Next month, I’m moving to California. My apartment is nearly empty. Every day, strangers from Craigslist come and carry away pieces of furniture I’ve lived with for years now. And every time they leave, I stare at the vacant space where the dresser, or the bookcase, or the desk, or the coffee table used to be and I feel both deep loss and exhilarating freedom.
I moved into this apartment here in Austin just one year ago. The day I moved in, I placed my furniture where I thought it belonged and that was where it remained. I reveled in my new space and the way I had chosen to place everything to best fit my needs and taste.
But as the year progressed, something interesting happened. Fairly quickly, I began to relate to my furniture as if it were immovable. I took for granted that it was where it was because I had placed it there, and therefore I had the power to move it. My environment had become so familiar that I forgot that I had choice. I developed amnesia for my own power to create and recreate my life.
But when I began selling my furniture and the major pieces that had defined my space began to disappear, a remarkable thing happened – my experience of my apartment completely changed. Breath and hope and space and fresh air swept in. Everything was new and different. I remembered my power. The light of possibility emerged.
Still, there was also an acute feeling of loss each time I watched a piece of my furniture get carried out the door. After all, many of those items had been with me for years already. That bookcase used to be in my bedroom in my former house and I stared at it every day from my bed, where I cried about being sick and my mom dying and my engagement falling apart.
The corner of that sofa table was where my daughter got the scar by her eye one evening when she was playing too close to it. Those wooden square shelves had been with me since 2007 – my ex-boyfriend put them together in our house in New York and my daughter wrote on them with markers when she was four. Then there was the patio set, where I kissed the man I loved, and then later another man I loved, and read books that made me feel inspired, and cuddled with my daughter on Saturday mornings, and basked in the sunshine to keep me alive on those days when I was so sick and depressed I wanted to die.
Many of those memories weren’t even good, and I have been surprised by the intensity of my attachment to the inanimate objects that held them. Still, the loss feels real and it hurts and is unexpected. But what is the thing I am losing?
I think, at its simplest, it is this: I am losing certainty. My attachment isn’t to the furniture – it’s to an illusion of safety and security built upon the familiarity of those objects. So now, as I sell off each item, I must exist in the furniture-less, uncertain, uncomfortable, messy, groundless middle between owning my old stuff and eventually owning new stuff, between a life here in Austin, and a life soon-to-be in California.
At this moment, I own next-to-no stuff – a place of sheer terror and utter liberation, depending on my mood.
It’s no different than ending a relationship or deciding to move to a new state or country or changing the lifestyle habits that we know have been keeping us sick. We know we need to let go of the old thing, the familiar, comfortable thing, but we don’t know yet what awaits us in the new, what it looks or feels like.
We have all been here – engaged in that slow-motion leap from one building to the other, determined not to look down, kept afloat by the winds of dread and elation and the echo of that insistent question: Will I make it to the other side alive?