oprahs auction
Photo: Lorenzo Agius
The day was going to get very busy very fast. I had some chai and some quiet and a walk with the dogs, but I can't say I was convinced that caffeine and puppy love would be enough to see me through this one. So I curled up on my sofa, took a deep breath, and let my eyes rest on a painting that I'd fallen in love with a while back at a gallery on Michigan Avenue. I admired how the chandelier cast crystal teardrop shadows that ricocheted across the walls, I glanced over at the beautiful desk I'd picked out for Stedman, and I ran my fingertip around the rim of a pretty little bowl on the antique end table I'd spotted in London a couple of years ago. There's a lot to be said for getting lost in a few good memories, soaking in the familiar—spending the morning hanging out at home. There was just one tiny problem: I was not at home. I was, in fact, several miles from home at the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club, having a moment in one of three enormous tents filled with the things that, for better or for worse, tell the story of my life. I was attempting to get my mind around the idea that in a day or two, the chairs from my Harpo office circa 1996, the Victorian French brass bed from my place in Telluride, the green velvet sofas from my screening room, the cream and mustard rug from Gayle's room, the Stafford shire lions from the dining room, the wrought-iron and bronze balustrade from the staircase, the armoire from the den, the white-slipcovered George Smith chaise longue from the bathroom, the ottomans, the benches, the dressers, the coffee tables, the sideboards, the bureaus, the lamps, the sconces, the mirrors, the artwork, the cabinets, the trunks, the candlesticks, the andirons, the presents, the tchotchkes, the souvenirs, the stuff I thought I had to have, the stuff I swore I'd always treasure, the stuff I'd liked and loved and cherished would all be going, going, gone.

Auctioning off these pieces would be a fantastic opportunity to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to further the education of all the graduates of my Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa. It would also be a chance to pare away the things that no longer go with my life. Those pine library stairs over there? Well, I bought them in 1988 because I liked them in theory, but the truth is, I never really had a library big enough, so they've been sitting in storage for more than 20 years. That basket? Believe it or not, I used to keep my financial papers in it—the smallest home office on the face of the earth! The French Empire chaise with gold-leaf, melon-shaped feet; the 19th-century tole-decorated washstand; the set of six 18th-century Louis XVI à la reine Jean-Baptiste Lelarge armchairs with hand-embroidered upholstery—all of this was purchased a million somebody elses ago. What can I say? They seemed like a good idea at the time—and times change.

When you're just coming into your own, nobody ever teaches you how to ask for less. But over the years, you begin to make distinctions; you start to focus on what's important, and you start to release what's superfluous. You realize that a single piece of art that really speaks to you can be far more powerful than a wall filled with "important" works, that a meal eaten with feet up and pajamas on is usually a lot more pleasurable than any fancy-shmancy food at a black-tie gala, that good conversation with an old friend beats just about everything—that less actually is so much more.

In a perfect world I would end on that note. But here in the real world, I'll admit that I did feel a midlevel anxiety attack coming on as I paced up and down the lush lawn of the polo grounds, saying my goodbyes. For just a split second, I considered bidding on my own folk-art needlepoint rug with the lovely leaf design, but knowing what you need is more than knowing what you want. And what I need is dogs and books, light and space. Instead of feeling walled in by stuff, I want to feel surrounded by calm. As for all those gifts given by all those people? Well, I took a deep breath and opted to hang on to the generosity of the gesture. But I was finally ready to let somebody else enjoy all my stuff.

Next: You'll never believe what Oprah finally got rid of...

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