What We Choose to Keep

My living room.

As I type this on Monday morning, it’s -5F with the wind chill. The whole house shakes with each gust. I’m grateful I don’t have to go anywhere, as it’s a holiday.  I’m pretty sure my car wouldn’t start in this cold anyway.  Respect to those of you who deal with extreme cold regularly; I’m in the US mid-Atlantic, which means it’s forecast to be 50F on Wednesday. Cold visits here, but it doesn’t settle in for a long stay.  We’ve had snow on the ground for a week, and soon it will be gone.

I have 16-year-old twins, one of whom doesn’t use his dresser.  He has a system: he hauls his clean clothes up from the basement in two large laundry baskets.  After he wears them, he drops them on the floor.  When all his clothes are on the floor, it’s time to do laundry.  Since I don’t do their laundry, and haven’t in years, and it’s his room, I keep my complaining about it to a minimum.  Mostly, I force him a couple times a year (spring and fall) to hand over whatever he’s outgrown so I can bag it up for the thrift store and replace as necessary.

Anyway, he’s making some changes in his life.  He’s gotten sick of his messy room in general, and his clothing situation in particular.  We’ve spent much of the weekend tidying up and reorganizing, and I see how hard it is for him.  Whatever executive-function skills you need to clean a room in logical order just doesn’t come easily to him.  When I suggest that he, say, wipe the awful dust piles off those empty bookshelves before he moves the books onto them, and then take the other, now-empty bookshelves to the hall blah blah blah it’s all just too much.

Lots of art on the wall. I love the portrait of me, looking irritated.

We were packing up multiple boxes of stuff they were ready to part with – music boxes, children’s books, toys, etc. – and I watched them exploring their emotions.  What to keep and what to give away?  They stand in front of each other holding some object and say, sarcastically, “Does this spark joy?”  And then they snicker.  Marie Kondo has reached all corners of the universe, apparently.  I watched an episode of her new show on Netflix (it’s inspired loads of people to jettison piles of stuff) and…. I take back all the crappy things I’ve said about her.  She makes people happy, and I appreciate her whole meditation on gratitude as part of the process.  We could all use more of that. I still think she’s a bit of a nutjob; she organizes kitchen utensils by size (!) and then there’s the story about how she broke her favorite ruler trying to tighten a bolt, because she’d gotten rid of her screwdriver (not joy-sparking enough). We’re different folks.  I have an entire toolbox on the first floor behind a door and it sparks joy every time I reach into it, which is pretty regularly.

My house is clean and relatively tidy, but as anyone who’s visited can tell you, I am not a minimalist.  It’s charmingly cluttered, the way I want it to be.  It’s a cottage feel; old fashioned, with books on the shelves and tons of artwork and mini tableaux on the horizontal surfaces.  Anita visited awhile back and commented on the staging.  And it’s true – it’s a stage for me.  It’s a movie set for my life, and I’m particular about the details.  Looking at the individual items, though? They’re not fraught with meaning.  They spark joy collectively.  It’s cozy, and I want it that way.  But if you snapped your fingers and everything downstairs was gone, I wouldn’t be heartbroken.  Sure, I’d need more dishes and furniture and whatnot, but I wouldn’t grieve the loss of any particular piece of it.

In my former life I had an elegant home.  Now it’s the cozy cottage.  There’s a game I like to play in my head called What’s Next.  At some point I’ll leave this place, cozy as it is.  I imagine I’m moving to Santa Fe, to a little casita just for me.  I won’t need my fancy dress clothes, so jettison those.  I’ll have to pay to move my possessions, so what would I bring?  The thought of packing a few things in my car and walking away from all the rest of it gives me such a rush. I’d take my books (and thus the shelves), and most of my kitchen stuff, and my Bose stereo, and the tchotchkes that legit spark joy like my Kuan Yin statues and some paintings, and maaaaaybe my dad’s coffee table which I took and repaired after he died. (It had collapsed under the weight of all his reading material.) And my perfume collection, of course.  I mean, I haven’t lost my mind.

