Getting better at making enemies

book cover of Let's be Enemies, illustrated by Maurice Sendak

A little children’s book that all my kids will recognize


In almost all contexts I’m an advocate of getting rid of enemies.* I’m conflict-averse, I worry about the corrosive effects of increasing political animosity and worsening race relations, I wonder to myself why we can’t just all get along. But I see a real value in making enemies in one arena, and that is the overcrowded space filled with all of our stuff. It’s much easier to walk away from an enemy, right?

In general, the easiest time for our possessions to achieve enemy status is when we are moving. Chances are, each thing in our living space is going to require us to take way too many actions: if it’s dusty, we’ll clean it off; if it’s fragile, we’ve got to wrap it in bubble wrap or packing paper or devise some other protection. Then there’s boxing it, taping it closed, stacking it up, and finally carrying it to some vehicle, figuring out how to wedge it in safely so it’s not harmed in transport.

At the other end there’s unwedging, hauling, stacking, then unstacking, opening, unpacking, unwrapping, and finally deciding where to put it in the new space. In my experience, few of our things can make it through that many steps without inspiring at least some animosity, even if short-lived. The more times we repeat that process (and in a given household it’s likely to involve hundreds and thousands of items), the greater the chances that loathing will result.


from the song about loathing from the musical Wicked

I don’t know many loathing songs, but this is my favorite.


Once we’ve come to loathe our stuff, we should have an easier time letting go of it, right? It doesn’t always work out that way. Sadly, even with the best of intentions, moving time often gets so harried that we just don’t have time to do the physical and emotional work of carefully evaluating each item we own to determine which things we really value, and which things can be rejected and launched out into the world. Too often we go all Scarlett O’ Hara: “Oh, I can’t think about this now! I’ll go crazy if I do! I’ll think about it tomorrow.” Instead, we just shove whatever-it-is into a box and label it “miscellaneous.”


Scarlett O'Hara

Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara


I’m in the thick of packing right now, but on a very small scale–we’ve just got our Spanish household to deal with as we come to the end of our most recent half-year of living in Valencia. Even so, I feel irritated by perfectly innocent things, as I try to decide, “do I bring this back to the US? In my carryon or my big suitcase? Or should I see if I can fit it in the boxes that go under Rocio’s bed or in Dabeiba’s closet?” Some things I can’t pack now because we’ve still got to use them. Other things I think we really don’t need, but “I love this color, and the fabric is so soft!” I begin with one question, and end up answering another.

This is all simply prologue to the real deal, the Big Sort that I’ll have to begin next week in New England. After the flood in January (here and here), a huge amount of stuff got moved around, and that will be what I begin with, but before the end, El Guapo and I will most likely lay hands on 25 years’ worth of stuff in house and barn, with a view to mightily decreasing what stays within our sphere of influence.

I acknowledge that not everyone has to turn their faces against their stuff in order to get rid of it. There are people who have a much less fraught relationship with their possessions. They can love the one they’re with, but happily leave it for another without a backward glance. For whatever complex set of reasons, I am far too apt to feel a sense of responsibility for inanimate objects, which means that I have difficulty just sending things away†–I want to make sure that they will go off to a good home. Yes, I know it’s odd, and I’m working on it. Over the next few weeks I’ll have thousands of opportunities to work on it. If you have any suggestions that you think can help me, send them along. Better yet, if you want to come by and adopt a bunch of things, that would be awesome!


One of my kids glanced at this photo of a junk shop and asked, “wait, is that in the barn?”



*Not getting rid of them in a mafioso sense–I mean turning enemies into friends, or at least upgrading their status to that of neutral parties.

†And simply throwing things away is that much harder for me, especially given what I’ve learned about the environmental challenges of solid waste. The fact that there is no “away”–we can’t just pitch things and assume that they disappear–means that trying to downsize my stuff is indeed a considerable challenge. But I am determined!

[Images: Maurice Sendak,,,]

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