There is an old worn paper bag sitting in my office right now with a curious object inside: a half-finished cross-stitched Christmas stocking. The pattern is quite lovely, which is why I was drawn to it…when I was 13 years old. Yes, 20 years ago, I was hard at work on that stocking. Then I stopped, and there it sat in my closet at my parents’ house until my mom, noting that I now had a suburban house that could hold its own junk, brought it over here.
I hadn’t really forgotten about the stocking. It’s always been one of those “maybe” things. It’s not that I dislike cross-stitching. It’s just that it’s never quite risen up high enough in the priority list to become a way I spent my time after those 13-year-old days when I had little but time.
While we’re on the tour of objects: I now have a keyboard in the family room. I bought the keyboard with the money I earned from one of my first USA Today columns (yes, that link goes to a vintage 2002 Vanderkam gem). I was a 23-year-old intern living in Washington DC, and I was missing having access to a piano. I’d played all through high school and on and off through college, and I wanted to play again. So I bought this beautiful Yamaha model that has most of the 88-keys and the keys are weighted so it has more of a piano feel.
There was rarely room for the keyboard to stay out in my NYC apartment, though I did pull it out to practice my choir music once every two weeks or so. We moved to PA, and I pulled it out to accompany my family in some rousing Christmas carols over the holidays. I enjoyed playing, and left it out. On the rare occasions when I’m home mostly by myself (usually meaning I’m here with the baby and she’s quiet) I’ve started playing some of my favorite old etudes and the like.
The cross stitching material and the keyboard are two objects at the periphery of my life. Both represent things that I wouldn’t mind doing with my time, yet haven’t so much. And this brings us to the dilemma of stuff. Because, now that I have space, I could make myself a nice little crafts area. I could tell myself that making the crafts area would encourage me to devote more time to such pursuits. Maybe I’ll make crafts with my kids! I could also buy a piano. I have space! I wouldn’t buy a grand that would be similar to buying a car in terms of expense (and size) but a little console, bought used, would be a splurge, but no more so than much of the furniture we got last year. I could also make the case that my kids will take piano lessons, so that’s for their edification.
But of such thoughts is much of the clutter of modern life made. If I buy that bread machine, I’ll make bread! If I buy that treadmill, I’ll start running! But will you? Or will the bread machine sit in the cupboard and the treadmill turn into an expensive spot for hanging clothes?
Thinking about it, I’ve recognized that crafts aren’t going to find a big place in my life. My creative impulses are mostly satisfied by writing. Music is a different question, though. I still would like to make space in my calendar for a choir in another year or two. And I think I would find it pleasurable to play the piano. So this is my deal with myself: habit first, then buy. If I can start practicing playing the keyboard three times a week, and do it consistently for several months, then I can start looking at pianos. If I can’t make it a habit, then I probably won’t make it a habit with a real piano either.
This philosophy can keep us traveling relatively light. Rent an instrument a child wants to try before buying one. Borrow sports equipment until you’re sure the child likes the sport. Use a neighbor’s bread machine a few times to see if you think it’s worthwhile (quite possibly, the neighbor won’t ask for it back, as it’s just cluttering up her house!) When something becomes a habit, spend with pleasure. But don’t buy thinking it will become a habit. The odds are against it, and by buying first, you lose any bargaining chip you might have with yourself.
What objects don’t get used in your house?
(photo courtesy flickr user esc861)