If you remember, I am starting to prepare for the sabbatical that starts next spring, so I am making “maybe” lists of things to do (or not) before we leave: clearing 4 or 5 dresser drawers and half (at least) of the master bedroom closet; leaving generous space in the pantry and freezer; getting the linen closet organized so that things our exchange families might need will be visible; down-sizing the “emergency basket” we have for guests who has forgotten a toothbrush or razor (which has gradually accumulated 8 years of individual shampoos and body lotions from hotels and the Santa gifts that are too cute to throw away – and has morphed into something the size of a pasta pot because we only have four or five visitors a year, all of whom remember their toothbrush or razor); and… You get the picture.
So I was wandering through the house, paper and pencil in hand, muttering about clutter when I stopped and looked around me and realized my house is not cluttered. Clutter is a descriptor of the way some people scatter their possessions around, and neither my husband nor I like clutter. We like things picked up and put away. In a flash of insight, I realized it wasn’t clutter I was looking at; it was too much stuff. To be clear: it is not useless stuff or ugly stuff or meaningless stuff or, generally, extras of stuff (except black pumps which cannot drop below a five pair minimum no matter what I do – ) But I have been calling it ‘clutter’ and, therefore, I have been doing what one does with clutter which is organize it by buying spiffy matching boxes at the Container Store to put it in. (The boxes merely compounding the issue because they are more stuff, of course.)
And the very act of saying, “This is not clutter” has thrown me into a massive internal wrestling. Because if it is not clutter, then the solution is not organizing, but transformative change to claim and nurture one of my highest values (at least, one of the values I talk about most.) If I want to tread more lightly on the earth and live to sustain the world for future generations I will never see, I need to slow way down in my accumulation. Slow down to, say, Stop.
This is not going to be easy because – confession time – I am a magpie. I’m not attracted to shiny things as much as I am attracted to lonely things, beautiful lonely things that were cherished once-upon-a-time: small needlepoint pillows, vintage pencil sharpeners shaped like airplanes, hand-painted china, a porcelain pitcher commemorating the coronation of Queen Elizabeth’s father and mother, a dance card from 1931. I want to rescue these things from oblivion. And, sure, it is recycling or upcycling (depending on whether I use it for decoration or for my fiber art), but it reinforces the belief that I need to own something as opposed to not own it.
I don’t think of myself as a nomad, but I am one. All of us are nomads on this earth, traveling through our days, from birth through death (and beyond into a different existence of some kind). If, like nomads of old, we needed to pack all of our possessions and transport them behind the sheep or the camels or the buffalo as they move from pasture to pasture, we would most assuredly pare those possessions down to essentials. We would carry with us only what is most beautiful, most precious, and most useful. And – here is the part that we can’t seem to understand – our lives would be not one whit less joyful because we don’t have 63 throw pillows to provide splashes of color.
I am absolutely positive that no Lakota woman stood in the middle of a camp somewhere and told her best friend that she could not possibly be happy without one more wooden spoon (or a set of graduated wooden spoons, or a cute little rack for her wooden spoon to hang on by the fire.) If the spoon had gotten lost or broken, a stir stick would do in a pinch until another spoon could be carved. In the meantime, dinner would be cooked and eaten somehow and everyone would be sustained until the next meal.
So, do I really need an asparagus cooker? (The answer is, No, and I actually don’t have one…which was not a particularly difficult decision to make since I also don’t have any place to store one except in my sock drawer.) But more to the point, Do I need four winter coats (two short, two long)? And the answer is, No. I don’t need those, either. I only wear one at a time. Yes, maybe one long (for maximum warmth) and one short (for activities when I need to be able to move freely).
But what if I get bored with the coat I have worn for five years?
Here is what I think I think: If I breathe deeply and disconnect from my brain-washing as a child of one of the wealthy, developed nations of the world, and consider that my options are “this coat or no coat” as opposed to “Look at all the pretty coats other people are wearing and wouldn’t it be fun to have one of those..and one of those…and one of those…”, I would stop being bored with my coat.
This particular sabbatical is challenging more deeply than any previous one. So, I am breathing deeply and reaching for the blessing (with open, empty hands). Think good thoughts; I will need strength for the times when habit tries to trump values.
Text © 2014, Andrea La Sonde Anastos
Photos © 2014, Immram Chara, LLC