"There's something to be said for a sparsely furnished home."
That's one of the gems of wisdom I remember from a conversation with my friend, Gretchen. This little tidbit stuck in my head for some reason. I'm not sure why... but it's one of the "Gretchen-isms" I frequently quote.
We were talking by phone discussing apartments. She was moving back to St. Louis from South Padre Island, Texas and I was helping her view apartments. She would find the apartments online and make appointments to see them, then I would go visit them and take pictures to email to her. Together we found a beautiful, spacious second-floor walk up in the historic district. It was an complete rehab with 16' cielings, an open floor plan and plenty of windows. She loved it.
She was returning with very little furniture, strategically packed in a small U-haul. She said, "It will be BRIGHT... like South Padre. It will just be sparsely furnished for a while." I commented that it will be full of crap in no time, just like the rest of us!" That's when she tossed the gem on me. I'm not even sure she meant it as "wisdom." But, it made sense to me.
I can still list the furniture and items she had in the apartment. It consisted of a matching living room set, a computer desk, 2 wooden shelving units, and a table. Her bedroom had a bed, dresser and night stand. It was everything she needed... and she lived beautifully in it. I wouldn't say she was zen-like, but I wouldn't say she wasn't, either. But... she made me calm.
I remember when Gretchen decided to move away from St. Louis. I was a little sad to see her move over an hour away, and a little sad to see her leave that apartment. It had served it's purpose well for her... but it was a GREAT apartment. I remember wishing I could sell my house and move to it. Sometimes, I still wish I had. But I think what I wanted to have was the way she lived in it.
It was as if Betty Page, Natalie Merchant and Drew Barrymore inhabited one body and a charming, Zen loft in the French Quarter. Her only artwork; an over-sized, hand-painted, folk-art mirror on the largest, blank, white wall - the only fitting place to display a work of art made by a good friend.
A mid-century chrome table sat in the dining area - a junk-shop find. However, she also loved the low, potbellied wood fireplace that sat inconveniently in the middle of the living area. Brown, contemporary sofas made a wonderful conversation area. The "Sex in the City" collection was constantly visible on the TV stand. Her chunky shoes were often dropped beneath the simple computer desk. All of it was a part of the decor to her. The juxtaposition of new and old, earthy and contemporary, comfortable but uncluttered were all perfectly balanced - and was very "her."
Throughout her life, Gretchen's wisdom was folksy and progressive. "Do you know what I mean?" she would ask as we had an intellectual chat. Her head tilted to one side and her hand would tip backwards, palm-up, holding a lit cigarette. Not complicated - always the same. She preferred flowing broom skirts to jeans. But either way, a simple black pull-over top would turn anything she wore into her "evening look."
With every hello, she gave a hug and an "I'm so glad to see you, Craig." With each good-bye, "a stronger hug, and 'I love you, Craig." She would circulate among her friends who each fulfilled a different purpose in her life, but with equal sincerity.
I've picked up a lot of her sensibilities and I quote her often - but I never call it out. Each time, I just smile inside knowing it's a silent tribute. It is funny which memories our souls imprint and use later to change us. These simple words about a sparsely furnished home often remind me to value simplicity, and of how she lived simply, with great elegance.
Now, I find myself in a situation where I've moved into a smaller home AND am combining households with my partner over the next year. We are making those choices about what to keep and what to let go. We are letting go of more than we are keeping. Our priorities are changing and we're finding it to be... very, very liberating.
Five years after Gretchen passed away, I still hear her voice speaking to me now, saying, "Let it go, Craig. Things are just things. Live in your space... but fill it up with YOU."