If you celebrate Christmas, it’s almost time. Last week, some of my theater friends and I visited the professionally lit Christmas lights of the wealthy Brooklyn neighborhood, Dyker Heights. Blocks were ablaze and aflutter with gargantuan displays of larger-than-life Santas, nutcrackers, reindeer, carolers, and other fine blow-ups and statues. We frolicked to and fro each house’s display, each more ridiculous and more successful than the last. It was midnight, yet houses were still doubling their electrical bills by the minute, gleaming, glowing, shooting primary colored lights into the atmosphere.
If you’ve been to Brooklyn, you know that each section of it, or neighborhood, looks drastically different from the next. They range from breathtaking and regal (Brooklyn Heights) to eclectic and seafaring (Red Hook) to dystopian and ramshackle (Bushwick), yet one thing seems to tie them and the rest of NYC property together, houses are small and tightly woven. With that said, Dyker Heights is an exception. Reminiscent of the suburbs where I grew up in Pennsylvania, houses span 3,000-4,000 sq. ft., they measure at least 2 stories tall and unlike almost every building in NYC, they are single family.
I’ve lived in NYC for the last six years and so my expectations for and requirements of my living situations have changed drastically since leaving my parents three story home with yard ten years ago. I no longer want to take the tudor mansion when playing the game of LIFE. What would I put in it’s cavernous walls? What would I do with all of those closets, kitchen cabinets, bathrooms, and multiple garages? I do not know.
I now crave the tiny intimate quarters of the bungalow offered, or even the hurricane hideaway. I no longer need three to four bathrooms nor a bedroom big enough to roller skate in
with a walk-in closet (actually, I take that back, I will accept a walk-in in place of an office) Anyway, living in New York, as opposed to say, Texas, gives us a much greater appreciation for space and a much decreased need for a heck of a lot of it.
In Dyker Heights, or should I say, Metropolitan Mansion Heights, they sure have a lot [of space]. What would have seemed normal seeing ten years ago, I now was prompted to scream out things like, “Holy shit!”, “single family??!!”, or “whata-whata-whata is that!?” when driving by.
Growing up, and unbeknownest to me because of the size of other local homes, my parents house was masssive. We had three floors to live on plus a basement and garage and yard and acres and acres of woods. With that, came a large collection and amassing of stuff. We, like goldfish, grow within the confines of the space we have. I had chairs and tables I bought from antique stores, clothing, shoes, snowsuits, dance shoes, soccer/basketball/sporting good items, games, drawings, paintings, art supplies, sewing machines, fabric, many many blankets and bed linens for different seasons, tools, ephemera, dishes… stuff…extra stuff…and spare stuff… When I moved away for college and was presented with half of a normal sized room, which I had to share with another lass, I shed some excess baggage. Over the years, I moved into a bigger dorm room, then a house with a massive bedroom, which I didn’t know what to do with. I pushed all of my furniture to the periphery, unsure of how to use the space.
The most life-altering move of all was studying abroad in Italy. I could only bring what would fit in a large suitcase and a backpacking pack. Weeks before the trip, I packed. Over the remaining weeks, I would take everything out, reduce my load and pack again. Right before the trip, I had done this ritual many more times, re-assessing how much I wanted to literally put on my back, weighing how much worth and need each item had. Ultimately, I had quite a small amount for going thousands of miles away and I thanked myself for my dedication to my back. Every weekend my school had a trip for us, visiting various towns in Italy, some requiring an overnight stay. Each trip, I packed a tiny backpack with one change of clothing, toothbrush, and snacks, a very manageable amount. I laughed at the girls, lugging GIANT suitcases on-board the bus for less than a twenty-four hour trip. How could they possibly need these? For Fall break, I decided to go to England and Spain. I also decided to test myself. I, for one whole week, allowed myself only a backpack. It was a breeze getting on and off the planes, as well as traveling by bus from the airport and then by subway or cab to the hostel or room. I could also hide my bag in the shared room that first night and store it safely in a locker during the day. From this travel all over Italy, as well as Spain & England and a one month stay on a farm in the very north of Italy in the Alps and back to the U.S., I realized that we don’t need a hell of a lot to live.
Back in New York state, I moved and moved and moved again and became more accustomed to living in both tiny places and big spaces interchangeably. Needing to move at least once a year once in Brooklyn, I gained and lost and gained and gained stuff as each new home dictated it’s quota. At one point, while subletting, I had a room literally 5′ x 10′ and I didn’t bat an eye. I would have loved more legroom, but rent was cheap and my needs were small.
This past summer I stayed with my cousin in LA for two months. I had a hard time deciding how to present myself as a New Yorker in Southern California and like the Italy preparations, I dueled over what to go with. Ultimately, I brought a large suitcase and yet found myself wearing a lot of the same things over and over and over again.I shouldn’t even have brought as much as I had.
I’m not trying to pretend that I haven’t increased my load in recent years, especially because of my clothing business, but I have become more conscious of what is essential and what is not. I still struggle with letting things go or with not buying things I like, yet I am much more brash when it’s purging time. In the end, after all this moving and changing, I have realized that it isn’t my stuff that makes up who I am. When we have less and limit ourselves, our needs diminish. Instead of filling every nook and crany of our blank spaces and square footage and consuming more and more of what this crazy world tells us we should have; we should focus on having the things that really count.