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July 6, 2010

The Cabin in the Woods

Although I didn't spend my time up in the cabin writing a manifesto and wearing a hoodie and growing a beard while plotting thermonuclear destruction, I did enjoy the little break away from the city. I love Los Angeles and its assorted chaos, but you know you've been in it too long when you need a tape recording of car alarms and doors slamming and airplanes and honking cars to get a good sleep at night.

My parents let me borrow their white noise machine. It did in a pinch.

When I heard "cabin," I was expecting something rustic and possibly dorm-like with no bathrooms. I wasn't specifically looking forward to the camping aspect, I've never been a fan of rustic, but all in the spirit of adventure, etc. etc. What a surprise to discover that the cabin was practically brand new with a full kitchen, sparkling clean appliances, a perfect (private) bath with a full shower and tub and a bedroom all to myself!

(The cabin from outside.)

There was a little living room with a small sofa that pulls out into a bed and a comfy chair in one corner. A drop-leaf table and two kitchen chairs sat by the sunny window and led right into the kitchen. There was a small hallway with a pantry, and a storage nook and the bathroom off to one side. At the end of the small hallway is the bedroom with a large closet and a bedside table with a lamp.

There were narrow stairs right outside the bedroom leading up to a small loft. You'd have to kneel down to move around up there, though it would be perfect for kids (or for storage). Actually, this tiny cabin was both cleaner and more efficient than the old house I was renting and it somehow managed to have more storage than this big ol' apartment I'm in now. Explain to me how a newish gigantic apartment can have nary a single pantry, linen closet or towel cupboard? How? Seriously. I have to keep my towels in a bin in my bedroom closet.

(Table, hallway leading to bedroom, loft above.)

Being inside the cabin was like sleeping in the den of efficiency. It was peaceful and clean and tiny, but outfitted with everything you need. It had a TV with satellite and a DVD player in the living room, it had a full-size fridge and freezer, the kitchen sink faced a window which looked out over a field of pines so you could watch the squirrels climbing trees as you did the dishes.

(Making a cup of tea at night.)

From the first day I was in the cabin I was astonished at how little and perfect it was -- all a person needs in one compact, well-ordered package. Isn't that what I am always hoping for in life? A well-ordered home? And I kept telling my mom over and over again, "This is the amount of stuff a person should have, it's just enough to be happy and not heavy." I spent a lot of time while I was up there in the mountain air thinking about stuff and my accumulation of it. Inside the cabin there was a place for everything, and just enough of the right things (and plenty of spaces that hadn't been filled up, too, which felt expansive.)

For example, in the towel cupboard in the bathroom, you could find four clean white facecloths, four clean white handcloths and four clean white fluffy towels. That was it. No hodgepodge assortment of towels collected over fifteen years, no mismatched bargain buys and impulse on-sale linens squashed into the shelves. Nothing spilled out when you opened the door. Everything you needed was right there, neatly lined up, just what you need and nothing extraneous.

Same with the linen closet (the cabin had a linen closet and my three-story condo has nary a hutch. Go figure.) Inside the small linen closet was an extra blanket, an extra set of sheets and pillowcases and two extra pillows. I have ferreted away two comforters, six duvet covers and the assorted sheets of the apocalypse in every coat closet in my house.

The kitchen in the little cabin held just enough thick, creamy stoneware plates and bowls to feed four people. Same with mugs and drinking glasses. We'd stopped at a grocery store before climbing up the mountain (I was serious when I said I wouldn't be going up and down the winding mountain roads until the day I left) and I bought food and a few basic kitchen supplies: olive oil, salt and pepper, garlic powder, lemons, garlic cloves, foil, clorox wipes, paper towels, soap. I thought I would miss my huge spice selection and cooking gadgets from home but you'd be surprised how little you need, really. Or maybe it was just me that was surprised. The simplicity of the cabin made it manageable, easy, enjoyable.

It was an immediate and absolute contrast to my real life. I have seven beaten-up cookie sheets in various stages of rusting and disappointment. The cabin had a single, perfect, clean cookie sheet. You know what I mean?

Don't misunderstand, I am really glad I moved into this apartment because I needed a change and I wanted to live in one of these pretty Mediterranean-meets-LA-style condo places at least once in my life. But it feels like a job in itself, keeping the place clean and tidy. It's a lot of space to manage and instead of feeling more organized and spacious it's the exact opposite! And it was the same at the little house I rented in Encino-adjacent. I just have a whole lot of stuff. And I take myself with me, it seems, wherever I move.

My relationship with my stuff is tricky. It feels comforting and cozy sometimes, and I love my stuff. And then sometimes it makes me nervous, the idea of cleaning and caring for this stuff, packing it, moving it, unpacking it, re-arranging it, the very idea is exhausting.

Spending all those days in the cabin is just what I needed, I needed to feel the spaciousness of a completely clutter-free home, even if it was just temporary. I think I brought some of that feeling home with me. It's not easy for me to pare down. I have a hard time letting go of things. It's an emotional connection: people leave, places change, everything moves so fast but your stuff stays right where you last left it. So I understand the lure. But it's a false sort of security and for as often as stuff feels comforting it also feels smothering and heavy and impossible to ever be free of it. There was something expansive, liberating about living (even for a few days) in a perfectly appointed space with just what one person really needs.

No grand conclusion at the end of this. Just planning to spend a little time each day this week cleaning out my closets, getting rid of a few things here and there. I just bought a new skillet and the temptation to keep the old one ("as a backup," I told myself) was loud but I cleaned the old skillet carefully and placed it in a bag for Goodwill. I do not need a backup skillet. Good grief.

And anyway, there was one thing crucially missing at the cabin. Three things really. The cats!

Two out of three cats agree.

Posted by laurie at July 6, 2010 11:58 AM