The goal is to feel light as a feather.
My mother was a saver, as in she saved things. When she died, my sisters and I went through a drawerful of hundreds of recipes clipped from magazines and newspapers over the years. We sorted through a jewelry box filled with jewelry none of us had seen in decades. And the “good” towels sat on the linen closet shelf, rarely used.
My dad threw things out. It exasperated him that my mother liked her collections because he saw it as clutter.
I am channeling them both in wild pendulum swings as I begin to sort through a life by sorting through what is in my house right now. Seems a good time to do so as I take stock of where I want to be and what I want to be around.
It’s akin to psychoanalysis when you begin to look at the accoutrements of a life. I said to a friend the other day, “But who am I without three dozen appetizer plates in varying designs?” I was only half joking. I remember that self well. The one who threw parties and loved to entertain.
But the truth of the matter is, the appetizer plates haven’t been trotted out in a long while. I’m all about convenience, a lack of time, minimizing clean-up. And I don’t invite people over like I used to. I’m at the age where many of my friends are moving to warmer climes, to be near their children, to have an adventure before they can’t.
It’s humbling to see so clearly, as I purge my closets, my shortcomings on display. The clothes that I give away, tags still on, because I thought somehow my shape would change and they’d be more flattering at a later date. The shoes I bought when I told myself chunky boots would look the same in middle age as they did in my twenties. (They don’t. Don’t believe the myth, ladies.) The heels that I refuse to wear because I no longer believe they’re worth the pain. Looking good isn’t looking good when your facial expression screams, “Stick a fork in me. I’m done.”
I see that the way I’ve decorated my house reflects my era, my age. No one does substantial wooden furniture anymore, right? And it does feel heavy to me now. But this flimsy crap they create now in blonde tones feels so vanilla, so neutral, so lacking in heft. How can a home ground you when it feels like a marshmallow?
I take stock of the many things I will jettison and the few that have withstood the test of time. My laughing Buddha belongs with me, no matter where I go. So does the art on my walls. Most of it. Except maybe the Royal Delft plates. Who was I thinking I would be when I bought those? I was channeling the we-just-bought-a-Cape-Cod-and-I’m-going-to-be-a-mother-who-has-Easter-at-this-heavy-mahogany-dining-table-while-dressed-in-silk vibe. Been there, done that already. No longer that gal.
I call it the silk pajamas effect. I always thought silk pajamas were the height of luxury. Until I bought silk pajamas and realized they make me hot and feel somewhat restricted. The idea of them was really great. In practice, not so much.
It all begs the question: Who is this woman who doesn’t throw parties that require a copious amount of appetizer plates served on heavy wooden pieces of furniture? Should she throw away the last holdout pair of sheer stockings she owns, given that she hasn’t worn sheer black stockings in decades? And if she takes the silhouettes of her boys off her walls because those are from a bygone era also, does that make her less a devoted mother? Will she remember that she once was that woman? More importantly, what does it say about her that despite an ungodly number of black shoes, she can’t find a pair that looks good with any casual pair of pants?
Middle age is hard on women. We are still judged far too much on our looks and physique rather than intrinsic qualities, intelligence, zest for life—anything that matters, really. On dating sites (the least appetizing pool in which to swim), it’s more important that you are skiing in your fifties than that you possess any redeeming qualities. Men mention they want someone with “an attractive shape” as if they’re choosing a vase for the mantel. This one is too angular, this one too fat. Can we elongate the neck? Ooh, nothing too fragile. Do they make a porcelain that is as tough as resin? We are not decorative objects; we are flesh and blood and feelings and hopes and aspirations and on occasion, we own far too many black shoes. Human. Oh so human.
So, as the world changes how it views me as I age, I try hard to see myself as I am. That’s really what this whole house purge is about—remaining true to who I am now versus who I might have been years ago. And staying light—not getting bogged down in a lifetime worth of things. I may have to give up the sake set and with it, the crazy vision I used to have of myself as someone who would one day drink enough sake with friends that I needed an entire set for this ritual. As I say sayonara to the silk pajamas, there goes my shot at living a Katherine Hepburn-esque life—at least the one she lived in the movies. And yes, dammit, I think I liked thinking of myself as someone in silk pajamas drinking her sake. But I have so many other things to do before I go. Something has to give.
Some things, of course, remain. I’ll always be a gal who loves rolling around in books, ideas, words. Not a sought-after trait on most dating sites but it is, I have to believe, in some male circles—the more enlightened ones. And bottom line is, it’s who I am, sought after or not.
I’m still the gal who is not a fan of lukewarm, in food, friends, and men. I don’t want to have to guess if you’re for me. I tire of that game easily. I’m still the gal with a belly laugh that fills the room. I hope that never changes.
An enthusiast who loves the draw of the new, I am learning to temper said enthusiasm before I leap to see if it will last. I’d like to eliminate clothes with tags that never get worn, sake sets that gather dust, men who care more about what is outside than what is inside. Also, men whose inner strength does not match their outer strength.
But let’s look ahead to the new. I see myself as a traveler. So many places I’ve yet to go. That woman will have to travel lighter than the woman I’ve been. What will she keep stashed at home? The sentimental and beautiful bits. The book I found colored in eight-year-old boy strokes, which was all about me. “My mom helps me find my shoes. My mom says my room looks like a dizaster [sic]. I love it when my mom reads to me.” The rare letter that my mother wrote me. Will the wedding program stay or go? Likely stay. It may be interesting to the boys one of these days, despite my divorce. And what to do with things that are hard to get rid of simply because someone saved them for so long? My mother, not a sentimental type, surprisingly saved a lock of my very blonde hair from my first haircut at one year old. The envelope is still sealed. I can’t imagine anyone ever wanting this unless the police need my DNA (and let’s hope they never do). But to throw it out now seems a bit cavalier. This is why we mothers should purge early and often. Our kids shouldn’t get stuck with things. I saved my boys’ Matchbox cars and a road set, thinking they’d want them for their kids when they have them. But who knows? Perhaps I should give them away now to bring joy to children who exist versus grandchildren that may or may not come along.
The point of my ruminations for you, dear reader, is that we are not defined by our stuff. Or perhaps we are. But stuff is less fleeting than we are. We’re here for the blink of an eye and then gone. What remains? For me, I hope it is two children with phenomenal belly laughs who remember their mother’s life and love.
And maybe a grandchild who drinks sake with friends while wearing silk pajamas. Yes, that might be nice.
The rest of it can go.