There is nothing quite like moving to illuminate just how much stuff you have.
Because I’m in that stage of life where you pack up constantly, and you keep your friends close and your friends with pick-up trucks closer.
And I am that kind of person for whom moving is a production. I accumulate books like an autumnal sidewalk accumulates leaves. I scoff at capsule wardrobes, preferring silk scarves and high heels in every color of the rainbow. A collection of unusual glass bottles and a small stone leopard adorn a tray on my desk. I’m slowly tiling my walls in art. Every pocket, bag, and drawer is lined with a crumpled layer of post-it notes and paper scraps—notes on life.
Things I don’t have:
- Measuring cups.
I cook. I simply do not measure.
Freed from the tyranny of the teaspoon, I have become lavish with spices. I toss and sprinkle indiscriminately. I hardly think about it any more.
Until I’m chopping apples with a friend, preparing a Passover Seder for over a hundred guests. I try to guess if this friend is the type of person who will want to measure walnuts and cinnamon.
We’re making charoset—the sweet spiced mixture of honey and fruit eaten toward the end of the Seder celebration to remind the participants that the promise of redemption sweetens hardship. We’re making literal pounds of it, filling salad bowls. It seems ridiculous to measure out tablespoons of cinnamon.
Charoset is extravagant—honey, nuts, spices, raisins, and fresh, out-of-season fruit. Even the word, pronounced in Hebrew with throaty richness, like the aftertaste of tiramisu, is decadent.
Passover, like Easter and the spring holidays of many cultures, is sensory to the point of overwhelming. This is by design. In the overpowering strength of salt, bitter, and sweet, in the multitude of elements and meaning layered on by millennia of interpretation, in the messiness of acknowledging that your day of rejoicing might be another family’s day of grief, Passover teaches us that the story of our lives is bigger and messier than we can honestly hold in just two human hands.
Holidays are the basic unit of religion. And homes are the basic unit of society and anthropology.
You see, chopping pounds of apples gives one time to think—about Passover, about Easter, about my own exodus from one space to another.
It has occurred to me that my lifestyle of abundance is incongruous and incompatible with my life-style of mobility.
IKEA is made for my life stage.
Culturally, we assume the young adult life is one of frugality and disposability—ideals which oppose each other but which are forced to cohabitate by the reality of youthful transience. “Young” furniture is cheap and temporary.
Indeed, the whole aesthetic of young minimalism hinges upon an ideal of radical independence. Assembling the IKEA desk or dresser is a right of passage. Worn hand-me-downs, nicked by generations and migrations, do not demonstrate self-sufficiency as well.
The very concept of the “first apartment,” and all the paraphernalia that accompanies it, is an iconically western, consumerist notion—the product of our absurd prosperity. In what other culture does one person need or expect exclusive use of a kitchen or bath? We build tall, flashing rectangles full of small, identical cubbies. In these cubbies, we are abstracted from neighborhood and family, from history and culture. The kitchen table from your grandparents and the thrifted dresser have story and history beyond you. The table from IKEA is just a table.
The philosophy of minimalism, in simplifying one’s space, risks erasing one’s identity and responsibility. We disconnect.
And yet we wonder why young adults cling so desperately to subcultures and why we peer longingly at fictional found families. We are perplexed by epidemic loneliness and the disconnect and even animosity between the old and the young. A few voices struggled above the noise of hurry and production remind us that the earth is not disposable. We can’t clearance out this planet and expect a new one in next season’s catalog. We wonder why people don’t listen.
A home is a whole culture in a nutshell. A holiday is a whole faith.
There is nothing wrong with simplicity, of course, only the vain, selfish, isolating pursuit of control and independence as an end in itself, an attempt to escape the mess of connection. We cannot escape connection. It is hubris and heresy to try.
I once played an icebreaker game where I had to introduce myself with an adjective beginning with the same letter as my first name.
“Elegant” was all I could come up with.
Eclectic. Effusive. Explosive.
Alive. Alive! So excruciatingly enlivened by the electric experience of an extravagant existence.
I will not, cannot, give it up.
Because in the end, and at the root, behavior is belief like charoset is religion. All in existence is expression, the way cause and effect tumble down through years and generations like a slinky down stairs.
The mess of ritual and hand-me-down furniture helps us waylay life as it moves through us. We may wish for death to pass us over, but none of us hope that life will pass us by, even if it is bitter at times and messy.
Emily Stroble is a writer of bits and pieces and is distractedly pursuing lots of novel ideas and nonfiction projects as inspiration strikes. As an editorial assistant at Zondervan, she helps put the pieces of children’s books and Bibles together. A lover of the ridiculous, inexplicable, and wondrous as well as stories of all kinds, Emily enjoys getting lost in museums, movies old and new, making art, the mountains of Colorado, and the unsalted oceans near Grand Rapids. Her movie reviews also appear in the Mixed Media section of The Banner and her strange little stories of the fantastic are on the Calvin alumni fiction blog Presticogitation. Her big dream is to dig her hands deep into the soil of making children’s books as an editor…and to finally finish her children’s novel.