Several years ago, I began making more road trips than I ever have – visits to my parents, moving kids to and from college, weddings, funerals, and girl trips with my friends. Most of my travel is getting to some place for a specific purpose and then turning around for home – definitely nothing to get too excited about! But this last couple of years, I’ve started to wonder more about the places I visit as well as the stops along the way. I find the lure of the billboard advertising “the best thumbprint cookies in Texas” almost too much to pass up, and I find myself veering off the highway more and more often to indulge those little wonderings.
Over time, I’ve come to appreciate taking the road less traveled when opportunity allows. My excursions tack a little extra time on to my trips, but I take a lot of pleasure in finding the occasional treasure along the brick-paved streets of long-abandoned downtowns, the beautiful detail of historic buildings, and the faded paint of advertisements on the brick walls of buildings. If I’m lucky, I find a local cafe, a bakery or a cute little place to shop to help break up the drive. I figure I may as well see what there is to see while I’m in the neighborhood.
In the back of my mind, I hear the words to an old Seals and Crofts song, We May Never Pass This Way Again. I am reminded that life is short and that I must make a conscious choice to seek joy in each day lest I get lost in the monotony of my routines. For me, this means taking everything in and avoiding the temptation to take it all for granted as I speed through life. It means stopping to feed my curiosity on the road and at home – by seeing what is around me and enjoying something every day that I’ve never noticed before.
I’ve got to admit that I’m a big chicken about a lot of things, but nothing as much as putting myself out there in the world. Like a beta in a fish bowl, I feel like ducking into the floating ivy and disappearing when anyone stops to take a closer look at me or what I’m doing. That’s exactly why I decided to start this blog a couple of years ago. There’s no better way to get over your fears than to just plop yourself out in front of the whole world where even perfect strangers have the opportunity to take jabs at you that make you want to run away!
If you’ve read more than this post, you’ll see that my initital efforts have been half-hearted – okay, maybe invisible – but lately I hear life whispering in my ear to “just do it” and see what happens. Maybe I’m a little naive, but when I ask myself, ‘What’s the worst thing that can happen,’ my best answer is that someone might be mean to me and say hateful things. The one thing I know is that I won’t die, and in the process I might just connect with someone out there that experiences the same things in life that I do. It’s always nice to know that you aren’t completely alone in your craziness, right?
There’s something about the latter stages of mid-life that really challenges me to move through my fears and experience life in a more raw state of uncensored feelings. Add to this that I’m supremely exhausted from all the stimulus that incites unnecessary fear in my life, and I feel like I’m ready to jump from the cliff and trust that it will take me to far more interesting internal places and joy than I’ve ever experienced. If not, there’s nothing lost, and I’ll have chalked up a new experience. Works for me!
It’s kind of embarrassing when you start to realize just how much stuff one family can have when there’s so much lack and suffering in the lives of others. I’m pretty sure now that this exercise in downsizing was as much for me to learn something about myself as it was to diminish our possessions and have a greater appreciation of what is really necessary to be happy in this life.
Don’t get me wrong, I understood all this in my head. I’ve always considered my family to be generous with our resources, but it’s different when you begin to really get it on what I call a soul level. It’s like the light going on and understanding that you don’t need all the stuff you have just because you can have it – and also understanding that somewhere along the way all that stuff we have becomes a burden of maintenance, storage, etc.
Needless to say, I’m not out of the clearing stages just yet. With each new day, I get a little more clarity and I shed a little more of the stuff I thought I really needed to move with me this time. Sometimes it’s painful to acknowledge that a hobby I had for years just doesn’t interest me anymore. I gaze at the hundreds (maybe thousands) of dollars of stuff I have to enjoy that hobby, and something in me begins to wheedle and bargain to make a case for keeping it. It tells me that I have so much money and time invested. What if I need it again? The tape rolls over and over in my brain until one of us wins.
I’m happy to say that six months into our temporary home, we are really beginning to own what makes us happy and rid ourselves of what doesn’t. We’ve found that it is seldom our stuff that brings us joy – unless it’s our memorabilia like photos, old baseball jerseys, and yearbooks. But even so, I’m seeing that those things are of no use to us unless we can enjoy them, which doesn’t happen buried in a box and lost in the hidden spaces of our home.
