“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
– Leonardo da Vinci
The holidays bring up all sorts of emotions. Media leads us to have expectations that exceed what we can realistically hope to accomplish – more cooking, more entertaining, more shopping. The challenge is to enjoy the holidays for their simple, seasonal pleasures. My personal wish is to get to the country to see icicles on real fir trees, eat homemade pie and smell fires burning. That sounds like an ideal holiday to me.
A Collector's Tale
I like to cook and years ago, I decided I would throw parties throughout the season and even entertain all year round. Being a collector of beautiful old objects, I found antique porcelain and silver, vintage glassware and linens by scouring flea markets, thrift shops, estate sales and country auctions.
I amassed a beautiful collection, worthy of an Edwardian country estate. The trouble is I live in a one-bedroom apartment in New York City, and I have no servants. Working to build my design firm, I had little time to entertain and certainly didn't need more pressure.
I still love treasure hunting but years ago I reflected that I hadn't yet acquired the country house, which I had spent so many years outfitting. It was a worthy goal and I may still get that country estate – okay, more likely a small cottage – but I realized my fantasy wasn't serving me. If you have to collect something, antiques are fine things but they still get dusty. I had far too much of a good thing to enjoy, care for or even get to see.
We have three times the space we had 50 years ago – yet affluence, inexpensive goods and our impulse to shop, collect and save – keeps us drowning in stuff. We’re geared toward acquiring, not letting go. I knew I had many goals and having all that stuff was getting in the way.
My house was bulging with good things so I began to deaccession by selling at my local flea market. It's not for everyone and not certainly not easy but it has been great fun. I've met many fascinating people, tourists from all over the world as well as New Yorkers, and best of all, my treasures are finding new homes with people who cherish them as much as I do.
The irony is my objects are traveling to far-off places more frequently than I am but I'm enjoying my things far more than I ever did before. Who knew?
Rightsizing is Rewarding
I still own a considerable collection, even after years of letting go and it's probably more cohesive due to my editing. It's also rewarding to help young people see that there's more to furnishing a home than electronics and big-box furniture.
The idea to downsize, or as we aptly call it now, rightsize, occurs to most of us at a certain age. According to Forbes magazine, “baby boomers, long known as master acquirers, are now learning a new skill: getting rid of excess stuff.” The trend toward simplicity and quality evolved as we came to understand how much energy, physical, mental and emotional, it takes to navigate a complex lifestyle with too much.
More is Not More
Young people are attracted to electronics, clothes, shoes and handbags, as expressions of status and individuality. Older adults may be sentimental and accumulate inherited furnishings that crowd their spaces, keepsakes acquired over the years and craft supplies from hobbies they've left behind. Paper, books and piles mount as decisions become overwhelming.
One of my clients had a bin full of toddlers' toys she just couldn't part with, purchased for her grandchildren. Her grandchildren are now in high school, yet the toys were still in her home – gifts never given because they were lost in the clutter.
Professional organizers often say that clutter signifies postponed decisions. It may also represent unfulfilled dreams. We're all vulnerable because attachments to stuff is part of the human condition. Even cave people collected artifacts.
Cull Your Collections
The designer, William Morris said, "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." Are your collections beautifully displayed and dust free? Do you keep items you no longer love or use? End of year is good time to clear out and contribute to charity, while earning a tax credit. Your environments will shine as you make room for new interests by weeding out the old and creating space for the new year ahead.
Memories Not Mementos
As you see, I'm all for a beautiful home and a bountiful table, especially during the holidays. I have a keen appreciation for fine things but interestingly research shows that experiences lead to happiness, not possessions. Why then do most of us feel compelled to shop for shiny new toys when we ultimately get greater joy from watching the skaters, baking a pie, or a strolling by the park after a snowfall.
This season, my inner voice tells me to take some time off, clean out my closets, ignore the shopping impulse, and simply find time for tea with my friends. Not an epic Downton Abby tea, maybe just Starbucks – in a paper cup.
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Be thankful for all we have. I'm grateful for this community of friends and clients.
Have a Happy Simple Thanksgiving!