Stuff of Life Part I

It is autumn. The light has changed gradually for several weeks, softening from high tones to deeper hues, the careless stroll of summer giving way to the purposeful stride of fall, when there is much to do and diminishing light in which to accomplish it.

This past weekend the weather made clear that it was finished with summer’s folly. Of course, we will have warm and sparkling September and October days, but sunburns and freckles, the Good Humor truck and strawberries will meet us on the other side of winter. Autumn stood her ground these past few days, showering us with cleansing rain, blowing in our ears, and flashing enough of her golden legs to turn tomatoes on the vine as red as Betty Grable’s lipstick.

To me, autumn is the season of fresh starts. After twenty-two years as a student and twelve years as a higher education administrator, September has long been the beginning of the year for me; January is a month to suffer, waiting for the days to lengthen and for the primary colors of Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras to liven winter’s long march. But September is when plans are made, goals are set, when I feel revived and refreshed by the cooling air and the longer nights that permit me to tend to my inside world.

As soon as that first weekend of rain settles in and sunshine can’t beckon me outside, nesting instincts take over. Furniture is rearranged; closets are pruned; blinds are wiped down; bookshelves culled; magazines harvested and recycled; plants repotted; files whittled; sweaters sent out for cleaning; throw pillows and blankets washed; shower curtain changed; cupboards organized; recipes sorted; CDs exchanged; credit reports ordered. And I rub my hands gleefully, looking around at my space for victims to discard. Stuff must go. No mercy.

Thing is, though, we ain’t got that much stuff to get rid of, anymore.

Last year, on our 17th wedding anniversary, I tallied up the number of moves Brendan and I had made during our marriage. Twenty four. Wonder of wonders, we haven’t moved since then, so the tally holds. You move that many times as an adult and each item you put into a box becomes a hassle.

We cleared our lives of possessions a few years ago as we prepared to move overseas and now it seems that life has taken us full circle. After years of growing into and filling larger spaces, we now live in an apartment the same size as the first we shared in 1992. One bedroom, one bath, roughly 600 sq feet. The 8×4 storage unit in the basement holds three bikes, which we use daily or weekly, depending upon the destination; Brendan’s beer-brewing equipment; an IKEA dining table (need a table? It’s round, seats 8 with the leaf, in perfect condition. Just drop me a line); some spare wooden folding chairs; our small collection of wine. But the rest is here, in the space we share with our soft, sweet cat, Lola.

Our small space charms me. It comforts me that my home contains all the messy details of life in a space I can clean in one hour, tops.  Everything has its place and what doesn’t fit doesn’t last long in our lives. There’s no room for compromise. Literally. I don’t rummage at estate sales or funky second-hand shops; I can’t accept furniture from relatives (well, that’s not true. Aforementioned spare IKEA table is available because friends of Brendan’s cousins gifted us with a gorgeous dining room set for which I would have rented a storage unit to be able to keep. Fortunately, it fit perfectly in our place once IKEA set was banished to basement.) I have a pitiful wardrobe, but at least I’m not consumed by choices of what to wear. Two sets of towels, two sets of sheets, dishes that don’t match so it doesn’t matter a whit if something breaks.

Still though, there is room for less. I can’t seem to part with the shelf of cooking magazines I shipped home from New Zealand. They are a collection of images, memories and a window onto a precious lifestyle that I may never touch again. And someday I may just need a recipe for Ostrich with Red Cabbage and Horseradish Cream. We have half a kitchen drawer full of wine corks. Inexplicable. We already save labels of the wines we’ve consumed (all neatly mounted, of course, in a special notebook), but apparently there is a cork project out there just waiting to be undertaken. I have a thing about cloth napkins. I can’t get out of Sur La Table without a couple of new cloth napkins. Perhaps it is because I cannot afford anything else at Sur La Table. Buying napkins makes me feel for a moment like a true gourmande. No matter where we travel, Brendan has to buy 46 postcards at every stop.  I also have a thing for notebooks and portfolios. I grow weak over blank pages and things to put them in.

But there is always this nesting time of year. Time to renew and refresh my small space by clearing out the clutter of the previous seasons. This morning I dropped off two bags of clothes and shoes at Goodwill; over the weekend Brendan took a load of books to exchange at Third Place in Roosevelt- what they wouldn’t take he donated to the library. We filled the recycling bin with shoe boxes and magazines; we emptied the shredder twice. Next rainy weekend will find me tackling kitchen drawers and cupboards.

Still, if you ever have a hankering for Pecan and Whiskey Mincemeat and find yourself short of a recipe, I’m your girl.

3 thoughts on “Stuff of Life Part I

  1. I love this, Julie. You’ve put into words my feelings each September. “there is much to do and diminishing light in which to accomplish it.” Indeed.


  2. How is it that I just found out you wrote a blog? It sounds exactly like you, which I know sounds funny but some people write differently than they verbally communicate. Love it and it made me very puffy-eyed yesterday! Reading your blog made me wish all the more that we lived closer.
    I just cleaned out Hannah’s closet yesterday and they are on the curb today ready to go to someone that needs them. Hannah was just about as happy as I was getting rid of three full bags of clothes.


  3. I love the feeling of less! It is cathartic every season (at least) when I pull out clothes from their neatly tucked hiding places, realize that I didnt wear them last year, and release them to the gods of charity! Ahhhh, what a feeling!


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