Downsizing. I contemplate it often lately. Haven’t done anything. Just contemplating. We’re in the right age group for it. I think of Mary from yoga class. She and her husband sold their Wash Park bungalow, bought a tiny downtown condo, and jettisoned three-fourths of their possessions. I was in awe. Beverly, my college roommate, posted that she and Ralph were exhausted, spent the weekend with help from children and grandchildren, sorting and boxing and getting the house ready to sell. She despairs of being able to let stuff go, found some of my old poems and letters. “OMG, Bev,” I messaged her, “burn that stuff immediately.” Just hearing those things existed made me blush: that girl was embarrassing. Another of Bev’s friends commented: “we did that. You’ll feel so much better when you’re not burdened by all that stuff.”
Possessions as burdens. Proponents of such concepts sound like socialists, or maybe saints. If we’re good capitalists, the more possessions the better, right? Now I’m thinking: wrong. What if we need to move someplace smaller, less difficult to maintain? A real estate agent walks through here, says, “you’d need to lose 75% of the books first.” Books scare people. Losing half of them will take us years.
Back in the 1980s, we came home to find we’d been burglarized. In the midst of the first rude shock, feeling invaded, the phone rang and I blurted the news to our friend Mabel, who said, “and do you feel lighter now?” Her response seemed unfeeling and flippant at the time, but has stayed with me all these years. Now I look at my stuff and wonder about feeling lighter if I let it go. Oh, and do I need to mention, they didn’t steal a single book?
Cleaning out my mother’s house after her death, my brother and I pulled stacks of clothes from overstuffed closets. There were stained and yellowed shirts and slacks beginning to rot on hangers, clothes she and husband, who died the year before, had not worn in decades. I sorted garments and shoes, threadbare towels and plastic margarine tubs into piles and my brother drove loads to the dump, stuff even charities wouldn’t take.
This Christmas Phil and I decided one of the biggest stressors of the season was the getting of gifts—shopping, selecting, spending, wrapping—the whole routine. December is always a blow to our otherwise modest fixed income management. We informed family and friends: give us consumables if you must give something. No more things. And vowed to buy each other nothing. Besides the customary cash, Phil sent the grandkids books from his own library, something he’s never done before, thoughtfully selecting volumes for each of them.
Christmas morning we briefly missed the gift ritual, but also felt liberated. Phil makes a special breakfast Christmas Day, this year decided on blintzes topped with sour cream, blueberries and bananas. With no gifts to open, we lingered over the meal. No cleaning up the living room, no filling the recycling bin with wrapping paper. I made mole for our guests that evening. Phil said we were having Hanu-Navidad. We gave our friends gift cards to a bookstore we like to support, but next year, Phil told them, we’ll make a donation to a charity in their name.
We called the kids as they were opening gifts, and since their Skype wasn’t working, they passed the phone around and narrated. “I’m opening the green paper wrapped box, and there’s this tape—oh, that didn’t go well.” As each book was revealed, Phil was able to say, “I remembered that you liked the Prince Valiant, so I thought you’d appreciate…” Or, “given your passion for film, Roger Ebert’s take on…” Their basket for us came via bike messenger, all the makings for a gourmet Italian meal. And my daughter gave us gift cards for Olive Garden. It was also an Italian holiday.
Yesterday I began to fill a box with books I thought I could live without. My modest goal is to eliminate stacks, fit the books into existing shelves. We’ll see how that goes. I’m not making any rash promises. I hear the most popular New Year’s resolution is to lose weight and 92% of them fail by January 31.
We set aside money we’d have spent on each other and took a day to go clothes shopping together, a new ritual we enjoy, probably because it’s an annual affair. Otherwise neither of us enjoys shopping. Clothes are also consumable: no help for it, they sometimes have to be replaced. I try to toss a garment for each new one I buy. I got something new to wear back to school the first day, to have a ready answer to the inevitable and ubiquitous question: what did you get for Christmas?