The Things We Keep

When my husband and I were first married, we were part of a group of people in Tucson, Arizona designing a new cohousing community— our very own little American kibbutz!

This is actually how the community was described to us by a colleague, and why our ears perked up when we heard about it. We had never heard the word cohousing before then, but we knew what a kibbutz was (or we thought we did) and after the first informational session, we handed over a check and joined as one of the first young couples in a group made up mostly of divorcees and soon-to-be retirees.

We participated in a year or so of planning discussions — during which time I got pregnant with our first child — but in the end decided the community wasn’t an ideal fit for us. When I think of why, I remember most the day we had to decide if we would build a community laundry facility or instead choose that private homes would have laundry rooms.

My husband and I were strongly in favor of an easy access washer and dryer. We had spent too many years shlepping canvas bags to and from laundromats in various cities to give up what we now saw as a necessary luxury. Furthermore, dirty bibs and stinky onesies were in our near future.  But the majority of the group thought that building one community laundry facility better fit our group vision. It would be more environmentally-friendly (we could use the gray water on the central lawn!) and would mean our homes would take up a smaller footprint.

This conversation spiraled out of control pretty quickly.  Soon it wasn’t about the laundry room, but about how much space we occupy and why. Which became a conversation about the things we need vs. the things we can let go of. Which became — finally! — the real conversation, which was:

There is a stage of life for acquiring things. And there is a stage of life for letting things go.

My husband and I were acquiring.  We’d been married less than a year. We had a new baby on the way. Stuff was in our future.

The rest of the group, most of whom were 20 – 30 years older than we were, were ready to let go.

I understood then, intellectually, the difference. But I couldn’t possibly comprehend how I’d ever be ready to let go of my things. I could see parting one day with my Dyson vacuum or saying goodbye to my extra set of Pottery Barn bowls. (Even though I really liked both sets, which is why we registered for two in the first place.)

But I couldn’t visualize or emotionally connect to a time in which I wouldn’t need extra space. For I didn’t travel lightly. In addition to all the gadgets I used to make my life more comfortable, I also carried with me all the signs and symbols of who I was and who I wanted to be.

Art on the walls.

Tchotchkes inside cabinets.

Magnets on the fridge.

All those things that reminded me where I’ve been and where I wanted to go.

All the things we keep so we know when we’re home.

* * *

Since not choosing to buy a house in the cohousing community, my husband and I have lived in 5 different houses. We’ve moved across country, across town, and across the sea.

We’ve lost some tchotchkes along the way. And half of our Pottery Barn dishes.

Accidentally, of course. But, in the larger scheme of life, very much on purpose.

You can’t keep on acquiring forever.

There’s only so much space.

In your closets. In your house. In your heart.

And there’s only so much time.

Losing the Pottery Barn dishes is preparation for the greater losses to come. Dirty bibs and onesies — as stinky as they get — are gone with the blink of an eye, don’t you know? As are the wee ones who used to wear them.

Letting go is a tool we must learn. We have no other choice … but learning to let go is not a group decision.

It’s one we each arrive at on our own.

In time.

Little by little, we get there.

Broken plates, missing teacups, forgotten floor lamps become stacks of letters, boxes of mixed tapes, address books from long ago.

Little by little ...

Regrets, broken promises, what ifs.

Little by little

Fear, anger, shame.

Little by little…we get there.

We let go.