To thine own self be true. –William Shakespeare
In less than a month I’ll have lived in my house for two years, which is the longest I’ve lived in any one place since I was sixteen. Some quick math tells me it’s about a 60/40 split in favor of twenty-two years of meandering.
It’s strange, though, because I value home. When I move into a space I’m quick to set up shop, flatten and recycle boxes, and act as though I’ve lived in the place forever.
I arrange lamps for optimum ambient light. I make my bed, put my books away, hang pictures, and situate the kitchen and bathroom. I buy some flowers, light a candle: I’m home.
I’ve loved every place I’ve lived in. I even loved the one that took two days of scrubbing to rid the kitchen cabinets of (what seemed like) decades of grease. I loved the ones that seemed too sterile, too noisy, too smelly from whatever was cooking downstairs.
I’ll stay up all night to scrub a stranger’s filth with steel wool and make sure all my shirts and hangers are going in the same direction, but as much love as I feel for my new (obviously semi-temporary) homes I quickly fall into my old patterns. Before I’ve sent my second rent check I’ve already started to wreck the place. I don’t mean wreck-wreck, I just mean making it more “homey.”
Piles build. Doors become overwhelmed with bags and coats. My toothbrush has to fight for space near the sink. Ponytail holders and bracelets cling to every doorknob. Junk mail discovers my new house then lands prime real estate next to the recycling bins, which don’t take themselves to the sorting center. The kitchen counters have teas in various stages of brewing and miscellaneous bowls of half-finished this-or-that and it often looks like someone got called out on an emergency in the midst of making dinner.
My nightstand book pile grows taller every day. My clean-enough-to-wear-again clothes piles exponentially increase. And then there’s the clean laundry in the hamper, the poor things in a perpetual purgatory of “go back in the dryer to de-wrinkle or just hang up?” And as with every unanswerable, million-dollar question: not a lot happens in limbo.
Six years ago I was getting ready to leave for Honduras, and a couple of friends came over to help me sort through the stacks of clothes all over my bed. I was as attached then as I am now to my Missoula uniform—yoga pants and capilene zipneck tops—and I had more than a few stacks of the components ready to go to the Caribbean. Another stack contained more than a dozen assorted swimsuit pieces, and as my friend eyed the two piles she says, “You can’t take it all. You’re going to have to trade the Patagonia tops for the string bikinis.”
She said I could bring one “favorite outfit” and the rest had to stay. I pouted, but she was right. The bikini pile went into the suitcase, and the other pile into a Rubbermaid bin that I marked in Sharpie: “Stays in Missoula.” With that indelible pen I scratched out passé labels from other stages of life. A label from a cross-country move said “Children’s Books,” one from an across town move said “Kitchen Stuff,” and from a time when we were staying put for a minute, “Lucky’s food.”
Six years later I’m not going anywhere (just yet, but never say never), but feel a similar urge to purge, clean, and sort. Because we’re hovering on the edge of fall in Northwestern Montana it is time to put most of the summer stuff away, but in the transition it’s a good time to figure out what works and what doesn’t.
Even—and maybe because of—our short summer here, an array of bathing suit pieces drape and droop over door knobs, towel racks, and backs of chairs. Those have to go into storage, with one or two suits left out for hotspring-ing. It’s sweatshirt season now, and another few eye blinks and we’ll be into down jacket season. Transitioning between seasons is the easy part; it’s actually getting rid of stuff that can be problematic.
There’s a lot of attachment in things, and it can be hard to let some things go. There’s the “I paid too much for these shoes” that aren’t comfortable and “These earrings were a gift and is it rude to get rid of them?” Then there’s “I just don’t feel good in this,” and “This may have been who I was, but is it who I am now?” They are small questions imbedded in bigger dilemmas.
I’m a strike while the iron is hot kind of girl, so yesterday when I was invited to a naked ladies party I pulled out a couple of tote bags and filled them with everything I WOULDN’T bring on a road trip/adventure. (There’s a link in “naked ladies” to get you to my friend Melissa’s blog post about these parties in case you don’t know about them. It’s not what you think; it’s better!)
I made a rule while I was doing this: no second-guessing. I suppose second guessing can be useful, but I find it to be stress and anxiety inducing. There’s a pragmatic place for second guessing. If you’re trying to decide to buy a car, house or vacation you can’t really afford; if you’re on the verge of kissing someone who isn’t your spouse; if you are not in tune with listening to your gut.
Sorting through clothes and accessories is not a big life decision; there’s just not a lot at stake when you’re getting rid of a shirt that doesn’t flatter. I decided to move to an island thirty miles off the coast of Honduras with more spontaneity than what I’ve used in my decision making over getting rid of a $200 pair of shoes that 1) are old, and 2) hurt after more than four hours. (Note: They’re just like this except in black, if you care.)
The regular questions rush in: But they’re classic! They’re great for weddings! You love dancing in them! All of these things are true, but they have not made as appearance at the last batch of weddings I’ve gone to in Montana where cowboy boots and (gasp!) clogs are fine for a wedding where the terrain is not likely to be level. In fact, I don’t think the soles of those shoes have ever hit Montana soil, though they have made a couple of trips to Vegas. The question: exactly how prepared do we need to be for what may or may not ever happen?
Research has been done that suggests second-guessing leads to unhappiness, obsession, and self-judgment. Second-guessing is so interesting in that it is dual-faceted; we can do it with anticipation or with hindsight. We can basically do it all the time if we choose to, but why would we choose grief?
Anything that doesn’t fit right went into the bag. Getting rid of the t-shirt that is too close to my skin color was easy. The blouse that makes me feel like I’m in someone else’s costume: also easy. The earrings from an ex-boyfriend: a snap.
I do not need to jeopardize my mental health with miniature decisions that, over time, degrade the ability to make bigger decisions and feel confident with the outcome whatever it may be.
Should I stay or should I go? Well that’s still up for grabs, but for now I’m keeping the shoes, not out of choice, really, but because I can only find one. I live in a small house with only one closet, which means I should be even more selective about what I keep, but it unfortunately means I stuff things into recesses and corners where they’re difficult to discover. We do this with our thoughts and feelings too, but that’s a different blog post.
While waiting for the stars to align in one direction or another I’ll focus on what I can control, which is my clutter, my intentions, and at the end of the day: myself.