Space Over Stuff

Reading Time: 4 minutes
This gate, adorned with colorful prayer flags, is heaven to me. In winter you hike up and ski down the steeps.

This is how my brain pictures Heaven’s Gate: a euphoria of high-altitude camaraderie; where you work harder for breaths of thin, clear winter air. But alas, it’s now spring. The good laughs, bad jokes and both the purpose and play that come with teaching skiing six days a week are over. Each year, it’s like falling off the precipice below. Woefully, I load up my pickup with all my gear and drive down the mountain road for the last time of the season. My skis join the 16 other pairs in our family shed.

Now what? For me (and most folks) it’s spring cleaning. After all, the bird-twittering spring is all about rebuilding our nests. Transitions are hard, but humans are saved by projects.

I’ve worked each spring over the 27 years I’ve owned this house, to make it into something I love, something that serves everyone from renters to friends and family.

One iteration of my 100% garage sale living room

Ah, but this year, I’m downsizing. My middle son’s family, including three-year old Kira, have been crammed into my 500 sq foot casita, while I have a 3BR/2BA house all to myself. I tell them we’re switching.

While they have no problem filling the bigger space, I’m finding ways to shrink. The little casita’s windows on three sides make it feel like a boat. So here I am, surging ahead on a new journey. It’s time to trim the sails. For nearly three decades, my home has shaped me just as much as I’ve shaped it. We’ve become friends, this place and I – held space for each other through many transitions. I created a sanctuary here, for myself, for my family, and for fellow travelers. Friends have jokingly called it the Zuni Street Ashram and Commune. Here we go again. 

The first thing I do in my old/new place is get rid of grandma Dagny’s enamel drop-leaf table, the one we ate on as kids growing up in South Dakota. I now crave contemporary. I drag in a small enamel pedestal table from the porch and Voila! Space! Spacial constraints fuel my creativity. I haul the old plywood counters off to the dump and order black granite. And even amidst the springtime wind, I’m greeted with a familiar euphoria in moving the furniture around (which I do every three weeks). 

My new smaller closet contains a few pairs of jeans and favorite jackets – a Taos capsule wardrobe. But the real clutter is from my life of writing and reading. I need a thousand books, a million papers; my setup to research, remember and write.  

But isn’t that what it’s all about — choosing space over stuff? The idea here in my new life is to make it simple, but simple ain’t so easy. Remember Marie Kondo’s method? Come to think of it, editing a space is like writing a narrative: it must have joy or meaning. I remember the narrative I always preach to my writing students: when in doubt, leave it out. Can I take my own advice? 

The grace of transformation...

New kitchen, same old stuff (just less of it)

I chuck those four extra bottles of ketchup into a garbage bin and fill up boxes for the thrift store. I drop it all off and feel so much lighter that I sing to the radio all the way home.

This old house, which I know loves me back, has always provided clarity for life’s next stage. I don’t know if cleanliness is next to Godliness, but I do know that choosing space over stuff gives us freedom.

I’m invited to take a friend’s vacant Portland apartment for a month. I visualize myself biking to Powell’s Bookstore each morning. I consider hiking another section of the Colorado Trail. I write more.

I might even find who I am… and who I am not. Who I am not is Martha. I lack Ms. Stewart’s many pantries for entertaining. But since I live three blocks from the supermarket and walk there daily to buy fresh things, I pretend I’m back in Paris, where they do that.

I’ve read that three-generational families live longer. Who knows?

When little Kira comes back and sees the place where her million toys formerly spilled over, she stops in her tracks. “Wow! This is cool!” she says.

Kira and I meet up in my tree house in her new front yard and wave to the neighbor walking the dog. Here, I watch the greening trees with a broader view from higher ground.  

I’m gaining perspective on what I want life to look like. The treehouse is furnished simply – just two chairs and a little table-stump. And right now, that’s enough.