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Expand, Contract

Do you remember the first place that you called “yours?” Mine, it was a small and old Victorian in a not so good part of town that I shared with a housemate. I started with only a futon mattress on the floor, peach and black colored plastic milk crates stacked on their sides as a makeshift open face dresser and a garage-sale playpen served as a crib for my very young son. It was all I could afford and I had no other furniture to my name.

Expanding. I was starting to build a very small and very humble nest. Over the course of two decades, it was an expansion period. As I moved to new places, slowly I added piece after piece of necessary comfort and security inside my four walls. One of the office managers offered a long, floral couch that reeked of a decades of cigarette smoke. The cost was perfect, free. I spent all the disposable income on spraying, cleaning and freshening the free couch. Eventually, I bought a sofa cover, adding my own layer of life to the family resting point. It was still a long while before I ever actually bought a new piece of furniture.

Some years later, I stood in my large, sprawling home and looked around at the rooms full of furnishings and home décor. In the corner, was the small parlor chair passed on by my grandaunt that was recovered in a new tan and black modern fabric. The stinking floral couch was long replaced by a well-crafted buckskin micro suede sofa. In a small mom and pop furniture shop, far away from the big retail stores, I had found a soft brown antiqued gilded Queen Anne’s secretary desk. It filled the space in the room perfectly. Every time I walked into this room, I loved seeing all the pieces and remembering their history. Each served a purpose just not it’s intent but also in telling my story.

Perhaps, this is important part of personal journeys to collect and expand with home treasures. As I started to define my own home style, there was a certain amount of letting go that happens during the expansive period. Those early bare bone necessities of futon and milk crates were repurposed as a true futon couch in the guest room and a container for sports equipment storage in the garage. I let go of some things that were harsh reminders of hard and trying times. Some items pulled at the heartstrings, letting go of my grandmother’s crotched afghan throws that were beyond tatter and repair. Some of our treasures need to be released and held only in our memories.

Over time, I learned to not to attach to things. You can love them and enjoy them but there is a sense of impermanence as well. Life is not permanent nor are our cherished possessions. They are not “ours.”  Things are merely sharing time and space with us, providing us pleasure and functionality. All things are connected. And all things change. Just as we have to let go and say goodbye to loved ones, there is a right time let go some piece inside our castle.

Contracting. This is much easier said than done as I have witnessed client after client struggle with rearranging a room while juggling the family heirloom of a broken and scratched over sized armoire into their new modern style bedroom. Or trying to find just the right spot to hide the ratty college recliner because “it’s something we just can’t get rid of.” Sometimes, contracting comes against our will when a life change happens, like a necessary downsize, a divorce or a break-up. It’s challenging to not attach our ego and worth into items that are slipping away from our environment.

I thoroughly embraced the contracting concept when I sold the sprawling house, and most all it’s possessions. It was not easy but there was a sense of freedom that came.  Into the new smaller home, I took only what I truly needed and wanted. It was a time to create, once again, my signature in my nest with only a few important cornerstones.

Expanding and contracting are cycles in life. The moon waxes and wanes, every 29 days, the full moon returns. In the end, the cycles create our balance. We must embrace and respect both the expanding and contracting times as they serve a purpose to balance. And closing with an ancient Buddhist saying….. May you enjoy all your periods of expanding and contracting at home.

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