We always like to try to have a home improvement project done when we’re out of town on vacation, so we don’t have to be around while the carpenters, plumbers, or painters are tearing our world apart and essentially living in our house. This summer, the day we left to drop our youngest son at camp and then drop ourselves at a vacation rental near the beach, movers came in and took everything in our living room, dining room, and kitchen, and crammed it into our garage and basement. Then our contractor removed all of the ancient wall-to-wall breeding grounds for primordial life and refinished the previously hidden oak floors.
Next the painters moved in with buckets, brushes, and blasting stereo, to revitalize our fading walls with coats of Peachy Pudding and Corlsbud Canyon. As these things often go in the languid days of summer, the jobs proceeded a little slower than anticipated, so, instead of having all our furnishings moved back in before we returned home, my living room and dining room are still in my garage. It gives new meaning to dining al-fresco when you’re eating a plate of pasta primavera seated next to a lawnmower on one side and a wheelbarrow full of fertilizer on the other.
The work is almost done, now, but we have a new problem. We don’t want to move all of our old crap back into our nice new rooms. The number of objects that have taken up residence in our house sometimes seems staggering. Friends bring over bowls and platters of food to parties, and never bother to reclaim their dishes. Children’s friends leave us jackets, games, sometimes even whole backpacks filled with unwanted junk. On trash night, garbage from other peoples’ tree lawns seems to teleport itself directly into the path of my oncoming feet, left for me to trip over and contemplate its significance. Is someone coming to reclaim this box of old telephone cords or is one of the kids saving it for a school project? Rather than try to interrogate every possible suspect about the sudden appearance of each new acquisition, I usually opt to shove questionable debris out of my path and hope someone else sorts it out before I have to. The huge stack of unclaimed junk now stuffed in my basement is evidence of the success of this strategy.
Or consider some of our prized possessions – our books for example. Over the years (or decades, or millennium, as the case may be), we have accumulated a fabulously weighty collection. But, do we really still need a twenty volume set of World Book Encyclopedia, with the most up-to-date information from 1967, in a house with wireless access to the Internet? How many more years will I fool myself into thinking I’m going to lug that copy of War & Peace to the beach with me next summer? And how soon will I be reviewing my first year physics textbook, in preparation for the Electricity and Magnetism course that I was planning on taking during the fall semester of 1975? In perusing our book collection, what Sue and I have realized is that all the books that we really loved we’ve already given away to someone else to read. The books that are left are ones that have been passed over, time and again, in favor of books we actually wanted to read. Does it impress visitors when they see all the shelves of important books that we’ve never had time to dust, let alone read?
And how about my record collection? I think I listened to one side of one record this year, mostly to reassure myself that I still listen to records, and justify keeping them until I have the chance to transfer them all over to CDs or MP3s and then make a huge wall mural of all the irreplaceable cover art that I haven’t bothered to look at in 20 years.
Just because we own all this stuff and have lugged it around with us for most of our adult lives, does that mean we are obligated to keep it forever? Are we going to force our children to have to sort through it all someday to see if they can find any reason why Mom and Dad barricaded their living room with crap?
So instead of moving everything back exactly where it was, we’ve decided to only move things piece by piece, and only put things into our renewed house that we actually want. All the rest we’ll sell, give away, or leave on our tree lawn for someone else’s kids to take home.
I’m afraid this project might take a while, but in the meantime our house remains clean and uncluttered. And dining in the garage can be surprisingly romantic, especially by the candlelight from our 29 different sets of candlesticks.