Most people pare down when they move. Not me — I just move my stuff to an entirely new place. The bright side to my separation was that it decreased a different kind of clutter, the kind that lived in my brain. The kind that questioned me every day: “Will today be the day that he foregoes late night TV and comes to bed with you?” or “Will today be the day that you grow a pair and tell him you can’t go one more day without being touched?” Seven years is too long to live in a comatose marriage. I tried envisioning my future if I stayed in this marriage and my future as a single mom. I could see the former very clearly — it was more of the same. The latter, although fuzzy in its composition, showed a riskier but much more rewarding path. I did all the analyzing I could possibly do until I finally felt strong enough to make the decision. I walked out of my old claustrophobia-inducing house and the mental confusion seemed to wash off of me like soap in the shower.
Moving the physical clutter I had created over the last 20 years though was another matter. What was supposed to take two days took an entire week. It wasn’t because I was toting too much stuff, but rather because I had very little help and I refused to properly wrap and box things up. I was so intent on getting out that the most I could do was take my hand and swipe it across the important flat surfaces like wiping crumbs from a counter. What fell off in garbage bags and bins was what I was taking. That’s how little I cared about the “stuff.” I’m not even sure what clothes I left behind. What I have in my new closet is what I wear — I don’t miss a thing.
My friend’s pick-up truck, trash bags, two suitcases and plastic bins were what I used to move my things the short distance from my brick, Georgian, three-bedroom house to my new tiny coach house. Before you ooh and ahh over the word “coach house,” don’t let the name fool you. Coach house is a fancy, old-school way of referring to a very small apartment built over a garage (lucky for me it’s a four-car garage). And although many would use words like “lovely” and “charming” to describe my new apartment — and it definitely is — it’s also the size of a postage stamp. In my case, this one came incomplete without a dishwasher or washing machine, leading to piles of dishes and clothes building up and mocking me from a very short distance across the room. But, the beauty of this for me is that I simply don’t care. Every two weeks (because I have enough underwear to last that long) I happily cart my clothes to the laundromat down the street, knowing that I will have six or eight washing machines at my disposal and the chore will be done in two hours max. Now, how many people do you know who can say that? The dishes, another nemesis of mine, will sit for a day, maybe two, but I now relish the time standing at the sink looking out at the gorgeous yard and neighbor’s coach house, loving my new, smaller lifestyle.For me, this move was like wiping crumbs from a counter; I took my hand and swiped it across the important flat surfaces and what fell off and landed in garbage bags and bins was what I was taking.
Paper upon paper seems to grow out of the floor like Magic Black Snakes did on the sidewalk on the 4th of July when I was a kid. Old credit card statements, new ones, tax folders from the last seven years and receipts for my three part-time jobs that need to be filed — I can’t seem to organize any of it. Things just get added to these piles and, when a visitor stops by, the piles just migrate into my bedroom (the holding area for all clutter that doesn’t have a defined, hidden place yet).
I chose my new tiny space for its setting and inspirational feel. I felt as if it was beckoning me to move in so I could experience the relaxation take over my body. The brick structure sits in a grove of large oak trees and is surrounded by lots of green grass and other gorgeous homes and coach houses. Laying on my elf-sized couch in the combination living room/kitchen, I can look out both windows and see only the tall, spider-like tree branches reaching out in all directions. With both east- and west-facing windows open and the breeze wafting in, it’s like living in a modern-day tree house. The branches reach out from their sturdy trunks and hold me above the ground, cradling me like a hammock. Maybe the visual beauty of the trees outside has allowed me to procrastinate dealing with my own internal mess. Maybe I’m in denial. I choose to believe neither of those. Maybe I’m right where I’m supposed to be, living each day, each moment to its fullest, learning to appreciate myself and the beauty of life.
The clutter that developed at my old house piled up because I stopped caring about what my husband thought of me. In many ways, it was an example of how I had given up and how much I resented the stagnant relationship. And really, what’s the importance of cleaning a space you would soon leave? I had real trouble sharing space with all this stuff because to me it represented my inability to make a decision, to move forward, to start living! It was crowding me — making me claustrophobic. The physical clutter at my new apartment is reminiscent more of its size and lack of modern day appliances. But most of all, this time, there’s no emotional weight attached to it. It’s just dishes on the counter, papers on the floor and laundry waiting its turn. Nothing more.
In my new small space, am I reminded of life in my twenties? Definitely. Did I have a blast in my twenties and relish every moment? Hell, yes! But this new chapter is not like my twenties. It’s full of peaceful, joyful contentment, even amidst the clutter of an overstuffed apartment.
Looking back, I had no idea I would experience this overwhelming feeling when I stepped into the coach house. An abundance of joy, freedom and relief washed over me. Even my body changed — there really is such a thing as shouldering a burden. My shoulders literally relaxed and dropped about two inches. Holding onto this feeling and living in it for as long as possible has become my lifelong goal. As for the rest of the stuff, at my old place, I’m happier without it.