This one is a story about myself that shows (I hope) how painful it can be to see your space for what it is and how personal the results can be. I still carry this memory around in my head when I am working on an apartment. It continues from the second excerpt. BTW Marre is an old and talented friend whom I lost touch of years ago. However, I found a mention of her online as living in Spain. If you see her, please say hello for me :-).
Getting There Myself
I am a warm person. I learned this more than ten years ago when Marre, my next-door neighbor, walked into my first apartment in New York City’s Little Italy and told me I had too much stuff.
Knowing she was a furniture designer, I had invited her over to show off some new shelves I had built. Instead of being impressed with my shelves, she said, “Why do you have so many things in your apartment?”
I was embarrassed. In my view, her apartment was minimal and Spartan. I felt that she just didn’t understand me. I told her that I didn’t have too much, that I had everything I needed and it was all carefully arranged. My apartment resembled a ship where everything was tucked into place.
“You have no empty space,” she pointed out. “I can tell that when you do have an empty space, you fill it. Why?”
This was true. I considered any open space an opportunity for inserting something useful. I had built shelves in an old doorway, created a pulley system for my computer screen that lifted it up to the ceiling, and managed to insert a large drafting table into one corner, which I used as my second desk. I was very good at finding a use for any space.
“Why don’t you take some things out and open up the space? It would look much better if you did.”
What? Take something out? I thought this would be a death blow. Everything I owned was a prized possession. I had long considered my use of space an achievement and liked how everything worked perfectly. But I was forced to reconsider.
Marre’s apartment, despite its severity, had a calmness and openness to it that my apartment lacked. Her apartment was smaller and yet it felt bigger. It was comfortable to sit in Marre’s kitchen, and people naturally gravitated to her apartment to talk. She was right. My apartment wasn’t carefully arranged, it was packed. There was no breathing room. It may have seemed functional, but it was crowded and required a lot of attention.
My life at the time was the same. I was struggling to write a master’s thesis, feeling no momentum or excitement about it, and my relationship with my girlfriend was languishing. Working on my apartment seemed, on the surface, to be a healthy form of procrastination, but after considering Marre’s comments, I started to see all of this activity as a big, warm security blanket. My home was my protection, my pacifier, and it was doing a good job. My life lacked movement and energy. With Marre’s words, something clicked.
I began to experiment with removing objects from my apartment. I got rid of a chair. I took out the drafting table. I threw out a pile of old, mismatched dishes and mugs. What began as a trickle turned into a torrent, and over the next few months I emptied half of my apartment. As I did this my work habits changed, and the energy that I had previously put into creating and maintaining my home redirected itself into my work. I finished my thesis feeling good about it. Soon after, my relationship came to an amicable end, and we were both relieved.
Apartment Therapy: The Eight-Step Home Cure
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