Finding joy in a swing

Published 3:18 pm Wednesday, October 19, 2016

My new swing sparks joy. Even on the hottest summer days, I can find peace there, shaded under the magnolia, catching a salty southwest breeze, reading a book, enjoying a glass of wine with my husband, or just looking beyond the Belhaven harbor breakwater, thinking. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what sparks joy.

When it comes to clutter, I’m fairly liberated. I recognized a long time ago that I don’t function well in a disorganized environment. But several of my friends have referred to the book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: A Simple, Effective Way to Banish Clutter Forever” by Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo. Since I fancy myself living on a boat someday, I thought I might learn a trick or two from the KonMari method.

Not necessarily easy to follow, a lot of the de-cluttering advice is obvious – discard items that are broken, clothes that are out-of-style. Here’s where I got stuck: Beyond the functional, keep only that which sparks joy.

Maybe I’m interpreting this too deeply, but I don’t derive joy from things. I derive joy from relationships, nature, the arts, experiences and accomplishments. So how did I end up with enough stuff to fill a bed-and-breakfast and a small apartment? Aside from a couple of display cases of decorative items, much of what I own is functional: clothes, furniture and cookware. My closest and attic aren’t bulging. Mostly, they are holding out-of-season clothes and seasonal decor. Useful stuff, right? I needed to challenge myself further, so I imagined that I was moving out of the country and that I’d have to pay an exorbitant price for shipping. What would I take with me?

Here’s the short list:

  • Three vintage red wood canisters decorated with a fanciful black poodle. These always make me smile because they remind me of Maya, our fur child, who brings me great joy.
  • The South American santos on my yoga studio mantel are the closest I come to having a collection of anything. They also fall into the category of folk art, and most of the original art I have collected brings me joy. It wouldn’t take up a lot of room, and I know I could make some tough choices to lighten the load.
  • The pew that came from the 200-year-old church where my husband and I were married is a treasured keepsake, as is the 1800s tavern-style dining room table that has been the center of generations of conversations. I recently traded a rustic corner cupboard and mission-style child’s desk for an old wooden baker’s cupboard. If I could, these are the pieces I would put in that fantasy shipping container, along with two matching oak secretary tables, perfect bedside stands.
  • Two quilts made by a great-great grandparent, the life-ring from my grandfather’s boat, an antique gun from my husband’s family. These are things we have been entrusted with and will keep close. Personal items like scrapbooks, old family videos (now on DVD) and pre-digital photographs, already neatly organized, are not negotiable; they always bring me joy.

What about the swing? Although its sturdy, weather-resistant components make it seaworthy, the swing that now brings me great joy didn’t make the cut in my head-game. After all, it is easy enough to replace.

Last weekend, one of our guests asked me where we bought our swing. I happily directed her to A&W Sales on Seed Tick Neck Road, just outside of Belhaven. When she and her husband returned to the inn, guess what they had in the back of their pick-up? Joy, multiplied!

The swing sparked a deep conversation about the things we value in life. And while Barbara might have been able to find a similar swing closer to home in Virginia, this purchase is a souvenir of her trip to Belhaven. I envision her enjoying her new swing as much as I do mine, sharing the story of how she got it, looking out over the Chesapeake Bay, reading, relaxing, or thinking about a perplexing question.

Swing on, sweet chariot. With your lifetime guarantee, you will be swaying in the breeze long after I’m gone. Long after the magnolia is gone. Ungrounded and safe. An object of joy, if not a keepsake, in a messy world.

Gail Fowler is the owner of Between Water & Main Bed and Breakfast in Belhaven and also runs her own yoga studio, YoGail.