Clutter--Let me free associate for a moment:
Stuff not being used, but someday I’ll need it;
Things once considered valuable because my parents treasured them;
Something someone could use, but since I don’t know who, I’ll postpone doing anything about it;
Something I could get money for, but trying to navigate E-bay is way too much trouble;
My children’s toys saved for my grandchildren, except my children are too busy building their careers to build a family;
Clothes that no longer fit, but someday I am going to lose that weight;
Clothes no longer in style, but I paid a lot of money for that suit (I just can't donate it!);
Papers I might need to prove who I am, what I’ve achieved or what is due me but are really of no value;
A hodgepodge of items I need to put into order, but, gosh, I just don’t have the time to do that…
You get the idea. Note the rationales used with each one.
Recently I had the pleasure of seeing Arthur Miller’s play “The Price” at Arena Stage in Washington, DC. So moved, I borrowed a copy from the library so I could delve into Miller’s deep-felt, profound yet simple words. Here’s one quotation that hit home for me:
Setting the Scene
Victor in his late forties is responsible for emptying his father’s brownstone apartment because the building is going to be demolished. Time is of the essence. The house must be emptied within the next day or so. His father died years ago, but Victor chose not to deal with the apartment or anything in it until the moment the play begins. The curtain opens to the living area filled with furniture and artifacts that represent his father and mother when they were alive. Victor is joined by 89-year old appraiser Solomon, whom he found in the Yellow Pages of the phone book (circa 1968). We learn as the play progresses that Solomon’s career in estate sales was over until Victor called him to buy his father’s estate.
At one point, Victor is afraid Solomon is going to cheat him. Solomon explains why much of the furniture probably won’t sell:
“I’m giving you the architectural facts! Listen—wiping his face, he seizes on the library table, going to it—You got there, for instance, a library table. That’s a solid beauty. But go find me a modern apartment with a library. If they would build old hotels, I could sell this, but they only build new hotels. People don’t live like this no more. This stuff is from another world. So I’m trying to give you a modern viewpoint, and if you wouldn’t understand the viewpoint, it’s impossible to understand the price.”
Solomon makes a good point: They’re not building old hotels anymore, yet so many of us are attracted to “old hotels” and what filled them. Old hotels are our rosy memories—the romantic ideal that we aspire to recreate. The not-so-rosy memories attached to those items we’ve more than likely repressed and forgotten.
But guess what? If we take a moment to examine the items that evoke a rosy glow, we discover a dark side to them as well. For example, the exquisite wedding dress that symbolizes a marriage ended in divorce or the outrageously gorgeous and expensive Stuart Weitzman shoes that are a killer to walk in for more than five minutes.
We want to sit in the lobby of those old hotels, sipping tea and savoring the grandeur of it all, but how long can we sit there? How does sitting in that lobby enhance our present life? The same is true for those items and the rosy memories we attach to them. You might be able to recreate the happy memory for a moment, but not for long.
It’s All about Viewpoint
Those memories are ephemeral, but the items are real. We can’t bring back your father sitting in his Lazy-Boy chair or your mother wearing her mink stole, yet we’ve decided to hold onto both the chair and the stole because we’re able to slip into a rosy reverie whenever we see them. Meanwhile your wife or roommate can’t stand the stodgy old Lazy-Boy, and we discover the skin of the mink stole is dry and cracked. That dark side I mentioned above keeps popping up!
Perhaps we need to let go of our illusions—things that are or are likely to be wrongly perceived or interpreted by the senses. We perceive the items we are holding onto as valuable for whatever rationale we ascribe to them. When we crack the illusion, the items are just things—a dress, a pair of shoes, a chair or a mink stole. Do these items enhance our present life? If we were unabashedly honest, we would say, “No!”
It all comes back to viewpoint. Why hold onto something passed its prime? Why keep straddling the past and present, when we’re living now? Our life is here now. Our power is in the present. We need a modern viewpoint.