The goddess of compassion, my daily reminder to be kind.

The rest of it? Eh.  I’d hire one of those estate sale companies to come in and deal with it. Clean it out and send me the check.

And in my mind’s eye, my new place would be more minimalist.  The kind of warm, still minimalism of a small house in the high desert.  Just a few pieces of furniture in muted tones. My books.  My music collection.  I’d go all in with the local nature-scavenge – feathers and jackrabbit skulls on the windowsill, gleaned from long walks in the dry arroyos, and nothing on the adobe walls.  It will be wonderful.

What about you?  Is your home a stage for your life?  Have you had dramatic changes in the staging?  Do you picture something different in the future?










  • grizzlesnort says:

    Nothing sparked joy anymore. Got rid of everything. Every effing thing. That was yesterday, thank God. Today:–let’s go shopping! We need a few things to spark some joy around here. The Kondo purge and binge syndrome. Joy!

  • crikey says:

    Your place looks so deeply comfortable and welcoming.

    I was getting a bit anxious about the amount of stuff* we have, right up until the moment that a friend came over, settled into a slightly tatty but nicely-shaped armchair and sighed happily before telling me how much he loved my place, “because there are always so many interesting things to look at, and every thing has a story.” He pointed at three things at random, and asked for their stories. Yeah, he was right. (Apart from some surface level day to day stuff, anyway.)

    But it could be a whole lot tidier. And I don’t even have any children to blame for the chaos that descends before I whirlwind it back into something approaching shape about once a quarter.

    *books don’t count as stuff. Books are home. And if the theory that every thousand books spontaneously generates a cat, I’m about half a dozen moggies short of a full set.

  • VerbenaLuvvr says:

    Recently I’ve started getting into the concept of ‘hygge’, creating a comfortable, happy, peaceful existence. After decades of accumulating and toting about, move after move, I am removing household items from my life that do not meet this standard. Such as that end table that we’ve lugged around just because my husband’s grandfather made it but it keeps falling apart and has sharp corners, the dresser that I had a child that I keep stuffed in the closet only for sentimental reasons but it takes up needed space, dishes that were great aunt so-and-so’s but aren’t attractive enough for display or microwave safe and don’t get used, the clothes I wore 10 years ago that I will never be able to wear again and that just remind me of skinny days, etc. These things do not make me happy, actually stressing me out on some level, so they are finding a new home at the thrift store. It is freeing.

  • Darlng Lily says:

    Well now, I am a very joyful person and my house is overflowing with it. No doubt I need to purge a bit, but my joy is never going to be forced down to anything remotely approaching minimalism.

    You might want to check out a site called Clutterbug (no affiliation) she’s an organizer who says there are four basic types of people, and you’re right, some people’s brains do not work for traditional organizing systems. My husband and I are Butterflies; he does exactly the same thing as your son.(I myself don’t drop it on the floor; I prefer to drape mine on chairs!) If it wasn’t for the much needed 6 feet of horizontal perfume storage,we wouldn’t have a dresser, either.

    Your home is lovely, and I think you’re a Bee.

    • March says:

      WHOA okay so I just did this and…. I’m a ladybug! Which is absolutely true. I need simple, slightly hidden-away systems, nothing too complex but not out in the open. Closet and drawer organizers. And everything she wrote is so true!

      • Musette says:

        lol! I got ‘Cricket’ – which may or may not be the actual case. I can be a bit of a slob in certain areas (hello, Office!!) but totally organized in others (hello, Kitchen!)

