L’arte d’Arrangiarsi: The Art of Making Something Out of Nothing (…including a twentysomething life)

Have you ever read a book and just knew you were meant to pick up that exact book at that exact moment in your life?

I have.

This weekend, I started reading Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert…a book that has been on my To-Read list for at least three years. And yet, it wasn’t until now that I finally picked it up, and I’m not sure why. In my room, I have an entire shelf filled with books. Then under that shelf, more books. Then on the end of my bed, there is another stack about twenty books high. My book collection has a natural way of expanding itself…

Regardless, I chose this book. And I promise, I have not been given any endorsements from the author to promote it. Yes, it’s a great book so far, but for the purposes of this post, I’m less interested in the quality of the book and more interested in its message, especially for us twentysomethings.

In the book, the author travels to Italy and learns the phrase l’arte d’arrangiarsi. “There’s a wonderful Italian expression,” she says. “L’arte d’arrangiarsi—the art of making something out of nothing. The art of turning a few simple ingredients into a feast, or a few gathered friends into a festival. Anyone with a talent for happiness can do this.”

This quote, more than any other so far, has really stuck with me. At first, I imagined my dad in the kitchen back home. Regardless of how empty I thought the cabinets were, my dad always had the ability to look in the same cabinets and make a meal that was both satisfying and delicious. I could never figure it out. To my surprise, I did the exact same thing yesterday! **Relevant update from last week: the no-carbs situation did not go well this week. So as I was looking through my cabinets for my usual snacks (tortilla chips or wheat thins), I came across nothing except raisins and steel-cut oats. The freezer was worse: frozen fruits and vegetables. Nothing that I wanted. At all.

But, an idea popped in my head, a little nugget of information from my dad. Soups make the easiest meals!  I remembered a meal from my favorite Indian restaurant on campus – curried cauliflower and peas – and knew I had the ingredients to try to make something similar from my empty cabinets into a meal. So, I made a little broth (hot water and some spices), added the curry powder, and then tossed in some frozen cauliflower and peas. Voila! A homemade soup. Making something out of nothing. L’arte d’arrangiarsi.

Yet, my soup is not why I’m writing this post. I think the author’s point goes deeper than making a feast out of a few simple ingredients. More than a curry soup from a seemingly empty pantry. Why, I thought, can’t l’arte d’arrangiarsi be applied to life? Especially for a twentysomething…the art of making life itself into a feast out of a few simple “ingredients.”

As a twentysomething in this new phase of life, I don’t want to say I have “nothing,” because that’s not true. But some days, it certainly feels that way. Even though I’m not really in a new city anymore, I don’t know nearly as much about it as I thought I would at this point. My social circle is not as big as I wanted it to be, and my job isn’t necessarily as meaningful as I once found it. Yet, at the same time, I know friends are about quality as opposed to quantity, and I also know that I am fortunate to even have the job I do have. That’s one good thing about being a twentysomething…having an acquired sense of insight to the things that actually matter.

But in general, I think life is like a blank slate. An empty canvas, to some extent. Right now, on my canvas, I have my job, my few friends, my family…and that’s about it. But why not embrace l’arte d’arrangiarsi? Why can’t I make my own life into something that I want? A beautiful piece of Italian art that I would be proud to display.

Right now, I have the paintbrushes. I have the tools. And my artist’s palette is full of options for ways to make my life of a canvas meaningful in some way. Especially now since classes have ended, I’ve been thinking about volunteering more and maybe even taking an Italian class. And I’ve already done some things, like getting a part-time job at Starbucks that I know I will love, writing parts of a musical, and I’ve been reading a lot more for pleasure.

This canvas is mine. And if there are some blank corners, or if I accidentally mix some colors that I’m not happy with, it is up to me to paint the canvas that I want displayed. To make something out of nothing. L’arte d’arrangiarsi.

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