Every week, listeners to KVMR in Nevada City, California, are treated to the clear-eyed commentaries of the station’s poet laureate, Molly Fisk.  She ruminates on the feasts and foibles of life, sounding as if she’s sitting across the kitchen table from whoever has tuned in.  Here’s her take on downsizing.—Ed.

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89 Chairs

I’m not sure what’s happening, but some natural, organic process—maybe aging? maybe just living—is insisting that I simplify my life. A little voice in my head wants the same food for breakfast every day. My eyes feel tired of looking at all the stuff in my house: my great-grandmother’s teacups, seashells I found in Key West displayed on a little wooden shelf bracket from Norway. The big drawer of loose photographs I never seem to deal with. Cast iron mixing bowls, too many T-shirts.

I’m not a true hoarder, because I purge things every couple of years, and you can always walk unimpeded through my house. But there’s a lot of accumulation around me right now, and it’s driving me “bat-guano crazy.” How many soup bowls does one woman need? I do not have house parties where luncheon for 12 is on the schedule.

The last object I went nuts for was a ceramic creamer from the Heath pottery company in Sausalito. Anyone growing up near San Francisco in the 1960s whose parents were of a certain class and aesthetic bent ate their meals off Heath stoneware, including me. The shapes of the design are both classic and iconic, and to my eye that mix of beautiful and familiar is pretty irresistible. I cajoled my sister into giving me this pitcher for Christmas last year. When was the last time I served anybody cream in my kitchen? Maybe a decade ago. I filled it with maple syrup once for a breakfast gathering, and sometimes I’ll plunk a few flowers in it from the yard, but most of the time it sits in a cabinet out of sight.

The 19th-century British architect and textile designer William Morris famously said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” I love this quote, but I think he might have added that no one needs more than one of each of these things. There’s so much stuff on the planet already, most of it in the houses of First World residents like me, that it’s crazy, and they’re making more of everything in China as we speak, which is even crazier.

This weekend I’m going to pack up a few boxes and take them to the thrift store. Kids these days are ingeniously recycling and upcycling, which is a wonderful thing. I’m sure someone out there will love drinking tea from my great-grandmother’s cups, or perhaps making them into wind chimes.

E.B. White, the author of Charlotte’s Web, lived for many years in New York City. He finally moved permanently to his summer house in Maine when he realized that between both houses, he and his wife owned 89 chairs.

That’s a good bellwether for craziness. How many chairs do you own? This morning’s count at my house was 14 inside and 16 out on my decks. 30 chairs. I live alone. What do you think?

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  • Molly Fisk July 16, 2014 at 5:39 pm

    Yes, Wendi – keep enough chairs to seat some friends for tea, and yes, Tobysgirl, carrying it all on our backs is precisely the metaphor. Thanks for your comments, and have fun sorting through your lives to find out what’s most important to you, and then enjoying that.

  • Ellen Sue Spicer July 14, 2014 at 6:16 pm

    I am all for de-cluttering, except my giraffe collection, which numbers about 40. I can never have too many giraffes! ellensue

  • Tobysgirl July 12, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    As we age, we are supposed to learn about letting go, which is my take on Molly Fisk’s essay, partially in preparation for the Big Letting Go. I once said to a minister I knew that everything you own you carry on your back (this is called a metaphor!), and he had no idea what I meant, which I found sad.

  • Wendl in Manhattan July 12, 2014 at 7:52 am

    There are 16 chairs (indoors and outdoors) for two people at our home. But the point is well taken: At this time of life, I hunger to acquire more experiences, not more stuff. Pare down, recycle and repurpose. Then get out of the house and meet fascinating new people. Travel, volunteer, go to lectures and concerts, enjoy the parks and waterfronts. And hold on to enough of your favorite chairs and teacups for when some of those new friends visit your cozy home.