The Thing About “Stuff”…

As most people know, I recently moved after 15 years in the same house.  We literally took truckloads of donations to the mercy mission and put out bags and bags of trash for what we couldn’t salvage.  I moved into that house in 2000 and even though I had lost everything in a fire 6 years before as well as been screwed over in a divorce, somewhere and somehow the entire house  was stuffed with ‘stuff’.  My husband moved into this house with me in 2008 but he didn’t bring a lot with him, mostly sentimental things he had kept over the years and some odds and ends furniture and tools.

Fifteen years of gifts, shopping, inheriting heirlooms and just in general being given stuff that family members no longer wanted and were sure we could use.  Throw in the fact that my kids are now adults and one had moved home from college bringing back all her stuff.  I always prided myself on being able to donate things I am not using.  I would periodically go through my clothes and belongings to weed out items that I was no longer using.  However, I wasn’t as ruthless as I had believed.

When we started seriously going through what we owned, the thought of having to move it to a new house gave us the motivation to really cull the herd of possessions that had accumulated over the years.   Odds and ends that I had earmarked sentimental but could no longer remember for the life of me why they were sentimental got donated for someone else to use.  I went through a kitchen gadget phase.  Quesadilla maker?  A wok? Something I no longer remember what it was to be used for?  All went into the donation pile.  Clothes that I had before my second marriage ended?  Donated or tossed if they were worn out.  The fifth and six set of nesting mixing bowls?  Donate.  Fifteen pie plates?  Saved my favorite few and donated the rest.  Since when am I ever going to make fifteen pies at once?  Rusty old scratched and dented cookie sheets?  Tossed.  I’m not sure what I thought I was going to do with those.

You get the idea.  Moving into the new house, we had so many boxes even after our ruthless purge.  We have made a pledge that we would never get like that again where we have so much stuff that we can’t even move in our house.  If something comes in, the something goes out.  I find having a house with space, limited knick knacks and no clutter makes me happier than one with a bunch of crap teetering around me, threatening to collapse at any time.  So far, I have only found a few minor things I missed but was easily able to make due with something else or nothing at all.  It is nice to open my kitchen drawers and not have to dig for 10 minutes looking for that one small thing.  It’s lying right there in the open not buried under a menagerie of wood, plastic and metal doo dads.  Though I will admit my “junk drawer” is full already.  I need to go through it and relocate some of it to a different place, probably the shop where the duplicate hand tools can go.

It is amazing how little you truly need but our mind tricks us into thinking we need way more than we do. Sales, commercials, popular trends, magazines, gifts, so on and so on all end up filling our drawers, closets and every possible empty space with stuff.  I even cut down on the number of pictures I hung on the walls though I have a larger house to limit the business of my environment.  The more I have, the less creative and productive I find myself.  I have been looking in some of my kitchen cupboards thinking that I need to further streamline what I still own.  There is so much I never use.   I still feel like I have too much stuff.

Do you?

Clues From the Dreams of Your Youth

As most people know, we bought a new house and moved out into the boonies or BFE, whichever you prefer to refer to it (hey that rhymes a bit!).  And that I wish I had moved out of the city limits years ago but was trying to be frugal and financially responsible so I didn’t dare think outside the lines.  Financially of course, it made sense to stay in our old house, after all the mortgage, with escrow, was less than most people’s apartment rent.  Plus we had done a ton of work to the place.  But none of us was really happy there anymore.  Once we fixed what we thought was wrong with the place, well things were just still ‘wrong’.

My husband drug me out looking at homes, kicking and screaming because I wanted to say financially ‘safe’ and well, I had been entrenched in that house for 15 years.  He was right and I was wrong and hell I even admitted to him.  He may have written it down in his calendar as a major life event.  “Laura admitted I was right.”  Kidding… Sorta…

So I was sitting down with a card I bought my husband for Sweetest Day trying to think of what I wanted to write inside.  I always try to write something heartfelt and poignant for that moment in our lives so he knows I didn’t just grab random card from the shelf and throw it in the grocery cart.  I actually put love and thought into the whole action.  And I want him to know how very much I appreciate him and how truly lucky I honestly am to have him in my life.  Okay, now this is starting to sound like a greeting card.

