Being where you are

I live on a street that consists mostly of attached townhouses, rental places meant for when your life has gotten too big for an apartment but your down payment for a single-family home is too small.


I am here because I want to be; for me, this townhouse is just the right size. But other people are here because they have to be. They lost their homes, or maybe they sold them just in time, before they couldn’t afford them anymore. You can always tell these people because their garages are stuffed full of things that don’t fit inside.


It used to be a happier street than it is now.


I watch as the months go by, and the garages stay jam-packed. Winter comes, and they can’t park their cars in their garages, because the garages are still full of all the possessions that used to fit in their lives, and no longer do, and they can’t quite admit it.


Not that I’m unsympathetic. Jess is something of a packrat, and I understand why: when you’re dependent on other people, you can’t be sure you’re going to get a new princess doll when you need one, so you’re reluctant to let go of the ones you’ve got.


These people are like that: they aren’t sure they’ll ever be able to afford another whatchamacallit, so they don’t want to leave go of the ones they have. It’s more than that, though; it’s something symbolic. We had it all, they seem to be saying. Just look. We had it all, and we will get it back.


But I know the danger of clutter, and it’s not just because it gets in the way of keeping a clear path to the door.


The clutter is not a symbol of what you will get back. It is an anchor that drags you deep, an albatross that keeps you weighed down, tied to a past that ended, focused on what-ifs and should-have-dones. I want to knock on the doors of the people living in the places with the jam-packed garages and say, “Those days are over, and you have to move on. Find out who you could be now!”


But I never do.


It makes me sad to drive by those houses when the garage doors are open, not because of the hard-luck that brought the people here, but because of the mindset that’s keeping them down. You can’t cram your old life into this one, I want to tell them. You have to give this one room to breathe or you’ll suffocate it and it will die, and then what will you do?


That’s what I want to say.


You can never get back the old. And there’s no promise that the new will have anything much to recommend it. But you have to learn to live the life you have, not the one you wish you had, or the one you left behind.


Ask me how I know.


  1. Thank you. That was so profound, especially the last paragraph. I lost a job of 30 years last February. I have a new job that I just haven't adapted to and I am letting my past get in the way. I can't let go. I have to learn to live the life I have now because it is the only one I am going to have. I can't believe I happened to stumble on your blog today. I have never been here before. There is a reason.

  2. I'd be one of those people, I think. For the 7 years I lived in another country, 6 were spent longing for home. Then when I knew I was going back, the last year was spent concentrating on everything that was good about the place, realizing that I had missed out on the enjoyment of it all along. On the other hand, I hate clutter, so it's a toss-up.

    This was a very insightful piece, beautifully written, and right after I read it I opened the TSep 27 edition of TIME to see a story on the 'Real Moms of Grosse Point' with a similar theme, although not written from such a philosophical angle.

  3. I don't know. We live in a neighborhood of typical middle America houses and almost every one of our neighbors parks in the driveway because the garages are packed with crap. And I know that all of these houses have storerooms, which means that their storerooms are totally packed with crap as well. I think it's a disease of America in general: MUST BUY CHEAP CRAP. CHEAP CRAP WILL MAKE ME HAPPY. It's really sad.

  4. Well, said. Very well said. Powerful. I needed to read those words. I know a lot of people who need to read those words. Based on valuable-life-lessons-learned? Yes? Even the more powerful. Thank you!

  5. Great insight. As an older woman who has moved a lot and cleaned out a lot (I once lived in an RV by choice), you realize what's really important when you have to keep packing it and moving it. Not much of it is really important, except maybe a favorite picture of you with your grandchildren. My AF son is being reassigned – from NM to ND – and since he's got my two grandchildren, I'm moving too. Again I'm clearing out the "fluff" I've managed to accumulate while in NM. And I keep a picture of my grandchildren on my calendar to remind me WHY I'm moving. As if I needed a reminder.

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