Tuesday, May 5, 2009

How to Take Inventory of a Life


You begin with a pen and a yellow lined pad of paper. You look around your house at your belongings and you start a list. It begins like this:

-Danish Sideboard/SELL/$250
-West Elm Floor Lamp/SELL/$30
-IKEA bookcases/GIVE to J&B
-Couch/SELL/$600
-CB2 side table/ SELL/ $25
-Books (need to decide which to keep, which to sell and which to give away)
-Tiffany's champagne glasses/KEEP? (where?)

The champagne glasses were a gift from our wedding. We used to keep them protected, wrapped in bubble wrap so they wouldn't break. When we renovated the kitchen, we put them out on the open shelves to use them. To actually use them. And we did. And whenever we did it made me happy.

Now we need to wrap them back up in bubble wrap so they don't break. We'll wrap them up, put them in a box, label it clearly and then...? Ask a friend if they have room to hold onto this box, I suppose, with the idea that we'll be back and we'll want them with us wherever we go. More accurately, I will want them with us. I want them with us because I would never buy them myself and they turn a $12 bottle of sparkling wine into a $100 bottle of champagne. They are magical crystal glasses that make my fingers feel dainty and make me feel like Audrey Hepburn. I do not need them. I could sell them. But I want them. For toasting in our future. For celebrating. For a little bit of magic no matter where we land. Who knows, we could be in an Airstream and it would probably be totally ridiculously impractical to have those glasses with us. And I might very well end up letting them go. But today, they're on my KEEP list.

I haven't packed a single box yet. My goal is to pack one, just one, today. It will be symbolic, I know. The first box. Maybe it will be the Tiffany's champagne glasses. Something on the KEEP list that we won't need to have access to. Or maybe it will be my books- those I'm unwilling to abandon. I don't expect to have many boxes. The goal is to have very few. So this first box will have to be packed very carefully. The contents set the stage for how this will go.

I keep thinking about the move into this house and how exciting and stressful that was. We were amazed at how much stuff we actually had in our small condo. It's not until you move that you realize how much stuff you actually have. Since then, we've only accumulated more stuff. We've grown like goldfish to fit our pond. That's easy. That's how it goes. Unthinking. You grow to fit your surroundings. Accumulation as a natural occurrence. We are whales and our stuff is barnacles.

It's the opposite direction that's hard. At least it seems hard now. Shedding is harder than accumulating as anyone who has ever dieted knows. But, wait. Losing money is easier than gaining it. Where does that leave us? I guess challenging each notion. Neither is necessarily true.

Whether easy or hard, the fact remains that we are lightening our load. The goal is to let go of everything. Take only what we can carry, so to speak. And what is that? I haven't even begun that list. I think the reason I've always hated packing is because I'm afraid of packing the wrong stuff. As though there is such a thing. I'll get it wrong. I'll pack too much (as I always did as a kid for family vacations at the frustration of my parents) or too little. I'll forget something important. I'll miss something I love.
"Take only what you need, Stephie."

I heard that a lot as a kid. Take only what I need. Only what I need.
But I need this third pair of sandals in case I decide to wear the yellow sundress if the weather is nice and I feel like wearing a dress. And I need this hairdryer because I hate hotel hairdryers and I know it takes up a lot of room but I need it. And I need this book because even though it's heavy, I am in the middle of it and want to finish reading it on this trip...
And before long my suitcase would be too heavy for me to carry.

Need is relative. I'm learning (finally after 33 years) to need less. And that is what this is about.

How does one pack for starting over? How do you pack for a new life?

I guess like this:
MY MUST-HAVES

-Bob
-Pablo
-Underwear
-Toothbrush
-Toothpaste...

4 Comments:

Cece said...

I love your must-haves list.

That might be an interesting exercise for anyone - "what's on your must-haves list?"

Then we could pull it out when we need reminding - 'cause we all tend to have lapses (long or short) and we forget.

You, Bob and Pablo are on my must-haves list.

Steph & Bob said...

Thanks, Cece! Yes, this has been an interesting "exercise." A gift, actually.

babychef said...

I've been thinking a lot about this, and have been slowly trying to purge, recycle, take inventory, and realize that most of the stuff I have I either don't need, don't want, or don't even realize I have in the first place. My other half would definitely agree with this, and has an uncanny ability to subsist on very little.

Sounds like you're gearing up for a cross country trip? Will you call me if you come through Chicago? I'd love to see you while you're busy "reassessing. "

Good luck. Say hi to Bob. And Pablo.

Steph & Bob said...

Hey Rebecca! Yes, we're planning on being in Chicago and we'd love to see you too. We're not sure when we'll be there but once we have a plan we'll let you know.

I want to develop an uncanny ability to subsist on very little- like your other half. Who I look forward to meeting.

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