Need or want? Me and my stuff.

A funny thing happens when you have your house torn down to the wood studs.

As the demo crew hacked up the plaster walls, pulled out the frayed nob and tube electric, and disconnected the century-old rusting galvanized pipes, I felt dizzy. The way it might feel if you slashed a sharp knife across your torso, peeled back the skin, opened your chest only to see atrophied arteries, a rotting liver and your heart half collapsed, struggling to beat. Scary. This house was my foundation, literally the roof over my head, one that from the outside appeared solid, sturdy and strong. But despite, the beautiful lead glass windows, the ornate dentil molding, the Quarter-Sawn wood floors, my home was collapsing from the inside out.

It’s one thing to suspect it, another to pull a string line and see that your bedroom ceiling has sagged three inches end to end. According to the demo crew, at one point some inexperienced heat and air conditioning contractor had cut into the structural ceiling struts to add duct work, leaving less than 2 x 6” material to support a 16’ span. (Think of it as instead of having a suspension bridge to cross a river, you had to drive your car on one of those rickety bridges secured with braided rope.) With the core of the home, the stairwells, being the strongest, the dormers on either end had begun to collapse into the center. Our hundred-year-old abode needed some serious structural work. So we had no choice but to move everything out of the house. I mean every last piece of furniture, clothing, and knickknack. All of our precious “stuff” and camp out in our garage apartment in the back.

Due to the tight quarters over the garage, two rooms and a powder-sized bath, my husband and I had no choice but to scale down to one clothes rack a piece, a Rubbermaid bin, and our kitchen table top for storage of all necessities during the following eighteen months. The Baron, working in corporate, had a couple of suits, sport coats, dress shoes and a few casual get-ups to sustain him on weekends. For me, I chose three microfiber work out outfits, my Carhartt coveralls, steel toe boots, hat, one purse, a pair of earrings and if it wasn’t water resistant it didn’t get a spot on my roller rack. Minimalism to the extend that acquaintances would pass me on the street and not even recognize me. It was weird, disorientating, liberating; an inadvertent social experiment on myself. A test of sorts. One that yielded incredible results.

What I discovered was that what’s on the inside, beneath the paint, the window coverings, the art work, and the light fixtures, behind the lipstick, the outfits, the coordinating shoes and hand bags, was as equally as important as the image projected out. Yes, it’s imperative to take care of the house you live in, both the roof over your head and the skin that you walk around in. But while living in “minimalist mode” I was shocked at the fact that despite running the remodel, how much extra time I had. Time that I’d previously spent buying, organizing, cleaning, storing, and managing, my stuff.


So here’s the question. Going forward, did I want time to nurture creative flow or did I want to cave into the energy suck of my old ways of thinking and spend found time with my stuff? Or, could I use the extra time I’d discovered to explore and invest in other areas? i.e. my writing?

As the house edged towards completion, I made a choice. When four PODS and two semitrailer moving trucks pulled up to the curb, I vowed to scrutinize every item from a more balanced perspective. My new approach to organizing the house would be focused on how we live, versus staging rooms in order to hold our stuff. The dining room transformed into an office. The guest suite was multitasked in to a flight planning room. Sun room became a meditation/off season herb plant room. And before I knew what happened every piece of furniture had a purpose. Every painting set a tone. Every picture held a memory that was relevant.

Now when I roam around in the middle of the night, I feel light, easy, not bogged down or crowded by clutter. My mind is free to drift, unburdened by the “to-do, to-sort”, “to organize piles” that use to fill my home. I can walk, sit, think, write. Allowing the creative juices to gush like geysers.

Instead of seeing what I haven’t gotten to, what isn’t put together, I see wide open space. Superhighways for creative energy to flow.

From time to time I’m tempted to fall back into my old patterns. I get caught up in the moment at an antique market, trunk show, estate sale and have-to-have stuff makes its way into my space. These days, however, the “necessities” don’t stay very long. If I start to feel heaviness or my thoughts begin to spin, I go and visit the garage apartment to remember the benefits of simple living. The luxury of time to maintain my house both inside and out. Then, with an open heart, I pack up my new found treasures and put them on consignment or donate them to the local animal shelter.

E.L. Chappel author of Spirit Dance/Storm Chasers/Risk

Choosing unlimited creative energy and making the space to turn it into words.

aka The Glamorous Wife

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