My friend is getting ready to host her mother's estate auction. For the past 3 weeks she's been organizing things around the house, putting things into lots and clearing out rooms full of nostalgia. The end is near we keep assuring her, soon the house will be empty for the next family that gets to call it home, soon the clutter of the past will be out of your life, soon you can again blaze your path. My friend's mom has, well, had, a lot of stuff. Odd, how at the end we are reduced to what sits upon the shelves that we've left behind. Odder still some of the things that we chose to put upon those shelves--sure there's the collection of pottery and complete series of Nancy Drew mysteries. There's the field of african violets in tidy clay pots that bloom at every window and the collection of porcelain doll heads and the mason jars full of tiny Petoskey stones found on countless trips to Lake Michigan over forty-some odd summers. Oddest of all, the collections we keep private, perhaps feeling that they are too mundane, inane or obscene to share with even those few who are our closest friends.
Arriving at a sort of metaphorical cross roads in my own life, I find myself examining what fills my shelves. I find myself literally dusting off tomes that I'd long forgotten I had, trying to figure out why I have them and how best to dispose of them. I shake my head in bewilderment when I enter the jungle that is my collection of all things green and growing, perversely amused in a way at the amounts of time, money and energy that I have devoted oddball plants and fickly-filled pots that remind me once a year only through gaudy blooms and heady scents why I bought them. I chuckle while trying to figure out where exactly I am going to put my art, not ready to wrap figural clay forms and folly pots in sheaths of paper, to sleep for indeterminate amounts of time, waiting to again see light of day. Jam-packed as my shelves are, what is not there is as telling as what is; I have few photos of friends or family, preferring instead to remember them the way I last saw them. Absent too are the objects one finds in most every house in this day and age--sans television and cable box and remote control and iPod-docked stereo system--aside from a blank power-starved computer screen and silent shrouded CPU.
My friend says she hopes to just get rid of everything; she hopes to just put a few suitcases in the car, pack her cat in a crate and settle down somewhere new. If you'd made this comment to me half a year ago, I'd have rolled my eyes, smirked and articulated an opinion to the contrary. Set on my own similar course, I've got to admit that her plan sounds quite nice. I used to think that being successful meant owning nice things, meant being able to enter the store of one's choosing to purchase whatever one might need. I used to think that I had to have all this stuff--car, house, greenhouse, you name it. The funny thing though, once you have stuff, you need to acquire more stuff, things for the inside of the house and the outside; seat covers for the car and personalized license plates; two pound watches and David Yurman cufflinks. You end up with everything you ever wanted, but nothing you really need. Want does not equal need; to paraphrase a line I once heard: Having more is not better; it's just having more.