I have always had a bedside table with a single lamp and room to hold a book, a glass of water, and my glasses at night.
Now it is in the form of older design that was refinished by my grandmother for me. It’s a wonderful light oak color with a single drawer. I love it. Unfortunately since my childhood, I have struggled to keep my bedside table clear of clutter so that it is functional. It would become a catch-all for pocket filler when I undressed at night, the designated spot for stray importants such as receipts or business cards, and the landing strip for random items from nearly empty chapsticks and highlighters to that single sock that was missing its mate and the thinning checkbook on its last carbon copy. At least it was until now.
When we downsized and moved to a new apartment, I wanted to let go of items that didn’t provide a function. I was honest with myself that bringing us happiness and generally making our environment relaxing was a function we appreciated, so that was a justifiable reason to keep some things. But if I looked at something and wasn’t immediately relieved by seeing it, there was likely another reason spurring me to keep it, and I found that it wasn’t always a healthy reason. This became most obvious to me when I considered the contents of my bedside table.
My lamp is a staple of the bedside: I need it to read at night and we often finish our nightly routines by lamplight rather than the overhead light because the dimmer environment is more relaxing.
I’m also trying to create a routine at night that reduces the amount of bright lights in an effort to signal to our brains that it’s time for sleep. We haven’t fully embraced a routine like that yet, but we’re on our way. So a single lamp with a 20-watt bulb is a necessity to support our lifestyles. We both have one on our bedsides.
Next was the coaster. I take a glass of water with me to bed every night in case I need a drink in the night and to take it with me into the bathroom each morning so I have water to help me wake up. Because my table is wooden, I want to ensure I don’t create water rings all over the top, so the coaster needed to stay as well.
My table is not large but just the right size for me, and the lamp and coaster take up almost half the width of the table. So I have to be selective about how I utilize the rest of the space. When I considered the two or three bottles of lotion that I kept in the other corner of the table, one a flat circle that the other two bottles sat on to save space, I realized how little I used them. I occasionally use fragrant lotion in the summer or for special occasions, but more often than not I use non-scented lotion from our bathroom cabinet. It works better with my skin and doesn’t contain man-made fragrances that I prefer not to put in my body. So why was I hanging on to these? I had no idea. I boxed up the two top bottles and kept the smaller, flat container that works very well in the winter when my hands dry out in the winter. I should note that after going through our bedroom, closet, and bathroom before moving, I found three of these containers, two of the same fragrance! They work well and will last a long time, so I now keep them in the drawer of my side table and plan to keep them for special occasions when the fragrance fits the season. And now that they have a new space, that cleared up a corner of my table where the space did not fit the function of the item. That’s a significant question to ask when considering how items work in your life once you’ve decided to keep them: Are you storing them in a place that supports their function? If not, can you store them someplace that will better simplify their function and make it more likely for you to use them?
When I took a school trip to Germany in my undergrad years, I found a statue of Mother Mary carved from beautiful wood. It was about eight inches tall and fit perfectly just beneath my lampshade. During the time I purchased it, I was in the process of also converting to Catholicism, which introduced me to many aspects of practicing a faith. The one I latched onto was praying the rosary. I still have three rosaries, each of which was given to me at a particular junction in my conversion, and I hold on to them because they are important to me. But I do not pray the rosary nearly as often as I did when I first purchased the statue, and the habit of saying the prayer nightly as I had done before filled a void where I felt parts of my life were incomplete. I still pray, occasionally leaning more strongly on aspects of Catholicism than others, but not with the statue as I used to. I still find it to be a beautiful decoration, but it didn’t fit anywhere and didn’t serve a functional purpose. I would have rather had someone else have it where it was more functional or brought her more joy than it brought me. So I let go of it. I didn’t let go of the memory of praying with it as I converted or when I found it in a small kiosk in the middle of the Christmas Market in Berlin; instead, I recognized that I was hanging on to it for sentimental reasons and let go of the physical item instead.
That was even more open space on my tabletop.
Last was book. I always have a book near the bed. I’m a slow reader compared to most people because I like to read each individual word and occasionally reread a sentence or paragraph to ensure I understood what happened or simply because it was so well written that I want to keep the image in my mind. I also tend to read more than one book at a time. I can be slightly obsessive about interests and will leave one book for another before finishing the first one; I usually come back to finish it later, but it is not uncommon for me to have two or three books going at once. Therefore, I like to keep them all handy because I never know which book I’ll want to read when I lie down at night. With the newly cleared space of the lotions and statue, I was able to move my book(s) from the floor where they leaned against the table next to the bed up to my bedside table. I stacked them neatly so that they are easily sorted and can be reached even if I’m already in bed.
The bottom of the table has an open area instead of a second drawer. I kept some of my religious books for reference but let go of those I no longer used. I also organized the space to store my blank moleskin notebooks that I carry with me to take notes or scribbles for when the writing mood strikes me while I am out and about. Lastly, a box of Kleenex now fits in the bottom of the table rather than on the floor, eliminating the chance that it is pushed or kicked under the bed where it remains lost until I go searching for a lost sock or shoe.
The drawer is another story altogether. Let’s suffice it to say that until very recently it was my personal junk drawer. I never used it to hold anything that I needed to access regularly because it was like digging through a nickel box at a garage sale: The odds of finding what I wanted were slim but I found loads of other things to distract me during my search. I try to keep it at a single level of items–no stacking– and have only momentos or functional items in there such as all the cards and notes my partner has given me during our relationship, my cell phone and iPad chargers, extra chapsticks, a flashlight in case we lose power in the night, a book light, and a few other items. For the first time in my thirty years, I can actually open the drawer and easily access anything I keep in there. It’s kinda awesome!
My bedside table is a special piece of furniture to me. It’s a one-of-a-kind table that was made for me by a special person, and it brings me happiness to use it. So it only makes sense that I keep it functional so I can enjoy it all the more. Now that I’ve simplified what I keep in and on the table, it’s much easier to keep it clear of clutter. Don’t get me wrong: I still have to clean it off once or twice a week, but that consists of picking up a few Kleenexes, maybe a receipt or two, and putting away my phone charger and wallet. It takes about thirty seconds each time, which is one of the goals of minimalism. It’s simple and quick to reset. It makes life simpler in that regard.
And that’s really all you can ask from a bedside table: a little light to read by and a place to rest your glasses.