Today’s Sunday newspaper carries ads for the annual summer white sale at a downtown department store. Egyptian cotton bedsheets at 50% off! I make a mental note to stop by the store this week but then I remember the Project—yes, it has already become an entity on its own, though for the moment its countenance still lies in shadow—and realize that if I am to get rid of stuff in the weeks ahead, I can’t buy anything that is not a consumable good. And then I panic. I can hold off buying sheets for a year but what about books and music? I love browsing through bookstores. Will I still enjoy it if I don’t buy anything in the end? Will it feel like a promising flirt that ends in my going home alone? Admittedly I have enough unread books and unlistened-to music to last the year and even more music I want to listen to again, more carefully this time. Just as I have piles of sheets I haven’t slept on in years.
There is just one bed in my flat—two, if you count the sofa bed—but two dozen sheets, and some don’t even fit the double bed I sleep on. They accumulated through the years, and whenever we moved house, we took the sheets with us. All of them. Even when Matthew and I bought new sheets, we kept the older ones. Did we think it was bad luck to throw out something we had slept in and made love on, as if we had left deposits of our selves in the weave of the fabric, the flakes of dreams and sweat of desire?
The sheets are a witness of the various beds we had or wanted to have, There are a couple of white cot-sized flat sheets, a hold-over from an earlier apartment, the kind you would find in hospitals or budget hotels. And then there’s the pair of queen-sized percale sheets that a friend brought from Amsterdam at Matthew’s request when we thinking of getting a bigger bed, though by that time each of us really wanted to be sleeping alone. The older sheets, stacked on the bottom shelves of the linen closet are all white, with a faint downy beard of grey dust at the exposed edge of the fold. The more recent ones come in discrete thin stripes and restrained floral patterns in tones of wheat, sage green, gorse and ochre. “Your house is not a home,” my friend Liz joked one day when helping me take in the wash, “it’s a heath.” Dezie, the woman cleans the flat, keeps mismatching the sheets when she changes the bed, but it’s too much a bother teaching her which goes with which. On Thursdays, her day to clean, I come back to the flat wondering what eccentric pairing she’s made the bed with. Sometimes she hits upon an intriguing combination.
Maybe this provision of variety is part of why we buy things. It gives us an illusion of change and renewal. It breaks the sameness of daily life, even if for the most part we are just recycling a set of choices made from a limited repertoire of the possible.
I browse through the bedding section of the Calvin Klein online store, which depicts the bedsheets and duvet covers in a series of photographs, each of which shows a sumptuously, meticulously made bed, bedecked with coverlet and shams and crowned by a heap of decorative pillows in contrasting (though ultimately complimentary) patterns and colors. As if to accentuate the ritualistic minimalism of the scene, the bed frame is a simple thin wooden board, an altar. I am entranced by the composition and the atmosphere each of these beds evokes. But there is only a bed in the photograph. There is no side table stacked with books and no tray with the remnants of a Sunday breakfast in bed. The bed is too perfect is sleep in. I think it’s beautiful, but I feel I would need to look like the underwear model in the other part of CK site to fuck in it. But I still want it. For the illusion of change and renewal.
We all have favorite clothes: the shirts and jeans and underwear we always feel more comfortable wearing. I have favorite sheets, the ones I feel more comfortable sleeping in. Ironically, among these favorites is a set of Calvin Klein sheets I bought years ago. I should just keep these and toss the rest. Who needs two dozen sheets? Though I should keep an extra set or two for the sofa bed when friends come to stay. And couple of old ones to cover furniture with when the house gets repainted next summer. I’m negotiating, of course. If this is a foretaste of what will happen when I start divesting myself of things that really matter, I doubt if the project will last very long.
I take the older sheets, the odd-sized white ones and even a few of the prints. I brush off as much of the dust as I can and slide them into plastic bags, along with assorted pillowcases. I’ll apologize about the dust to Dezie when I give them to her and ask whether she knows a family that could use the sheets. They just need a good 60o wash and a dose of bleach, I’ll tell Dezie. That’ll get rid of everything.