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A place for my stuff

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Cindy Sher photo 2

All this talk about Sukkot, which we just celebrated, got me thinking about dwellings and homes—especially this year.

See, I’m moving into a new apartment, but the lease hasn’t started yet. Unlike our Jewish ancestors who wandered in the desert for 40 years, I figured I’d be wandering for a little less—about two months—the gap between my residency at my old place and my new place.

I either had to track down a sukkah—stat—or figure something else out. Lucky for me, a generous friend asked me to stay with her until my new lease starts up. Just as it’s a mitzvah to invite someone into his or her sukkah, it’s a huge mitzvah to invite someone into her one-bedroom apartment for two months to camp out on her sleeper sofa.

To save space in the interim, I packed up two suitcases full of necessities, and put all my other possessions in storage with friends across the Chicago area. During my nomadic journey these last couple months, I’ve learned three valuable lessons about people:

1) People adapt.

Anyone who knows me knows I like things tidy, which you may choose to interpret as a euphemism for “compulsive.” I just like everything, literally and figuratively—I’m sure Freud would have a field day with this—neat, stable, and in its place.

Keys not in the “key spot?” Seems like a good way to lose your keys if you ask me.

Pair of shoes haphazardly strewn outside the closet? Well that’s just silly.

Bed unmade? Not on my watch. Okay, work with me on this one—I’ve read studies that making your bed is one of the easiest ways to boost happiness levels, according to Happier at Home author Gretchen Rubin.

But I quickly learned, despite my neat-freakiness tendencies, it’s impossible to have things in their place when one’s possessions are packed away in storage containers scattered across the Chicago metropolitan area. So I just stayed cool and went with it.

We humans adapt to whatever is thrown our way—and believe me, in ways a heck of a lot more dire than mine. Jews, in particular, have been forced to adapt to new situations, surroundings, and homes throughout our history.

In extreme times—such as being expelled from Spain in 1492—we adapted. And in less extreme situations—such as having a two-month gap in home rental—we adapt to that too.

2) People don’t need a lot of stuff.

I laugh every time I think of the late comedian George Carlin’s classic routine “A Place for My Stuff.” In his stream of consciousness-style act, Carlin determines that everyone’s just looking for a place to put their stuff. “…That’s all you need in life, a place for your stuff,” he says. “That’s all your house is—a place to keep your stuff. If you didn’t have so much stuff, you wouldn’t need a house. You could just walk around all the time. A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it…And when you leave your house, you gotta lock it up. Wouldn’t want somebody to come by and take some of your stuff. They always take the good stuff.”

As hilarious as Carlin is, I discovered we don’t need as much stuff as Carlin purported. With my stuff in storage, I’ve been living with a fraction of my possessions. And, guess what? It’s sort of liberating. After all, with less stuff, there’s less stuff to find places to put it all in. And, referring back to my earlier compulsive confession, there’s less stuff to make neat and tidy.

We live in a hyper-consumer culture, where we’re constantly bombarded with messages telling us to go out and spend money on the latest, newest, shiniest 2.0 version of everything.

But I’ll let you in on a little secret: We don’t really need all that stuff.

It turns out that fourth pair of denim “jeggings” I just had to buy is not the necessity I originally predicted. And the sun continues to rise every day even though my high school yearbook—the one with a couple very awkward pictures of me and inscriptions from similarly awkward former classmates—is packed away in a box somewhere. Finally, don’t tell John Travolta, but I indeed will survive a few weeks without my Grease DVD (please don’t judge me; I’m a woman without a home).

We need food, clothing, and shelter—and sadly many people don’t have that. We also need great family and friends. But do we need fluorescent magenta wine glasses (also in one of my storage bins somewhere)? Probably not.

3) People are really nice.

At least the people I know are. Through the Jewish grapevine, friends, family, and even mere acquaintances discovered I needed a place to stay and stepped it up immediately. We all know space is at a premium here in Chicago, and yet at least a dozen people reached out to offer me a place to hang my hat. When we read about all the bad in the world, it’s heartwarming to keep in mind that most people out there are decent, generous souls.

Around the first of the month, my time as a nomad will thankfully come to an end. I’ll hopefully be unpacking a box as you read this very column. Now, if only I could find a place for these jeggings. 

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