My wife and I are in the middle of moving into a new apartment, about 10 miles and one city limit away. It’s in a small shopping center down the road a ways from Target, my favorite bottle shop and nearly equidistant from our respective workplaces. That same shopping center houses a pizza parlor, a pet supply store, a coffee shop — though, admittedly, not a particularly good one — and, most importantly, a branch of the Madison library system. Beginning in a few days, it will now take me less time to buy a bag of cat litter, check out “The Planetary” omnibus and knock back a crappy espresso than it previously took me to decide which one of those things I was going to do on my day off before falling asleep while trolling Netflix.
This is not my first move. All told, I’ve uprooted (stops, takes too long to do simple math) nearly a dozen times; sometimes within the same state, even city, but often over the course of hundreds or thousands of miles. I’ve logged approximately 5,000 miles in relocations alone, and lived in four different states. I understand that this is paltry compared to, say, Army brats, but it’s still a sobering figure — especially if, like my wife, you grew up and lived in the same city and house for almost 25 years.
Also sobering are a few facts laid cringeworthily bare at your feet when you decide to undertake something like this, with only the help of a few friends and a pickup truck that once was colored “blue” in the same way that Gary Busey once made “words.” Namely: we have a lot of crap.
The apartment we’re moving into is nicer but, while it’s an improvement, it’s not huge: at 785 square feet, it doesn’t exactly dwarf our current arrangement, which is about 100 square feet less. And while it’s natural to feel encouraged and emboldened by the increase in space — and, accordingly, to simply acquire more stuff — we’re taking pains to do just the opposite.
Before what seemed like an endless rinse-repeat of packing, hauling and tossing away, we had roughly 30 back issues each of DECIBEL and Scientific American, about one-third that of Swimmer magazine, a few stray copies of Draft, and about a further quarter-ton of literary journals, a few of which our work appears in, though most of which it does not.
And that’s just the readable material. Elsewhere, business cards from both of our jobs; wedding gifts we’re not sure what to do with, from people we’ve met once or twice; dishes, cat toys, picture frames, etc. At first glance, it seems easy to just toss most of it away into the garbage or recycling, and then drop the rest off at Goodwill.
The problem is, when you’re confronted with losing something — even so trivial as a refrigerator magnet — forever, all you can think about is how that item is personally tied to you. That pair of running shoes I finally managed to donate to a thrift store? They were the shoes I owned when I started running in the first place. I remember the initial pain, and how they eventually broke my feet into the new activity. All those old T-shirts? Birthday presents, every one. Don’t even get me started on my dresser and piano, which have each been in my family for over half a century.
Some of it, we’ll replace. We’re fond of our crappy couch, because we’ve had it ever since we started dating, but we need and can afford a much better one; same with a few appliances and, recently, a car. But most of it is gone forever — at least as far as we’re concerned — and that’s a concept that resonates with an intimidating degree of finality. Holding onto the past is natural, but can do more harm than good if one eye is not also cast forward.
To take the metaphor even further: it’s appropriate, I suppose, that a large percentage of house dust is actually dead skin. The longer we live in a place, the thicker the patina made of us becomes on it; it coats everything — spring cleaning be damned — even to the point of obscuring its very nature. After so much shedding, after the sloughing-off of so many selves, a room, a home becomes so caked with personalities that it begins to serve as little more than a golem — every room verges on being lifeless, so choked with living has it become.