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July 11, 2007

Movin' on up, movin' on out...

I moved into the teensy house in Encino-Adjacent a few days before Christmas in 2004. It was during the deepest rainy season the city had experienced in a century and everything was grey, inside and out. Back in September Mr. X had said maybe this would be a temporary thing, but it had been three months since he'd walked out the door and he'd all but disappeared as the holidays encroached. When I moved into this little house I was heartbroken, disheveled and also just plain broke. I hated how small it was, filled floor-to-ceiling with the million boxes of my misspent marriage. I didn't care one way or the other about this house, I was just glad moving was over and it had a dry place outside to sit and smoke.

The boxes were stacked in huge piles in the bigger bedroom and they filled the garage, the living room, every space was overflowing with stuff. It took a long time to dig out from underneath it, but I did eventually get the clutter down to a livable amount. It still wasn't great, but by the end of 2005 you could at least walk around the place. Then I pared down to a more acceptable level, and I pared down again and again until my house began to feel spacious, all 800 square feet of it.

One day a few months ago Jennifer came over and said, "Wow. Just WOW. This looks like a whole different place!" and it was such a compliment. Things were tidy and put away. In 800 square feet I finally learned how to live large.

This little house in Encino-adjacent was my refuge for a long time, my little place to ponder and insulate and figure out my stuff. I loved smoking alone on the back patio -- I have never smoked indoors ever in my entire life -- and later after I stopped smoking I spent more time inside cleaning aggressively, trying to make it a home and not just a dumping ground. This is the place I weathered my divorce, and it's also where I had my first post-divorce kiss, had my first real houseguests in a decade, grew my first zucchini, wrote my first novel, figured out the person I have been trying to be my whole life. The cats and I were pretty comfortable here. I learned how to be alone and be fine with it, mostly.

But things change and surprised as I am to say it, now it's time to go. This place is full of ghosts and memories and I don't smoke anymore and I have only 75% of my fur-covered divorce settlement left and we need new memories and a fresh start and I found one! And we are moving there today.

I have never enjoyed moving (you spend an entire childhood moving from place to place and you get tired of moving real quicklike.) It's always been the most stressful thing EVER, I have had actual nightmares on a recurring basis about moving, packing, and never being ready enough. But this time I chose. I picked the time and place, this time I want to move, I am ready to move, and I'm excited. I need this change. I need to be in a fresh place with fresh memories to make.

Of course, moving has only been possible because I spent three years here in this little house unpacking.

My relationship with stuff is a complex one, and revising that relationship has taken a lot of work. Sometimes letting go has been so painful it almost physically hurt. When Roy died, I had to restrain myself from running out to the curb to retrieve his little tiny self-heating blanket mat out of the bin before the truck came. I sprawled on the bed and cried like an idiot as I listened to the truck empty the big cans, taking away forever that little blanket.

But that old mangled up piece of fabric which had seen a lot of washloads and a lot of fur was not my beloved cat. It was just an old blanket. Sure, he loved it. But up until he left me I never really thought of the blanket one way or the other, just washed it once a week and put it back inside his little tent and I was happy he was happy. I did not love and miss the blanket, I loved and missed Roy and I WANTED HIM BACK GIMME THAT BLANKET RIGHT NOW.

But I had to let it go. Things carry energy and memories and he only used the mat because he was frail and sick and cold a lot of the time. It reminded me every time I looked at it how hard I tried to keep him alive and still he left and I was sad. And holding onto a grubby scrap of cloth just will not bring him back.

Other times letting go has been easy. I don't care at all about saying goodbye to pants that are too big for me now or towels who have seen better days. I loved passing on to the Goodwill a pretty duvet cover and matching pillow shams that I bought when I first moved into this house. They were still pretty, but they represented my attempt to rid myself of married linens, re-take the bedroom as it were, and frankly ya'll that is a war I have long since won. Yay me! And yay to the person who finds this treat in the Goodwill store.

Last time when I moved it required a full-size grande moving truck, a team of three men and still it took NINE full hours to load and unload. NINE hours, not including breaks and driving time. And that was on the day after four of my girlfriends and all their respective vehicles had spent a whole Saturday loading and hauling stuff to the house before the movers even arrived. I look back and I am embarrassed at how much stuff I had, how much of my life I wrapped up in clutter and accumulation.

But when you know better you do better. I forgive myself. I held on because I didn't have a lot of material things growing up and it felt like comfort and security to accumulate stuff as I got older. I held on even tighter when my marriage started to fade. I shopped hoping to finally buy something that would make everyone happy. Now I know they do not sell my brand of happy at a store. I appreciate everything I have. But finally, finally, nostalgic and sentimental me has realized that in the end it's just a blanket, it's not a soul. And when stuff begins to crowd into your life, there's not a lot of room left for people and adventures. I wasn't very portable just a few years ago. I couldn't have people over very often, either, because it meant spending ten hours of prep time sorting, stacking, managing the clutter.

I used to think the solution was to buy new things to hold my clutter, so I had all kinds of cheap cubbies and cubes and plastic bins, filled and overflowing. I also used to be in debt thanks to my try-to-buy-happiness-on-sale approach. I still think it's true that you can buy things and they give you a happy feeling or make you pleased. I adore my handbag, and I use it every day. I love pretty yarn. But nothing I buy provides me with the ability to be in my own company and enjoy it. That was something that came from somewhere they don't have sales.

So, moving has been a piece of cake this time around. I boxed and labeled and disassembled everything myself in just two days and moved a lot of my assorted doodads in the Jeep. I had time to get the new place thoroughly cleaned beforehand. I know what's in the boxes and how easy it will be to unpack. I lightened my life this week, selling everything garden-related (my new place has a patio and it's a relief, I am relieved to be free of the responsibility of that giant yard). Old furniture and old computers and old stuff that had cluttered this house are gone on to new homes. The kitties will have stairs now to run and jump on, and I have sunlight and finally really pretty floors. (I loved this little old house, but not so much the hi-lo sculptured poop brown shag, circa 1978.)

The biggest surprise of all is that I am excited to leave and move on. It is just not been in my nature to enjoy change. And here I am making change happen! Crazy, I tell you what.

I guess it's because alongside the contented and good memories in this house are the sad ones, too. I am so ready for new, happy memories. I am tired of ghosts.

I'm ready for something new. And to get to wherever and whoever and whatever is new, I can't just sit here holding on tight to the past.

Posted by laurie at July 11, 2007 1:40 PM