Frying Pans, Upheaval, and Finding a Home

It was the frying pans that did it. I sat in my room at my parents’ home around the Christmas holiday, legal pad and pencil in hand, jotting down lists for my new apartment kitchen—or flat was I was trying to remind myself to call it. The flat was still entirely hypothetical, but it was more of a reality now than it had been at any point in the last six months.

I left my life in New York in May, packed up a few suitcases, shipped an obscene number of out-of-print research books, and said goodbye to the city where’d I’d spent m formative adult years. It was the place I’d gone to graduate school, worked my first job, written nine books, and fallen in love. However, as much as I loved New York and the people, I’d found myself pushing against the boundaries of my life. It was as though I was trapped in a moderately comfortable room and unable to settle because I knew that the longer I stayed, the more difficult it would be to find a way out. There’s an adage that it takes ten years to become a New Yorker. I had almost hit nine, and I could tell I was dangerously close to waking up thirty years later only to find I was still there. And so, regretting only the friends I’d left behind, I picked up and moved to London.

I spent six months living with my parents, renesting in the family home after being the first daughter to leave it years ago. Mum and Dad are patient, wonderful people who might tease me about being a boomeranging (old) millenial, but who were also endlessly supportive of having a writer muttering about books all of the time. I spent the six months I was with them focusing on writing, fulfilling publishing deadlines, putting systems into place to help me do the business of being an author better. During that time, I saw two books come out. I wrote and edited three and a half. I hunted for a day job. I reconnected with old friends from graduate school. I tried on my new chosen city and found it a comfortable fit, more suited to me in some ways than New York.

I also looked for a day job. Cultivating a sustainable income for many authors is a long process of building backlist, praying we earn out our advances, and waiting for royalties to come through, figuring out how indie publishing can help hold up another side of our careers. I needed to work and write if I was going to fly the nest again and leave my parents in peace.

During my six months I cold applied to hundreds of jobs, called in every favor I had, interviewed, turned jobs down, applied some more, rinse, repeat. Nothing quite fit. Then, a few days before Christmas, the perfect mix of company, job description, and salary came together. I accepted the offer and that night we opened champagne.

Which brings us to frying pans.

With a new job and the prospect of a steadier salary than writing could promise me in late 2017, I could finally start looking for a flat. It will surprise few of my friends that, even before I’d looked at one flat, I was already building my kitchen. I made my list, putting down those pans, and went to a restaurant supply store on Fulham Road within spitting distance of Stamford Bridge, where Chelsea plays its matches. I loaded up a cart with stripped down, professional grade spoons, cutting boards, and mixing bowls to replace the ones I’d left behind in New York. For someone who loves—even needs for mind-emptying purposes—to cook, there’s nothing like the acquisition of these tools to make one feel more complete. By arming myself with a stock pot and some utensils, I was claiming back the independent part of my life that I’d temporarily lost when I moved to London.

I found the flat, a Victorian conversation that still has its plaster ceiling rose, carved wood mantel around the fireplace, and big bay windows, just a few days later.

Cleaning Out My Life and Letting Go

I am surrounded by things. My things. Nearly everything in this apartment I sit in while writing this was bought by me or for me with the purpose of filling up my life and shaping my home. There are things for comfort (the sofa I sit on), utility (a litany of kitchen equipment), or amusement (my prodigious book collection). And while they've all served a purpose and helped define a chapter of my life, many of them now seem superfluous.

When I decided to move to London, my first thought was for the friends I would leave behind. My second was for the sheer volume of stuff that would have to be sold, donated, and junked. It was staggering and almost crippling though despite my living in a home that is likely smaller than most of the people reading this.

I'm proud to say that my 320-square-foot studio has suited me well, in part because after nearly nine years of New York apartment living I've become an expert a bringing things into my home that serve multiple functions. No storage opportunity is overlooked. No kitchen gadget can have just one purpose. (Note the ice cream maker that I want so desperately but have been loath to buy because of giving up precious kitchen storage space.)

I realize the privilege it is to have stuff. I'm a woman who, through working both as a writer and as a journalist, has been able to make a comfortable living for herself. Fretting about what to do with excess things is a privilege of people who can afford to have an excess of things. Clutter is very much a first world problem and, at the moment, it's a problem I'm facing.

I read Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up when it was in vogue a couple years ago. Everyone I knew seemed to be Kondo-ing their lives, so I took a shot at it. I emptied my closets into the center of my room and sorted clothes, putting back only those things that I truly loved. (I did not hold every item and ask myself if it brought me joy and thank it for serving its purpose when I relegated it to the donation bin because that felt too woo woo for me, but if it works for you, more power to you.) I did the same exercise with my books, culling through things I loved and getting rid of things I knew I'd never read again.

However, despite this Kondo-inspired clean out a year ago I still found myself surrounded by things. I wasn't brutal in my purging because I wasn't going anywhere. My day job was solid and my mind was mostly occupied with writing books. I've also never found myself resentful of things. I've never felt the urge to seek out the freedom people write about in article urging us to eliminate material possessions and live out of one suitcase. As anyone who has perused my closet can tell, I derive too pleasure from clothes. I like being surrounded by books. There's satisfaction in finding the exact right set of wine glasses to go in my cupboard with the perfect water glasses and champagne flutes which sit next to the Moscow Mule copper mugs. (Yes, I do own those. Yes, I do use them. I enjoy cocktails immensely.)

All of my preciousness about my things changed when I decided to move. I'm now in the midst of the third or fourth round of clothing purges. I'm selling the majority of my wardrobe on Poshmark and ThredUp to see what I can get money for and what will be donated. Old technology has gone off to Decluttr as well as DVDs because I can't remember the last time I turned my BluRay player on. Some of my furniture and barware will go to my best friend who has already claimed it. The rest of my furniture will be sold in a Craigslist fire sale or placed out on the curb to be scavenged, a time-honored tradition NYC tradition. Bags and bags of books have already been taken to my local library's used bookstore for donation, and I still have many bags to go. (The people there are starting to recognize me.) Friends are also getting surprise boxes of books sent via media mail to fill up their shelves.

It's not as though I'll be traveling to London with nothing. A box of winter things is already winding it way there. Research books (some difficult to replace as they're out of print) are going via M-bags, a form of international shipping I didn't even know existed before this move. My sister and her boyfriend will be in New York the week before I leave by happy coincidence and will take a pair of suitcases back with them. I, a woman who travels light and hates to check luggage, will attempt not to break out in hives at the idea of checking a second pair of suitcases when I board my one-way flight.

When I arrive in London, I'll still have things, but they'll be highly curated — the best parts of who I've been in New York through my 20s and who I want to be in London.