by Rosemary Ruffenach • August 25, 2008 • Psychologists tell us that moving to a new home is one of the most stressful of life events. New neighbors, new routines, new routes to work all tax our coping systems, which is why I had postponed a move that I knew was inevitable. But, as August arrived, I thought I was mentally ready to meet these life challenges. What I hadn’t been warned about was facing my own inadequacies in home furnishing.
For the past seven years I have been sharing living space, renting a private study and bedroom in a moderately-sized St. Paul home and sharing communal space (kitchen, dining and living rooms), with the home owner. The downturn in housing prices and a small inheritance allowed me to purchase a condo in a western suburb. Just the move from east to west was discombobulating, never mind the absence of a yard and neighbors below me.
The first indication that I had a dark side, in regard to housekeeping anyway, was when I started to go through the kitchenware that had been boxed up since my last move. I began with flatware, only to find it a mishmash of different patterns, four knives of one set, three of another, etc. I tried to recall the situation at the time of my last move. Why was it I hadn’t noticed the junky state of my flatware? I moved on to dinnerware. Oh, oh!– same thing. Three plates of one pattern, four of another (now hated) pattern. Maybe I had thought it a sign of social consciousness to eat off homeless shelter tableware. Glassware? Laughable. Towels? Two nice, the rest ragged.
I rationalized. I had been relatively poor at the time of my last move and I had been considering teaching abroad; I didn’t want to purchase new stuff just to put it in storage. And it wasn’t like I didn’t have any nice stuff. I had a fine set of china and sterling flatware; I just didn’t use it. It was for “company” after all.
Taking inventory, I recorded one dresser, not nearly sufficient to hold my wardrobe; two upholstered chairs dating back to my childhood, when we used them as braces for our blanket tents; many antique tables from my grandmother’s home and too many random chairs. No bed, dining room set, nor sofa. So I put out an alert and friends kindly responded. One spotted an oak dining room set at an estate sale; another would sell me her excess. The condo’s previous owners would sell a bed, sofa, and of course, another easy chair. I couldn’t say “No” to any of it.
The actual move took a professional team of two men nine hours. I had to wonder where all the stuff came from, if I had indeed downsized? I had to face the fact that, although I had downsized to almost nothing in household furnishings, I had upsized in avocations. They were my passion. Furnishings weren’t.
I had storage bins of family history research—one for the Irish, one for Swedish and one for the German/Austrian branches. Archival boxes for family photos and treasures. Separate bins of research on three potential novels, one for my tarot research. A guitar, in case I decided to take play again; a bin of piano sheet music, were I to purchase a keyboard. The movers were in awe. How did a person essentially living in two rooms (albeit with half a basement of full of storage items) have so much stuff? Luckily, what they didn’t know was that I didn’t really even believe in “stuff.” It is an ethical issue for me: I believe that we Americans are over-stuffed. Some of us have even made the acquisition of stuff our religion. Psychically, I was also convinced. I once had a dream wherein I struggled with voluminous cases and bags, attempting to wrestle them off an elevator. I interpreted the dream as saying that I was carrying around too much baggage. It was an impetus for my downsizing—and about which I felt very superior. (Although in hindsight, maybe the dream was really about psychological baggage!)
After the actual move came the arrangement phase. Sadly, no amount of pushing furniture about resulted in the desired feng-shui. I gave up and called my interior designer friend, JoAnne. Here I need to admit that I have not had much use for interior designers. Not that that they don’t provide a valuable service—for others, for those without a sense of color or furniture styles. I had both, I assured myself. But somehow I was falling down on the arrangement side. Maybe it was lack of practice.
As JoAnne toured my possessions, I followed her around, pen at the ready. Finally, she asked which of the four upholstered chairs I felt most attached to. The two blue ones from my childhood. Okay, the others had to go. What about that coffee table? she asked, gesturing to a 1930s number. “Grandma’s,” I replied—an answer I also gave to her queries about three occasional tables. She suggested that just perhaps I might want to keep only one or two of Grandma’s treasures to remember her by. No.
The large bedroom-sitting area posed a problem: no center of interest. Usually it was the bed, but in this case– it wasn’t. Consequently, I needed a vertical nearby: an eye-catching floor lamp or vertical art. Now I have plenty of art, both my own from years of watercolor and oil painting and numerous pieces , my children have carried home from remote locales; but, unfortunately, almost all are horizontal.
I took notes: wall mount the TV—and get a new one while I was at it. Double hang the closet clothes rods, shirts on top, pants on the bottom. In the den/study, cull the contents of the storage boxes and then find bookshelves with doors to hide what remained. In the living room, dump the curtains and get a media stand to consolidate my six pieces of electronic equipment. I was spinning like those dervishes I had seen in Konya, Turkey. Where to start?
But, not about to be a failure at home decorating, I started to implement her suggestions. First, I attempted to move the bed one foot to the east. When it didn’t budge with a push, I pulled. It fell apart. I yanked down yards of swag curtain valances, and found giant craters where their braces had been screwed into the walls. I purchased a media stand and bookshelf, but then had to call for set-up help. Consolidating files meant critical decisions such as: Should I save receipts from the purchase and sale of my former vehicles? What if I forget when I bought and sold various cars? Surely sometime in the future I would need to know. Vertical interest piece? I’d just have to paint something.
Despite these setbacks one thing made me happy. Near the end of JoAnne’s tour, she surveyed the living room furniture and declared it a mix of classic and modern. “Eclectic,” she pronounced. I was delighted—finally—about something. I had always viewed myself as eclectic, so of course my look should be too. Somehow interior design and my selfhood had come together.
By the time of my next move, maybe I’ll be able to figure out décor by myself.