Images and text by Anna Hoeschen.
Catalogue everything you own. That was an assignment my college professor charged me and my classmates with in an Environmental Art and Architecture class. We journal, go to therapy, drink juices, run long distances, cook, and do a host of other things to reset our barometers. So why not conduct a personal inventory? Simply set about recording the specifics, the sizes, and the quantities. Tally it all up: a summation of things that, both beautiful and essential, reflect your soul.
At first, walking around my apartment on a Saturday afternoon taking pictures felt bizarre. Gradually, I got into it. I started mentally cataloguing everything I’ve opted to keep, and it felt refreshing. My things were teaching me things. Namely, that I’m a lot simpler (boring?) than I’d care to admit. More often than not, I tend to regret having tossed something in the heat of a decluttering purge. No, I’m not up to my eyeballs in stuff. Contrarily, I can see quite clearly from corner to corner of my apartment—all 400 square feet of it.
I began thinking about why I have things (or a lack thereof). Truthfully, I have a deep-seated fear of anything being too permanent. For a long time, I held out on buying a clothing iron, because it just felt too practical and rooted. If tethered to too many things, it could be hard for me to unburden myself should the need or cause arise. My cousin is moving to London in August, and she sold most of her belongings. She described it as horrifying at first, then liberating.
I often hear people say that in an emergency, the first items they’d protect from peril are photos and family heirlooms. It makes sense for obvious reasons: these objects are irreplaceable. As I look at my stuff, I also consider the laborious process of moving—of people sweating and pulling muscles as they maneuver beds up five flights of stairs. So I ask: Is this thing worth its weight in sore back muscles?
My sister and I shared a room for most of our childhood. Once, we split the space in half with tape. It was a classic strategy, but our plan got derailed when we realized the bathroom was on my side, because, well, logistics. Growing up, my mom insisted on cleanliness—summoning blank stares of disbelief—when she instructed us to oil chairs and wipe baseboards with a butter knife. Her attention to detail was unrivaled.
Yet, there were always blankets and toys strewn about, soap suds in the sink. She would crank the windows open and blast Amy Grant on the stereo, scrubbing alongside us. At the very least, she tried to make it fun. No matter the inevitable messes. Your kitchen table smells like a lemon when you begin. She taught me the value of integrity, of elbow greasing your desired outcome into reality day after day.
Going through the cataloguing exercise, I realized that space, at least to me, is more emotive than tactile. How does it make me feel? What does it remind me of? It may seem silly and superfluous to ruminate on this , but I like to think about it, because here in my apartment—uniquely and especially—I can exercise my own volition. Maybe I had a crummy day or spilled coffee on my white T-shirt and got some (three) parking tickets.
In my apartment, things are in step and they align; the barometer is set. I have the blanket my grandma patched together from my old jeans, my favorite books, and my yellow plastic butterfly clip that my host sister Claudia, 12 years old at the time, bought for me during my first weeks in Guatemala.
I have so many vivid recollections of how I’ve felt in certain places. The cabin we rented on Birch Lake, for example, could have safely registered its last update circa 1970 with all that gorgeous faux wood paneling. The sun warmed my bones, I learned to wobble on water skis, and I went for “brisk” walks with my aunt Sara, her stroller game so strong. When I look back, I see it clearly: I’m lagging eagerly beside her, confident my legs are about to burn off my body. The momentary physical challenge is worth the effort it demands, because no sensation trumps plunging triumphantly into the lake at the end. I see the elderly woman the cabin over kicking her foam noodle in the murky chill of each solitary morning as the day rises, forming a perfect blue seam between water and sun. Now there is a woman of substance, I think to myself.
There are lots of things about my apartment that I’d change. Adding central air would be número uno. Adding a garbage disposal would be número dos. It’d be nice to reupholster the chair from my grandpa. Then again, avocado green could make a comeback.
What I love is that, for now, this space adds peripheral sweetness to my life. Even on days that are not so great, it reminds me that, in fact, all’s well. Unearthing rubber gloves and wiping away gunk feels good, even when you know that waging a Windex war on your hopelessly stained mirror will likely end in a fluttering white flag anyway.
Tis the season for spring cleaning.
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