I am in a small town called Uzés in the south of France! At the moment I am sitting in a charming courtyard surrounded by old stone walls. The French pigeons are cooing and old jazz is wafting out of an open window. Like the jazz, everything here is old. Coming from the United States it’s almost unfathomable that the spaces we inhabit could be so extremely old. We find it charming, enchanting when we first encounter the oldness, but in a town called Uzés, you start getting used to it. Today we drove 20 minutes to see an ancient Roman Aqueduct that makes the medieval house we’re renting seem brand new.
After many trips to Europe I’m confident that recycling space is a powerful thing. There is something special about being in an old house, even when it is in a state of disrepair. This afternoon we wandered through a shop cluttered with rusty old tools and other dirty antiques with our mouths open. It was wonderful. The place was full of treasures, priced accordingly! Meanwhile, I’m constantly shopping for new things, just for the sake of having something new. I’m tired of my old things when I’ve had them for a couple of years. What’s the deal?
Working with clients, I encounter new and old things regularly. Some people with shopping habits have closet floors and shopping bags full of clothes with the tags still on. Others have every edition of various magazines since 1952. The new stuff is easy. Put it on a hanger and arrange it by color, or donate it to someone in need. The old stuff is more complicated. It carries magic, memories, and value. It also takes up space, gathers dust, and weighs us down if we don’t consider our motives. How do we deal with old stuff? How do we honor the past without getting stuck in it?
Life seems to move slowly in Uzés. After a couple of days I am breathing deeply, catching whiffs of lavender and autumn. Meals last for hours, and there is nothing quite like a long walk. There is nowhere to be, and everything that seemed so important back home has fallen away. I spoke to the owner of a small shop who had once been a high-end fashion editor. Three months ago she picked up and moved her with her husband and dog, leaving her old life behind. As enchanted tourists, this sounds like a dream come true, but is it? Should we leave the fast pace of the developing world behind in favor of a simpler life of leisure and community and creativity? Out with the old, or embrace the old?
Here is my proposition, and it doesn’t require any life changes, or that you even throw away your old magazines. My suggestion is this: rethink your relationship to time. As I sit here surrounded by stone walls I can’t tell what was built when. I doubt that anyone still lives here who knows which house was built first, which was built from the ruins of an even older one, and which was built ten years ago to imitate the style of older houses. I don’t really know how old – or new – anything is. There is a sense of timelessness hovering here, and it’s exactly what we need. Timelessness is what helps things fall away, both past and future. My attention is on the present moment, on my surroundings. On a delicious glass of wine and that slow drifting jazz.
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