  • Ann says:

    Lovely home, dear!! I hear you on the kiddos — mine has a differently wired brain and getting him to do his laundry is still a work in progress. Still, it IS progress. As I tell him, “The more you get comfortable doing now, the less there will be to stress you out at college in the fall.” So we’ll see. We’re cleaning up our house more thoroughly room by room (my beloved perfume collection has left the dining room, and is now neatly labeled and boxed up, much to my husband’s joy). Not sure I could go as minimalist as you in New Mexico though. Sending warm hugs to you…

  • Jennifer S says:

    My son is 25 and he still does that with his clothes, though he has a closet to hang things in, a dresser that I am certain is 99 percent empty and empty shelving for folded clothing. Why? Why does he continue to do this? I just don’t know. Sigh.
    Years ago, and I’m talking like 20 years, we did work on our house cause we were hoping to move, which, never happened, and to this day, we still have like 30 tubs of ‘stuff’ in the basement that we had packed away from that time.
    Out of sight, out of mind. Does this count?!

    • March says:

      HAHAHAHA you should just run those tubs to the thrift shop immediately. And thanks for the news about your son, that makes me feel better.

  • Amber says:

    I wonder if there is a correlation between being a creative person and having lots of stuff? It seems to be so in my case. I’m also very curious and am constantly trying new creative endeavors that all require different types of materials. I’ll dive head first into something and be all about it for a time and then move on to a new passion. Art supplies, books, clothes, beautiful shoes, vintage items, clothing and hats, and of course perfume have filled my home. If fate were to strip me of all my possessions I would consciously decide to move forward as a minimalist but to actively decide to rid myself of these things is hard. I think in part because these items on some level represent parts of myself. These purchases were aspirational in nature and were feeding a future vision of myself. Having thought about about for some time, I’ve made the decision not to acquire more and am slowly riding myself of items. I make a point of not going to places that might tempt me (thrift stores and art stores). I wonder if any fellow creatives feel the same way?

    • Ann says:

      Amber, I hear you!! I avoid temptation as much as possible, not going shopping unless necessary, throwing out the catalogs before they even come in the house, etc. I keep reminding myself that college tuition will be due in less than six months, ha! But it is hard to get rid of stuff you already have and are attached to, especially family items that have strong sentimental ties.

      • Darlng Lily says:

        Oh, absolutely! I don’t know that I am creative, exactly, but I am crafty and I have an entire room filled with all kinds of craft supplies. I go in spurts, usually in the months leading up to Christmas, and then won’t go in it for months. Even so, the room is pretty chaotic, because I have a lot and I need to have everything out where I can see it so I remember I have it. I have sworn off buying anything til I use up at least half, but I like to have plenty of options when the Muse is active. I will say that I have noticed too many options can be paralyzing!

  • Dina C. says:

    Like many, I am going through my things and culling the items I no longer want. A useful question that I gathered from “Tidying Up” was “Do you want to carry this item into your future?” That was helpful for me. I’m the kind of person who searches for just the right (fill in the blank) for ages, so my furnishings are things that I intend to keep for the rest of my life unless they wear out. My daughter (18) is also cleaning out her room to make it more grown up. She tends to throw out too much, so I have to give her discards the once-over before they hit the trash or the thrift shop. Sentimental papers, kids’ artwork, greeting cards — those things are my Achilles heel.

    • March says:

      That’s interesting…. yeah, for a lot of my furnishings I think I have a “well that’s good enough” standard, so if the idea of getting rid of it comes up I don’t care as much. But that doesn’t apply to perfumes and jewelry. And shoes….

  • Cee says:

    Saying this will make me sound creepy (sorry) but I my ideas about home/decoration are pretty much aligned with yours. When my wife was alive, we had a gorgeous bungalow which we restored, starting from the garden. When she killed herself, I moved to the third floor of a Victorian triplex, shedding some “stuff” but acquiring more. You and I have a very similar decorating aesthetic. When the Bay area got prohibitively expensive for a singleton, I packed up the largest moving van I could rent and headed back home to the East coast, selling off some of and then leaving at least half of my clothes, books and gee gaws behind. I even culled and sold off part of my ‘fume collection to fund the move.

