This is the first in a series about what I learned in 2013. The back story is that I started the year with a break-up, moved four times, lived in a warehouse with 13 roommates, traveled to Japan alone and discovered that online dating can be fun. These posts highlight insights gained along the way.
Curate > Accumulate
Between February and August of 2013, I moved four times, doubling the number of places I’ve lived in New York. It was an unsettling experience (yes, bad joke) yet offered a rare opportunity for hardcore reflection while boxing up my life again and again.
When I had the luxury, I started sorting early, making piles of things to keep or not keep or maybe keep. At times, it felt endless, this weary shuffling of items between piles, wavering over the finality of decisions. ‘Maybe’ started to feel like a dirty word. ‘Maybe’ items became a burden. Owning unnecessary things was suddenly revealed as supremely stressful. Crazy-making, even.
For inspiration, I indulged in a favorite online pastime of perusing tiny house sites. Tiny House Swoon & Cabin Porn are great for eye candy while Tiny House Blog gets into the nitty gritty of building and living in a petite space. Though I am not quite ready to buy a compostable toilet and move into a houseboat (one day!), there are a lot of ideas that can be adapted for the renter’s reality.
As much of a drag as packing is, it was still kind of fun. There’s the novelty of rediscovery–Oh hey, third grade school photo. Man, the 80s were hilarious!–but once that wore off, there was just all this stuff accrued like barnacles on the bottom of some ancient ship. A forgotten world I faced either dragging along to the next place or scraping away. There were panicked moments: thoughts of fleeing to a pre-industrial cottage, fervent dedications to rugged minimalism, urges to shove everything I owned into black contractor bags neatly lining the curb. Instead, sneezing in the wake of dust billowing from excavated closets and corners, I persevered. What was important started to manifest. What was left mattered.
So what went on the whirlwind tour of Brooklyn? Books I was going to read again or hadn’t read yet or had nice pictures. Family heirlooms, a sizeable small-rock collection gleaned from various Northeast beach visits, a bike, plants, not even a closet’s worth of clothes and shoes, beloved vintage tchotkes, cut-glass perfume bottles, way too much kitchen stuff for a single person, old notebooks, music, a few items of furniture.
The rest found good homes through friends, Book Thug Nation, Beacon’s Closet or my fellow trash night scavengers (seriously, New Yorkers throw out next-level amazing stuff. It would be scandalous if it weren’t such a boon).
Starting with the first move, the great purge, everything fit easily into a small moving van requiring just one other person’s help to transport. It felt like a triumph, seeing the extra space in the van, a tiny yet victorious stand against the consumerist hysteria of modern life. Setting up in new digs was exciting as I found the perfect spot for my favorite and most useful things. Tightly-curated possessions helped make those unfamiliar places quickly feel like home as only the vital things remained.
Photo of the portable, inflatable BubbleTree