My husband and I moved into our current home not quite thirteen years ago. About two weeks afterwards, some faulty electrical wiring caused a fire that destroyed a good chunk of the house. Luckily, nobody was hurt, and we didn’t lose anything that couldn’t be replaced. Photos, videos and keepsakes were all spared.
Mostly, I lost my stuff; clothes, shoes, makeup, hair accessories; my hair dryer and brushes, some kitchen things, a few pieces of furniture, and a bunch of tchotchkes that didn’t matter. We were lucky – beyond lucky – and we knew it. But still, I’ll never forget that first night after the fire, when we checked into a hotel for a few days. I literally had nothing but the clothes on my back. No toothbrush, no pajamas or old sweatpants to sleep in, no change of underwear, not even a case for my contact lenses. We went to Target that night, and as I stood in the middle of the store, I started to cry. Not because of what I’d lost, but because of how overwhelming it felt to have to replace a decade’s worth of things.
We settled in at a long-term stay hotel type place; a one bedroom with a small kitchen and a little den with a desk. It wasn’t our house, but it was furnished, the kitchen had pots and pans and a set of dishes, and they took dogs, so it was good enough. We lived there for four months while a fire restoration company de-smoked our house and tried to salvage what they could of our things. During that time, I bought new clothes and makeup, and I got hair stuff and new accessories. But I only bought the things I really needed, because the closet in the hotel was small, there were only a few drawers in the bathroom, and there just wasn’t anywhere to keep anything extra. What I learned from that experience is that, really, I don’t need a whole lot of stuff.
Cut to: thirteen years and two kids later, and now we’re getting ready to move into a new house (the electrical aspects of which has been very carefully checked) again. A big part of moving, of course, is getting rid of the stuff you don’t want or need to take with you. Slimming down, as my husband likes to say. You’d think that after the fire experience, maybe I would have taken that lesson about not needing stuff to heart. That my house would be streamlined and organized, containing only what we need and no more. And to that I say, hah. Because the amount of stuff we’ve accumulated in the last thirteen years is nothing less than epic.
Now, to be fair, it’s not all me. Both of my children could go on an episode of Hoarders. My daughter insists on holding on to hideous, ceramic art projects that she made when she was four, and my son refuses to let me throw away old, moldy Star Wars bath toys that he hasn’t touched in three years, simply because they remind him of being younger.
I cleaned out my daughter’s bookshelf this morning, and I needed seven trash bags to hold all of the stuff she had crammed in there, and that doesn’t even include the two boxes of old books that we’re giving away. But alas, I, too, am guilty. My closet is a full-fledged disaster area, stuffed with clothes I haven’t worn in years, shoes that are older than my children, and various things I’ve accumulated but have nowhere else to stash. The drawers of my nightstand are filled with crap I didn’t even remember I had. But still, I have a hard time parting with it. What if one day I need that flaxseed filled eye mask? What if I ever do end up making a scrapbook of all my old concert tickets? What if I someday get really, really dry skin and find myself wishing I hadn’t tossed all those bottles of lotion that people have given me over the years? Or what if there’s a blackout and I suddenly need the twenty-seven scented candles that I got as Christmas presents from my students eleven years ago?
But then I think about that hotel, and how I lived with nothing more than a couple of outfits, some pots and pans, and a set of dishes. And I remember how not once was there a time that I wished I had any of my extraneous stuff. And so I take a deep breath, I close my eyes, and I toss it all into the trash bag. Maybe in the new house, I’ll be better. But probably not.