Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sleeping in the Sukkah and Living with Less Stuff

I'll be honest. I've never slept in the sukkah, at least before this year. I always told myself that it was too cold, too wet (in Michigan both were true) - too whatever to sleep in the sukkah. I admit it; I'm not really the out-doorsy type. My idea of camping involves a good mattress, soft pillows and air conditioning. But sleeping in a sukkah isn't really about camping. Or maybe it is. And this year, the sukkah took on a little extra meaning for me.

Moving to Israel was a large-scale excercise in downsizing. You have no idea how much stuff you've managed to accumulate until you have to move all of it. And then imagine moving to a place that you know is about half as big as your old house. Then you truly start getting rid of stuff.

The process went in stages:
1. Selling relatively valuable stuff on Ebay. Very slow with limited success.
2. The garage sale. Craigslist. Etc. Selling one car.
3. Giving stuff away - that included some furniture, and also food.
4. Deciding what we were going to keep, and sending it off to Israel on the lift.
5. Packing up whatever would possibly fit into the minivan.
6. Selling the minivan.
6. Sending our stuff onto the bottom of the plane.
It occurred to me that at each stage, the stuff that we were directly connected to grew smaller and smaller. When we finally got on the plane with just our carry-on luggage, it was at that point that I realized that I had the least amount of "stuff" that I probably have for the rest of my life. My house was stuck on a boat somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea. My luggage was on the bottom of the plane. If someone took all of your stuff away, and left you only with a carry-on piece of luggage, what would you take? It's an interesting question.

In any case, Sukkot itself prompts us to ask precisely this question: how much stuff do I need? On sukkot, we're supposed to move out of our homes into the Sukkah. While we normally make-do with lawn furniture, that's not really how we're supposed to do it. We're supposed to take our nicest things - our best furniture into the sukkah, and live with only that stuff for the week of sukkot. We're not supposed to just eat in the sukkah. We're supposed to live in it; eat and sleep, hang out and chat in it. Interestingly, you're not supposed to take regular things into the sukkah either. You don't bring in your pots or garbage - that stuff stays out.

So what would you - if it wouldn't rain in the sukkah - take with you? If we truly lived in a Sukkah for a week, how much of your stuff would you really need?

I guess what we learned most this year is that we really didn't need as much stuff as we thought. Instead of four couches we do fine with one. We left our breakfront and sideboard (which I really, really loved) and all the things (read here - junk) that we had crammed into them. Instead, we have a simple curio cabinet from Ikea with our kiddush cups and other assorted items. Instead of four separate rooms not including a basement, we have only one big room (with a kitchen) downstairs, but we all seem to get along - at least most of the time. The whole downsizing process made me realize just how much stuff I thought I needed, but don't really, and how much that "need" motivated many of my actions.

Which brings me back to sleeping in the sukkah. As I lay in the sukkah the first night, it made me think back to the nights we slept on mattresses on the floor - both in Oak Park and here in Israel, because our real beds were in transit. No, it wasn't fun to sleep on the floor, but we survived. Actually, we were fine, and that lesson has stayed with me. I looked up at the sky, and gave thanks to God for the fact that this Sukkot, my things meant just a little less to me than in years past.

I could sleep in the sukkah without the creature comforts, but feel more blessed nonetheless.