The Tyranny of Possessions

PictureSalisbury House, EnglandI was reminded of this principle awhile ago when I was in an enormous house for a meeting.You walked into the front door and there you were in a foyer with one staircase curving down into a family room with a pool table and a fountain in the floor and the other curving up to the main level with another fountain, this time as a sheet of water flowing down a glass wall. I sat in the beautiful living room facing a fireplace with some kind of fancy poured-concrete mantel and huge shelves on either side of it going all the way up to the very high ceiling, with decorative objects and photographs. All I could think was, ‘How on earth do you get up to that top shelf to dust?” It wouldn’t be a matter of a stepstool; more of a stepladder. Maybe even a crane.

Before I go on, I do want to make it clear (not that anyone reading this has the faintest idea whom I’m talking about) that I’m not in any way criticizing the people who own the house. I have no idea how they use it or what their rationale was for buying it. I really enjoyed being there, and I came home fired up with the intention of keeping my own house a little more pristine.

(Something I do pretty well but could do better. As I sit here at the kitchen table I can see quite a bit of stuff on the countertops that needs to be put away. Beautiful granite countertops still look terrible when they’re messy!)

My point is related to those high shelves, and those staircases, and those fountains, and all the windows, and the fancy kitchen cabinets and the countertops that have to be sealed, etc., etc. Everything requires  maintenance. I wondered how much cleaning had to be done for those fountains, for example. You can’t just let water sit for a long time unless you like algae. And those beautiful, beautiful stairs! They were immaculate the day I was there, but keeping them that way is, I’m sure, an ongoing task. They’re dark wood, very beautiful and exotic-looking (I’m thinking mahogany), and probably show every single speck of dust.

The inhabitants may have cleaners come in periodically, a procedure that brings with it its own set of issues, and which doesn’t take the place of daily pickups and cleanups. The fact is, any possession that you own adds an obligation to your life. So that doesn’t mean that we should all head out on the road with our begging bowls. It does mean that we should factor in maintenance whenever we contemplate buying something. Our neighbors on our cul-de-sac redid their kitchen awhile back and I happened to be in there. It was gorgeous, with that peachy-toned granite that I love (as opposed to the gray speckledy stuff we have and are going to keep) and light wood cabinets that I remember as being pretty fancy, always a grave mistake in a kitchen. Later another neighbor mentioned that the kitchen was “pure Tuscany.” Again, I’m not criticizing anybody. I’d just ask, “What’s a kitchen for, anyway?”

We tend to do the same thing with our possessions as we sometimes do with relationships: falling madly in love with something or someone which/who is totally impractical and unsuitable. Always a good idea to put the brakes on and ponder, “Am I really willing to fulfill my obligations here?”




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