Sunday, June 20, 2010

30. Drowning in Stuff

When I was in Washington last month for graduation, Bill's daughter Bettina hosted a celebratory luncheon in the co-op apartment she and her husband Ilia bought last fall. It was such a treat for me to be a guest there. By many standards it would be considered small- a one bedroom, one bath, with scant storage or closet space. But it has an ample, renovated kitchen , several large windows which provide good light, and is in a charming older building in a great DC location. Bettina and Ilia have creatively solved the storage problem with the help of Ikea and the place looks great.

Since returning to Maine, to our four bedroom house on half an acre of land, I have not been able to stop thinking about what life would be like in that sort of place. At the very least it would mean one could not accumulate stuff in the normal American way. And I find that idea extremely liberating.

Exactly four years ago Bill and I moved to Ellsworth to be closer to my work in Bar Harbor. We were able to buy a beautiful, restored Dutch Colonial which very nearly fulfills all our dreams of a Maine house. When Emily first saw it she exclaimed why couldn't we have had this house when I was growing up??? Having been built in the 1940's it, too, is rather short on closet space, but it has a huge, walk-up attic, and therein lies a problem. Our move happened very quickly and we didn't have time to clean out or have a garage sale. So for the most part we just moved everything, right up to the attic.

Of course I had planned to carefully go through the accumulations of the nine years we lived in Camden. But I was so busy commuting to a new job that there were literally not enough hours to do things right. The day the movers came I wasn't even able to follow the truck to our new house because I had an important rehearsal for an upcoming tour to Ireland and Wales. My good friend Kate was Bill's surrogate wife that day, going to our new home with him, helping place the furniture and boxes, and making runs for pizza and beer.

I don't consider myself a packrat, but when I look around my house I start to believe I've been fooling myself. Let's start with the kitchen and dining room: I have five sets of china, three sets of flatware, Waterford crystal, stemware from my grandmother as well as some from a trip to Germany, and a lot of hand-thrown pottery that I began collecting when we first came to Maine. I have inherited a lot of these things, but all the same there they are, making clutter and taking up space. Yes, I love to set a beautiful set of china and flatware at a time.

Like most women I like clothes...and shoes...and jewelry. (I will not admit to the number of pairs of shoes in my closet here!) And I am just frugal enough to keep things just in case. Our bookcases are overflowing despite my constant weeding, and CD's, cassette tapes and LP's fill several storage spaces. Then there is the nature of my job...I have a lifetime's accumulation of piano music and my grand is piled high with music for my students. In my office at church are shelves of organ music and filing cabinets of teaching music, and littered across the floor in orderly piles are all the choral anthems I someday hope to conduct. The music bench by the organ is full of music to try, or to learn, or that I'm playing in the near future.

Lots of stuff...on most days, though, if you were to walk into my house or office, you might be deceived and think things were mostly orderly and neat. But then, I won't take you to the attic, that repository for all things overflow. There you'll find everything we should have given up when we moved, on top of Bill's even larger accumulation of stuff from his five-plus decades of music teaching and performing.

And so...I am starting to feel burdened by all this stuff. Out-of-sight, out-of-mind does NOT work for me. Sometimes the size of our house weighs on me, too, although it is nearly perfect for our life of teaching, entertaining and hosting friends and family. Does my feeling of being overwhelmed have to do with age? Does it speak of a spiritual need? Do I feel guilty because I have so much? I wish I knew...

I have read numerous books and articles on the popular idea of simplicity as a lifestyle and discipline, and have even adopted many of the tenets of that movement to my own life. I honestly don't know where these current thoughts of mine will lead...a couple of weeks ago I spent an hour going through all my personal piano music and moved two dozen or so scores on to a music library. It felt good, very good.

I am just finishing a rigorous period of work and obligations, causing me to feel unusually weary and drained. I suspect that my long days are contributing to this sense of being overwhelmed, of drowning. But beginning the first day of summer I have 4 weeks off! This time is a combination of sabbatical, continuing education and vacation during which I plan to rest, feed my soul and...tackle the stuff?

I'll let you know.