Over the weekend, we did something I’ve been longing to do: we finally took the pile of clothes, old sleeping bags, shoes, books, wedding presents we never used in the past three years, movies we never watch, and furniture that holds things we don’t need, and donated it all to Goodwill.
Don’t get me wrong, we live in small apartment that’s maybe…800 square feet (?), and has exactly two tiny closets, one kitchen counter only two feet wide, one small kitchen sink, and strangely gigantic bathroom. We didn’t have a lot of stuff by American means. But by global means, we had (and still have) much more than we need. We held onto things because, well, we had the space. We didn’t want to hurt people’s feelings; we kept thinking that maybe we might need something someday. Now, we have an excuse to purge.
Over the last three years, I’ve wanted to move several times, always to a place that’s not necessarily bigger in terms of square footage, but that had more storage, a dishwasher, a washer and dryer, and a balcony or deck; better flow. But storage was always the key; just the other day I visited a friend who just moved, and marveled at how they had not one, not two, but four huge closets. I was truly jealous. That was also due to the fact that they had a dishwasher, and a back-porch, and a parking space, but wow, the storage! So, I’ve looked at a lot of apartments, and I’ve found some great ones. One was in Uwajimaya Village, which, if you don’t have a car, you should definitely live there because they have cheap options (income-qualified units), they are awesome, and it’s a great location. But, parking made it expensive, and there was a lack of storage, so we moved on. Next we went to Welch Plaza, which also has income-qualified units, a fitness center, parking, dishwashers, and washer and dryers in unit. We toured a few different options, but in the end, we decided it was a no, because we couldn’t fit our furniture in; not enough storage. Now, I think back on that, and wonder that I was thinking. Our furniture doesn’t fit, so no to cheaper rent, a free gym, and no more arguing over washing dishes! I guess at the time I just wasn’t in the right mindset; I was too comfortable, too attached. Oops. At least I generally learn from my mistakes.
On this past gloomy Saturday, I spent eight hours sorting, organizing, packing, and cleaning. Somehow in all that time, I only ended up with one sealed box (Christmas ornaments) and several almost full, unsealed boxes, thinking we might add or discard things later. I spent a lot of time packing our “sentimental crap and mementos” boxes, reminiscing, being nostalgic, and generally a bit mopey, lonely and depressed. But, that is part of the packing/moving experience, so I actually enjoyed it (I had my good friend, music, to keep me company, and a floppy, confused kitten). On Sunday, I packed most of our books, our movies, and some clothes. Still some open boxes, because, hey, we might want to watch a movie or wear some old clothes in the next three weeks. But, what really made an impact was curtains and carpet. Yes, curtains.
When we first moved into the apartment, I had a great job that unfortunately only paid exactly $848 a month; Tyler worked at Starbucks. You can imagine the arithmetic. Thus, we didn’t have money to make a lot of investments in making our apartment comfortable. We didn’t have money to come up with great “storage solutions” or to create coordinating décor. As our apartment did have painted blue hardwood floors in the living room, we did manage to find a great deal on a gigantic area rug at Home Depo before we moved in, that covered most the space. It made it a little quieter; a littler warmer; a little bit cozier.
After that job ended and I was home alone, unemployed, getting rejected daily in my job search, I had had enough. I would use our savings to make a little investment. My mother always said curtains make a place feel more home-like. So, despite the fact that I was unemployed and the “Great Recession” had just begun, I was going to make myself feel better with curtains. I would comfort myself with shopping; a typical consumerist American dream. I am ashamed to admit it. So, I walked the mile or so to Bed, Bath, and Beyond, and looked at curtains. Why – why?! Are curtains so expensive?! Who knew, I mean really, who knew. But, I was committed; this would help me feel better now that I had to spend all this time at home. So, I got some curtains. I put them up in our living room. I found an old sari Tyler had bought in India, and made a drape with it (it was quite creative and matched perfectly; you should be impressed). Now, I was on my way, to a status of having color palettes and accents. I think I even bought a decorative pillow that day.
