Angela Kelsey

Tell the Story

to shed or not to shed

Filed in Memoir, Stories :: September 13, 2010

IMG_0595 I’ve been shedding since Bindu first blogged about her Shed Project weeks ago.  A bag of clothes, a box of books, here, an idea, a construct, a limiting belief, a habit, there.

But now that the project, with its commitment to shed some stuff from my surroundings and my hips, is about to start for real, I’m giving it more conscious thought.  What about all this stuff?   Why do I have it in the first place?  If I want to get rid of it, why haven’t I done so already?  What if I want to keep it?

First, though, a digression the worlds of all-or-nothing thinking and comfort reading that I sometimes inhabit.  I’d like to say that I used the waiting time of the past week to weave together the two very different drafts of my memoir that I have before me, or read Franzen’s Freedom.  Instead, I’ve scribbled illegible and incomplete sentences in my notebook and read about one-and-a-half Jack Reacher novels.

Jack Reacher, in case you’re not familiar with these books, is the retired-Army-MP hero of Lee Child’s so-far-fourteen-book series.  I’m reading them in reverse order, having started with Sixty-One Hours this year.  I’m on book 8, The Enemy.

Reacher is important to this shedding post because he has pared down his possessions and his relationships as far down as one can without leaving modern society altogether.  He possesses a passport, an ATM card, a collapsible toothbrush, the clothes on his back, and the shoes on his feet.  That’s it.  He wears his clothes for about four days at a time, and then buys a new set, discarding the “old” set in a dressing room or motel bathroom.  He has relationships in the course of each novel, and sometimes people from his past contact him, but he moves through life alone, never staying in one place longer than a thriller plot can keep him there.

When he is asked about why he doesn’t have, say, a wallet, he says that possessions are a slippery slope.  A wallet (this is my paraphrase) becomes a briefcase becomes a suitcase becomes a car becomes a studio apartment, and before you know it you’ve got a house with a 3-car garage and a storage unit for the stuff that won’t fit inside.  And relationships follow the same pattern.

Some days, Reacher’s philosophy has its appeal.

As I read Reacher’s story while Mr. Z sorts through his mother’s possessions and I contemplate the Shed Project, I wonder: what do things mean to me and say about what’s important to me?  Jack Reacher would not have a Davy Crockett cookie jar in his nonexistent kitchen. But this gift to Mr. Z from his brother represents love and family and generous sharing, and I can’t imagine that he or I would ever part with it except to share it with similar intent.

On what basis do I decide that an inscribed book has value but a photo does not?  That a Bundt pan stays but a vase should go to a  thrift store? Can I create a reasoned hierarchy of practically and sentimentally valued objects?

Those are questions for the next eight weeks.  But I need to define the overall project, so here goes.  I will shed the following:

  • a minimum of eight pounds (one per week) from my body.  I know how to do this.
  • a minimum of 1 box or bag of items from eight categories: closet, books, kitchen, home office, work office, garage, things I like but haven’t touched in one year, things that would mean more to someone else than they do to me.  This is a little trickier.

Since I’m not Jack Reacher, there will be latitude, judgment calls, irrationality.  I’ll keep you posted, one category at a time.

Filed in Memoir, Stories


  1. wholly jeanne

    it will be interesting, you shedding, mr z sorting and sifting as he grieves. grieving can be a big, treacherous pothole in the road to shedding. as gail caldwell says on pages 157-158 in her marvelous book, let’s take the long way home, (xo) “I wanted to claim whatever of her was left. I’d always heard stories about grief-stricken families arguing over ugly lamps or cheap coffee makers; now I understood. The frantic hunger I felt was not trivial or greedy; it was possessive, in the most primal sense. I still have her gym bag and her rain jacket, and for a while I even tried to wear her winter boots, an entire size too big, which was absurd but comforting. Memento mori: reminders of the dead. I think we must long for these signature of history – the baseballs and ornaments and playing cards left on people’s graves – because they take up the space left by the departed.”

  2. angela

    Just seeing your tweet, Christine! It would be hard to shed and tour 😉 but yes, please follow along. Are you coming to Miami?