Whenever I read my friend Melanie McMinn’s blog, Frugal Kiwi, I break out into an inferiority complex. Melanie raises chickens, bees and vegetables, and creates delightful, offbeat crafts. She and her husband, a/k/a Frugal Man, are renovating a 1930s New Zealand bungalow by themselves.
Renovating an older house by themselves! I get the vapors, just thinking about it. In my world view, do it yourself never moves from the second to the first person. As two completely clueless and klutzy people when it comes to home-handiness, my husband and I spend our lives hiring people to do it themselves. In fact, we were recently so desperate to get some repairs on our condo a couple of weeks ago, I was quoted as saying anybody with a hammer and a few nails would be admitted through our front door, no questions asked.
But anyway, I am pretty much reconciled to myself as a person who primes the local economy, which is far more flattering than branding myself a total slob and sloth. I can live with it and, for the most part, avoid a profound shame spiral.
But, all of a sudden, Melanie wrote another blog post that threw me for yet another loop. She quoted the 19th-century English poet and artist, William Morris, who wrote: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”
William Morris? Have I ever heard of this guy before? Oh, hell, yes, don’t be silly, of course I have. Although I could have sworn he was in advertising.
Plus, the whole “useful or beautiful” business hit me where it hurt. Here, we’ve just moved and winnowed down our possessions to a third or fourth of what they used to be. But, let me tell you, it doesn’t take much nosing around our condo to find lots of things that are neither beautiful nor useful (insert wisecracks about the two people who live here at your own peril).
Fortunately, I felt semi-rescued by one of the Frugal Kiwi commenters, Brette Sember, who believes we should also keep objects that are meaningful. Brette writes a wonderful blog, too, No Pot Cooking, and, like Melanie, she’s formidably talented and enterprising. She’s always whipping up something fantastic in the kitchen, a room I have a very limited relationship with. (I am the designated person to bring the wine to any potluck gathering.)
Anyway, I felt validated by Brette’s edict we could all keep meaningful objects. Meaningful is a word I, personally, can stretch into all kinds of contorted shapes.
In fact, I’d just been saving a few meaningful objects a couple of weeks ago. I’d placed the little sailor dress our daughter wore as a baby and our son’s scuffed chartreuse Ninja Turtle sandals into a box to take to our storage unit downstairs. My husband, who gets OCD about our storage unit, said “we” needed to mark the box so we knew what was in it. l knew what he meant by that: he wanted me to mark it.
I folded up the box and, finally, wrote “sentimental stuff” on the outside of it. Which was good enough for me, since sentiment is meaningful in my life.
I stepped back and looked at the box and the writing and envisioned how it would go into our storage unit in the basement. It would stay there for years, probably, till it was excavated someday.
Looking at it, I was hit by the sudden certainty of what would happen. The next time the box was examined and opened, it would be after my death.
Funny how those flash moments of certainty hit you at this age. It wasn’t painful or scary, it was simply a fact of life. Someday, someone would open the box and maybe remember it was packed by a woman who wasn’t a do-it-yourself type, who didn’t cook or renovate houses. She did what she could, though, the way we all do. She wrote and she saved sentimental stuff.
Oh, and when she wrote, she could turn a subject from comic to melodramatic in a matter of seconds. She never did have much self-discipline when it came to things like that.
(Copyright 2011 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Read about marking time