No Business

I'm getting rid of stuff.

Yesterday I sent Lu off with two boxes of art supplies to take to the school where she teaches. That felt good.

Clothes. No one needs twelve pairs of jeans. I wear the same stuff day after day. Somewhere in Scripture, John, Luke, someone, said something like "If you have two shirts, one is for the poor."

I have more than two shirts.

It's embarrassing to have twenty jackets. Sure, we live in Vermont and the winters are long, but everyone knows you wear one coat at a time.

Scraps of things. I have long imagined I would land somewhere and set up an art space. Dreamy, right? And so I have collected artsy doodads wherever I went. I have gobs of them: buttons and shells and fabric scraps. I found an adorable quilt topper, vintage fabric, at the dump in 1993 and I still have it. A couple of times I cut off squares and used them for greeting cards. But now it feels dumb. I have moved six times since 1993 and that stupid quilt top has gone with me each time. In 1993 it was a joyful find; today it's a burden. Twenty-four years and still no art space. It clearly means I don't really want one. I love the idea, but it turns out I prefer to fill my time doing other things.

It's OK, sometimes, to let some dreams go.

Books. This is a hard one. I love books. I mean, I love books. But I recognize that this love is irrational. There are libraries, good ones, close to where I live and I have access to both the UVM library, as an alumna, and the Fordham library, as a student. I don't really need to own books. I pulled one out of the cupboard in the kitchen yesterday. It was a book about flowers, nestled among the cookbooks. It's a gorgeous book, seductive the way some books can be. It's about bringing nature into your home in the form of cut flowers.


(Is it OK to use punctuation as a sentence?)

Do I really need a book to show me how to cut flowers from outside and bring them inside? I make flower arrangements and take pictures of them all the time. What made me think I needed to spend $35 on a book with lots of photos of flowers placed in cleverly decorated rooms?

Also, books are heavy. I love them very much displayed on my shelves; they tell the story of the different phases of my life, the classes I've taken, the writers I have admired. But put them all together in a box and I want only to burn them, which, I know, is not a nice thing to do.

I have lots of children's books. I used to be a teacher. I spent a good chunk of the little bit of money I made at the Northshire Bookstore in the children's books section, and I told that to Chris Morrow, the owner, recently. It made him smile. It made me poor. Money-poor, book-rich, which is a good poor.

I asked the kids, yesterday, if they wanted me to keep those books for when they have kids.

"Some of them," Nate said, "not all of them."

Good answer.

Going through my stuff is forcing me to think about how I really live and what I really need. I believe there is some kind of comfort, security, perhaps, in owning a whole bunch of stuff. If we have closets filled with shirts and shoes and cupboards loaded with plates, nothing can go wrong, right?


I have rounded the bend and arrived at the place where I am tired of lugging my things through this world. I think this happens as we get older. We want to own stuff, then our stuff starts to own us. What do we do with it? Where do we put it? There is nothing worse than paying a monthly fee for storage. Think about that ... spending money to keep stuff you're not using in a storage facility. I have done it; it's not cheap. The person who owns all those crappy little storage units filled with everyone's crap is enjoying his or her early retirement in Zürich. People are growing wealthy as a result of our inability to stop accumulating stuff we don't need. How very embarrassingly American.

I have nice things and letting them go is not easy. Much of the thinking behind the accumulation, however, went like this: "It's a good idea to have extra forks, in case everyone comes here for Thanksgiving." That's how I ended up with enough forks to cater a wedding. Or, "I may want to start a floral design business one day." That's how I ended up with enough vases to ... decorate a wedding. And while I have, and probably will again, hosted Thanksgiving, everyone has forks and knives and spoons and plates and platters, and on that one night we can pool our resources. And while I do love working with flowers, a design business is not really in the cards anymore. I officiate at weddings now, and all that requires is a few pieces of paper; no waste afterwards.

In the past it was moving that forced me to get rid of things. But I didn't do a good enough job. When we moved into this house last fall, it took Mark and Margaret and Jack and Olivia and Sam and Nate and Coco and Brett and then some to get everything here. "You have no business having all this stuff if you're going to live the way you do," Sam the wise and honest 20-year-old son told me.

Quite frankly most of us have no business owning all the stuff we own. Getting rid of it is hard, it's scary. If I have very little, then it's just me in the world, without the buffer of sofas and tables and rugs. Will I be vulnerable? Or will I be free?

I'll keep you posted. Amen.