A necessary cleaning out

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July 2, 2002 // UPDATED 1:25 pm - April 30, 2007
By: Julie Landsman
Julie Landsman

After a generation in one place, getting ready to move unclutters the mind

Looking at the plans for our loft, I see a clear space, light streaming in from a huge window at one end, and at the other, a study area soon to have southwestern rug and Tiffany-colored lampshade.

This vision makes me want to strip down to the essentials. I thought I had gotten rid of every piece of clothing, every book, every old article and now-irrelevant piece of paper, and still live a rich life full of memory and history. Yet, I find more and more to toss.

As we get closer to our (now-August) move into the Downtown condo, I pick out dresses, pants and shirts I haven't worn for at least a year and put them in a pile for Goodwill. I go through books and find three novels I know I will never read, even though they have won major literary prizes. I look at a bench that I wanted to put in our new space and see it only as clutter. These days, I'm also facing a medical crisis, so I want to discover the bare necessities of my life. Not any life but mine.

I need music, so I have thrown out few CDs. This is because I will come across a disc I loved three years ago that I over-played and now find that it sounds like new. So the one-year rule does not apply to music. (This rule being: if you have not worn it or used it in the last year, get rid of it). Al Green is on my player right now. In 1999, I listened to Al Green every day of the week and he got me through some blue times. I had put him away until now, and here he is, singing "I Can't Get Next to You" and it is working for me like it did years ago. So Al Green stays.

The latest translation of "Anna Karenina" by Leo Tolstoy stays too. I bought it last year in hardback because it is a novel I have read four times. I have not read this version yet, but just seeing it on my shelf gives me peace. Anna does not change -- which is sad considering her demise, but beautiful too, considering the perfection of this novel.

I have a picture of my parents in their early '60s. They are at a house on Martha's Vineyard where I spent summers in my childhood. There will be a place for this picture on my desk, no matter how small the study, or how cluttered my writing area becomes. This picture captures their joy and strength, their beauty and the pure freedom of beach summers when we swam nude under the moon on surf beaches, sailed a sailfish on saltwater ponds and ate blueberry pie on the beach after a cookout, with school in the too-near future.

I don't need my mother's entire collection of china, though. I save some and also I keep some of the glass birds she put in her windows. I like the blue ones, and so they will catch blue light each day on Washington Avenue. I don't need the five copies of the books that my father wrote. I keep one of each.

Living in a loft -- with a bedroom above our one and only main stretch of living space -- forces priorities: bookshelves that reach 14-foot ceilings, two stereo systems in case one wants TV and the other wants to listen to music with earphones. There must be plenty of space for a study. For us, too, a good oven to bake bread, cook simple Italian food and a place to make strong coffee.

This move is good for the soul. It is like the half-yearly desk-clearing I have always done or the yearly file-cabinet weeding, only on a grander scale. It allows me to look back on a life filled with reading, writing, walking and fine photographs that my husband takes, and see the colors there, the places where we have traveled, the way we have spent our time and money.

We are lucky, to be going to a smaller space, to be able to choose a Downtown life as opposed to the sweet neighborhood life we have enjoyed for 30 years. Moving so rarely gives us perspective, a chance to look at place and its history. I like this; the luxury of staying in one place so long. When the move finally happens it will be dramatic, clean, a necessary clearing out.