On Not Decorating

alexandra sklar
alexandra sklar

i've started writing over on medium, and would love for you to check out my first post and connect over there.

(or, the story of our move to california.)

 While organizing our cross-country move, I learned exactly how much “stuff” we have. A nice woman from the moving company came to our condo, and in a very efficient manner, summed up the carefully curated artifacts of our life in just two words: 10,000 lbs.

10,000 lbs. The number weighs on me. It is heavy; for context, I usually use the 12 lb weights at the gym. We live in a converted century-old warehouse loft, with exposed brick walls, wide expanses of windows, 15 foot ceilings- our urban dream house. Everything is on display, and because of this, we are carefully aware of what we bring in. We lived for months with only a college futon and a set of mismatched chairs. And yet, in six short years, we have ourselves deliberately carried 10,000 lbs of “stuff” in- carried it two blocks from our parking spot, down the street, through a courtyard, up two flights of stairs, and into our home.

Faced with a major move, and given our general un-preparedness in the face of life-changing events, we decide just to move it all, to pack it all up on a truck in the middle of what our clueless realtor dubs the “best block” in Philadelphia, and just deal with it on the other side.

I am, by nature, conflicted about “stuff”. I’m trained as an architect and in my heart of hearts, see myself living in a perfectly white house, surrounded by stacks of books and little else. Maybe my Heath dinnerware, just in case a dinner party breaks out. And my Delfonics pencils- have you used them? They are very architectural, and would look just perfect in my all-white house. Counter to this, by profession- my job title is Buyer. Yes, I buy things for a living, and yes, that is a real job, one I love. I travel the world in search of the newest, the greatest, the most incredible, and bring them to market, shaping trend and taste while continuing the American retail cycle. With this trade comes an inclination to consume, collect, and accumulate- and I have done my share of this. How can I not bring home a hand-crafted terracotta mobile, bought directly from the artist on the edge of a vineyard in southern France?

Moving-in day, three weeks later. I’m now on the other side - the other side of the move, the other side of the country, the other side of reality- standing outside a 1972 split-level house in a master-planned suburb south of San Francisco. Ocean breezes carrying the scent of weeds and cypress across the perfectly-groomed rock-garden of our new rental. Our house backs up protected land. It is quiet and beautiful. It is California. I look past the little pink houses and up over the hills and dream of hiking.A large truck pulls up the hill and parks in front of the house. I am wearing my daughter in an Ergo baby carrier, holding her close as I coordinate the moving of 10,000 lbs of “stuff” into our new home. My new moving men friends tell me that this is an extremely simple move, that we only filled up a small portion of the truck, and that most of their jobs are contracted for much larger amounts. This makes me feel normal. Six hours later, exhausted by the continuous stream of boxes and directions, I sign a single piece of paper, acknowledging, that yes, I have indeed received all 10,000 lbs of my belongings in acceptable condition. Then they are gone, away with their truck, their dolly, and their casual jokes, leaving me with my daughter, 337 boxes, and a tarantula we trapped in a rubbermaid container around lunchtime.

In this incredibly short time, life is different. I’ve left my 

dream job

, said goodbye to my most dear friends, flown across the country with a one-year old, assumed a new identity as a stay-at-home-mom, and become the primary grocery shopper in the household, which was likely the most difficult transition. I’ve been living in a small corporate apartment lost in the massiveness of the Silicon Valley, sharing a Chevy Impala rental with my husband, and making do with the small selection belongings we could carry in our suitcases.

But making do proved itself pretty simple. What’s the difference between two pairs and jeans and ten pairs of jeans? Apparently, a lot of money and a few loads of wash. We had deliberated over packing our daughters belongings, with no need- she had plenty of toys, books, learning and laughter. We stopped organizing our lives around things and instead, without conscious decision, started focusing on experience. We walked outside. We visited family. We found new favorite restaurants that reminded us of home. And according to our airline baggage fees, we did this with under 400 lbs of “stuff”.

We escaped our temporary housing and went adventuring in the Santa Cruz mountains, stopping into an amazing homesteading store, where after much deliberation, I bought a $3 juice jar. It was perfect. It was beautiful. It was functional. It was timeless. It was an everyday object that could exist perfectly in our home without thought or effort. It had an ease of being that I myself aspire to have, a simplicity that I want for my family in our new home.

I can’t figure out how to work our new keys, so I walk around the house and walk in through the garage door. My car is in the garage, dirty with the filth of 3,000 miles, brazenly displaying her Pennsylvania plates, so clearly out of place 3 miles from the Pacific Ocean. I am sure the dent in the bumper, a remnant of a hard life on the streets of Philly, will rust quickly in the fog. I introduce my daughter to our house as we walk up the back stairs; here we are, walking into our new life for the first time, reunited with our belongings, all 10,000 lbs of them.The house is full of boxes, but is still feeling empty of life. I realize I am not a complete minimalist, that white walls will only go so far. I need to see my things, things I’ve collected while traveling the world, while falling in love with my husband, while preparing our home for our growing family.

Luckily the crib is set up, and I put my daughter down for a much-deserved nap. I walk into the living room and remember some advice my dad has sagely provided: “just take one box at a time”. And so I do. By the time my husband has arrived home from work, I’ve made a small dent in the project. And slowly, over the following weeks, that is how I approach my task, one box at a time, taking long breaks to show my daughter the Pacific Ocean and let her feel the salt spray on her face, to drive down the coastline and admire the bright sunshine, to visit our new farmer’s market and find the deal of a lifetime- an armful of fresh eucalyptus for $4.

I take my eucalyptus home, and put it in the only vase I can find, a bit rushed as I know I need to cut an avocado for my daughter’s lunch. In all honesty, it is probably now the only vase I have- simple, blown glass, a little more tapered in shape than I would ideally want, but aesthetically acceptable. After watching 10,000 lbs of “stuff” enter my house, it has been simple to edit our belongings, and I have donated much in recent weeks. I want less. The things that stay are those with meaning- daycare 

finger-painting

, my grandmother’s marble end tables, a hand-thrown bowl our friend Sarah made for my husband, and yes, my Heath dinnerware, given to me by my family for my thirtieth birthday.

Here in California, we have a fresh start. Life here will be thoughtful, meaningful, simple.

I think my “arrangement” is perfect. It goes in the center of our kitchen table, in the center of our perfectly Brady-bunch eat-in kitchen, in the center of our new home. It is the only room not clouded with boxes. I decide not to fuss with it. I just let it be. This is a big step for me. Our walls are white and the southern light bounces throughout the room, it is cheerful all day. My eucalyptus sits there, un-arranged, for 2 weeks, an occasional influx of water adding to its longevity. I watch it change, colors transitioning, leaves drying, scent fading. I resolve myself to draw again, to sing pop music with my daughter, to actually read “

Wabi-sabi for Artists

” after letting it sit faded on my coffee table for years. I decide I am done with decorating, with display, with concerning myself about the public-ness of my home. Here in our new life, we will just be.