As I write this, the container ship Ever Given, laden with goods, everything from refrigerators to ceiling fans, is stuck in the Suez Canal. The folks who live in the town adjacent to the waterway do not own such luxuries. Now they watch for days and nights as the containers provide entertainment and night-time lights. The contrast and irony of the situation strike me hard. But as I read the front page news this morning, my thoughts go to the metaphor that also hits me upfront. This ship that is blocking world trade is a great metaphor for what I’ve been dealing with these last months of my new life. A figure of speech and thought for what so many of us baby boomers realize about our own lives: Stuck with too much stuff.
When we lost our home and most everything inside its walls, Mr. Kitty’s vet commented that he didn’t want a fire on his ranch, but he wouldn’t mind something charging in and ridding his place of all the extraneous items he has accumulated over the years. That may sound like an insensitive comment when we had just days earlier lost our home, but I got it.
I had three big colanders. Weeks after the fire when I told my friend Helen that I bought a colander, and now have only one, she said that should be a book title, I Have One Colander. Of course, that was when we were in temporary housing. I now have one that is too big, a purchase I regret, and two little ones. I couldn’t resist the little lime green one, just like the my old cracked one lost in the fire.
I am struggling with how to minimize, be a minimalist that would make me feel clean and unburdened. We now live in a fun city that has beautiful stores, nestled among Douglas fir trees with views of the mountains. We’ve shopped for the necessities, but now it’s a question of what to put on the walls. How many pairs of shoes do I need for spring and summer. Should I buy a pitcher for iced tea when I can use a Mason jar?
Ann Patchett, one of my favorite authors, wrote about paring down in a recent New Yorker article. Her writing is spot on. She writes about donating clothes and crystal and manual typewriters. I could relate to all of it, but I wanted to call her and say, “Hey, we got rid of our stuff, too.” I wanted to tell her our story.
Old habits of consumerism die hard. As I read the Patchett essay and came to the part of her manual typewriters, how special they were to her and how she found homes for them, I wished I could have one. I thought of teachers I’ve known in the past who kept one in the classroom for little kindergarten fingers to peck on the letters. Yes, I do want a manual typewriter for Theo some day, and I probably will buy a pitcher for iced tea and Sangria. So hard to stop collecting beautiful things.
This past Sunday night there was a brush fire several miles away from our new neighborhood. A neighbor came rushing over in the thirty-mph winds, banged on our door and told us west of us there was a fire-evacuation order. She and other neighbors had packed their cars. I looked around me but rather strangely didn’t pack a to-go bag. I calmly thought of what we might need: Kitty food was all that I could think of.
Maybe I am finally learning that my stuff is not so important after all.