January is the time we face up to our overwhelmed living spaces. It’s a combination of holiday excess, year-long acquisition, and lack of discipline to corral the clutter at the end of every day. Magazines feature organizational make-overs, urging us to get rid of stuff we don’t need, and make better use of our space. It’s an appealing, if daunting concept. Over the years, I’ve tried to streamline, but the best I can manage, usually, is to find a place for everything, even if I have to lean on the cabinet doors to shut everything in.
I’m a fan of furniture that provides storage. A bench that holds all of our towels, a sideboard that holds our paper products, and desk items like pens, pencils, paperclips and tape. Even pieces meant for specific storage, like bookcases, are pressed into wider range of service than may have been originally intended. Books, but also, games, pictures, plants, knick-knacks. Really, anything you can set down seems to end up there.
In my first apartment, before I could afford any furniture I hadn’t been allowed to take from home, I had a bookcase made from planks of wood and cinder blocks. Your standard college dorm room fare, but very practical. I could display my books, and it quickly became a place for all the stuff that accumulates. After a while, and a few paychecks, I decided to upgrade my storage by purchasing two seven-foot tall book cases – real ones, albeit, laminated fiberboard from an office supply store. A friendly store employee loaded the flat boxes into my car. During the unloading process, I discovered how incredibly heavy the boxes were, but I managed to get one upright and tried to “walk” it across the yard. I lost my balance and ended up spread eagle on the ground with the box on top of me. I imagine I looked like the coyote after being run over by the road runner. I wiggled out from under the box and went inside to call my dad for help. When he got there, and stopped laughing, we dragged those boxes inside and built the bookcases.
Nearly 40 years later, those bookcases are still in our home. They’ve been moved six times and are as sturdy as ever. We buy fewer books these days, due to an e-reader and a well stocked public library, so the contents don’t change that often. The bookcases hold representative tomes from our undergraduate and graduate degrees, favorite pictures, toys, small sculptures, and kids books. An accidental distillation of our life, the essentials, the things we can never seem to weed out or reorganize.