You must have guessed by the title that I wrote this for the holidays. It was published weeks ago in the Silver City Independent, and I’m finally getting around to posting it because it has some good advice, regardless of the date.
“A home should serve the people, not the other way around.”
We might quibble a bit about this statement, but when I first read it in 1978, a chorus inside me jumped up to shout: Right on!!
I guess the service I’ve given over my lifetime to keeping a home as pristine as possible has left me with a few negative associations, so I’ve remembered this counsel fondly. And I use it sometimes to remind myself that I am not on this planet to serve a building. Instead, the primary task of a home maker is to design the home to serve the needs of the people who live there.
What are our needs, besides the obvious shelter, warmth, and food? For some it’s family relations. For others it’s quiet and privacy. For some it’s social space. Set your priorities, review them now and then, and notice where habit and convention might not serve you.
One of the biggest hurdles to American home function is orderliness, and one of the biggest problems with orderliness is our national propensity for buying so many unnecessary things.
The best example I’ve ever seen, maybe a decade or more ago, were moose turds with red bows attached, slid into tiny cardboard displays inside glossy, cellophane-fronted Christmas gift boxes. Curmudgeon that I can be, I wondered how many kilowatts of electricity, gallons of fuel, and other environmental costs were incurred – but more important, how many hours did people suffer at jobs they hated and missed being home with their loved ones – so that other people in a silly giving frenzy could all have a boisterous laugh on the same holy day. Then, weeks later, someone felt bad, or maybe not, for throwing the package – and the turd, maybe a thousand miles from home – finally into the trash.
As a nation in trouble, we need to check our impulses and buy less unnecessary stuff, so we can all have time (and money) for the simpler, more beautiful, and heart-felt things.
After slowing the flow of crap (literally, as in my example), to create a home that serves us, it’s critical to design a flow for everything that needs to flow out.
How often have you heard friends exclaim about how great they feel for getting rid of extra stuff? I’ve been that person a few times this decade; at last three friends this year have gushed to me about the wonderfulness, even healing experience, of their recent home “purging.” Experts say we should do it every year.
When? Well, some time about now would be perfect. Most of us are experiencing some form of our national giving ritual, and for months we’ve been hearing, and it’s still ringing in us somewhere: open your hearts and wallets to the less fortunate. Some of us have done that; some of us do it all year long. Some of us mean to, but don’t do it as much as we might.
At the very least, we can respond with our excess stuff. In America, we have plenty of it, though unequally distributed. Many of us can open our closets and cabinets, and see a lot that is only clutter to us, but might make a difference in another person’s life. The task: put it in a box and don’t look at it again, except with a blessing that the items find the next home where they’ll be better used. Do this from room to room.
Consider also all the things you don’t use because they need repair. Gather them up, or put them on a list, and make a plan for every single item: repair or give away to someone else who can repair. There are lots of places to give things. Ask around.
But let’s not stop with a single purge! Let’s plan to make it a lifestyle! Let’s design a flow system to deal with the items we’ll recognize next week, next month.
How to keep the excess moving? We might not be able to take everything where it needs to go immediately, so we need a designated place for outflow.
In my small home, I keep a chair near the front door that collects things to go out – and there’s something on it almost every day, ready to drop off at the thrift store. A suitcase in the closet collects things I’ll pass on to family and friends on my next trip out of state.
Scrap building materials aren’t exactly clutter, but they might not flow into use for a while. I didn’t want them in the way, or to get weather damaged, or to create skunk habitat, so it was a priority to build outdoor storage space. Not fun on a day that might have been lazy, but oh so satisfying over the years. My materials, continuing to expand, were protected and out of sight, and one day became parts of a chicken coop, a built-in bed frame in my studio, shelves in the sunroom, and framework for some of my natural plaster sculpture. And every tiny left-over scrap went into the wood pile and eventually into my fireplace – a flow that serves me, no clutter, no waste, no contribution to landfill space!
A lot of things flow through our lives today, and it’s important that we be grateful for them (easier to do when we have less). And when it’s time for those things to flow out, let’s do it properly, not gum up the works, not mar our aesthetics, and not waste our time and money.
This winter season, I wish you all good things: a home with warmth, good food, friendly connections, time to relax, not too much junk – in other words, a space that serves you.