living with only that which you love + need

books on my bookshelf
I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance. ― Beryl Markham, West with the Night

Someone once asked me about the kind of man I’m looking for, to which I responded, I want someone who’s been through war and has some of the bruises, but doesn’t make changing bandages his life’s work. Give me a man with scars on his back and I’ll deliver you my still-beating heart. Tell me you’ve carried the weight of the world on your back and you’ve somehow survived, in-tact and victorious.

Over the past few years I feel as if living in New York has become a wound that never closes; it festers and aches with the passing of each day, and I spend most of my time searching for thicker bandages, new ways to dress an injury that will never heal. I quit my job (ambulance, CPR); I made it my goal to see much of the world (ointment, cloth, and bandage); I came home in pursuit of a life of intention (dressing, redressing)–but still I bleed. Still the phantom ache.

During a trip to Nicaragua, a man asked me if I could move anywhere in the states where would I live. Don’t think, he said. California, I said. As soon as the words left my mouth I found myself surprised over the fact that I’d uttered them. I’m from New York–it’s in our DNA to eschew all things west coast. I spent a good deal of my life on the Biggie side of the Tupac/Biggie war (although technically Tupac grew up in East Harlem), preached about the pernicious disease that was California with its tomb of lithe bodies, Less Than Zero nihilism, and monosyllabic vocabulary.

And then I got wise to the fact that I based my opinions on stereotype. How could I believe that a small fraction of people were emblematic of an entire state? Also, how could I ignore all the pinpricks that had transformed the place I’ve known for the whole of my life into a stranger? Imagine waking one morning to find the streets you once loved erased and the friends with whom you’ve shared your most intimate secrets suddenly packing up shop and scattering about the globe. A certain kind of sadness sets in when you realize your house is less like a home and more like the place to which your mail is being forwarded.

Now I wake to the thrill of saying, I’m leaving. It hasn’t quite hit me that I’m leaving New York this year. Maybe it’s because bills continue to be stuffed into my mailbox, my books remain in bookcases, and lilacs stand stalwart in vases. The reality of my move out west feels like a whisper rather than a shout because I haven’t done anything other than to confirm the location of my new home. There are items to pack, mail to be forwarded, dozens of phone calls and lease negotiations to be made. I’m biding my time on this, waiting another month to launch the blitzkrieg.

Until then I’m slowly, deliberately removing items from my home.

Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. ― William Morris

We won’t talk about the fact that I still own a Ayn Rand book. We’re just going to shuffle along; keep it moving, nothing to see. Know by the time I hit the “Publish” button, Night of January 16th will bask in a Brooklyn stoop sun.

Many of my friends are Kondo’ing their life. Don’t think I haven’t acknowledged that we’re at a place in our culture where the name of a Japanese decluttering consultant morphs into a verb. I’ve even circulated this humourous take on Kondo tackling Anthropologie (a refuge that straddles the spectrum of joy and clutter). Nearly all my friends have tried to press this book into my hands, and in response I shake my head because I don’t need to Kondo–owning what I love and need has been my practice for some time.

Over the past three years I’ve hemorrhaged books, cookbooks, clothes, shoes, accessories, cooking utensils, and anything that takes up unwanted space in my home. However, until this year my wardrobe and book collection have felt like clown cars–there was always more that could be discarded, and it took time to realize that living mindfully isn’t simply about discarding what is longer necessary, it’s about the connection you make with things before you purchase them. Do I really need this? What purpose or function does it serve? Do I really love this? Why does it bring me joy? Am I only filling a void with an object whose value will only depreciate and whose sheen will inevitably dull? I grew up poor, and for a time I was fixated on the accumulation of things because I felt it said something about me. You know what it said? I owned a lot of shit.

Because there’s a difference between owning things and things owning you. Did you ever consider how much time and energy you exhaust managing your things? The things need to be dry-cleaned. The things need to be dusted. The things need to be sorted and managed. The things need a lot of upkeep, don’t you think?

Years ago, I bought a gorgeous navy Jil Sander dress. It was classic yet architectural and I loved how I felt when I wore it. I considered it my “power dress” or whatever that means. Then stress consumed my waking hours, pasta became the sole food group and the dress remained unworn in my closet for three years. Recently, I zipped it up expecting to feel what I’d felt all those years before…but nothing. I stood in front of my mirror and fidgeted. The dress no longer brought me joy, in fact it was a scab-picker, a cruel reminder of my life all those years ago. And for a time I clung to it because it was beautiful and classic and Jil Sander.

When I met my dearest friend Persia last week for a long lunch it occurred to me that SHE would look so beautiful in the dress. I remember describing it to her, telling her that I sometimes still cleave to things for all the wrong reasons. She listened, her face was awash in light. So this morning I wrapped the dress in tissue and sent it to her home. Because bringing joy to my friends feels like a wound closing up. Love feels like a set of bandages discarded. Leaving feels like a wound healing.

There will come a time when my wardrobe won’t be the kind that covers wounds. There will come a time when I will trace my body with my hands and feel scars, not wounds. Let all the light in. Soon, soon.

cleaning out my closet

13 thoughts on “living with only that which you love + need

  1. Ahh, echos of Annie Hall and the great continental divide between east and west coasts. Seems, if a recent piece in the NY Times is to be trusted, that you have been caught up in some great Gotham upswelling, a veritable exodus of New Yorkers setting out for the promise of the Golden State. I am excited for you Felicia. As for shedding possessions, I’ve had similar thoughts about the Kondo craze (and having lived 4 years in Japan thrill to that spare aesthetic). Still, as a child of the West, I also think William Morris’s perspective strongly resonates. (He’s one of my heroes.) Beauty is essential. Finally, your post may inspire me to tackle my spare room closet again, wherein languish a mannish gray pinstriped wool dress I bought in the rue de Rennes in 1995, several antique silk Happi coats purchased at markets in Japan, and a polka dot chiffon gown I wore to a BBC Proms/regatta event in Richmond (if memory serves me well) in 1995. Sigh….your solution at least provides more meaning to such a sartorial winnowing than either consignment or donation…

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I was born and raised in NY. Moved to California at 21. I go back to NY to visit and I love the hustle and bustle of the city, but definitely will not want to live in NY. California is home to me now. Every 6 mos I weed out my things… clothes, shoes, books, magazines, etc… I’ve learned that HOME is where I am with my immediate circle and that’s LOVE to me. I don’t get attached to cars or houses… that’s all material things to me and here today can be gone tomorrow. Best to you on this new journey.

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  3. I have moved twice in the past year, and every time I do I feel like I’m purging SO MUCH – it makes me realize that the root of the problem is the fact that I keep accumulating more and more stuff … and that’s something I need to focus on changing. Being mindful, like you say, will be my goal. Good luck with the move! And I am tempted to buy that Kondo book … but I’ll try to decide whether I reeeeally need it 🙂 haha.


  4. I have seen that Kondo book everywhere and have been so tempted to buy it, but I haven’t because I know that the simple thing to do is just to get rid of all the stuff I don’t use or need or want. Simple, and yet so ridiculously hard. Why is that??


  5. Great post! Interesting that you say Kondo’s technique has been your practice for a long time. I think this is true for a lot of people. It really is such a simple concept, but she gave it a name essentially and it’s fascinating to me to see how much it’s taken off. As you said, it’s crazy to think that the name of a Japanese decluttering consultant is now being used as a verb. I haven’t wrapped by head around it yet either!

    Best of luck!



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