Drowning in Towels

Drowning in Towels

I am unexpectedly moving again.

Most people dislike moving, but for me, I’ve always liked it. There are so many beautiful places to live, so many different spaces to inhabit. I also like the reminder of that people are my home, that the space is secondary.

The other thing I love about moving is that at some point in the process, I have to confront my material life. In Tolstoy’s great short story, he asks the questions, “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” (Spoiler Alert!) By the end, Tolstoy’s answer for his character Pahom, who is consumed by greed, is a 6ft x 3ft grave. In the modern retelling, the story of my move, my 2014 copycat story would ask, “How many towels does one woman need?”

Maybe the answer would still be a 6ft x3 ft grave:)

By towels, you realize, I don’t mean just towels, but let’s start there. How many towels do we need? Really. There are the big towels(shower), then the hand towels, wash cloths, decorative towels, guest towels (x 2), the beach towels, and of course, the old, rough, ripped and stained towels that I can’t seem to throw away.  At my count, we could probably host most of our friends and their kids if there were a sudden downpour or lake party.

And of course, I’m not just talking about towels. This life is a life filled with excess preparing for that one day that may never happen. Moving to a new home forces me to confront, through the sheer work of packing (again), that I am woefully over prepared for a life I am not living, and truthfully told, will never live. How many glasses (all different types) in the cupboard? Plates, silverware? When is the last time I hosted a sit down dinner for 12 or more? Never, is the answer. Candles? Camping gear? Kitchen Utensils? Tupperware? Cookbooks? Raw silk dresses appropriate for high tea at the St. Paul Hotel?

I’m purposefully leaving out detailed descriptions of the toys, board games, sleds, clothing, books, and tools that are so precious to my dear family, but the excess is the same.

I have often heard the idea to only keep the things you love. This at first seems like great advice, but it is an idea that needs questioning, because at a certain point of excess it is hard to enjoy anything. And because I often find even the things I love, maybe more so, are burdensome to me.

This is the change I’ve seen in myself in the last decade of moving. Years ago, I was most bothered by the fact that someone could be making use of all the items that sit unused by me. And this argument has been made much more effectively by other people many times over. But now, I also bothered for myself. I believe these things are taking space from my life, and not just physical. This energy of future and past lives seems a direct denial of what is my life now.  Most of all, it seems to be draining the life out of us.

By us, I mostly mean women, for it is often the women who are dealing in the stuff of the household. In a generation of woman who have much more freedom than our mothers had, I believe it is this constant in and out flow of things that is sucking up our life energy.

And this is our choice even if it is an unconscious one. It is estimated that in the U.S, women are responsible for 78% percent of the spending in the household. In other words, the towels didn’t get there themselves. If we believe the statistics, we are mostly responsible for the influx of beach towels and the 2 gallon container of ketchup. Add this to the three stops a week at the grocery store, for the just in case meals, the guest lotions and candles, the just in case my son’s friend forgets his toothbrush, the cases and cases of bottled water, pop, “snacks” etc. We seem to think that being stockpiled says something about us as human beings. This consumption takes great time and energy, for added to the stockpiling, is all of our the decorating, remodeling and redecorating, (Pinterest anyone?), trying to get the right towels. Truth be told, most of our home are beautiful, much more beautiful than the ones we grew up in, because the homes are being cared for more and more. The past and future fantasy lives are preserved, but we as caretakers are worn. We are drained by this endless activity, this forever preparation, for the just in case life.

Meanwhile, we are depressed and anxious at a higher rate than men. Many of us claim we don’t have time to take care of ourselves. Likewise, we have little time for our spouses and friends. We are too tired at night to read to the kids. Hobbies and interests are things we used to have. There is no time, we say. But the stockpile says otherwise.

The strange reality is, there is enough time, but the time is being spent on things that are draining and overwhelming.

So I ask you what I’ve been asking myself: When was the last time you truly ran out of something? And even if you can think of a time when that happened, did it matter at all? Did anyone even notice?

Compare that to, When was the last time you were too tired to take care of yourself? When was the last time you spent your time off taking care of the house?

And ultimately, When was the last time you sat unhurried with someone you love?

Moving this week gets me to confront these things, and if you are like me, there is the point at which all the stuff is too just too much. This is the point at which in the consumption scenario, I’m no longer the consumer; I’m the one being consumed. No more drowning in towels. So if you live close, you are in luck! Stop by tomorrow, any time, and I’ve got a HUGE selection of towels for you. You could also get a matching candle if you want:)

  • Ellie Roscher

    No more drowning in towels! It is a battle cry we have to claim every day to work against society’s status quo force pulling us toward mindless consumption. I remember you saying once, “We must be human beings before consumers.” Thank you!

  • Heidi B.

    I hope the move went well, Susan! And I hope you had a chance to rediscover what truly matters to keep in daily life.