    Now, my 5th year back home, I am in an old stone front row house rental 9 miles from down town. One of my passions is textiles so living here and having an “upstairs” at long last, I got a lot of antiques quilt, textile pieces, silk piano shawls, tiny, Child’s Victorian “crazy” quilts, my furoshiki collection and some small Indian textile pieces and adorned the foyer walls as well as those leading upstairs. I hung part of my hat collection in the foyer. My walls in every room are covered in flow blue plates and art work. I work from home so every place I look delights me. I have tableaus on table tops, book shelves and dresser tops. A lot of my items are junk but arranged together, they rival Martha Stewart and the Anthroplogie catalogs. Yes, I was an art major but even as a kid, I loved beautiful things and creating a harmonious space. Since I’ve been back home, I have divested myself of my corporate wardrobe, keeping just a few good pieces. It’s safe to say that various East coast charities have been “blessed” with over 50 bags of discards (books, shoes, clothes, jewelry, bed linens) since my move. It’s been quite freeing to let go of that old personality.

    A good friend calls my place a “museum house.” She is married, in her late 40s yet still gets a lot of her furniture, clothing (hers, her husband’s and their daughter’s) and household goods from trash picking/dumpster diving. Since both adults have good, well paying jobs, this confounds me. She has no “eye,” so her beautiful Queen Anne Victorian looks like a crap hole brimming, hell-overflowing with ugly, broken down cast offs.

    I’m past retirement age but cannot afford to retire. I, too, dream of a simple, warm, cozy and smaller place somewhere in New Mexico, Canada, or a remote spot somewhere in the U.S. Maybe with a cat or two, maybe with a pug, always with perfume, lots of loose tea, some books and soul uplifting textiles and art.

  • Brigitte says:

    I am a minimalist with my clothing and shoes but just haven’t gotten there yet with my perfumes. I often imagine what it would be like to have those five to ten bottles in rotation (no decants and no samples) which was how I functioned from 1970s to around 2010 (then I discovered perfume blogs and the rest is history). I also imagine myself living in smaller quarters with much less in retirement (not that I live in a big house at the moment 🙂 but it is a house and requires cleaning and maintenance and the grass gets mowed in the summer and the driveway cleared of snow in the winter). I think if I was completely on my own I might just live in a one room apartment with very little furniture and a shrine like yours. But I have a family and that would not fly!

    • Brigitte says:

      and I am laughing at the story of your son…in my house the girls are the little piglets and my son is the neat one 🙂

      • March says:

        My eldest daughter is the family’s terrible slob. She’s in her own place now, thank g-d. I regularly used the word “appalling” when discussing her room with her.

    • March says:

      There are days when I, too, wish I were in an apartment! I think about paring down my clothes and shoes but thus far, no dice. Actually, I wanted to be the gal with the signature scent — “she always wore Joy” — but clearly that ship has sailed, lol.

  • cinnamon says:

    You’re a wonderful, thought-provoking story teller, March. Almost a decade ago, I moved from London to Southwest England. I got rid of around half of what I owned in the process. Then, I moved from one village to another when I went from renting to a purchased house. Again, only about half of my stuff went with me. I’m now settled; this is where I want to be. When I stand in a room here and really look at it I know that at least 70% of what currently sits in it won’t be there in five years. The remaining 30% has travelled with me over time and I wouldn’t be without it. In the fairly near future, I’m hoping to refurb the interior of the house. When that occurs the 70% will disappear. What returns in its place will, I hope, be much less and more carefully chosen. So, I guess I don’t really ‘stage’ my home. Instead, there have always been touchstones and that’s what I hope to make more central in the future.

    • March says:

      And you’re a thought-provoking commenter. That 70/30 ratio seems like a reasonable one. It’s a wonder, isn’t it, to get to a place where you are strong/settled enough to give yourself permission to let go of things, and then time to think about what you want to invite in. When I left my former life, I brought things as a security blanket — all is not lost, it will be okay. And then, slowly, I’ve let most of those things go, because I no longer need them.

