceramic cat statues, and, over time, lots of books and clothing as I became this new me who lived in this new space.
I was so in love with that house that I was determined, ten years ago, to live there for at least ten years. (Which, as it turns out, is what I did.)
But. It seems I have changed. Starting around five years ago or so, the house no longer fit me like a glove. It was almost imperceptible at first, the change — something just felt slightly off. It began to feel to me that there were too many rooms, rooms whose purpose was simply to house my stuff.
And those people who were supposed to come over for dinner and have barbecues in the backyard? Those things never really happened. The real me, it turns out, does not like having more than one or two people over at a time.
How could the house feel too big? After all, I was only living on the second floor of it, not even in the whole house! How could that be too big? I’d moved there in the first place because I wanted my life to expand. And plenty of my friends, and my parents, lived in much bigger spaces than this.
In the past few days I’ve been involved in two conversations about showing up in the world at our “right size.” Visionary types (of which I do consider myself one) often encourage us “not to play small” and to “live a big life”. But is it really about being big, or about claiming our right size in the world?
And shouldn’t our living space support us in being our right size, having our “right effect”, in the world? Can our living spaces elegantly support us in living the lives we want to lead, the way we want to live them, rather than taking over our lives or defining us?
I guess what I am coming to is that the house, for all its aged charm and familiarity, grew over time to feel more like the house I thought I “should have” than the living space I actually wanted.
I know that I do not want to work hard to being able to pay for a living space that feels oddly “too big” and “too greedy” in the care it requires. I want to enjoy my work, and have a right-size-feeling living space that gives me the comfort and efficiency to do that. And somehow the word “cozy” applies here. It is important to me that my living space is cozy.
What this all means is that I have a lot of letting go to do. I’ve donated quite a lot of clothing, shoes, and household things over the past couple of months. And some of my beloved artwork will likely be given away, sold, or put into storage. (Only some: I’m hardly a minimalist and I can’t imagine my living space without artwork I adore surrounding me.)
This is hard. I had not realized how much I was identified with my stuff. How much I keep for sentimental reasons, how much I keep “just in case I need it some day”, how much I keep because it reminds me of a certain time in my life (even if I no longer particularly want or need to be reminded of that time).
And it’s not just about what I keep, but how hard I cling to what I keep. There’s a part of me that says, I’m not going down without a fight! I will hold onto this Anthropologie sweater purchased in 2004 until my fingernails bleed! (And believe me, clothing is the easiest stuff for me to let go of.)
Even more than the stuff, I have been attached to the house itself. Its friendly oldness, its lovely crown moldings, its creaky wood floors, its semi-treacherous winding staircases, its clutch of small rooms in unexpected places, its red back door with the cut-glass window. Its retro 50s-diner-look kitchen, its bathroom with the green marbled tile from the 60s. Its arched walkways. The overhanging trees in the backyard, the across-the-street-neighbors’ dog we saw being walked several times a day, always with a white bandage on its hind leg. The house and its small swatch of neighborhood had character, and personality, and they met me where I was when I moved there.
It seems like every third person I know these days is reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo — I saw it referenced in two blog posts just today! Since I haven’t read it, I don’t know exactly what she talks about, but I have a sense that I am going through my own version of it right now.
I’ll write more on my (sometimes excruciating) letting go process in a future post. But for now, let me just say that, although it does not yet feel like home, I am liking the new place (which I share with my dear boyfriend and Sullivan the Supercat — don’t tell him the vet says he’s a “senior”).
One of the joys of moving in here has been the relative ease with which Sullivan has adjusted. He yowled his displeasure as we sat his carrier on the floor on the first day in the new place — but by day four, he was doing his usual intense shelf-climbing. (Sullivan is what cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy calls a “tree dweller” — he’s most himself in high places.)
What about you? What have you noticed about how your living space and your “stuff” reflect who you are and what matters to you? I’d love to hear from you.