Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful. William Morris
Simplifying is the most elegant of tasks in our cluttered culture. Marion Woodman
Inside your home, you keep mementos of your past that help or hinder your movement into the future. Kathryn L Robyn
A year before we bought Simplicity, our two households came together. The combined assortment of boxed memories, books, furniture, collections, and decor was to be simplified to fit into a two bedroom apartment. With possible changes in our work lives, we wanted to be able to relocate easily and readily, not encumbered with a house to sell and too much stuff to move. What if a professional move took us to another city, across the country, to another country? Renting an apartment seemed the perfect solution.
Perhaps it was not coincidental that our loft apartment was numbered 2B. What was ‘to be’ for us? The first two years of marriage, our work kept us living in two different houses, in two different states. This apartment was to be the playground of learning to live together as a married couple. Both in our fifties and one marriage each behind us, we had well developed patterns of how to do house. Putting ourselves in this small practice space would be our first test.
Other than the five by five foot area provided in the garage, a strategic decision was made not to rent an additional storage unit. Too much storage space felt like a deliberate act of procrastination and an easy place to put the undecideds. At the same time, it was crucial that our apartment not feel stuffed or cluttered. We agreed that there would be no stacks of boxes piled in the corner or furniture squeezed in because we could make it fit. Having just what we needed and nothing more was our desire, however, where to begin felt daunting. What would go? What would stay? Don saves. I toss. How would we ever come to a mutual decision? I began to see a very lengthy process of every item being held up, scrutinized, and evaluated. A plan was desperately needed.
We decided to ask ourselves three questions, unsure how well it would work, yet it was a start, a beginning, a focus.
What items have a needed function?
What items add beauty into our lives?
What items remind us of our essence?
Function. Beauty. Essence. These words, these questions required both heart and mind to be activated. We asked ourselves to be extra tender with the other and very present in our own feelings. We could make this work.
Function asked whether this item or piece of furniture was needed, required for basic living. Often it was case specific and easy. Why do we need four potato peelers? Other times the decision was muddy and unclear. Such was the case of our eclectic assortment of end tables. Don’s had a modern boxy style with use of glass or metal. Those from my house were in rich woods, more classic and unique. Each one was functional, but we didn’t need all of them. Which ones felt like they matched the home we were creating, other furniture that was staying? Those kinds of questions found us pressing the pause button and talking it out. Always, the decision was stronger and clearer. We bid farewell to the boxy moderns.
Beauty enhanced our everyday, elevated our thoughts and moods. Artwork was placed in the beauty category – photographs, sculpture, and paintings. Sometimes the shape and style of a lamp bumped it more securely into our functional choice because it also had beauty. Don’s hammered pewter lamp was stunning. It stayed. My bronze angular Asian influenced lamp also stayed. We said good-bye to the see-through glass and college desk lamps. Dishes, glassware, trays, and pottery that were considered beautiful ranked higher than those that were simply functional. The beautiful stayed.
Essence encouraged our creative and artistic souls. For Don, that meant many of his photography books, vintage and new cameras, a carving of his patron saint, St Francis, made by his mentor, Aunt Ellen. For me, that included items for the home that made homemaking an art form. The dining room table and chairs I had purchased for the home of my divorced life, represented the importance of sharing stories and lingering over a meal. A set of simple cream colored Wedgewood dishes that I associated with the special meals prepared by my beloved Aunt Dorothy, and an ivy plant honoring a friendship were all making the move. For both of us, books that were touchstones throughout our lives joined this category. Julia Cameron, Dag Hammarskjold, Margaret Wheatley, Parker Palmer, Krishnamurti, Eleanor Roosevelt, Ruth Gender, and select others were packed lovingly into a box for the move to 2B.
In the midst of this simplifying practice, a fourth question and its close partner showed up to help. Am I done with this? Has it served its purpose? We had papers we wrote in college, resources used in our earlier vocations, notes of appreciation, documents that kept our lives safe and secure. Of each, we asked the questions. Am I done with this? Has it served its purpose? Don’s giraffe collection fell into this category.
Collections are a different lot, often uncontrollable, a creative outlet that engages lives like a treasure hunt without a map. Mind you, it was never Don’s intention to begin this collection. It just happened, starting with a visit to Africa when he brought back two made of paper mache. Faithfully they began arriving. For birthdays. For special recognitions. On cards. On wall hangings. On mugs. Made of glass, of metal, of wood. That’s the nature of a collection, it grows. Family, friends and colleagues catch the collecting spirit and add their favorites. The exact number? Over one hundred, likely more. Where would they find a home in our small two bedroom apartment? He thoughtfully reduced the field to five.
We recognized that this simplifying process was not only lightening our load, but re-defining our lives. We let go of the items we had outgrown, that no longer fit who we were. The result was keeping the pieces we most loved, that gave us life and energy, moving us forward. We were revitalized, in our separate lives, our marriage, and our shared space. It felt as if the best of each of us showed up in our ‘stay’ items. They were offerings, gifts, dowries from each of our lives. We appreciated each other’s taste and sense of style. Once our decisions were made, we held a colossal garage sale. Don specifically noted the giraffe collection in the newspaper ad. Sure enough, the very first person to show up that morning was one who himself had a giraffe collection. He bought them all. It seemed a most suitable ending.