In which I’m pondering lightness

So yesterday I turned 45. It seems like a benchmark birthday–the next round number is FIFTY, after all. But I got carded last week by a girl who thought I was in my thirties and I’m feeling better than I have in years, so 45 is absolutely fine by me. I’ve never done “birthday angst” and 30 and 40 were perfectly lovely birthdays, so I expected this one to be as well.

Except there has been a difference. For some inexplicable reason, I want to be unburdened. I am thinking of all the creatures that shed off the old and unwanted and start a new chapter, bright and renewed and carrying only what really matters along for the ride. (There’s an obvious metaphor here about snakes and shedding skin which I am NOT going to make for the sake of the woman who bore me and has such a phobia that when I was a child we referred to them as “nakes” in our house because it made them sound less slithery. But you get the idea…)

Loads of things in nature hunker down for quiet period of reflection, seeming to rest or even sleep. But things are never entirely still; something is stirring under the surface, changes are being knit up, and when the time comes to open up again, something cracks or peels away and what’s left is newer, fresher, ready for challenges.

45 feels like that. My daughter is leaving for college in a matter of weeks which means our relationship has already begun to shift. I’m no longer the Person In Charge, the first contact for everything. There are now forms and emails that come to her to be filled out, permissions she has to give, contracts she gets to sign. For months now we’ve been subtly changing how things are done, giving her more control as my husband and I have stepped back. We’ve been practicing for our new roles–think “support red” rather than “command gold”.  It’s liberating. And with that liberation comes a reluctance to be tied down to anything that doesn’t reward your efforts with pleasure.

What’s not giving me pleasure right now? STUFF. Our square footage is modest compared to some, enormous compared to others. But regardless of whether you live in a bungalow or a mansion, it’s the stuff that will get you down. The buying, the maintaining, the shedding. It’s exhausting, really. And what I’m craving right now is LESS STUFF. I’m tired of keeping things for the what-if moments. I have a habit of buying the make-do and buying it too quickly and too cheaply. These things never truly make you happy, do they? They break or wear out too fast, and if you chose them too swiftly, they are usually not quite what you wanted in the first place. I’m wanting classic and quality and FEWER.

So I’m embarking on a purge. I am taking each shelf, each drawer, each groaning closet, each shelf of books and considering every item I own. Do I love it? Do I use it? Do I absolutely need it? And into the donation bags or trash can it goes if I can’t justify why I should keep it. (I should point out that I purge my own items and household goods, but in the interest of family harmony I never purge things belonging to anyone else in the family.) I’m clearing out the mending basket–honestly, if I haven’t cared enough to fix something in three years, I don’t need it all that badly. I’m tossing out spices I can’t actually remember buying and makeup that almost but didn’t quite work. I’m rounding up all the bits of broken jewelry to be repaired or donated but not left in limbo any longer. I’m clearing the pile of books off my nightstand to be replaced with ONE. (I finally realized, I don’t need a bigger nightstand. I need fewer THINGS. Honestly–who needs three types of lip balm and seven bookmarks in a nightstand drawer? NO ONE.)

I’m paring down what I carry around with me too. The bag with all the essentials for every eventuality has been trimmed down to a wallet (still searching for one slim enough because now I find even my wallet is too demanding–so many pockets!), an iphone, lipstick, keys, handkerchief, mints, and rosary. (I’m not Catholic, but I got in the habit of carrying the rosary years ago and it makes me smile to see the bright blue beads every time I open my bag.) Throw in sunglasses or grab an umbrella as the weather demands, and I’m good to go. Those few items will tuck into a clutch, which means my hobo bags are heading out the door in favor of smaller, more structured bags. There’s something terribly freeing about not leaving the house encumbered, weighed down like a turtle with all you own. Men don’t. Have you ever noticed? Yes, their clothes are likelier to come with good pockets for stashing what they want to carry, but the average man doesn’t worry about blotting papers and stain remover and hand sanitizer and a snack and the other million and one things women burden themselves with. And if I’m in a situation where I need to be prepared for any eventuality–say, a day-long outing in New York where I’m going from meetings to a research trip to the library to a walk in the park, I can always drop a clutch and whatever else I need into a tote and then check the tote. For my day-to-day life, I’m never so far from the car or a shop or a bathroom that I can’t find what I need–spare band-aid, water bottle, mirror. In the meantime, I’m FREE, or at least closer to it than I used to be.

