Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful. — William Morris
David was both appreciative and apprehensive when I offered to help him. He desired my company while tackling the dreaded grunt work, but he worried about the extent of my involvement, probably because I’d made that comment about donning my “no-mercy hat” as we got into the car. David wanted an assistant, not a director, but he knew the chore ahead would be less miserable for both of us if I were allowed to take control.
When David signed the lease for a studio in East Village over a year ago, the 600-square-foot space was to serve the dual purpose of office and storage. The plan was for David to move his computers, desks, and photographic paraphernalia to the studio, thereby expanding the area of our home where we entertain guests. Even with all his work equipment in the studio, there would be room left over for all of the stuff currently squeezed into a 70-square-foot storage closet we own on another floor in our building, thus freeing that space to store frequently accessed items such as wine, toolboxes, candles, and other items now squirreled away in bathroom cabinets and hall closets.
I had assumed the moving would begin as soon as the ink dried on the lease. But I had forgotten about all the crap in the 400-square-foot garage beneath our old apartment in Kensington, which David had continued to rent after we moved into our condo. Because that lease was up and the new one had begun, David simply moved the two-car garage’s worth of boxes and crates to the studio. And there the load sat, untouched and uninspected, for one year.
“It’s like unclogging a drain,” David said, as we stood surveying piles of boxes and cardboard cylinders containing large photographs. “And this studio is the ball of hair.”
“So, like, everything’s going to flow once this is cleaned out? You’ll move your stuff out of the living room and storage unit over to here, and we’ll actually have a dining table for the first time...ever?”
David bristled a bit when I mentioned the dining table, our lack of which has restricted us to frenetic cocktail soirees with canapés in lieu of the calm dinner parties with courses that he’d love to host. The table had nothing to do with the matter at hand; we don’t even plan to put it anywhere near the area of the living room he’s currently using as his office. Being naturally antagonistic, I just couldn’t resist an opportunity to remind my love of yet another thing on our task list — a part of me delighted in seeing that exasperated look on his face, probably because, a moment after it appeared, I was able to banish the disgruntlement with reassuring sentiments.
“What I mean,” David said, once I had him smiling again, “is that I’ve been holding off on home improvements because everything starts with organizing this space. This is more than cleaning up for me. It’s making progress in life.”
“All right, then, let’s get started,” I said. “First we’ll go through these boxes.”
“No, first we have to move everything to that wall, because I plan to put shelves along this wall,” he said.
“I know it seems daunting to go through this stuff, especially seeing as you haven’t opened some of these in I don’t even want to think about how many years. But, beh beh, instead of moving shit back and forth, let’s actually deal with it. I have a feeling a lot of this will be trash, and if we throw it away now, we’ll have less to move back and forth later.”
“You want to throw my things in the trash?” David said this in a heartbreaking, “How can you say there’s no Santa?” tone of voice.
“Look, I’m just trying to help,” I said, hoping to guilt him into acquiescence. “Remember that organizing seminar we went to a few years ago? What did she say?” Rather than waiting, I supplied the answer. “She said if you haven’t used it in five years, it’s got to go. I bet if I chucked half this stuff, you wouldn’t even know what was missing.”
David sat on the floor and began unloading a large box; I stood beside him and sifted through a crate. Every few seconds, I would hold up an item and say, “You don’t need this. Trash?” I’d wait for him to nod before placing it in the big white plastic bag. David grumbled here and there, but an hour in, I’d filled three large bags and broken down four boxes. It all seemed so simple and easy. But that was before David happened upon a box filled with my stuff, things I’d forgotten I’d had, but which, upon seeing, I couldn’t live without.
“What are you going to do with two packages of magnets?” David asked. “They don’t even stick to our fridge.”
Stumped for an answer, I went on the offense. “You’re one to talk, or did you not notice that you’re holding a box filled with rocks?”
“Whoa, now, each one of these has a story,” he said, before insisting I hear each story right then and there.
“Okay, I get the rocks are cool; I have a little collection of pretty things on my desk too. But these tapes — what did you call them? Beta? Right out.”
We agreed to keep the dominoes and two sets of Scrabble (to add to the four we have at home). We also opted to hang on to the handcrafted box David’s sister Michelle had made for him and the beautiful blown-glass oil lamp. We made ourselves swear that we’d find a place at home to display them, or else they, too, must go.
I was perplexed by a collection of strange,
gearlike contraptions and suggested we toss the whole shebang. “No, wait, these are the alternate pedals that go with my bike, and I might need them for when I sell it,” said David. I gave him a “Yeah, right, you’re going to sell the bike you’ve had for 20 years” look, to which David snapped, “I’ve even begun researching how much it’s worth.”
I raised my brows. “Remember what she said — it’s only worth something when you sell it.”
“Come on,” David said, “I didn’t give you a hard time about those colored pencils, even though you never draw. And what about the electronic piano you haven’t played since we moved?” I sighed my understanding and returned my attention to the heap I’d been working on.
“Yoo-hoo,” I trilled a few minutes later. When David looked my way, I waved an old tennis racquet back and forth. “When was the last time you played?” David’s eyes went skyward. “You don’t remember, do you. Okay. Goodwill bag?”
David hung his head and, in the softest voice he’d used all day, he said, “I know it makes no sense, but I can’t get rid of it, not yet.” Before I could ask why, he continued, “It’s not particularly sentimental, and if we do start playing, I know that any cheap, modern racket at the store is probably better than that one. It’s just that I remember playing with that racquet, and a part of me thinks that I won’t be able to play well with another one.” That was more introspection and explanation than I’d expected, so I relented and set the racquet not in, but beside the trash bag.
After three hours, we called it a day. There was still an overwhelming amount to organize, and plenty of things from which we needed to detach if we were to clear some serious space for all those other things we hang on to and want to put there. After he lowered his dusty body into the car, David said, “You know what I just thought? Imagine how liberating it would be to completely purge everything.”
“Mother Teresa did that; she seemed pretty peaceful,” I said.
“I mean, to just completely let go. Of all of it.”
“That’s all very Zen, beh beh,” I said. Then, in an impulsive flash, I actually thought it was a good idea. “Let’s do it, then. Seriously, I’ll get rid of yours and you get rid of mine, and that way it won’t be so hard, and we’ll just lose everything in both storage areas.” I could tell from the manic energy coursing through my veins that my eyes were probably wet and wide, my nostrils most likely flaring.
For a beat, and not one instant more, David seemed to consider my proposal. Then, looking at me the way you’re supposed to look at someone who just said something preposterous, he said, “Now, that’s just crazy talk.”