Monday, June 02, 2014


I was out in front, murdering dandelions, waiting for the landscaper to show up when my neighbour Pauline on the ground floor popped out on her patio and asked if I'd seen her place since her son-in-law and his dad redid it?

The short answer is no. She'd gone to her daughter's for two weeks while the son-in-law and his dad, who are professional contractors, gutted her place and completely redid it. I didn't even realize she was back.

So, after the landscaper left I parked my shoes at her patio door and had the tour. I don't know which emotion I felt first. Envy and covetousness are high on the list. Her place is smaller than ours, basically two rooms and a bath, so about 360 sq ft. The area we use as a kitchen/dining room serves as her living room as well, and her "den" serves as her bedroom.

But her redo was so well done I was hard pressed to figure out what was missing. Her walls have been repainted a pale dove grey with crisp white trim. The floors are a high class walnut laminate except for the entry and bath, which have grey slate tile.

Her maple kitchen cupboards have been replaced by white glossy ones with modern handles. That maddening corner jog which hogs half of the storage room in the kitchen has a nifty two-tiered lazy Susan which turns and then pulls out so you can use that entire corner. She has a new granite counter top, new sink and taps. Up on top there's an angled corner cupboard. New white "railway" backsplash and new stainless steel appliances, including an 18" wide dishwasher.

In the bathroom the fixtures are new, and there's new laundry room cabinetry with built in laundry hampers. New high-quality closet doors which slide, allowing access to everything inside. Everything colour matched and simple and clean and slick, including framed prints from the WalMart. Restful to look at. Fantastic. It looks like something from a magazine.

I came home, threw away my bag of dead dandelions, flopped in my chair and looked at our living room. Just the one room. There are too many books, and too many bookshelves. The coffee table is enormous and we bark our shins on it regularly but it's shaped like a stack of books and has three drawers handy for old birthday cards and bits of junk you are too lazy to walk to the garbage can with, like empty spools of tape, and lists of to-do's I won't ever.

From where I'm sitting I can count ten large seashells, a rolled up python skin, a turtle shell, a pine cone a foot long, 15 paintings, 14 boxes (I seem to have amassed a collection of boxes, most of which arrived by way of inheritance. One of them is full of miniature dolls and toys.) There are three clocks, two of which don't work, three model ships, a half dozen baskets and a naked paper mache cherub hanging from a bracket near the door.

An embroidered valance from India hangs off one bookshelf.  A Buddha raises a hand in blessing (or defense), a butsudan sits unused (but decorative) behind him. A prayer bowl, a few bells and framed family portraits complete the disarray of object d'arte within my gaze. Aside from the furniture of course, a flowered sofa, two burgundy rockers, a Windsor chair and an antique secretary. Oh, and the TV, DVD player, three computers and i-pad and two readers.

Anyone in his right mind would have to admit this is altogether too much crap in one 11 x 12 ft room, but aside from the mundane sofa/chairs/TV/electronics every piece has a story attached. I picked up the abalone shell from a tidal pond on Metakatla Peninsula in 1978, the piece of coral came by way of Tony's dad who got it in the 1940s from the Red Sea, the conch was picked up on a island beach after a storm by my friend Audrey, while she sailed around the Bahamas with a friend in the 70s. And 75 years ago the snake made the poor decision to drop from a branch onto the head and neck of Tony's dad in Ecuador. It skinned out to about seven feet, was preserved by who knows what method and has spent many a year rolled up on shelves and mantels.

There's an olive wood Bible box, which was a gift from Tony's great-uncle Albert to his grandmother in 1901, acquired in Jerusalem, and the list goes on. Every object suggests a person, most of them long vanished from our lives but still very much in our hearts and memories.  

The whole point of this rambling missive is that while I absolutely love Pauline's new digs, they could belong to anyone. They could be an upscale hotel suite. The thing that's missing is any hint that Pauline lives there. There's no hint of the wise-cracking heels-up-kicking Pauline herself. The personality is missing.  I didn't see a single shelf, box or basket. Where the dickens is her stuff? You can't get to be 72 years old and not have accumulated any stuff! It's not normal.

So yes, I'm torn. Between sleek, modern and beautifully serene (i.e. stuff-free) and the hodge-podge of memories represented by this roomful of items I probably couldn't even get a thrift shop to take. It's all tat (i.e. rubbish, the kind of junk sold to unsuspecting tourists) as the English would say, but it's my tat, and for now I'm hanging onto it, and even mourning a few pieces that disappeared along the way.

Where do you stand on the issue? Are you happiest with a zen-like atmosphere or do you treasure great-aunt Agatha's doilies and still have them draped over the back of your sofa? How does your home reflect you, or does it? 


Meryl Baer said...

I like clean and sleek, but love my stuff too much. We downsized twice so got rid of a lot. But we still collect things. I keep putting off cleaning out - the stuff I have kept I find hard to part with, and new stuff I 'need'. I am just not an organizer and neat freak.

smm said...

I read that title as Tom vs. Torn. Go figure.
I kept wondering who Tom was and how you managed to "collect" him.

Deb said...

Tom followed me home from the market and I asked Himself if we could keep him and Himself said, "Does he cook and clean?" and I asked and he said, "Sure, I guess." So that's how the Tom collection started.

I know, I read that as Tom too. Foolish Fonts -

oklhdan said...

I struggle between wanting to be clean and sleek and the love of my husband. I was a little OCD before Ron and I got married. Wanting everything to be perfect and in its place. But marriage knocked that right out of me. I love my husband more than I love "perfect".

Deb....we have more than Oklahoma in common. I too was a dance student dropout. Although I didn't fall in the orchestra pit.