Sentimental attachments: The Libra test

Blogging is an interesting way to occupy one’s time. In fact, I have a PhD colleague who did her dissertation on the occupation of blogging. Her study was fascinating, as she explored the meanings that blogging takes for different people. The thing that I have noted about blogging is that I write something, send it out into the ether, and then have relatively little sense of where it goes. Sure I can see when someone links to the blog, and I can track the number of hits on the site, and comments, but most readers pop in, read, and pop back out. As much as we bloggers talk about “blogging communities”, a blog is mostly a sounding board for a single individual, or a couple of writers, with a percentage of readers who comment on some posts. I love comments, but get relatively few, compared to the number of people who read this site. Sometimes I wonder…what’s the point? So much energy goes into this site. Does anyone really read it? I like writing, and the blog can be a good way to process my own thoughts and record our daily life, like an online journal, but the real hope is to impact some change. Living more simply changed my life. My hope is to pass that along. So it’s always encouraging to hear that someone was inspired by something I wrote, or a link that I shared.

Relatively recently, a friend started a minimalist challenge that she said was inspired by this blog! I found that very encouraging. Then I got a note in the mail from my mom today. She told me that she’s “following my mantra” – a load of stuff to the Goodwill every week! That is indeed how I pared down our stuff, and it felt manageable to make such incremental change, along with a sweeping whole-house Minify every now and then when the spirit moved me. My mom has been such an inspiration to me in so many ways (especially now that I’m a doc student – she’s been an excellent source of advice on life in academia!) It’s nice that we can inspire each other, every now and then. So that got me thinking – what advice helped me in the process of paring down our stuff? What was the hardest part, and where did I get stuck?

And that’s when I realized – I should share the Libra test. (I made that name up, by the way. It’s not a thing. Yet). I’m not an astrology buff, by any stretch. I like the Greek and Roman myths behind the names of the constellations, and I like astronomy quite a bit, but I digress. The point here is that this test has nothing to do at all with astrology, except that it was named after the zodiac image for Libra. Do you know it? The scales, for weighing two things against one another? Like this:

libra scales

The Libra test involves weighing your attachment to a pair of items, while literally holding them in your hands. It’s a way to help you let go of the less-loved thing, and to realize that parting with it will be totally painless. It started because I am a sentimental sort of gal. I save movie tickets, photos I don’t really like because they remind me of someone I do like, gifts that don’t fit. Or I used to, anyway. I have a hard time parting with an object if I have a sentimental attachment to it. “I still like this,” I tell myself, even when the object I’m holding in my hands is one I’ve never used, which lives on the back of a kitchen shelf. I feel an attachment. I really started noticing my attachment to things when I started participating in Project 333. It was so simple, and lovely, to dress with just 33 items. I realized that I didn’t need a closet full of stuff. I certainly didn’t need to own 12 cardigan sweaters. But when it came to actually getting rid of some of them…I had a hard time letting a single one go. “I sewed these buttons onto this one when I was in college,” I would think, holding a sweater that I hadn’t worn in the past year. Or “I got this one at a clothing swap from a friend who has now moved away,” about one that never quite buttoned up the front. I realized that I needed a way to help me remember that it doesn’t hurt to part with a thing that I never really use, and don’t need, especially when it could be put to better use in another home.

Here’s a current example: I have a pitcher that I bought in college. It was handmade, by a pottery student at my alma mater, and it reminds me of the mountains. In fact, that’s why I bought it: the glaze pattern reminds me of the blue ridge mountains. I like the pitcher. Since buying it ten years ago, though, I’ve acquired several that I like better. A fish-shaped ceramic pitcher from my mom, which glugs when we pour water from it. We use that every day. A blue handmade pottery pitcher that matches the set we got for our wedding. We use that whole set of pottery at every meal. And I have a sunset-colored pottery pitcher, also handmade, that I love so much that when it cracked down the side, I turned it into a crock for our kitchen utensils. I use that…you guessed it. Every day. The pitcher from college, meanwhile? The one that reminds me vaguely of the mountains? It sits unused, high on a shelf, because I have too many pitchers, and it’s my least favorite. It’s still a lovely object, and could probably get some daily use in a less cluttered home. Someone out there is going to love it even more than I do. And I can feel that – the sense that I don’t really love or need it – if I hold it in one hand and hold in the other hand an object that I do adore. When I compare the mountain pitcher to the blue pitcher from our wedding set, there’s no question of which object I love more, or would keep if I had to choose between them.

That’s all it takes – that moment of comparison, between a real affinity for an object that I love, and a mild sentimental attachment to an object that I know I should let go. That’s what reminds me that it’s okay to part with an object that I still kind of like, when I have several similar object that you like even better. It’s another way to approach the question, how many of these (scissors, pitchers, cardigan sweaters) do you really need and want to own? Figuring out which things I still really love, and which ones someone else will love even more, has been helping me pare down and get closer to a house that feels well loved, instead of just full of stuff.

Try it. See if it helps. Meanwhile, I’ll be parting with this mountain pitcher. Anyone want it? It’s in search of a better home!

Currently : July 2014

HOME. Also known as the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina, where I'm hoping to spend some time later this summer!

HOME. Also known as the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina, where I’m hoping to spend some time later this summer!


Reading | Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv

Listening | Zombie, by the Cranberries (in my head! it’s in my head!)

