When I was pondering lightness

I am out of pocket, dear readers, so I am offering up this bit from the archives from 2013. I’m in New Orleans for Bouchercon; check out my Appearances page for details. Hope to see you there!

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.