The other day as I was walking my dog, I did what I always do: I turned on a podcast. This particular podcast was SuperSoul Conversations with Oprah Winfrey and her guest Nate Berkus, an interior designer. The subject of the conversation was Nate's new book, The Things That Matter, which I haven't read, but which talks about his personal living space, the objects inside, and how, well, these things matter.
At first, I side-eyed a bit because we're taught that things are just things, and material things shouldn't matter. Being materialistic is the last trait anyone really wants to be associated with, right? But as soon as he started talking, I changed my tune.
He was saying that things in our home hold sentimental value and should elicit joy; and not to confuse valuing those things with being materialistic. Things in our home are a visual representation of us. They tell our story.
Looking around my own living space, with the handwoven rug from the Nanyuki Spinners and Weavers center in Kenya, and the elephant statue I got at a little market in Goa, India, I found myself totally on board with what he was saying. I don't have a ton of stuff, but the few pieces I do have, I really, truly love.
While on my walk, I realized there'd been something nagging at me for weeks now - an urge to de-clutter and deep clean various spaces in my home. I'd been avoiding the tasks for obvious reasons, but I've come to feel that the things we fill our houses up with? They need to be constantly edited as we evolve.
For example, in my bathroom I've had this red shower curtain and matching waste bin for literally over ten years (don't be too grossed out, the shower curtain was machine washable). I remember buying the shower curtain (it cost $99 - which in my opinion is a stupid amount of money for a shower curtain, and likely why I remember buying it and subsequently keeping it for so long). I remember its presence in my bathroom when I lived in Saratoga at the onset of my battle with Lyme disease. I remember months later, hanging it in the guest bathroom when we moved to Connecticut. By that time, the Lyme disease had progressed to the point where I was in constant, excruciating pain and the disease had started to affect my brain. I fell into a profound depression, and remember soaking in the tub one dark day in particular, sobbing in the bath behind that shower curtain, wanting to just disappear.
Recently, I looked at that shower curtain in my current bathroom, and I simply wanted it gone from my life. I figured I'd gotten more than enough use out it, and it reminded me of bad times. So yesterday, I went shopping. I bought a replacement, and promptly tore the red one down. I stood for a second at the garbage chute before I threw it in. It felt oddly symbolic to get rid of it, along with the ugly red waste bin that followed in its shadow year after year. I took a deep breath and threw it down the chute with force, as if to say, "There. I'm done with that point in my life for good. Good riddance."
Once the old shower curtain and its side-kick pail were evicted from my apartment and my life, I suddenly had the urge to clean some more. I tackled the closet next to the bathroom which houses a water ionizer I'll never use again (another relic from my Lyme days), my old college fleece jacket, and an unbelievable amount of half-full bottles of laundry detergent. I found a random staple gun and an electric screw driver thing that I couldn't bring myself to throw away because who knows, I might do some home improvement one day (unlikely). But I weeded through everything with wild determination, as if my life depended on the cleanliness and order of this one closet. I felt like the Tasmanian Devil as I threw out what I definitely didn't need, organized what I might need, and started a pile of coats for donation. I vacuumed the closet like crazy, and then organized the items with military precision as I put them back in. And I felt so emotional doing it. I might've teared up when it was done. I don't know why.
Or maybe I do.
Last week, I found out my dad needs radiation. There are more cancer cells, apparently. I tried to act cool and collected on the phone with him, but I'm in tears as I write this now.
I have no control over this situation, so I think that's where the cleaning comes in. It's cathartic for me. Not always. But these days it is. Scrubbing, vacuuming, throwing stuff out. As if my effort in organization might bring about some semblance of comfort to the situations in my life in which I have no control. As if the beauty and light of the living space around me might spill into the dark corners of my life, transforming them.
So I continue to clean, edit, and surround myself with the things that matter to me. The things that tell my story, that inspire me, that fill my heart with joy. My old copy of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius - a book I've read so many times it no long lies flat. A gorgeous black and white photo of my mom in the 70s. A handwritten birthday card from my dad that I might frame. My things. Things that, as Nate Berkus said in the podcast, are just things, yet, oddly, are so much more. Things that breathe life into my airy living space, and provide comfort and hope as I continue down my life's path.