Invasion of the PODS

Are our possessions taking over our lives?

By Ann Patchett

Recently I went to see the house in Nashville I had grown up in, before it was bulldozed. The fancy boys' prep school across the street had bought it up along with the five neighboring brick bungalows and planned to flatten them all to make a parking lot. The house had once belonged to my distant cousins, though they had moved away 12 years ago. I had lived with them on and off from the time I was seven until I was out of college, and the house, like the cousins, had always been a source of great happiness and stability for me. The empty bungalows stood wide open the day before demolition, and so we met there and walked from room to room, telling stories and feeling sentimental. As is always the case with childhood memory, the house was much smaller than I had remembered, a scant 1,200 square feet. After I made my third loop through the tiny rooms, I realized what was missing from this place I had loved. Closets. The house had virtually no closet space.

I went and stood in the closet in the master bedroom. I barely fit. I remembered that when I was a child, the closet door was never shut. It overflowed with shoeboxes and suits and crammed-in heavy overcoats. In every room I looked and found the closets were no more than shallow cupboards.

"How did we manage?" I asked, genuinely stumped. I remembered how the lack of storage space had driven my cousins crazy when they lived there, but on the last day their old house would stand they were feeling generous.

"Oh," my cousin said, "you know, it wasn't so bad."

Closets were not originally part of the American tradition. Because they were taxed as rooms in the 1800s, our forefathers made do with armoires, blanket chests, and pegs for putting up their knee breeches. When closets did become part of our national floor plan, they were the sort of modest affairs my cousins had, a little slot in the wall meant to hold the four suits or five dresses one owned. 

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