A Can of Pasta and The Price of Freedom
Sizing Up Stuff
Do you remember the shock of discovering all the stuff needed to live in a place of your own? Likely, as a teenager you couldn’t wait to have your own dorm room or apartment, finally striking out and declaring your independence. I also remember being alone for the first time in my apartment at night. Being free from my annoying family wasn’t always as glorious as I imagined. Beyond just plain missing them (to my chagrin), I quickly realized how much stuff it took to feel independent. I could afford a can of pasta but needed a can opener. I bought a can opener but didn’t have a pan. I got a pan but had no way to heat it. And so on.
My new circumstances had stripped away most of the things that made life in my parents’ home so comfortable. In my effort to live “like an adult”, I was grateful for all the second hand furniture that came my way. For the first time, birthday gifts of bath towels were more cool than record albums. I was growing up. From our first forays into independence the accumulation of stuff begins.
To some degree, the elaborateness and permanence of the “nest” we build is considered proof of maturity and evidence we’re living “the good life.” However, my student days, when I still drank from empty jelly jars, provide many of my best memories about living well. Then, I didn’t own enough to worry about it being stolen but I what I had got me through each day.
Rather than tending an extensive yard and household, free time was used for dates and concerts and hiking or lazy days at the lake. When work or classes didn’t interfere, I felt no hesitation to share road trip expenses with someone or take a bus to deliver a couple bags of laundry to mom. At that point there was just enough stuff. Stuff enough. My limited possessions enabled me to seize the day without being an anchor. Many times I’ve wondered when that line was crossed.
Many of us came by our “hoarder” tendencies quite honestly. We grew up in a post-war era just when automation began transforming us into a consumer society. Before that, goods were expensive and wages low. It wasn’t unusual for young couples to take several years furnishing a home, a piece at a time.
Similarly, children were implored to clean their plates because other children were starving in Asia. It was a “waste not, want not” world and that kind of generational guilt about wastefulness makes functioning difficult in a society so accepting of planned obsolescence. Given that background, it’s easy for us to assign unrealistic monetary value to our possessions.
More dangerous is our penchant for infusing possessions with emotional power. It is nearly impossible to throw out anything over-laden with memory. Understand that possessions are not a person, a time, or a love. Things might remind us of what dwells within our heart, but too many things (unused) may prevent us from LIVING what’s in our hearts.
Using Or Being Used
There is nothing innately evil about “stuff” but our relationship with material things can be toxic. As we age, we need different tools to navigate the life we want. After children leave home or we retire from long careers, we no longer need the same possessions to function, but if there’s space, typically people hold on to all of it. That might include a closet full of “business attire” not needed or worn for 10 years, boxes containing your 35 year-old son’s childhood toys and bedding, paper files of cancelled checks from the 1980s, and lots of broken appliances that are “too good” to get rid of. At some point, we must ask ourselves whether we are using our stuff or it’s using us.
Reaching retirement age doesn’t make us all the same. Our wants, needs, and dreams are still full spectrum. As such, an ageless lifestyle requires we honor our unique visions of our best rest of life. We respect that vision when considering our living arrangements, recognizing what works for one will not work for all.
Freedom may be lost when dragging a lifetime’s accumulation of unneeded stuff into our envisioned future. Are you heating and cooling and paying rent or a mortgage and taxes on a house that served a purpose once but now is mostly storage? Have you considered moving but found the thought of packing so overwhelming that you abandoned the idea?
Passive Caretaker versus Dream Chaser
Similarly, if you’ve ever nixed an exciting, last minute opportunity to travel because there was no one to feed the dog, water the lawn and keep an eye on the house, it’s probably time to rethink your new reality. Adjusting the amount and type of space we use — smaller house, condo, retirement community, rented apartment, assisted care – allows us to regain control. Limiting our possessions to only what helps us live more independently and creatively can transform us from passive caretaker to dream chaser.
