"How to Practice": Ann Patchett's move-out in place
|Photo: The Sunday Times Magazine|
Ann Patchett, a supple and insightful writer, went on a marathon binge of divesting her goods. In "How to Practice", (The New Yorker, March 8, 2021) she writes of her clean-out spree, initiated after helping a childhood friend, Tavia, clean out her father's apartment after his death.
Some months later, she and her husband Karl got the itch to move house. One evening she asked him, "I wonder if we could just pretend to move. Would that be possible? Go through everything we own and then just stay where we are?"
So, they did. I will not able to look away from a bulging kitchen shelf again, thanks to Patchett's wry, tender essay. (She never mentions Swedish Death Cleaning, but that's exactly what she's up to.)
Nor does she seem to be guided by Marie Kondo. She simply went through everything one drawer at a time, and, as she says, "assessed, divided, wiped down, replaced"— then carried what they didn't want or need to the basement, waiting until the sorting was done to find a place for the castoffs.
Kondo recommends starting in the bedroom; Patchett hit the kitchen, beginning with the lower cupboards.As anyone who has waded in knows, it's like washing that one dusty glass you've grabbed from the cupboard: suddenly you'd never drink out any of the others and there you are in rubber gloves.
I'm not going to give too much away—but I know the question on everyone's mind, whether for yourself or for Mom's needlepoint forest: Where do I find someone who wants this?
Here's a hint: Patchett and Karl genuinely enjoy giving things away. And this is the woman who bought eight place settings of silver for herself at age fourteen, with an insurance settlement.
I thought of our big move, exactly ten years ago, when I put effects like Patchett's on our house's basement shelves and invited our neighbours to take what they could use. My favourite memory is of Ian from across the street hoisting two cocktail shakers like maracas and singing "When My Baby Smiles At Me (I Go to Rio)". We got rid of at least two-thirds of everything, and I am still wary about bulking up again. During this restricted time, I've routinely opened a drawer or two for merciless scrutiny.
Patchett uses "practice" as in the sense of preparation, and says, "As in any practice, there will be tests. That's why we call it a practice—so we will be ready when the time comes." But I sense she is also referring to its meaning as a discipline, a 'spiritual practice'.
The practice of inviting friends and acquaintances to carry away part of your life, without asking anything in return, embodies open-handed giving. At this point in my life, that activity is more attractive than accumulation.