Saturday, November 20, 2010

In the End It’s All Just Stuff

I've downsized twice in the last few years. The first time was when I sold my house (for the full asking price five minutes before the housing market tanked; thank you very much). I got rid of years-worth of stuff that time, mainly by way of a weekend moving sale. The easiest things to sell and the hardest to let go of were my books: hundreds of them. I also gave away a lot of furniture and appliances to worthy causes, which made me feel a bit better about letting it go. I only kept what would fit into the 600-square-foot cottage I rented in Santa Monica that was supposed to be a stop-gap while I decided what to do next, but actually ended up being my home for the next three years.

Purging from there when I left for Mexico was more difficult because I'd already pared down to things I loved and things I used: when it comes right down to it, the only reasons to keep stuff. But I was determined to be ruthless. I couldn't take everything with me to Mexico on a tourist visa and I don't believe in spending a lot of money on storage rental. Some years ago I interviewed a professional organizer for an article. He said that he never advises people to put their belongings in storage because typically, you keep it for three years then get rid of it all. You end up spending a fortune on rent for your crap. That made sense and stuck with me. So I budgeted $50 a month for storage and that bought me a 4 foot x 7 foot place at a storage facility in a sketchy neighborhood near LAX. Anything that wouldn't fit in there had to go. Hello, Craigslist.

I helped a woman wedge my overstuffed chair into her SUV. A young couple who had just graduated, got married, and moved to California from Pennsylvania brought a tool kit and dismantled my huge, heavy sleigh bed. A man bought my Aeron office chair for his new business. A young guy bought all my planters because he was going to start growing things. I didn't ask. The Salvation Army truck carted away my TV and its armoire, my desk, and a whole lot of small kitchen appliances. Finally, I paid for a green trash removal service to take my mattress and anything else left lying around and dispose of it all responsibly. All of that happened over the course of two days and I'm not saying it was easy. I practiced a lot of non-attachment. Everything I owned eventually fit onto the flat bed of the pick-up truck I hired to transport it to the storage unit.

Everything I own in the back of a pick-up truck

My first day on the road I felt a little panicky. At that moment I was homeless and owned practically nothing. I felt like I'd jumped off a cliff. Then as the miles rolled by, I started to feel a heady sense of liberation. I had clothing, my computer, a phone, my music, my dog, and money in the bank. I was okay. I could have changed course if I'd wanted to: gone anywhere and done anything, really. But I stayed on course for Mexico.

My casita in Mexico is lovely and fully furnished and stocked. I haven't lived in a place that came furnished for decades. It's been a bit of an adjustment but I'm settling in. It's funny the things you miss: not so much the big stuff. I miss having a junk drawer. You know? That one where you'll find a rubber band, a book of matches, a package of that powder you put in vases to keep the flowers fresh; take-out menus, chop sticks, and the instruction book for the microwave. It takes time to accumulate that sort of useful detritus. I also miss my Mason jar full of screws and nails of all sizes. I recently spent a couple of days searching San Miguel for two screws to attach a handle to a cabinet. And I don't have any old clothes; the kind you throw on to paint or garden. I had to decide on which of my good clothes I didn't mind down-grading and now a pair of brown cargo pants and a white tee-shirt are on their way to ruination.

This strange state of not having "stuff" makes you feel a bit like a newly minted human – or someone who just came out of a coma or prison!

Inevitably, though, I'm starting to buy things. At San Miguel's Tuesday flea market this week I bought three magazines from 1940. The covers were so perfect and vibrant that they must have spent the last 70 years boxed up away from sunlight.

Who could resist these gorgeous dames?

From the same vendor I bought a little green shelf, crudely made but charming and hand-painted with a sweet decoration. It's perfect for my bathroom wall.

My sweet little shelf
 On Friday at St. Paul's Church pre-holiday bazaar I sprang for some delicate embroidered and lace cloths. I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do with them but I suspect they'll end up in my bedroom on the night stands when I've finished painting them.

All hand-made

I also got a coffee table book called Yoga Art by Ajit Mookerjie. When I flipped through it at the sale my first thought was that for 15 pesos (about $1.20) I could take it apart and use the images for collaging. I recently took a class and plan to take more. But when I examined it more closely at home I realized it was a spectacular book with beautiful images and text and in no way a tear-down.

 Just out of curiosity, I looked it up online, not really expecting to find anything much since it was published in 1975. And I had a little Antique's Road Show moment. My book is selling from $223 to $225 on Amazon and for the equivalent of $365 on a British rare books site!

The only conclusion I can come to from this is that the Universe is sending me a clear sign to start accumulating stuff again. I'm going to an estate sale tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. I've found that traveling with none of my stuff makes me feel so much lighter, so I can only imagine the freedom in clearing out as much as you did!