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April 22, 2014

“Simplify your life”, one of those calls to action that inevitably becomes a hollywood ethos. Years ago I dabbled in the concepts but our life at the time didn’t seem conducive to the full idea or I wasn’t ready for the real work involved.

Our house in Mass. was big for us which we knew when we purchased it. It had what I’ll call a large boundary. The size felt daunting but we loved the open space and the woods that surrounded us, our retreat from the world. In seven years we still had not filled all the rooms with furniture. We called one room the green room and tinkered with the idea of turning it into a massive closet or sitting room but it just sat in its empty state. Over those years we purchased all sorts of furniture, decorations and closet organizers to help fill our space (you don’t want to mention the words “Elfa closet system” to Scott). Many of the purchases happened in the winter when, tired of being in our empty house, we would trudge out to stores for a change of scenery and  find something to fill the void. The point being we had a lot of space and a lot of stuff, purchases fostered by sultry Pottery Barn catalogs and Restoration Hardware tomes. Coming to California offered a unique opportunity to simplify. Not an easy or terribly fun task but the outcome is becoming a deep sigh of contentment. Here it is in summary…our move into simplicity, a work in progress.

Leaving our home in Massachusetts caused us to look at our belongings with discrimination and in stages we have backwards waded through the sea of accumulation. It started with our drive across the country when somehow we managed to reduce our necessary belongings to a car full, albeit a very full car, and rack on top. The boundary was small. We lived with just these things for a month and it felt good like a burden lifted. A sweet thought but not sustainable. We would eventually need more stuff, but which stuff?

We moved into our first rental and went about measuring and deciding which items to fill our bigger, very small space with. A slightly larger boundary but still with distinct size limitations. We chose items that felt more necessary for the year ahead, beds, linens, chairs, a table and kitchen gear. We tried to be intentional about our decisions realizing that we were adding more stuff into the mix. Still we left most behind in MA. The outcome was comfortable. We liked the simplicity of less clothes, less furniture, less sheets, less dishes and less things to wash, repair and replace. Our focus began to shift to consumables that we bring into our lives but that don’t stay, good food, a nice bottle of wine, experiences with our family and the growing realization that less stuff meant more time, a commodity we seem to pursue relentlessly. This worked but there was still the nagging issue of what to do with all the things back in MA. Sometimes the only way to the other side is right through the middle.

Selling our house back east brought it all to a head. The months of living with less and of not seeing daily the contents of our house in MA made us wonder what was there and did we still need it? The answer is coming in stages. We still had stuff, lots of stuff, and even after Scott and I went through and donated much of it there was still stuff and it was on a truck and headed our way. Our most recent house in CA is a bit more spacious, has a larger boundary than the last rental and this is where we really noticed the tension in our decisions. We now had space to bring more items back into our lives but we had also grown fond of the simplicity. The morning the truck was scheduled to arrive Scott and I stayed in bed questioning whether we were excited or terrified. Some of both I guess. The truck came and things started pouring out. Our garage filled with boxes floor to ceiling and arm chair after arm chair filled every corner of our house. Who needs this many chairs? The boxes of kitchen gadgets were opened and I took out and looked at each item like an object from an archeological dig trying to recall exactly what I used it for and when. Every box opened is examined closely for its contents. I listen so carefully to myself and that first reaction. Does it bring me joy or is it something I have to find a place for or feel obligated to keep? The task continues even though most of the boxes are empty now.

There’s more to this story. As with all motion there is pulling and pushing. The pendulum always swings. I sat faced with a box of my dad’s stuff. A box I have been conveniently avoiding since 1998 when he died. Every single item that emerged brought back a wave of memories, emotions and longing. It took me days to get through it. Some of these things I can’t “simplify” because their weight in memories feels more important than the convenience of less space occupied. Ethan and Alex are enamored with my dad’s fountain pens and spend hours writing and drawing with these mysterious inks and paper. Simplifying is not just about removing items and making space. For me it feels like a movement into focusing and finding the simple things in life that bring us much joy. As the saying goes…Less is More, and I’ll add that it’s not just about quantities or cleanliness but about continually learning, being adaptable and keeping a shelf empty for opportunity.


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  1. Dorothy Konstanty permalink

    Love how you can put your feeling so nicely into words.

  2. Veda Henderson permalink

    What a wonderful and timely story. As I retire in June, we look forward to our move to …….somewhere… maybe California to be close to daughters and grand son – maybe Indy to be close to sons. Where ever it is, it will require simplification. Thank you for walking through your process with us. Love and Hugs always, Veda

  3. Kathy kenny permalink

    What a lovely surprise, I thought the blog had ended but so enjoyed finding this in my inbox. I am listenening with an open heart right now to positive and simple changes that can be really scary but make life simpler and better.

    I also recently pulled out Dad’s Ralph Lauren shirts for Drew and he loves them and I get to think of fond memories when I see them. I’m glad I kept those around.

    You should write a book kellbell….

  4. Mom permalink

    Do you remember, Kel,when I took you to see George Carlin in Seattle. It was funny all the way through until I had to cover your ears when he did his shtick on dirty words…somewhere in the middle, he did a piece on “stuff” and how, when you travel, you take a little bit of your stuff to keep you safe, and then when you go out, you put the most important stuff in a purse and carry that little subset with you….just in case, of course.

    I have accumulated stuff too. I share your challenges with going through the boxes of memories…mostly, I lose and they win. But there is something else in stuff, too….a roaming mind, something creative, feelings tossed up in the salad of memories that bring you to write or paint or draw…..I think there is something in perfect neatness that offends the creative juices, too stark, too unprovoking to resurrect the ideas you once had of the person you were going to become. Where does she reside if not in your thoughts, experiences and the collected memories of your existence? So I find the writing on the flyleaf of a book and it provokes me to a direction. I continue to look at the two cast metal harlequin bookends, ivory faces of course, that make me feel like I’m in 1945. I have above my desk a stack of records I play while thinking,…”How do you keep the music playing?” the album Kat and I drove into Seattle at breakneck speed to pick up because we found it in the last few words of the credits of the movie, “Best of Friends.”

    I think there is something in setting out, anew, with a clean slate. Not holding on too tightly to the past and the memories. But I have learned it is a balance, not clean and neat, but on a continuum, changing daily. Today I don’t need it, tomorrow I will…..I agree with you, that there always has to be an empty shelf for ideas and expansion…:) Never know what you might find!!

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