What about you, chickens? Planning any shedding of your own?


9 thoughts on “In which I’m pondering lightness”

  1. Cece says:

    Our youngest is researching engagement rings, and has asked for the diamond that once belonged to his grandmother-so we are also realigning our parameters. I am systematically purging, because our dream life is not one suburban house with big, high-maintenance garden and lawn, but three small condos-one on the West Coast, where daughter and husband (and potential grandchildren) live, one where-ever son and soon-to-be-wife (and potential grandchildren) end up-and one in Charlottesville so DH can indulge his UVA athletics obsession without the 4 hour one-way drive we have now. As I look around this house, I find myself asking “Am I moving THAT?”
    I can work from anywhere there is internet access: DH is 5 years from retirement. 5 years is about right to get through 36 (today!) years of marriage STUFF!

  2. Peggy Averett says:

    I did the purging 2 years ago – got a smaller purse and started throwing thing away at home. I still have some things to go through but it feels very good – freeing is a good word for it.

  3. Alleyne D. says:

    Try a Big Skinny wallet. Holds plenty but slim and easy to hold in the hand.

    I’ve been shedding here too. I have been for more years than I can count – but with renewed purpose. The hardest part is letting go of books I loved but will likely never read again. Just cleared a whole shelf of Thomas Costains yesterday. Daphne du Mauriers the day before. It’s hard, but it must be done.

  4. Jenny Belknap says:

    I think some of the everything for every possible moment is a hangover from Mommydom. Now that we are moving from Gold Command to Support Red as you said, we now longer need to be ever ready. Our youngest of five just moved out and my husband and I, three months later, are just beginning to realize and relish the possibilities! Jen from CO

  5. Dianne Alleman says:

    We’re moving soon to a much smaller home and I’m thrilled. I am so ready to get rid of all the excess stuff. You are so right, I want a few quality items I love, not the masses we’ve accumulated over the years. Every time I take donations to the Good Will or library I feel better. I’m looking forward to the yard sale!

  6. Christina says:

    Normally, I love stuff. But this post is seriously making me reconsider all of the ‘stuff’ I think I need. I was always the kid who never used her stickers because she might need them later. And I stockpile odds and ends for all sorts of craft projects and collect books like I’ll never find them again (as a librarian that’s not likely to happen). But my grandmother is moving into an assisted living facility at the end of the month and I know her house is full of a lifetime of craft projects she never finished (or started), unnecessary paperwork, letters, books and all the other things that accumulate over the years. I know she’s overwhelmed by all of that and I’m already starting to worry that I might share the same fate in 50+ years. So shedding a few layers might not be the worst thing to start thinking about…

  7. Bop says:

    When I retired I de-cluttered and have continued to do so. Now I’m systematically de-cluttering my Mom’s home. I agree that lack of clutter is freeing.

  8. Lynne says:

    Ahh…45. Happy Birthday! I didn’t mind that year – quite a while back….never mind. I completely understand the purging of belongings. I periodically attack a closet or set of shelves and “cross-examine” everything therein to see if I really need it. My biggest problem – which I hope others share – is that I tend to get sentimentally attached to things that I don’t really need. I find I love my belongings but don’t like clutter, so that theory sort of keeps me in check – sort of… I think it’s an ongoing struggle for us all. Like Christina (above), I tend to save craft and art supplies “just in case”!! And believe it or not, sometimes some object that’s been in a drawer for years comes out and gets recycled. You just never know!

  9. Patty says:

    I didn’t plan my shedding down. It came to me when I least expected it. A few weeks ago I was moving back to New Mexico when my truck and U-haul trailer were stolen from the motel my boyfriend and I stopped at for the night. It was all stolen. Everything he and I owned. So now I only have left two pairs of jeans, ten blouses, a pair of tennis shoes, my laptop and some toiletries. Sad to say, your books are also gone. I am very sad and yet I feel a sense of freedom from things. I still remember this item or special thing and it breaks my heart. However, I have taken inventory of what’s important in my life and what I will get in the future. I certainly won’t replace all the nonsense. It isn’t easy to let go of things that we think are important but once they’re gone there is a sense of freedom. I am also 45 and I now want a minimal lifestyle where I will only buy what’s truly important to me. Good luck with letting go and decluttering. (If you want your clutter gone quickly, just pack a U-haul and park it at a cheap motel 😉 ).

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