Although Christmas is gone, bits of paper still cling to the rug, the scraps of wrapping quickly undone in the passion of acquisition as we opened presents beneath the tree.
The gifts themselves will linger under the lights until New Year’s, when I stow away the new necktie on a closet rack, tuck the holiday sweater into a drawer, and place new books on the shelf in the den.
Slowly, the Christmas clutter will go, and when the tree migrates to the curb, leaving the room emptier than it’s been in weeks, I’ll welcome the extra space. A cleared room seems to evoke a clear mind, something I crave as the arrival of another January prompts me to think a bit about who I am, and where I’m going.
But I wonder: If clearing Christmas from a house brings some extra measure of serenity, then why stop there? What else can be emptied from a home that sometimes feels narrowed by the nearness of its possesions, like an artery almost imperceptibly closing over time?
Not that our family ranks among the world’s most active consumers. We’re modest shoppers, not likely to end up in one of those reality shows about chronic hoarders.
But as the late E.B White reminded his readers many years ago, you don’t really have to try to accumulate possessions; they find you on their own.
“Goods and chattels seek a man out; they find him even though his guard is up,” White observed. “Books and oddities arrive in the mail. Gifts arrive on anniversaries and fête days. Veterans send ballpoint pens. Banks send memo books. If you happen to be a writer, readers send whatever might be cluttering up their own lives …”
From this reality has grown a New Year’s resolution. In the coming year, I resolve to get rid of at least one personal possession each day — the pants no longer worn, the book I’ll never read, the tool I have no hope of using again.
Losing a belonging each day, will I end the year in monastic spareness, with little but the shirt on my back?
Not likely, if White is to be believed. He concluded that the currents bringing stuff into a house are much stronger than the ones bringing it out. Because of this natural law, few of us will ever truly reach the ideal of simplicity.
Oh, there’s Thoreau, of course, the resolute eccentric who once lived in a nearly bare cabin near Walden Pond.
But that’s not really what I’m seeking over the next 12 months. I won’t angle for some monastic extreme — just the hope that my bedroom bureau will close easily each day, that my walk-in closet will actually accommodate walking, that the desk in my study will gradually emerge, like some reclaimed meadow, from the brushpile of books and papers that bury its surface.
So, I will try to get rid of something every day in 2015. I invite you to join along.
Danny Heitman is on Twitter, @Danny_Heitman.