This stage of life should be a time to meet new people, indulge our curiosities and share our gifts. By re-allocating resources — which includes not only money but our time, energy, and passion — we take the first step into an ageless life. We are no longer boxed into our old roles and responsibilities so why continue to drag around and keep up all the unused relics that line the shelves, fill the closets, and eat our time.
Sizing Stuff Down
To move forward, sometimes we must first look back. My wife and I made our first major lifestyle change when we traded a rambling rural house for a small urban condo in another state. That was more than ten years ago but the simplifying process continues. Or probably I should say “staying clean” is still more my problem than hers.
Sue was an Army Brat whose family moved often during childhood so she learned the advantages of traveling light early out of necessity. I didn’t. My family lived in the same house my first twelve years and moved only once after that. When choosing a place to live, “good storage” always topped my list of desired features.
Truthfully, opting for a smaller home has made it easier to redefine our goals, live actively, and still accommodate adjustments during retirement. Without an extra closet, garage, or storage shed, there’s immediate pressure to simplify and eliminate the unnecessary. Our mantra, “If one thing comes in, one thing goes out.
Putting Away the Past
Living this “bonus” chapter of life as something to be endured, as a mere prelude to the end would be tragic, but it is a choice. If pleased with your situation and you wake each morning with a smile and raring to go, why change anything? Don’t be guilted into an alternative you don’t want or need. If you use everything in your home every week and look forward to the tasks required to maintain it, it would be foolish to make any changes.
We all have friends and family who love their gardening, their workshop, their sewing room. Why leave a place or get rid of things that you use on a regular basis and find joy in the doing? You already live your ageless lifestyle by enjoying your freedom to do what makes you happiest no matter your age.
However, we also have friends who are maintaining a life their spirit has outgrown. That is also a choice. Close your eyes and ask where and what you’d be doing today if your possessions suddenly vanished. If you could put the past away and only look forward, what would you look forward to? What would you be doing? Where would you be doing it?
Doing The Math
The forces that paralyze us are emotional as well physical. Nevertheless, without the distraction of unhelpful surroundings, it’s amazing how clear our vision becomes and how much courage we can muster. Subtract before adding.
When we tackled our “new chapter” we first, identified what nourished our souls. We verbalized what the life we wanted would look like. Once could clearly envision this lifestyle we inventoried our possessions, treating them as tools for building that new life, noting which could stay and which must go. Then, using small steps, we began discarding the unneeded.
Regardless of current health, finances, or living circumstances, it is never too late to dream and move in the directions that brings us the most joy. Embracing the freedom to determine our present life – right now – is ageless and is always a choice.
Still Dreamers, Always Ageless
If asked to describe the arc of our life, most of us would list several bold, pivotal events that led us to our present situation, for good or bad. Such dramatic turning points are certainly memorable but not the whole truth of our lives. There is a past filled with quiet, incremental choices that lead to every crossroads.
Like me, you might have started your adult journey with can of pasta in search of a can opener. But, whatever I lacked in stuff I made up for with the unlimited freedom I had to go and do and be. We can be that free again. We are still dreamers and always ageless.
Drop a frog into a pan of boiling water and he’ll jump right out. However, put the frog in a pan of cold water, slowly turn up the heat, and he’ll never notice! That’s handy advice if you ever need to boil a live frog but it also underscores the need to pay constant attention to our surroundings.
Wishing alone can’t change the future.
Fully Living the Life that Serves You
Living an ageless lifestyle means having the freedom to live the life that serves your wants and needs right now. To get there requires brutal honesty with yourself. If your present surroundings and possessions are sapping your energy and resources and pulling you down, change them. You have the power and freedom to start a new book with the next chapter in your life. Rethink everything – where you are and where do you want to be. And then act, taking small, steady steps.
Follow our future posts as we tackle the challenges we all face in redefining what it means to be living fully, filled with joy, right now!
Stuff holding you back? Let’s Use it or Lose it!
Sue and John Erwin
Turn the Page on Age: Be Ageless!