An odd thing happened to me when I finished collaborating on a memoir. I spent four years and two days (obsessively at times) writing, revising, and editing a manuscript. As soon as I typed the last line, I pushed away from the keyboard and began to edit my life.
The tiny farmhouse my husband and I raised three sons and lived in for fourteen years became vacant. We had continued to harvest the land but rented the house. Now it sat empty. We missed the old homestead and decided to renovate and turn it into a place to gather with family and friends.
I filled the house with a mishmash of beloved things: embroidered curtains, iron beds, vintage quilts, new sheets, Franciscan plates, a farm table, rickety old chairs, tin lamps, a painted desk, and a mahogany bookcase. Some items I ordered on eBay, but mostly I scoured the back roads of Louisiana for antiques.
When the interior was nearly complete, I spent a night alone seeped in memories. My husband stayed in what we now call “the big house” with the cat and the dog. I slept in an iron captain’s bed and awoke to thunder and a loud, drumming rain on the tin roof.
I flung open the curtains and hopped back in bed. I called my husband and told him I never wanted to leave, that I yearned to sell the 3,000-square-foot house in the suburbs and move back to the 900-square-foot house on the farm. It didn’t take him long to agree. He missed slinging hay and raking out stalls.
I’m not sure what has come over me. I’m selling most of my things or giving them away. I only use about one third of what is stuffed in my closets anyway. We are keeping the photos, family mementos, the clothing we need, my husband’s guitars and amplifiers, our laptops and books.
As far as the rest of the stuff, I’m going to go through it the same way I did every sentence of the manuscript—pluck out unnecessary items like words. Delete the things that weigh down my life and keep me from turning the page. It seems editing a life is not so different from editing a book.