Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Living small: Cutting through the clutter

So many books, so little time!

After spending $5 to buy five books at the library's book sale last week, I am now faced with tough choices. Because I live in 600 square feet, I have one self-imposed rule: one new item into the house means one old item from the same category must find a new home. The naked truth: It's time to let go of five old books.

When you live small, too much stuff quickly overwhelms your space. I don't have to look more than three feet from where I sit typing these words to see an example of needing to find space for something new. My lovely flaming dragon roller skates from my fresh meat roller derby tryouts a week ago are still sitting jauntily on the living room floor because I do not have a space to put them. I need to let go of another pair of shoes in my closet to make room for my gorgeous purple dragons.

I am proud of myself for limiting my purchase to only five books when other bibliophiles were filling boxes with books. I'm looking forward to immersing myself in my new book-friends including "The Sea Runners" by Ivan Doig, "Reservation Blues" by Sherman Alexie and "The American Indians: The Woman's Way" by Time-Life Books, which is filled with photos, artwork and stories about Native American women.

A Quaker friend, Wess Daniels, coined my downsizing of December 2011 as my "involuntary simplicity." He was right. That exercise was the antithesis of mindful simplicity. Circumstances beyond my control (being laid off without warning and having two months to sell my house at the real estate market's lowest point and move into 600 square feet) forced me to rid myself of more than half of my possessions in six weeks. It was a painful, but necessary step in my journey.

The process of prioritizing a lifetime of possessions changed me forever. I can't go back to being the woman who held so tightly to things that I missed out on the joy of experiences. When you live in a three-story 2,400-square-foot house with three humungous attics, a basement, a garage and a storage shed, opportunities abound to collect "stuff and junk" as my Grandma Lydia called it. I was the Estate Sale Queen and was always hauling home new treasures.

Now, five moves later, I am the Queen of Downsizing. I practice voluntary simplicity. Friends have invited me into their homes to help them organize their basements and closets and to determine what stuff to let go. It's much easier to help others get rid of their possessions because I have no emotional attachment to their stuff.

But here in my cozy, small living room/study/dining room, it is time to make tough choices. I know I can do it. Six months ago, my adventurous friends Kalyn and Mat MacDonald emptied their house and moved to Alaska. I chose 12 books from their library, which meant I had to let go of a dozen of my books to make space for them.

Now I must do it again. Am I ready to let go of "The Secret Life of Bees" by Sue Monk Kidd or "People of the Book" by Geraldine Brooks? They are among my favorites, but will I read them or refer to them again? I know I am not ready to get rid of my childhood copy of "Trixie Belden," the adventurous, mystery-solving, horseback-riding tomboy who inspired me in my geeky youth. I already let go of a dozen other Trixie Belden books in my big purge. Is it time to release "A Thousand Splendid Suns" by Khaled Hosseini? Decisions, decisions.

Although my too-many-books dilemma does not possess the life-and-death gravity of Sophie's choice or of Indiana Jones choosing the holy grail, it's still been painful to choose which five books I'm going to let go into the universe.

As I stare at my bookshelves, I hear the voice of the old grail knight: "Choose wisely."