The Middle Distance
4:36 pm
Thu July 17, 2014

The Middle Distance 7.18.14: Our Houses, Ourselves

 


I’ve moved recently and have survived to tell the tale. Here are a few moving tips that might make your transition from old home to new home a little less difficult. 

1) Packing. Start with those items you never unpacked the last time you moved. The boxes of old photos, family memorabilia and life ephemera that have followed you from state to state, house to house, marriage to divorce, honeymoon apartment to full house to empty nest. Go through them item by item, even if the task seems overwhelming and your first impulse is to trash them all. Thinning is your goal. Do you really need multiple copies of every grade school report card? Every mother’s day card? 

On the other hand, hasty tossing might result in a disastrous oversight, like the accidental trashing of the Weekly World News article you clipped in 1978: “Woman Gives Birth to Baby That Looks Like Elvis: Newborn Cries to Tune of ‘Don’t Be Cruel.’” A true collector’s item. 

Consider those items that have followed you from house to house, that always end up in a box, awaiting actual decorative or functional placement. Will they live in box purgatory until you are gone and your children are left to puzzle over them? The discarded license plates you’ve kept from every car you’ve ever driven, for example. Mine tell the story of the states I’ve lived in and I’ve decided they make fine bookends. Problem solved.

2) Go light on the furniture. Get rid of every dysfunctional piece you’ve collected over the years and bid it good riddance. Do you really want to curse the dresser drawer that collapses off its rails every time you open it from here to eternity? Forget it. You have told yourself you’d repair it for 15 years and it is still broken. Give it to someone else to repair. Bid it goodbye and say hello to open floor space.

3) Never abandon a piece of art. While it’s true you may have failed to frame and hang it, you chose it because it spoke to you at some deep heart level. Pack it with care and trust that its meaningful placement will emerge in your new home. 

In 2008, while visiting my kids in New York City, I picked up a copy of the Brooklyn Rail, an independent arts and culture tabloid, for its stunning cover art — a stark pen-and-ink portrait of newly elected president Barack Obama. It’s one of those portraits whose eyes seem to follow and lock with the viewer’s eyes, no matter from which angle. I ripped off the cover and carried it with me to my home in south Texas, then moved it twice to other homes in Colorado — a flimsy piece of unprotected newsprint left to gather dust on a shelf wherever I lived. This move, I was determined to frame it properly and place it where I could see it. Turns out my new place is small and the room where most of my random art is on display is the bathroom where cracked plaster and exposed pipes demand visual distraction. The Barack Obama portrait, mounted now beneath clear, borderless acrylic, sits at eye level on a shelf across from the toilet, its black eyes focused mysteriously on mine whenever nature calls. Just like the Mona Lisa.

4) Take Tylenol prophylactically. On moving day, your body will ache in places you never imagined possible, like between your toes, and you will be too tired to get out of bed to dose yourself.

5) Honor your earned sense of style. At this stage in life, the deep middle distance, you have finally accepted the fact that your house will never look like a spread in Elle Décor or the Pottery Barn catalogue, not because you lack good taste or design sense, but because you’ve spent your life collecting what you love and you have no intention of getting rid of it now. The chairs you bought at the Salvation Army in Honolulu in 1980 and have covered, painted, stripped and re-covered many times over are still standing, still comfy and will remain, regardless whether their neo-tropical style matches your Victorian interior. The iron bed frame you bought at a thrift shop in 1990 has warped from a rectangle to a parallelogram in shape, but you have never met a bed you like better. Cover its irregularities with a bed skirt and soft blankets and wallow in its antique splendor.

Your house reflects who you’ve become. Go easy on the mirrors and maintain a soft focus.