Before Simple Living and Tiny Houses were twittered and blogged and typed into search engines, I made The List. Inspired by the example of Michael Phillips and the Briarpatch Community, I set out to decide which 150 items I would choose to live with. I didn’t have any specific rules to making the list. The urge was to exercise my imagination… to ask how much is enough?
Some items on the list were individual pieces: a sweater, a skirt, a pair of underwear. Other items were groups: the set of cobalt blue spice jars, the beautiful and shapely Reliance jars for storing bulk foods, a set of flatware. And what about books? Oh my… I pared them down to six. Six!!!
From where I sit today, staring at my full shelf of poetry books, the list seems ludicrous. Yet I love looking at it. The list inspires me. It intrigues me. It challenges me. How would my life be different if I had less stuff? A lot less.
Since I made the list, I have turned increasingly toward beauty in functional objects.
to drink Kombucha from a fluted glass,
to stare into a perfect spiral at the bottom of a cereal bowl
is to elevate the ordinary into the sublime.
I have other glasses and bowls and plates, none of which match, but all of which are either handmade or unique in other ways. The fact that they are few in number and beautiful increases their preciousness and increases the difficulty of paring down. What could I possibly let go?
When I imagine living with only the 150 items, a curious calm results. Yet I can’t see myself actually getting there. The process of releasing so much that I cherish is daunting.
Is is possible that de-cluttering requires an intimacy with grief?
In my early twenties, my mother was diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer. The doctor gave her a year to live. That same year, I was preparing to get married and as a bridal shower gift, my mother gave me a white pitcher with light blue forget-me-nots hand painted on the front. I displayed that precious pitcher for the next twenty five years until one day I realized how sad I felt when I looked at it. I didn’t want to forget my mother, but the pitcher reminded me of the loss of her, not the life of her. I gave it away.
The moment of decision was actually quite easy. The aftermath, not. I had to enter that dark well of grief. I think about this as I look around at all of the other items not on the list. What memories do they hold? Are they pleasant memories?
What about the handmade journals that I have filled daily with the details of my life?
What about the scarves in a rainbow of colors… the numerous dancing skirts that flare out deliciously with a good twirl?? If I want to maintain the simplicity of the list, then some new item purchased will have to equal another item tossed. What if I give one of them away and then find myself looking for the burgundy velvet scarf that goes perfectly with a skirt of the same color?
Or what if I release most of my poetry books and then suddenly want to immerse myself in Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, Rumi?
The list itself, or an updated, revised list, is still a yummy thought. The process of achieving it, or at least moving closer to my target simplicity… well… it’s going to take some time.