Unintentionally, Cheryl and I have found a way to determine what possessions are essential in life.
Step One: Move out of your home into your garage attic for what is expected to be six-to-nine months. Space is tight, so you can only take basics.
Step Two: Select basics.
I selected toiletries, the minimum amount of clothing for work and leisure, one easy chair. No photos, no keepsakes, no anything that represented clutter. Also, no books. I would survive on a diet of periodicals.
Cheryl faced similar reductions. Her favorite clothes and shoes made the cut. Vast amounts of garb did not. Every knick-knack got left behind.
She equipped our “kitchen,” which lacked running water and an oven, with an electric frying pan, a microwave and a toaster. At breakfast, we could choose from among three bowls. Our dinner selection: four plates.
It was like living in a one-room cabin in the woods or, as we sometimes framed it, a honeymoon cottage. Meals were simple. Housekeeping was simple. Most of the complexities and choices that come with home ownership faded away.
I think Marie Kondo, the global decluttering guru, would have been proud of us.
Meanwhile, the back of our house was being demolished and rebuilt ... slowly. In late November, after 14 months in the garage, we had our first meal in our new kitchen. Only Wednesday, after 15 months, did we return to our old bedroom.
The home we’ve moved back into is astonishingly large — much bigger than a garage attic, anyway. And at first blush, unhomey.
We’re reoccupying rooms that had been drunkenly strewn with left-behind clothing, piles of furniture and boxes of stuff in need of a temporary resting place while the construction workers went at it.
Layers of dust — or was it actual dirt? — covered everything. Spiders and other creepy-crawlies had moved in.
I could hardly relate to our disheveled old quarters. What kind of people had once lived there? A family of slobs? Why so many rooms? Did their acquisitiveness know no limits?
We labored for days and days doing major cleaning and reorganizing. It felt a lot like earthquake recovery.
During the move-out in September 2015, I had left behind stacks of receipts, insurance documents, little keepsakes, miscellaneous CDs and reading material on my dresser, bedside table and sideboard. In short, stuff everywhere.
Returning 15 months later, I thought I’d entered a pack rat’s den. Did the old me throw nothing away?
I spent a day culling things for the trash can. I was ruthless. Very little moved me to mercy.
If I hadn’t needed you for the past 15 months, why did I need you now? My jumble of nearly illegible notes on movies to see, books to read — out with you. The man I am today is not the man I was then.
Our move-in remains a work in progress. The bedroom is again a clean, inviting place. The living room is still a disaster and is likely to remain that way for weeks to come.
As for the new kitchen, it’s coming along fine. Maybe too fine.
Cheryl designed the kitchen with dozens of cupboards and drawers — easily three times more than in the old kitchen.
A person might wonder, given that we’d gotten along for more than a year with three bowls and four plates, how we could possibly fill so many cupboards and drawers.
A fair question, but let me reassure you. Cheryl is finding a way.