I’m condensing the boys’ things down to the things I really think will matter. Ticket stubs to every game they ever played have made it to the recycling bin along with a heap of other questionable treasures. What remains are the things that I know hold special memories for them, and the rest are those that hold special memories for me in relation to them (along with a little note telling them why I kept it). I figure when I’m dead and gone, they will find it, look through it fondly, trash what is meaningless, and save their own treasures.
I am finding a great lifting of my spirits as we lighten the load of stuff around our home. I find I laugh more and enjoy life more. Perhaps clearing our physical stuff is just a metaphor for something greater. Whatever it is, I’ll continue sorting and letting go. I like the end result, and I know my kids will appreciate that I’ve already done most of the dirty work one day when we kick the bucket and it becomes their job to clean out what remains!
About this time last year, my husband and I set a plan in motion to downsize and simplify our life. It seemed simple in theory – just get rid of everything we don’t want or need, list the house, move somewhere new, and live happily ever after in our new, neat-as-a-pin, cozy digs.
I suppose life works that way to get us moving – a sort of unintended blinder like most of us have when we decide to have kids. If someone told us the whole truth and nothing but the truth of how it’s really going to be, we might just hit the NO button and stay snug in our comfort zone or move on to the next bright idea. One thing’s for sure, change is seldom what we think it’s going to be – at least in the beginning.
Let me paint you a picture. For eight years, we lived in a 3,100 square foot home with two young sons, a dog, and all of the stuff that comes with that. Believing the boys needed more space, we moved up in the world to a 6,000 square foot home. I had so much storage space that about half of it was empty, and I had good intentions of keeping it that way. It was nice to have a little wiggle room and space for entertaining our large family at the holidays. I never imagined we could actually fill it up. After all, I prided myself on being neat and free of hoarding tendencies. Eight years later, we were full up!
What’s that they say about about pride? Oh yeah – it comes before a fall (Proverbs 16:18). And fall I did!
Once the decision to downsize was etched in stone, it became clear that strangers would now be browsing through our home while we weren’t looking. They would be opening closets, drawers, attics and garages in an attempt to decide if our place was the answer to their prayers. I was horrified to see that we were indeed occupying a large territory of our home with STUFF. Even worse, the stuff was stuffed anywhere it would fit. I had even gone so far as to neatly organize all the stuff in pretty boxes, but I’d long ago forgetten what was even in them.
And so the process of clearing the cobwebs and uncluttering began. From April until August, I dived headfirst into the task of letting go so that my house would be suitable for showing once it debuted on the MLS. I greeted each day in workout clothes and flip flops, no makeup, and with lots of determination. With the exception of the friends that would drop in to make sure I was still alive and eating, I was for all intents and purposes AWOL from the world.
I tossed trash, donated clothes and household goods, and sold a lot of items to bank for the new things I would need in the next home. I felt great about my work and was all set to make a smooth, painless move when the time came. I felt gloriously unfettered, but I would soon learn that the freedom I felt was only temporary.
Lacking a place to go when your house sells earlier than expected introduces all kinds of new panic. We weren’t ready. Our new dream home had yet to materialize. It was a bit of a shock after so many years of home ownership to finally conclude that our best choice was to lease rather than to rush into a purchase of something we didn’t love. We firmly established that we would not store anything except for holiday decorations and the contents of our garage, so we sold our large-scale furniture and filled the bed of a large junk removal truck before finally moving into our new 2,500 square foot townhouse bungalow with our boxes of keeper stuff and a U-Haul truck containing our remaining furniture.
I seriously felt like we’d come over with little more than the clothes on our back, so it was another shock when the boxes piled in and filled up more than two-thirds of new place. Clearly, all of this stuff that we couldn’t live without was not going to fit in the dozen or so cabinets and handful of drawers that the new place offered. There was no attic, two less spaces in the garage, two less bedrooms, no office. I’m pretty sure I wanted to sit in the floor and have a good cry. How could I have so significantly missed the mark?
Round three of divesting began with a renewed commitment to succeed…