Monday, April 11, 2011

Stuff and breathing space

There is an old bird house outside my living room window. It is a red house with white window frames and black roof. As the years go by it hangs there looking more wearisome and worn. Every spring I think I ought to clean it out, but some how it never gets done. It seems beyond use now as the roof is sagging, but I like the red spot of color in my garden of green. As the trees become thick with leaves, I like spotting the red bird house. It calls me to do some spring cleaning.

In Japan, deep cleaning is done at the end of the year. I am not motivated then- it is often cold and everyone is at home for the holiday break. Now, with my children off to school in the mornings, I have time to sort through piles and discard items beyond usage. The kids think we need to keep everything so I can get rid of nothing. Last night my son woke up and came into our room saying, "I had a nightmare." I asked him what it was about. He replied, "You and Dada threw out my toys!" I reassured him no toys were thrown out and put him back to bed after a cool drink. Even doing a bit of cleaning around my kids results in nightmares! Sigh, so many piles to winnow.

I have changed my mind about living styles and decorating since I came to Japan. I have always liked textures and textiles. My years in Bahrain resulted in a lot of carpet purchases that I still love and cherish. During our time here in Japan, I have collected pottery that is dark and rough with lots of texture. Two rules apply to our Japanese house that came with the lease: (1) no shoes in the house; (2) no holes in the walls. We can't paint the walls or hang pictures. The walls are covered with a textured white/cream wallpaper. At first, I did not like it so much. I missed my red dinning room, my blue bedroom, and all of our prints and pictures. Now, I am used to it and find I would like to see even less in my house. This is difficult to do with a husband and two kids that weigh in on what is kept, but I hope and I think upon it. I have begun to drift to a less is more feeling. I still like things to be comfortable, but I want a less visible footprint and less clutter for my eyes and soul. I look at home magazines from the USA, and I am no longer interested in the use of color and object placement. I simply want more character from each piece in my house- like a farm table aged with years of use that feels rough to the touch and yet calls you to sit at it or a soft couch without pillows. I have come to dislike accoutrements. It seems so hard to pare down though. There are various attachments to things we don't even use! How to purge? I am always interested in reading how others organize their homes or seeing different ways of managing the stuff, but ultimately you have to purge daily- when something comes in, something goes out. Easy to say, but it is difficult to do. New activities require new supplies, new cooking gadgets rarely replace old ones, new books crowd next to old ones, etc., it all builds up along with toys and artwork from the kids, I am drowning in all the tidbits. Well intentioned friends and family send gifts that take up space whether they are used or needed or not. I have come to prefer gifts that one uses up like food or soap or wine or something that eventually goes away. There is no more room. We have very limited storage in our Japanese house like most others- there is no garage, no basement, nor attic to stuff away the Christmas boxes or sports stuff so it sits around us. Storing clothes is a pain as it is only what will fit under the bed, except that under my bed are four guitar cases. Alas. I think upon the kitchen which barely contains the food I buy, but there are cans and jars of stuff I think I moved here with, but getting rid of them seems difficult. I ignore it, but it takes up space.

I want space to breath. I dislike all of the surfaces of home being cluttered with objects and papers. I want my eye to be free to drift and not catch a pile which represents work. I think upon the idea that if I had less stuff to manage, I would have more time to do something else.

I met my yochien mama friends at Starbucks today. Our kids are all in first grade and still on half day schedules so meeting for coffee allowed some time for a chat without being too long. It is a beautiful day here so we sat out on the patio- the Starbucks we went to has a lovely patio. It has only the essentials- a few chairs and even fewer tables, but a good balance. It is not cluttered with lots of tables and lots of empty chairs. The chairs are lined up along the porch with a small table every so often. The space is wide and so you can reconfigure the seating arrangements for one or a group. It looks upon a nice garden and a beautiful sakura tree. It reminded me of what I seek in my home- space that can be used in different ways and simple furniture that is clean and comfortable. I never thought much about all of the clutter around me, but here I have begun to notice it more and more. Maybe in the tight spaces of Japan, I have begun to value open space, breathing space.