Monday, September 27, 2010

An Uncluttered Life

Over twenty years have come and gone since I moved to Oslo. I moved here with about eight large boxes filled with my most treasured possessions--some of them useful and some of them of sentimental value. At the end of my husband’s postdoctoral stay at UCSF in California in 1993, I arranged for the shipment of the remainder of my possessions to Oslo---a total of forty-five large boxes, a dining room set and other smaller pieces of furniture and other assorted items that had been in storage in a warehouse in New Jersey. We rented a truck, filled it with all my possessions and drove them to the harbor warehouse, where the shipping company built two large crates for the boxes and the furniture. The crates left New Jersey harbor by boat in early January 1994 and arrived in Oslo in the middle of March. It was a pleasure to unpack all my boxes and to find things I had actually forgotten I had. It is strange that we can learn to live with very little--that when asked to do so, we can actually manage to whittle down our possessions to a few boxes of things that we need to have in order for life to ‘feel’ normal and comfortable. For me, those things are often books given to me by family and friends, music, and my kitchen things.

I was reminded of this earlier time in my life recently because I have spent the past six months cleaning out our attic and cellar storage areas that have pretty much been untouched for the past twenty years. We have added to their contents, but not subtracted. The contents included about ten unopened boxes from the original shipment in 1994. I have often talked about doing this but it never happened until March of this year (and during the summer months when our attic was invaded by moths that ate their way into items that I would never have thought they cared about eating). I began with the attic storage areas and managed to throw away a lot of things that I/we never use and have not missed at all. I came to the (uncomfortable) realization that I was a pack rat in my earlier years. I could not believe the amount of paper I had saved from the time I was a teenager--from small scraps and notes to school handouts to letters from universities to Christmas cards of all kinds. Most of it was easy to toss. When will I ever re-read geography handouts from the seventh grade? What was my intention in saving all my application letters (copies) to different universities, or my GRE scores, or textbooks that are obsolete? I guess at the time I saved them it just seemed natural to do so. I have now thrown away a lot of old items that in retrospect were clutter in my life; I have saved a number of books, cards and letters from people who are dear to me.

I feel lighter and freer and it feels wonderful. I am not weighed down anymore by a lot of material possessions or by tons of paper. I realize that I have done something that many people wait until they are retired to do, but I’m glad I’ve done it now. One of my husband’s friends commented that it was good to do it now, before one is physically unable to do it. He is right. I could have waited another twenty years before I tackled it, but my newfound sense of urgency told me to do it now. So I did. And as far as how I plan to live from here on in, I do not want to accumulate any more paper. I don’t want piles of magazines and newspapers around me that I have to sort through, read through, or take a stand on. I don’t feel good at all when I see the paper piles growing around me. I am glad for the digital age in the sense that I don’t have to print out every single article of interest, especially my scientific articles--I can read them online and know that they are there for future reference. I will always find them again on Google and PubMed. If I can save some trees, then I will have done my part to prevent too much deforestation. But mostly, I want a simpler and more uncluttered life and I know I have taken the necessary steps to get me there. 


  1. Hey Paula,
    Love your very natural narrative.
    Great fun to read.
    Looking forward to your other posts.