Dead Weight puts it all out there, one installment at a time. Personal essays on one woman’s emotional baggage and how it impacts just about everything.
Part 1: Too much stuff.
I’ve come to the conclusion that you either own things or things own you.
Not long ago I was living proof of the latter. “Don’t go down into the basement, you guys…” I would say, when friends saw me scurrying up from below with extra plates or a bag of ice, “your head will explode.”
Brave besties who ventured down to borrow a suitcase or grab party decorations resurfaced looking shell-shocked, having just been smacked in the face with sizeable square footage of unfinished basement, filled to the brim with clothes to wash, tools to organize, and ornaments from last Christmas just waiting it out til next December.
My basement was lousy with backup scenarios, visual manifestations of “what ifs….” Bags of old towels and blankets (you never know when you might need ‘em), stacks of DVDs and high school notebooks (think of the memories!), camping gear (how many extra tent poles are too many?) and picnic baskets (one of which is about as sturdy as a tumbleweed, but it’s just so CUTE). Metro shelving spilled over with catering equipment and commercial kitchen stuff: from cake rounds to cambros, from tray jacks to trash bags, from rocks glasses to Robo Coupe.
It was utterly overwhelming.
Apart from the basement, the rest of our 1910 Brookland Bungalow wasn’t much better. Any effort to keep it clean was, in reality, a futile exercise in moving piles of clutter from one end of the house to the other. What once seemed like an endless expanse of space that would take years to fill was now a congested mish-mash of antique furniture, cookbooks, and curiosities.
We didn’t even have the bright idea to hang a bunch of hooks (to make up for the palatable lack of closets) until fairly late in the game – walking through the open floor plan was a giant obstacle course of backpacks, folded laundry, coats, and mail. Perching on barstools at the kitchen counter or sitting at the dining room table required major shifting of STUFF. Clothes we never wore, appliances we never used.
All the “just in case” and “isn’t that interesting” shenanigans that can just plain drown a person in their own possessions.
It was also a direct reflection on how I managed the rest of my life.
This is a story about downsizing — and the unfettered freedoms that come along for the ride. This is a story about addiction — and the way we insulate ourselves with “stuff” to feel safe. This is a story about me.
The cost to maintain all this stuff was enough to break anyone’s balls. Why did we keep pushing our cart uphill?
I fell further and further behind trying to win the game of LIFE I didn’t even know I was playing.
We didn’t notice how deeply dependent we had become on the hamster wheel until we took a major time-out last summer and spent two weeks driving around New England visiting friends and family.
People we love living their bestest lives.
Dan + Tim in Montclair, NJ, nesting in their Mid-Century split-level in the NYC suburbs; Ted + Roberta, spending every summer (and lots of holidays) peacefully co-existing with Martha’s Vineyard (and each other); Aunt Cass + Janice building a garden paradise amongst mountain bikes, kayaks, and a hot tub (not bad for a couple o’ badass babes in their seventies); Erin J walking her dog along the rocky Maine shoreline and supporting her fam; Mom + Calvin submitting gleefully to creative endeavors and living the sweet life (“I love you,” “No, I love YOU!”); Renee + Hugo honoring generations of extended family who summer April to October in a patchwork cottage right on the bay overlooking Long Island Sound; Don who logs a kajillion steps on his Fitbit, soaking up every last drop of New York City, a place he has loved to call home for 20+ years.
All along the way discussing, deciding, debating. What do we want our life to look like in a decade’s time? What can we do now to make it a reality?
Within a week of coming home, we’d gotten a real estate agent and started the grueling process of purging ourselves of every toxic aspect of our life. The battle of attrition to downsizing, keeping only the things we adore, and planning a move to a peaceful place that’s always worth the drive.
I would love to tell you that it was smooth sailing…
(dramatic pause) ….that it didn’t take almost three months to give away all of the things that weren’t coming with us and storing the rest — just to get the house ready for listing. I’d love to tell you we had a full price offer in less than a week… and then the buyers didn’t get cold feet. I’d love to tell you that the earth-shattering election didn’t fuck up our whole exit strategy.
I wish I could say that at the new house, the mortgage wasn’t nearly impossible to secure, or that our well didn’t repeatedly fail inspection for a solid month. I wish I could say we weren’t stranded, left to wing it with nothing but our dog and suitcases. (Thank you Michelle Brown for letting us cramp your style and putting a roof over our heads!) I wish I could say we kept our wits about us and stayed calm, cool, and collected.
The truth is that we came in hot (and without landing gear). It was a nailbiter the whole time.
This is the point in the story where I am supposed to make it all come together, to weave the story of shedding over $500,000 of dead weight in with the story of my food addiction.
This is the point where I am supposed to share how CONVINCED I was that once I got out from underneath all of those toxic assets, my fixation on all things edible would wane. I just knew that once I got my ADHD kid, my overstimulated dog, and my manic man out to a sleepy beach community, we would all be peaceful and well-adjusted folks. Circadian rhythms: activate! Happy family: assemble! But…
Life isn’t linear, it’s actually a train wreck.
Screeching brakes, a roaring whistle, and the sound of the choo-choo coming off the track – such is the essence of life in flux and transition. But I challenge you to show me a life that isn’t in flux and transition.
“Life with a family is a series of crises, interrupted by holidays,” muses my dad, from his ringside seat to our own happy little train wreck.
I guess some people handle it better than others. Or maybe they manifest struggles in other ways: snapping at their kids or dropping the ball at work, drinking too much or clamming up emotionally.