Sunday, June 24, 2012

Stoop Sale Cookies

Last month I decided to get rid of the storage unit I've been hanging onto for the past six years. Truth be told, I hadn't thought much about the unit (thanks to AutoPay) until I started watching the show Storage Wars on A&E. Being a flea market/thrift store fanatic myself, it's no wonder I like watching a bunch of reality show characters bidding blind on storage units in the hopes of finding something valuable amongst piles of unmarked boxes. I also find it endlessly fascinating that people could just simply abandon their belongings. This point is fantastically ironic given the fact that my storage unit had been all but forgotten save for Christmas when we would make our annual pilgrimage to retrieve the holiday decorations.

A few months ago I couldn't have told you what was in my unit. Sure, there were some large items I could see from the front door, like the mountain bike I bought on a whim that summer in the Hamptons when my house mates wanted to take a stab at roughing it. There was also some furniture I bought at the antique store where I worked on the weekends right after college; I thought it would be a great way to meet people and pay for the pieces I needed to furnish my first apartment. Besides what I could see from the threshold, I was at a total loss for what sat waiting in those cardboard boxes. Had my unit gone up for auction, I wouldn't have had even the slightest competitive edge over any of those Storage Wars personalities. Emptying the unit was a huge undertaking but I was highly motivated, not just because of the oodles of money I would save, but because it dawned on me just how ridiculous it was to hold on to things that I had no knowledge of owning.

Rummaging through all the stuff was like revisiting my past lives. Each object seemed to embody the spirit of another me, and although they triggered faint memories, it almost felt as if I was sifting through someone else's belongings. The good news was I thought I had superb taste! I found a whole box full of kitchen supplies and happily snatched up some beloved linens and books. The bad news was that for every item I wanted to bring home I found ten I wanted to throw away. How is it that I could have accumulated this much crap? The fact that I had paid to hold onto this stuff just added insult to injury. Surrounded by piles and piles of junk, I felt keenly aware of the yogic practice of non-hoarding which, up until this point, had remained completely illusive to me. In that moment I understood the value of non-attachment because each object I now categorized as junk had, at some point in my life, been considered precious.

I had to let go. There was no other choice. A wave of clarity washed over me as I sorted through the mess. Photo albums, college memories, and old letters went into the "keep" pile. The rolls of wrapping paper with only enough paper left to wrap a 1-inch square box, the clothes (oh my God has my style changed) and the manuals from my 200hr teacher training (although hilarious to flip through) went directly to the "Goodwill" pile. There were some things I loved but just didn't need, so I decided to have a stoop sale to make the act of letting go a little less painful.

We hung signs up all over my neighborhood, advertising my goods and bribing people with homemade cookies ("available only to those who BUY!"). I figured an oatmeal walnut chocolate chip cookie sprinkled with sea salt would help turn any ambivalent waffling into a final sale. These cookies were my first attempt at creating my own recipe for a baked good. The science of baking is totally lost on me so the task of figuring out the perfect ratio of flour/sugar/baking powder/egg was daunting to say the least. I decided the only way to figure it out was to try. Luckily I had many willing taste testers (like any good yoga teacher, I bribed my students with homemade cookies if they really gave their all in class). With a little tweaking, the feedback was unanimous ... the cookies are delicious!

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Cream 2 sticks of room temperature butter, 1 cup of tightly packed light brown sugar, and 1/2 cup regular sugar. Add 2 eggs and 1 tsp vanilla. Add the dry ingredients—1 1/2 cups flour, 1 tsp baking powder, and 1/2 tsp salt—only until just combined. Finally, stir in 3 cups of oats, 1 cup of chocolate chips, and 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts. Spoon about a tablespoon of dough into your hands, allowing the heat of your palms to form the dough into a presentably round shape. Once they were on the cookie sheet, I flattened the tops just a little and sprinkled each one with a bit of Maldon sea salt flakes. Bake for 20-25 minutes on the upper rack of your oven, or until the bottoms are golden brown. Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack.

Books for sale resting on top of a 1950's table.

A collection of shoes resting on a 100 year old trunk.

The stoop sale was a huge success, if you count my having fun as being successful. If you count my financial gains relative to how much I originally spent on each item plus the money I spent to store it all ... well, let's just not count my financial gains. Practicing Sutra 2.39 (aparigraha, or non-hoarding) seems pretty wise. We do not need all of our stuff. Moreover, we cannot find our sense of self in all of our stuff. We are not our cars, or our shoes, or our furniture. What was once your prized possession is later left collecting dust in some storage unit. It makes me think that non-hoarding is not simply the practice of letting go—of saying goodbye at the end of a long relationship with our forgotten belongings. Aparigraha is also the practice of taking a powerful pause before buying that special something you feel will fill the gaping hole in your sense of wholeness. It is the skill of knowing that the answers do not abide in the external, but rather deep inside. Clearly (as illustrated by the photo above), no amount of shoes will help you step forward in the direction you want to move. On a side note, no one bought any of my shoes, so I donated them to Goodwill. Someone is now walking around in a killer pair of Barbara Bui flats, and for that, I couldn't be happier.

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