We have secured a place to live in Bossier City in June; Matt and I spent approximately 90 minutes in the kitchen/living room of this place during the trip in which we nearly drowned in a Nissan Versa in March 2011, though neither of us had any idea we would actually be living in it two years into the future, so we squandered our opportunity to nose around properly. I remember only that the living room ceiling might be ornate, and that I think we ate chili. Not entirely helpful information when preparing to move, as you might imagine.
We have a little more information now: a photo tour from the current residents, and a rough estimate of the square footage. This number: 2200 sq ft (ish) is perfectly suitable for a family of five + that family's herding dog; nonetheless it is that number that has plummeted me into a state of total panic because thanks to the vision of the U.S. Army some 107 years ago and their plans to prove that the west could be just as grand as the east, we currently live in a house that is somewhere in the 4500 sq ft vicinity. With a basement and an attic, I might add, providing plenty of space to stretch out in. We haven't purchased a ton of new furniture since we moved in—we replaced our 15 year old couch and chair with a new couch, loveseat, and chair, added a bookcase, coat tree, and an entry-way table thingy to (kind of) match our nearly 18 year old Pier One living room furniture, those awesome lockers that someone can pry out of my cold, dead hands, and a new headboard/twin mattress bed for Bee. Last summer we were also willed a fantastic island-like table that lives in the kitchen. That seems reasonable to me.
However: there is no family room or dining room or basement or attic in this next house, which means a whole lot of our furniture is going to have to go. And stuff in general—there is no room to stretch out in Louisiana, no luxury of being able to store things that may or may not be beloved. In the last few years I haven't had to decide what is and is not beloved: the 107 year old house has granted me the distinct luxury of being lazy on this point. School papers and artwork live unculled in the basement. My craft room is an actual room, not a corner—and is set up that way. I haven't really evaluated the baby-a-bilia I've saved in tubs, and my teaching files are just as I neatly left them in 2002. We have built-in bookshelves and regular bookshelves and that incredible built-in hutch in the dining room and they are full to brimming with both treasure and breathing space.
Also: when we moved to Cheyenne Bridget had recently turned two. When we leave, she will be six, with no toddler behind her. It isn't just square footage we're losing, but an era, as well.
There are many things that need to go as a result of this.
I have friends who would no doubt roll their eyes at my hand-wringing over stuff, but I can't help it. While I know that it is not the most important thing, let's be honest: it is what keeps me sane through all these moves. I can make a strange house into a place that is familiar and close with that stuff—sometimes repurposed in different rooms and ways—but always worn and comfortable in ways that feel unchanged while everything around us is upside down. It provides my framework to function in: this goes here so we can do that. Our life is too transient to waste time figuring this out through the gentle unfolding of a 30 year mortgage. So as hard as it is to all-at-once drastically cut what we physically carry, I can't be the person who fails at providing continuity because there is too much stuff for the space we inhabit.
The last couple weeks I have been (kind of systematically)(OK, totally randomly but in a very dedicated way) tearing through the house looking for easy targets to remove. The easy stuff is fun—fix a drawer, marvel at how much easier it is to pull open on its tracks (ahem) and pat yourself on the back. Almost everything in our attic is dead man walking come garage sale time, and there are a number of items that were marked for the get-rid-of-pile when we moved in but haven't yet been removed for one reason or another.
I've had some help of late as I start to get my head around the harder stuff: I stumbled upon the blog of an Australian scrapbooker/writer/photographer nicknamed "Pink Ronnie" and a series she wrote about the concept of a "happy closet." It's not really a new concept—it's basically a spin off on William Morris's famous words "have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful," but maybe I'm just more in need of multiple methods of delivery on that idea right now—as I clicked through her extremely spare, simple, and serene house photos, I was intrigued. While I do not have an inclination to be quite that spare, simple and serene, I can recognize that she is definitely onto something big—she lives and maintains a home where everything is necessary or beloved, and often both. My definition of necessary and beloved is much wider, but I am honest enough to say: I have been lax in maintaining the necessary and beloved.
Here are some things I've been thinking about as I work:
1. It is easier to pass along things that I am kind of attached to when they're going to a home that will appreciate them. Many things can go straight to Goodwill without blinking an eye, but some things are better sent to Juliette and Genevieve, or Peyson, or handed over to the preschool where they will be played with under the guidance of someone we love.
I didn't want this sled anymore, even though it was once beloved—but I couldn't really bear the thought of it sitting all lonely-like in the chaos of a Goodwill back room, either. Peyson likes it much better than she is letting on in this just-woke-up-from-a-nap picture.
2. Just because you bought it thinking it was a great idea, doesn't make it so. I removed a huge amount of clothes from my closet this weekend, guilt-free and with the promise that in the future, I will really make sure what I purchase is the right thing. Small irony: our closet space is probably going to be a thousand times better in the next place than it is currently, because for all its charm, closets are not the 1906 House's strength.
3. Extra things hinder productivity. My craft room is my favorite space in the house but even I can agree that there are things in there that don't need to be in there (as well as many other places in the house). Removing them makes the work that goes on a little lighter—and hopefully at a greater volume and intensity now and in six months when I start from scratch. I love the office re-do that blogger and Target "inner circle" member Jennifer Pebbles wrote about today; her office was gorgeous but wasn't working. So instead of struggling through trying to make it work, she fixed it. And, I can only imagine the boost in productivity she (and eventually I) will feel when a space is optimized by hacking off the parts that might not be working. I will have to completely reinvent whatever space I can carve out in the new place—and if I have less extraneous stuff to deal with, that will be more successful. I hope. Likewise, I want the girls' bedrooms to be a haven for fun and creativity and thinking and sleep—not a repository of things that don't work, don't fit, don't belong anymore.
4. Styles change. It's OK to let things go and then replace them with something completely different that might be more "us" down the line. Actually, that's kind of an exciting prospect.
5. Children grow up. One of the hardest things I've tackled so far (and remember, I'm only starting to tackle the harder stuff) was our toy storage in the armoire last night. It was kind of ridiculous: we were still set up for a much younger clientele, while the things the girls actually play with most these days haven't been stored in the most accessible place. I have so many happy memories associated with the way things have always been stored and played with that I have been making the new happy memories of play harder to get at—literally.
6. It's OK to save things. It is OK to save things from early childhood. Just not all the things. It is my goal to really work hard in the coming weeks to put forth a strong portfolio of early childhood treasures that can fit into a 2200 sq ft space without much notice. And then leave plenty of space for new things to come in occasionally without causing the entire system to become congested.
7. The highlights can be motivating. You hear a lot these days about Pinterest and the blogging internet world in general damaging people's self-confidence and sense of what's important in life, but used properly? I say it can be a tremendous motivation to clean up one's act. As long as you think through what your act really is first, that is. As I study the photographs of Pink Ronnie or Jennifer Pebbles, for example, I am remembering that they are who they are and I am not them. But my act—the one where I've been really lazy about maintaining the necessary and beloved—needs cleaned up, and I am very much appreciating their (and other) examples of the highlights. And imagining the occasional sink filled with dirty dishes. Heh.
7. Living space is important. It's the way we use our space with what we have that's more important than what we have dictating how we use our space.
$10 says I'll still have a full-on meltdown when we step inside this house for the first second time and realize we have no place for anything. ; )