Hoping | To get a rather dreamy job – the interview was last week, and I confess, I’m on pins & needles

Watching | Parenthood reruns. People have been telling me to watch this show for years, and now I’m hooked! It really (really) reminds me of my family

Working | Dissertation proposal edits for days

Procrastinating | Laundry, as ever

Wanting | Lamps to brighten up the living room, but trying to withstand the urge

Wearing | skirts every day, because it’s WAY too hot outside

Recovering | from our summer yard sale. Got rid of stuff, met neighbors, made some cash, got a sunburn to remember it all by…

Drinking | Cold brew coffee

Eating | Kale slaw from the Moosewood cookbook (find it here)

Making | a kitchen pegboard! If it works, it’ll be on the blog in the next few weeks.

Sewing | baby presents. Our dearest friends had a tiny adorable human last month, and we can’t wait to meet him!

Dreaming | of backpacking with Josh this summer, in Shining Rock Wilderness. Still hoping we’ll get the chance this year!


what about you? whatcha up to this July?

A poem for June: The Whitsun Weddings

June passed by so quickly that I almost missed out on the poem-a-month project. Okay, I did miss out, but we’re only four days into July, so here goes. June is wedding season. I was in a wedding last weekend, in fact – my very best friend got married in Western North Carolina, and it was such a joy to stand next to her as she married a really wonderful man. It was also a joy to dance in her parents’ barn, which she and her family had turned into a fairy tale for the night, full of light and lace and laughter.
Philip Larkin’s feelings on weddings are perhaps a bit different from my own, but I love the way that he’s captured the sights and smells and his own sentiments during a summer train ride in wedding season. He has also captured the way that the world rolls by so quickly, and the ways we share our journeys (literal and figurative) with strangers along the way, by coincidence or by fate. With no further ado, a poem in honor of June weddings:

The Whitsun Weddings


That Whitsun, I was late getting away:
    Not till about
One-twenty on the sunlit Saturday
Did my three-quarters-empty train pull out,
All windows down, all cushions hot, all sense   
Of being in a hurry gone. We ran
Behind the backs of houses, crossed a street
Of blinding windscreens, smelt the fish-dock; thence   
The river’s level drifting breadth began,
Where sky and Lincolnshire and water meet.

All afternoon, through the tall heat that slept   
    For miles inland,
A slow and stopping curve southwards we kept.   
Wide farms went by, short-shadowed cattle, and   
Canals with floatings of industrial froth;   
A hothouse flashed uniquely: hedges dipped   
And rose: and now and then a smell of grass   
Displaced the reek of buttoned carriage-cloth   
Until the next town, new and nondescript,   
Approached with acres of dismantled cars.

At first, I didn’t notice what a noise
    The weddings made
Each station that we stopped at: sun destroys   
The interest of what’s happening in the shade,
And down the long cool platforms whoops and skirls   
I took for porters larking with the mails,   
And went on reading. Once we started, though,   
We passed them, grinning and pomaded, girls   
In parodies of fashion, heels and veils,   
All posed irresolutely, watching us go,

As if out on the end of an event
    Waving goodbye
To something that survived it. Struck, I leant   
More promptly out next time, more curiously,   
And saw it all again in different terms:   
The fathers with broad belts under their suits   
And seamy foreheads; mothers loud and fat;   
An uncle shouting smut; and then the perms,   
The nylon gloves and jewellery-substitutes,   
The lemons, mauves, and olive-ochres that

Marked off the girls unreally from the rest.   
    Yes, from cafés
And banquet-halls up yards, and bunting-dressed   
Coach-party annexes, the wedding-days   
Were coming to an end. All down the line
Fresh couples climbed aboard: the rest stood round;
The last confetti and advice were thrown,
And, as we moved, each face seemed to define   
Just what it saw departing: children frowned   
At something dull; fathers had never known

Success so huge and wholly farcical;
    The women shared
The secret like a happy funeral;
While girls, gripping their handbags tighter, stared   
At a religious wounding. Free at last,
And loaded with the sum of all they saw,
We hurried towards London, shuffling gouts of steam.   
Now fields were building-plots, and poplars cast   
Long shadows over major roads, and for
Some fifty minutes, that in time would seem

Just long enough to settle hats and say
    I nearly died,
A dozen marriages got under way.
They watched the landscape, sitting side by side
—An Odeon went past, a cooling tower,   
And someone running up to bowl—and none   
Thought of the others they would never meet   
Or how their lives would all contain this hour.   
I thought of London spread out in the sun,   
Its postal districts packed like squares of wheat:

There we were aimed. And as we raced across   
    Bright knots of rail
Past standing Pullmans, walls of blackened moss   
Came close, and it was nearly done, this frail   
Travelling coincidence; and what it held   
Stood ready to be loosed with all the power   
That being changed can give. We slowed again,
And as the tightened brakes took hold, there swelled
A sense of falling, like an arrow-shower   
Sent out of sight, somewhere becoming rain.
Whitsun is the seventh Sunday after Easter (Pentecost), celebrated in the UK and Ireland. This year, it fell on June 8th. Philip Larkin (1922-1985) was an English poet and novelist. He wrote a great deal about deprivation and desolation. Like many 20th century male poets, his politics are now controversial, but his way with words was unquestionably amazing. Author Eric Homberger rather famously once called Larkin “the saddest heart in the post-war supermarket.” I quite love that quote.