We have so many opportunities to acquire things in this culture that there is a vast market for its counterpart: letting things go.
My husband Mick and I regularly donate whatever has outlived its purpose in our home. The garage sale I held with my kids this summer was a nice clearing of stuff — mostly for my kids. My daughter’s pending move to her first real apartment was the spark behind that sale.
Her move, which happened at the end of August, left a huge hole in our house. Mick and I were both sad that our lives have now entered the no-kids-at-home-even-in-the-summer phase. (I refuse to call us “empty-nesters”. We are still here in this nest and we aren’t leaving. It’s not just kids who need a nest.) Our solution to helping our own moods was to clean, paint, and repurpose our daughter Abby’s room. She came home for a moment last weekend to see the new paint color, a pale breathy yellow that feels like the promise of early morning light. Her suggestion as she walked into the echo-y room? Make it into a library. We love to read. And we buy a lot of books. She stood in the middle, underneath the string of paper cranes that she made in junior high which we left in place, and said, “Wouldn’t it be nice to curl up and read in here?”
We agreed. We had just moved our bookcases out of the living room to make way for a new media center so our television and stereo equipment will be all in one place for the first time. The books were still un-shelved; now was the time to do another round of clearing.
Yes, more clearing. Something happened to us over the summer. The importance of keeping things has plunged to a new low. After helping Abby move and realizing we needed a small truck for our 20-year-old’s stuff, we were simply weary. Weary of how little quiet, empty space exists in our home, perhaps. Weary of schlepping things that don’t get used daily. Weary of the weight of all of it. Shocked as we remembered when we could move to a new apartment with nothing more than a couple of friends’ cars, but our daughter was starting out with furniture already, because we told her to take her bedroom set with her. What good is her empty bed to us?
And here we are now weighing what it means to have a house that no longer must accommodate so many people. What it means to clear our bookshelves and find things that we forgot about. A few days ago, we unearthed a postcard from Denmark on which I had written, “Where we ate dinner on our last night in Copenhagen 1992.” We found a London Tube map from 1993. A guidebook for France from 2002. An early edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves. All my old feminist books – Gloria Steinem, Susan Faludi, Erica Jong, Robin Morgan. The book about himself that our son Shawn made in kindergarten. (In fact, today is Shawn’s birthday; last night, at his birthday dinner, we showed him the book. It made him laugh.)
We filled a donation box to overflowing. I scrounged up a few more boxes to handle the overflow. We are very clear that these books need to find homes with people who haven’t read them yet.
Not that we didn’t keep enough books to fill the shelves in the new library room. And we moved the toys we keep for our granddaughter Camille in there, along with a little couch that flips out into a bed. One bookcase is designated just for her.
But there’s so much more clearing of stuff to do as we redefine our lives again. The past five years has been nearly constant redefinition as the people we love most, mainly our kids, take on new roles themselves: married, parent, college student, apartment dweller. We lost the last of our own parents when Mick’s father passed away. Our own shifting roles challenge us: in-laws, grandparents, a couple on our own except for the dogs. They’re still here, too.
These dogs, they have a way of inspiring us. They need so little. Food. Walks. A place to lay down. A little love.