Chinese Shelf

We have this ornate wooden bookshelf in the hall. We call it the Chinese Shelf. It’s come with us across 3 houses and is always used in the same way: to display the things we brought back from traveling the world. Or rather that my wife brought back. She’s the one who’s done most of the traveling in the family, before we were family, to Japan, Thailand, India, Tibet, and, yes, China.

At our latest residence (you might call it the permanent one), the Chinese Shelf has collected more than just cultural mementos.

In being at the top of the stairs, positioned in the hall between the kids’ rooms and our room, it’s become a catch-all for a new kind of artifact: everyday household items that need to go downstairs, or that have just come upstairs but are in limbo of where they will ultimately be stationed, stored, or forgotten.

Things like rubber bouncy balls and empty kitchen bowls and sunglasses and duct tape and orphaned playing cards and unidentified little plastic caps, and hair-ties (with hair stuck to the little metal ring) and canisters of slime and phone charging cords and tubes of sunblock all cling precariously to the shelves, piled up on each and other, like suburban barnacles.

My wife wants to travel again. It’s become a motivating thing for her. She’s started listening to podcasts about earning free miles and money through credit card applications so we can travel more, like she used to.

I want to encourage this, so, even though we’re still figuring out how to fund these new adventures, I’ve cleared the Chinese Shelf of our domestic artifacts to leave behind the overseas ones – totems, pictures, paper swans, strange wooden heads and bowls, textiles, fragile marionette puppets, rocks, and shells – symbols of freedom from faraway friends and gift shops, objects that beckon memories and long for new companions.

I never was very good at finance, but I’m good at motivation and I know that in order to open yourself up for new things, you have to clear a space. You have to make the tough decision to get rid of things, to scrape off the barnacles, to chip away a little at your current conditions and change the shape of that stagnant state of mind.

You have to clear off a surface and make room for new.

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