The exact right thing

Today it’s been over three weeks since the three-day flooring project began. It will not end today. I hope it ends this week but who knows. I have learned to just…go with whatever is, to not rely on this uncertain world and so on. And so for basically a month we’ve been living with the uproar of not being able to have things on the main floor of the house, because we had to have it cleared out in advance. This has been…not great. We’ve coped. We’ve done quite a lot of coping.

But it’s given me insight, I think, into what people want of minimalism. Right now there are rooms in my house that are the purest minimalism. They have nothing in them. It’s hard to get more minimalist than that, and yet: that is not what minimalism wants. Other rooms are stuffed with more than what they’re supposed to have, they’re impossible to use or merely annoying and difficult, because the things that are quite usable in their usual space are overwhelming when crammed in. So–and I know this is not unique to me–I feel like minimalism is a fantasy of having the exact right stuff.

It’s about knowing exactly what you’re going to need and having only that. Not the stuff you thought you might need, or the stuff you thought looked cool when you were twenty and now you’re forty-one and you’re less sure. Not the stuff someone else thought you might need. And especially not the stuff someone else thought looked cool and it was never really quite right for you but also not wrong enough to get rid of. Just exactly the right stuff, exactly where you can get to it.

Living life inevitably comes with baggage–emotional baggage as well as physical. If you’re a person who reaches forty without things and people in your life, that itself is emotional baggage, that itself is a story. Even if you’re happy that way, it’s a set of things that have happened to you and ways you’ve reacted. When we were packing up wedding presents into a U-Haul to move to California when I was 21, my uncle sighed and said, “When I was 21, I could just…throw my guitar in the backseat and drive off into the sunset,” and I said, “Uncle Pete, I’m a pianist.” Which is symbolically as well as literally true; I was never going to be someone who had a guitar and a kit bag for her entire life.

I do understand wanting to have the right things, though. Not too much and not too little. Not so much of the things that seemed right but weren’t that you can’t get to the things that are actually delightful, or even just functional. Enough of the backups that you don’t have a crisis when something is no longer working, but not so many that you drown in them. Balance, balance, balance.

Right now having things cleared out is making me look at all of it very carefully. Do I really want this, no, really, no, really. When everything goes back in those rooms, should it. I have already realized that I am probably not going to play my flute again, that the future in which I have more time for music doesn’t probably mean a future in which I devote it to the flute. So someone else can enjoy that, rather than having it gather dust in the corner of the music room, between the pianos that we do still want. Nobody with two pianos can reasonably be called a minimalist. But still: the right things, the things we do want, and not the things we don’t, sure, yes, I see that.

Right now that includes my oven, I want my oven back….

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