Friday, August 26, 2011


By Susan
It takes all kinds, I know, when it comes to decorating. I have friends who ooze style: deep, luscious fabrics and layers of pillows, intricate and intimate arrangements of family photos and mementos, and heavily carved furniture weighted in history. I also have friends who are minimalists: retro thrift store chic, clean lines, echos and open spaces. Whiteness and air rest in their freedom, pleased with the sparseness of it all, and each item shines as a focal point in it's own simplistic beauty.

And then I have my house: my 'temporary house' we purchased almost ten years ago. We are still here and it is full of the messy-ness and busy-ness of our life. I realize, of course, as I write this that my temporary house has become my permanent home.

Like the ship of Theseus, we replaced every working part of this vessel, from the plumbing to the hulking units that keep us cool. We ripped out carpet and replaced it with hardwood. We gutted the kitchen and tiled until we developed carpal tunnel syndrome. We have roofed. I have painted. He has cursed, and I have prayed (and vice-versa.) I have yanked off baseboards and nail-gunned bright new two-point-five-inch replacements. In all my renewal and renovating, I have yet to find a style that I can name. I am not lush, yet I am not Spartan. But my house is full of myself. It's everywhere I look. 

As I write this post, I turn to my right and snap a photo with my iPhone: it is a simple chair I purchased at Target. Yet the blanket is one I carried home from Mexico in 1995 from my honeymoon. I snagged the leather ottoman in Ghana. The beads dangling from the lamp's light switch are Greek, carried back from the island of Santorini. The books? My Bible and a book of poetry by Mary Oliver.

I turn to my left. A tired tumbler of iced tea, my printed manuscript, reading glasses. Stacks of books about Kentucky, and bourbon, and the contemplative life of Thomas Merton. One candid photo of me from 2006. Little pieces of self. A new red shade adorns a marble lamp base that is over one hundred and twenty years old (I could tell you many stories about the things this lamp has seen.) More me. I can't escape it.

I think about my friends and your homes. Are you filled with the same wonder at the imprint you are making on your surroundings? Does the book purchased in Hemingway's house in Key West rest on your shelf, full of its self-importance because you bought it and brought it home? What about that shell you pulled from the deep white sand of a North Carolina beach, is it blessed by being in your house? Are you?

Now. Look at your manuscript. Are you able to clear out the clutter and have a yard sale? Or are you holding on to each word, and each scene, because they mean something to you? Look at it again, lest you become a hoarder. There are things that tell the story, and then there are just things. Determine what is the story. Cut what is not.

I'm in full-on edit mode right now with my completed manuscript, and I'm also hosting a yard sale Friday and Saturday to purge my temporary house of temporary things, leaving only what will last. It's as though they are the same exercise with different muscles. I am purging my house of the excess, and I am purging my manuscript of the extraneous bulk. We are thinning down. We are getting cleaner, and stronger, and better.

What is the mark you are leaving with your manuscript? Is it full of the extra details of your mental clutter, or can you slash it-- making it the best possible work it can be? Do you write the way you decorate? Are you frilly and detailed and rich? Or do you keep your words simple and clean? Or worst of all, are you a hoarder?

Or, are you like me: Lots of reds and blacks and browns, with pebbles and shells?
Here is one thing true: your writing, like your home, carries your DNA. Your heart. Yet you must learn to separate what is holding you back from what will propel you forward. My cluttered house? I'm ready to purge. My cluttered manuscript? Let's bring on the knife.


  1. This is gorgeous ... love it!

    I'm in the midst of organizing and "tossing out" just as I am in my latest manuscript. However, there are some things that are sacred - like my rocks, they calm me - so, I found a way so that they aren't so chaotic and tossed willy nilly - in some baskets or bowls, etc.

    People say my house is welcoming, inviting, warm - I'm hoping that is how my writin is ... although of course it is more than that or else the books would be boring *laugh* come to think of it, I suppose that applies to the house as well.

  2. My house would best be called eclectic. I have many objects from traveling in my 20's. In my 30's I've mostly gone to places "research related" and since those places have deep personal meaning to me, I've picked up things like rocks and pieces of driftwood or small containers of sand - things that may have been there since my ancestors visited those places. I have lots of pebbles!

    I am also surrounded by art. My dining room is basically a shrine to my great-grandfather's landscapes and photos. My living room is filled with bright, abstract paintings. Here and there are sketches I've drawn myself, portraits of ancestors and descendants both.

    Hopefully my house is inviting. It looks more 'lived in' than 'neat.' I'm too busy writing to be a meticulous housekeeper.

  3. Kathryn, thanks for stopping by! It's been an interesting weekend. Since I have a tendency to hoard, this weekend's yard sale was a bit painful (I attach a memory to every single item.) Editing this manuscript has really felt the same way. Lots of work to do. Kim, I bet your home is a beautiful reflection of you! Your manuscript is too!


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