Now, curtains are an awkward thing to carry home over a mile, with the rods sticking out of the bags and whatnot. As I walked home with my gigantic bags, struggling to keep circulation in my hands as they were being cutoff by plastic, someone on the street pointed and called out to me: “this woman is single-handedly saving our economy! Someone’s got to do it!” I thought it was funny (remember the ridiculous Bush speech about how we needed to shop to save our county?), but I was also embarrassed. A necessary pain for the joy of curtains. When Tyler came home from work that day, I announced: “Look husband, I’ve built you this palace!” It was a little harem-like, with silk curtains and sari drapes; in burnt orange and deep red nonetheless. It also made the room darker. But, my Mom was right; it was pleasant; we felt snug. It was the beginning to our road to comfortableness. Later we would buy a futon and get rid of the old loveseat; we would get Tyler a computer desk and re-arrange the furniture; get a new dressers, a coat-rack, and some odd little tables. Most of this was new in the sense that it was new to us; most of it we found in the alley behind our apartment, or got from friends. But, it made our little apartment homely. Sure, we went through stuff every few months and donated a few bags and boxes to Goodwill, but we slowly acquired things. We got used to it. We became complacent. I started watched TV when I hadn’t done that much since my senior year of high school; I kept watching it even after we lost our free cable. I just wanted to zone out, to have a “mind-numbing activity.” It started taking me longer to finish books, and I started gaining more weight. Sure, we were happy, we had friends over for anime night, we cooked, we went wine tasting, we watched movies. It was fun to stay in; we were comfortable.
Comfortable makes it hard to leave; hard to move; hard to pack. People, Tyler included, thought it was a bit odd that I wanted to start to pack now, three weeks before we move. I had my reasons: 1. I really want to do a mid-week backpacking trip before we leave 2. I really want to enjoy our last three weeks in Seattle and not be stressed by the move; so why not take advantage of a rainy weekend? and 3. the great unknown feeling in my soul. Now that the boxes are filling up, that our stuff has been given away (TV included), the curtains have been taken down, and the carpet rolled up and thrown out, I understand the great unknown. Somewhere, deep inside me, I remembered that I should be uncomfortable with being comfortable, all the time at least. Comfort is something to be enjoyed every once in a while; a treat like gelato or the “El Diablo” dessert at Tango. I remembered I used to be more active; more motivated, when I lived with less. When I went to bed last night; I felt like one of those characters in the commercials to quit smoking; when they have to re-learn how to do all their daily activities they would do with cigarettes; driving, eating breakfast. I think I actually asked, out loud, “what did I used to do before bed?” when I didn’t watch TV? Then it came to me: I would talk to Tyler on the phone, and I would read. I would also listen to music. So, I read, a book a friend gave me months ago, that’s just been sitting, lost in the masses of books in our bookshelves. Now that they’re empty, with only a few books we haven’t read pulled out, I can focus on the ones I’ve been wanting to read. I am free to do that (and also forced, a little bit, but by choice). And it’s a fantastic! Now, maybe the things that have been on my to-do list for months (filing taxes, anyone?) will finally get done because I can’t make excuses anymore. I have nothing else to do; I have a new clarity of mind. Our change in circumstances, my little reality check, has generated more energy. I can see things in a new light (literally, not only is it brighter in our apartment without curtains, I get to use my favorite lamp, finally!), and I like it. Sure, there will still be temptations (Hulu) and it will still be a struggle in self-discipline, but I am happy to take on the challenge. I think these next few weeks will teach us real lessons of preparation for Buenos Aires, where we’ll live in one room with a home-stay, and for our travels thereafter. And when God answers my prayers to give me open eyes and ears for his lessons, I get excited.
Sure, it might not be all that pleasant to walk barefoot in our house anymore, as we discovered what basically amounted to a beach underneath our cozy carpet/rug, and enough dust bunnies to make at least one spare kitten. Sure, I may have to tip-toe around piles of stuff, my clothes are in big Tupperware bins; our bed is now in the center of our room, the frame dismantled in the living room, and I may have made a nightstand out of my tabla (an Egyptian drum) and my old hula-dancer lamp, but it feels strangely liberating; it feels good. I can find contentment knowing that our home is anywhere we’re together, anywhere with Christ, even if where we live doesn’t feel “homey” anymore. Our place might be kind of a disaster and not the most inviting for friends, but, if our friends judge us by the space (or lack thereof) we live in, maybe we should question the basis of our friendship. If we can’t find enjoyable entertainment in any space with our friends, when, what are doing?
