Acquisitions, Mergers, and the Purge
The stuff of life.
When I was a child, my grandmother had an antique shop. Down a few steps from an urban sidewalk, she reigned over a small warren of rooms in a space that was once an apartment. I would visit her there often, wandering from room to room, dragging my fingers over the Empire desks and chairs named for various French kings, gazing at my child’s reflection in ornate Regency mirrors.
My very favorite thing about these visits (aside from the unlimited access to ginger ale and Red Hots) was the tiny closet in the room at the very back of the shop. This prior closet no longer had a door and its walls were lined, top to bottom, with narrow shelves upon which sat an array of wee treasures. A jumble of collectibles that were not important or valuable enough for the main display in the big rooms, but were curious enough that my grandmother’s sharp collector’s eye couldn’t leave them behind. She would send me to the closet on each visit and let me select one treasure for my own, to take home and squirrel away somewhere in my small child’s world.
Thus began my season of acquisitions.
Well into the middle of my life now (what we optimistically call the “middle,” for if it is, I will be pushing records at the moment of my death), I’ve come to identify three seasons of stuff in a life. I can’t speak for anyone else, as I represent a sample size of one, but my life has so far been comprised of these three: Acquisitions, Mergers, and the Purge.
I’ve no idea what became of all those thrilling little bits of early materialism that I obtained in my grandmother’s shop — tiny cups and chipped figurines, odd jewels and hair pins, finger bowls and opera glasses. Some of them are probably still with me, in drawers or on dressers, but most of them slipped away in the mist of a distracted life. Perhaps some were gifted and some, no doubt, were actively axed in the latest Purge.
But those items represented the beginning of my headlong charge into the gathering of stuff, the building of what I hoped would be a life. Not just any life, of course, but my own signature life well lived. One needs the props of such a thing. Through my teens and into my twenties, I accepted anything that was offered for free (surely these odd ceramic dolls and that exotic flute will help me tell my story somehow, someday) and I haunted estate sales and flea markets with the goal of filling my life with stuff. It’s the stuff that holds us up, provides the raft and the ballast, in the storms. Right?
So, I cheerfully collected things, all manner of things, that seemed pretty or witty or potentially useful. Things that might make the right comments about me, add some much needed gravity or mystery to the story I thought I should be telling. As I got a bit older, I became more discerning, started editing here and there. But the stuff around me gave me a certain comfort and convinced me that I was on my way to that life well lived.
Then, somewhere in my twenties, a new character entered my story and stayed. He brought, as they do, his stuff. All the things that he had been gathering from the world to create his reality and tell his story. The mergers bring lots of stuff and, with it, the challenge of mingling harmoniously. I’m talking only about the things here — the task of human harmony is a very different conversation.
My merger brought some treasures — interesting desks and chairs and dressers from a grandmother’s New York apartment, lamps and mirrors of unknown provenance, small curious tchotchkes. Also, boxes of broken trinkets, gifts from exes, and a lifetime of scribbling. Suddenly, my living space was packed with two stories, his and mine, and in the glow of a new merger, it felt mostly like happy plenty. We landed in a big enough house and continued, for a time, on the path of acquisitions, seeking those items that told our story.
After some time, some living with the merger and the acquisitions, the chaff begins to declare itself. The stuff, the things, start to rub up against each other and muscle their way to the fore. My chaff is not his, of course, and his is not mine, but there becomes a definite sense that there are entirely too many things. Suddenly, that tiny teapot from grandma’s shop is an eyesore and those flirty bits of fabric obtained in a burst of good intention are ridiculous. I can barely reattach a button, the patterns and the fabric are clearly meant for someone else’s story.
Thus, slowly, inexorably, begins the Purge.
This is the season in which I currently find myself, here in the “middle.” The stuff has to go. These things that were supposedly telling the story of me, creating the backdrop of this life well lived, now seem to be nothing but clamor and clutter. A distraction from the business of life, all this color and noise, all these trinkets and treasures. For sure, some things have value, both economic and sentimental, and have escaped the axe. There are the things that have risen to the top for no other reason than the story they tell when I look at them. There are the useful items and the beautiful bits that have remained.
The pleasure of the purge, however, cannot be overstated. Boxes of things — stale things, broken things, ugly things, useless crumbling things — when pushed out the door, create little pockets of space that have nothing in them but promise. I can no longer bear yard sales, flea markets, jumbles. Jumbles! The very name is the problem (never mind fleas). Synonyms for “jumble” — clutter, muddle, mess, confusion, disarray, tangle, imbroglio — are all things to avoid.
This is how I feel now, in the season of the Purge, but I have very clear memories of the markets and the sales. Oh how I loved, as a young woman on a weekend morning, to go marketing. Picking through the cast-offs of others, searching for the piece of my puzzle that was missing. I sold myself the illusion of acquisition as a means to an end. The life well lived.
Now that I’ve begun in earnest to sift through this collection of mine, I’m realizing that some of it was necessary. Some of my puzzle pieces were successfully plucked from the jumbles and properly placed in my story. But I’ve also realized that the life well lived really has nothing to do with the stuff and everything to do with the intangibles. Love, laughter, grief, memory. Light and dark and dreams.
I do wonder, here in the middle of the Purge, if there is another season coming. Perhaps I’ll return to my youthful habit of perusing the piles, seeking the treasure. If so, it’s my suspicion that I will bring a much more critical eye to the activity. There’s only so much room in this life well lived.
Lisa Renee is a freelance writer living near a Finger Lake in New York. She is also fiction editor at daCunha.global.