Less than a week after they moved into their beautiful new home I arrived for a weekend visit with my friends C and J. That first evening we enjoyed a delicious supper prepared by J then spent the better part of the next two days opening boxes, removing each item, and finding its proper place. C and J kept telling me I was a great friend for helping them and I accept their praise. However, it’s their behavior I find a true testament to friendship because I can’t imagine allowing anyone to watch my partner and me unpack our possessions. I know C and J love me but now I know they also trust me.
Although our efforts concentrated on the kitchen the things we unpacked were more than tools for meal preparation. There were gifts and inheritances; there were items that resolved a problem and others that remain a point of contention. I was in awe of their ability to lovingly recall the stories, connections, and meanings associated with these objects yet still get everything put away in the gorgeous new blue cupboards or let it go.
In addition to putting things away, C and J were also figuring out how to live in their new ranch style house, which has almost nothing in common with the farmhouse they just sold. For instance, the simple act of entering their home has been totally upended. In the old house they entered through the front door, put coats in the closet to the right, put bags and keys on the hall table in front of them, and removed their shoes placing them to the left of the table. In the new house they enter from the garage and the coat closet wall, rather than door, is to their immediate right. There’s no good place for a table where keys and bags can be dropped and the entire entry area is visible from the living room thus the challenge of dumping stuff but wanting all to remain neat and tidy.
As I watched them confront the challenge of transferring a necessary routine into a new space I thought about how deep our need is for a few taken-for-granted assumptions about how we function in the world. I wondered if craving the ability to put my keys down without deliberate thought, sure in the knowledge that I won’t spend 20 minute searching for them later, is a failure of mindfulness. Our habits, like our possessions, have a story, connections, meaning. Some are gifts, others we inherit. Mindfulness means staying alert to routines that have so hardened we can’t bear to let them go. They will surely cause me more suffering than struggling to find my keys once in awhile.