As for my love of great storage, I’ve realized: I don’t need it.* I never needed it; what I needed to do was let go; give it up. We realized that at least three pieces of furniture that we had planned so much around when looking at potential apartments, weren’t even worth donating. And they were demolished so easily; we literally kicked them to pieces in minutes, and just like that, they were flattened and in our dumpster. Amazing how quickly something dismantles and disappears; all those years, all those memories and it’s gone, just like that. And what caught my attention was how easy it was, and how relieved I felt afterwards.
With the recession still dragging on, there’s been a lot of talk about cutting back; there’s even a great article in it in the New York Times. There’s been a lot of talk at our church, and in the books I’ve been reading, about living simply. It’s something Tyler and I have talked about a lot, and generally try to practice; only now we intend to bring it to a different level. Live simply, so we can work less, and have time to do more. Plan our lives strategically so this can be a reality. People can argue with me, but I truly believe in the core of my being, that we weren’t meant to work 40+ hours a week and to commute daily in cars. I’ve done it, and I’m relieved to be leaving it behind me. I would rather work less, and be able to afford less, than to live in a stressed and frenzied world. This may require more creativity, a more radical living situation (intentional community, anyone?), an acceptance that less is more, and discernment in purchasing decisions. I think it is a major piece in the puzzle of happiness and contentment, and I am happy that we’re pushing ourselves in the right direction.
We’ll see what I think after three weeks of living in this mess. 😉
But for now, I’d like to give a big shout of thanks to Haley, who graciously gave up her Sunday afternoon to make a Goodwill caravan run with me; and to her friend Hayden, who amazingly gave up an entire day to do boring things like clean mold, sweep, and watch the Genki Sushi commercial, when he’s visiting here for only a month from Australia. And, praise the Lord for the amazing mold and mildew cleaner Becka lent me; the word “destroy” on the label truly does not lie.
Also, I apologize for the lack of pictures – I know it’s hard to read without the words being broken up by a fun image. I’ll be working on that soon, now that I’ve been liberated to be productive. 🙂
On a related note, I would like to pose a question. I obviously like this idea of living simply and having less. However, there is an issue that sits uneasily with me. As someone who has wandered and moved a lot, a lot of things don’t have a lot of value. Our alley furniture and hand-me-downs aren’t worth holding onto for the storage fee. But, does this notion of “expendable” equate to a lifestyle of glorified consumerism? Where we get rid of old clothes just to justify making room for new clothes (as my husband accused me of doing last night…and I must admit, is often a motivation)? A lifestyle were we just cycle through furniture, clothes, and goods as we move from one place to another, or exchange one piece of alley furniture for the next? Sure, we might not be buying new clothes or new furniture each time, we might be recycling and donating things, but doesn’t it still perpetuate the same destructive mindset? I wonder about that. On another hand, as we were donating my nightstand I’ve had for 16 years, I had a thought that next time we’d just save up until we could get something nice; something we really wanted, something that we wouldn’t want to donate. Is this the right response? Or is this too, perpetuating the myth of nice things = happiness? Thoughts, anyone?
Well, ok, before you go on calling me a hypocrite, yes, we are still planning on renting a storage unit while we’re traveling, because we realized its cheaper to store a few things than try to replace certain ones (i.e. our bed, Tyler’s computer, those damned expensive curtains) that we’re pretty sure we’ll need when (if?) we come back. Maybe we are supposed to give up all our possessions and follow; maybe when we think closely about our needs versus wants, we’ll see that we don’t really need any of the stuff we plan to store; that it’ll just make things easier when we come back – but maybe we think it’s worth it, for now at least? I’ve been toying with the idea of just getting rid of it all anyway, but I can’t discern if that’s rash or wise just yet, so I’ll continue with the current path of action. Maybe we’re just supposed to be willing to give it all up, like a test, but if we pass we get to keep it? (Yes, sometimes I still think like a child). Basically, all I know is that I don’t have all the answers; that I know we’ve made a big step in the right direction, and that I’ll just have to have faith that God shows me what we’re supposed to do next, and that it will be awesome.