      • cinnamon says:

        That’s very interesting on the buying things as a security blanket. What sorts of things? My ex bought books — I only know one other person who buys books the way he does. Thousands. Special bookcases built. But, he would never be able to get rid of them — I think they represent his self-confidence, self-esteem, positive reinforcement. I love books, but I’ve winnowed what I have down to beloveds and (to my slight horror) I’ve started getting books on the iPad.

        • cinnamon says:

          hmmm, just reread your comment and see you said ‘brought’, not ‘bought’. the bringing of things from a life lived, even if it it turned out to be not quite what you thought it was, makes a lot of sense, because it sounds like you were launching yourself/being launched into the unknown, and therefore would need things that grounded you. That was quite the run-on sentence.

          • March says:

            Yes, that’s it — I was involuntarily downsized, so I had to choose. And some of the things I chose because they were elegant and/or beautiful and reminded me of happier times. But as I became happier myself, in my new life 2.0, they began to carry weight. So I let them go — sold them, mostly, or gave to others.

          • Musette says:

            that comment, March. Right there.

            and, for the record (just because The Posse Wasn’t There) I would like to clarify that my ‘staging’ comment was a positive – I enjoy how you group things – and I enjoy the whole ‘things’ thing of your things, if that makes any sense.

            My own place is in transition. Lots of boxes full of things I haven’t decided if I want to keep, either here or elsewhere. I’ve given quite a bit to thrift this past year …..and (gasp!) I even allowed myself to repurpose some of my vintage bakeware! A gorgeous little Fire King casserole (clear, with scalloped handles and a charming shape) now holds 7 hyacinth bulbs. In. Dirt! I never use it for food, so it just sat there, looking pretty. And empty. Now it’s full – and the hyacinths are baking along nicely. xoxoxo

          • March says:

            My hyacinths are baking nicely as well, thank you!

  • matty says:

    I love your cosy living room and your shrine.

    • March says:

      Thank you. I have no judgment against people who view their living space as simply a roof over their heads– home is where you hang your hat and etc. In some ways I envy them. But my home is my refuge, where I go to introvert and create things. I think it’s why I loved my dollhouse so much as a child. This is my full-scale dollhouse.

  • Portia says:

    Hey March,
    I love the story of the kids cleaning.
    We are not minimalist but the big ticket items in the house all are loved and sentimental. There’s only the beds, couch, old metal coffee table box, table and chairs. Other than that everything is pretty much functional or built in.
    There are LOADS of bits though. cupboards full of books, knick knacks, china, keepsakes.
    Almost everything in our kitchen gets used monthly, or more.
    Having moved three times this decade has pared down our stuff quite a lot.
    Don’t get me wrong, we still have about 170% too much.
    Portia xx

    • March says:

      Based on your personality I have this vision of your place as full of life and fun knick knacks. Yeah, that moving really helps you think about what you could leave behind!

  • Tara C says:

    Your home looks lovely and inviting, the kind I imagine having someday. I’m unfortunately not gifted with the decorating gene so my home always looks tidy but lacking character, at least to me. Most of it is functional, and the closets are piled high with stuff.

    A lot of my shoes and perfumes never get worn but I don’t want to part with them. However if the house burned down and I lost it all, I wouldn’t want to replace most of it. I’m thinking about moving this year though, and if I do I will take a hard look at my things and try to eliminate at least 25% of it, just because I know it’s excessive and ridiculous and I can’t take it with me.

    The spark joy question doesn’t work for me because my shoes and books and perfumes do spark joy in my heart even when I’m not using them. 50_Roses came up with a better question in my opinion: would I choose to wear this above all others in my collection? Because even if you like something, if the the other things you own are always better so it never gets worn, then it’s time to let it go.

    • March says:

      I hear you on the joy-sparking; I get her idea but it doesn’t really work for me either. I have purged most of the shoes that never get worn (I am wild about shoes and have to check myself or I wind up owning five identical pairs) but the perfume stays forever. I WILL say, though, that the whole concept of letting something go so that someone else could enjoy it really works for me psychologically — ie not my loss, but someone else’s gain.