I saw this timely quote on a kitchen magnet at a relative’s home that I had escaped to during the terrible Thomas Fire currently raging on Southern California. I live not far from this fire and the smoke had become too hazardous to breath and since I was leaving in a couple of days anyway through the LAX airport, I thought it prudent to leave my home earlier than planned – if nothing else, because the highway was closing intermittently and I wanted to make sure I could actually make it to Los Angeles for my trip.
The idea of leaving my home with one of the worst fires in history at my doorstep was fraught with much discontent. I was a little afraid to leave my house – the home I have had for twenty years, where I raised my kids, with the possibility of the fire becoming worse than it was at the time, and not having it there upon my return. I took a few photos of things and rooms that I enjoy and also took with me some art pieces I had, quilts I made, jewelry, important documents, and valuables along with my computer – a semi-preemptive evacuation of sorts. I have a very small car so there was little I could really pack in there, but I did what I could. It was difficult to leave. It was anxiety producing to drive through what looked like a living hell on the 101 southbound freeway at 10pm at night with flames literally licking the edge of the road – but I did both of these.
I had time while driving to reflect on what I would do if my house burned down. The irony of the fact that I had been working with clients as of late who are struggling with too many possessions and the burden of parting with their things, was not lost on me. I recalled a photographer from many years ago whose entire home and adjoining studio were destroyed by fire losing all the negatives of years past, but the next day he had an outgoing message telling clients who were scheduled to come in where to meet him as he was open for business although he had no access to his appointment book to know who was actually scheduled to arrive. He marched on.
And I realized that regardless of what happened, I too, would march on. After going through my home, I came to realize that most of the things I own are there because of the house itself. They are there to make living there either easier or more enjoyable – but if I were elsewhere, many of those items would not go with me to where I would live next. Much like when I moved into this house two decades ago and realized that many of the items I had brought along with me from my prior home no longer were needed or wanted for this new place. So this got me thinking…how much of what we hold onto are really servicing us where we are? Do we hold onto things because of habit – i.e.: we have held onto them for so long that we don’t want to part with them, or had forgotten about them altogether? I realized in that moment as I looked around my home before walking out the door that most of this wasn’t adding to my life. Life is a series of experiences…moments. Not things.
The “things’ only allow you to enjoy or experience the moments differently – maybe better, but the ‘thing’ isn’t the end game: it’s not necessary in-and-of-itself. I used to have a lot of books for example – I have been ridding my home of books for years because I realized that I rarely – if ever – read one again, and if I want to learn something, now I use the internet. I read for enjoyment and I don’t need to keep
everything I have read or thought I would read because it’s served its purpose. This goes for many things: kitchen objects, clothing, and even furniture. We have so much stuff in this life of ours and seem to pack our closets and cabinets with more than they can contain – but to what end? Where does that get us? What does it bring to our life? More to clean up…more to manage, insure, and fuss over many times. I have so much jewelry! I rarely wear most of it – the 80/20 rule applies here (we use 20% of our stuff 80% of the time) yet I store it, rummage through it periodically to remind myself what I have, and get this…I have the stuff insured because there is so much. So this is costing me money just to own!
I decided when I return, and assuming my house is still in tact and my belongings are there…I’m getting rid of more. I want to be ‘portable’ and not weighted down with stuff. And mind you, I don’t have clutter anywhere – it is streamlined and beautifully kept – but I realized that I would much rather be free to collect moments and memories instead of collecting things.