When I thought about our move, I thought about how I had given up on my dreams that I had when I was 18/19.  When I moved to the big city of Dayton, with plans to work part time for a doctor after completing college for Medical Assisting and going back to college to obtain at least a Bachelor’s degree, maybe even go for my Ph.D.  My folly was moving with the man who would become my first husband and letting all his agendas derail my plans.  In other words, I compromised so much in that relationship just to keep someone else happy (who then repeatedly cheated on and lied to me) that I lost my dreams.

Over the years, I struggled, one bad marriage and then finally another bad married until I turned 38 and said F! This is enough of this crap.  And I changed my entire life.  Except I didn’t realize that I was too afraid to reach for my dreams.  I wanted to stay safe.  Financially safe.  Everyone experienced layoffs starting in 2009 and my current husband and I put in a plan to pay off all our debt except one vehicle payment and our mortgage.  Eventually the vehicle payment will go as well when we hopefully can just start paying cash for vehicles but that’s down the road.

We reached our initial goal and had all this money left over.  We thought whoo hoo, if something happens with one of our jobs or both of our jobs we can both work at McDonalds and pay the bills.  There is something to be said for financial freedom such as that.  It makes you feel way more secure and free.   Which was part of the reason my husband had to fight me so hard to consider going into a lot more debt on a house.   Finally we agreed that we would stay within a home price range that would allow us to meet our budget requirements on his salary.  In other words, if we couldn’t pay the bills on his take home pay, the house was too much money.

Because we had paid off so much debt, we were able to allow ourselves a handsome sum for a home or so it felt to me.  This seemed to be a reasonable compromise even though the credit union said we were approved for a mortgage double with what we ended up with.  There weren’t even very many homes for sale in that upper crust price range anyway.  Not that weren’t over 6000 sq ft and so elaborate that it made my head spin.  I’m still a simple girl and a lot of homes in that price seemed to have a lot of “look at me” features more to keep up with the Khardashians than to make your life more simple or enjoyable.  I don’t need a theatre room but I may consider the heated towel racks for my current house…

So when I was writing my message to my husband in my card, I told him thank you for making my dream come true because I was too afraid to do it.  When I wrote those words, I surprised myself because I had not really considered the fact I had been afraid.  Some of it was the financial jump but we can still pay the bills on his salary easy enough so it wasn’t really the money.  I had to face the fact that I had long ago given up on my dream of a beautiful colonial home out in the country.  I had convinced myself I no longer wanted the bigger house, telling myself it was frivolous and silly and not smart financially.  I was being smart staying put in the smaller house in town with the little mortgage and neighbors looking in my windows (well not literally, it just felt closed in).

That morning I had learned a childhood friend is facing a serious and most likely terminal illness.  We are the same age, graduated the same class.  I sat with the pen still in my hand and thought about how we never know how long we really have.  When you’re young, you think nothing can hurt you, or nothing bad can happen.  Then you get mid-life and you’re losing people you love, watching people your age die.  Death isn’t that myth anymore, it is the stark reality.  You don’t know how long you have or the people you love have on this earth.

Cancer takes so many of us every day.  It’s an epidemic, not to mention all the other tragic things that can happen.  That fairy-tale bubble seems to burst for many of us when we hit a certain age.  You wonder things like how did my grandparents handle all their friends and family dying?  Do you finally just get used to it and accept it as a fact of life?  Just embrace each day and be grateful for your blessings?  I don’t know, my grandparents have been gone for years so I can’t ask them.

As I sit here on my bed, the sun has risen and I have watched the light move across the west wall of my bedroom.  It is utterly quiet and peaceful at this moment.  Just the sound of the dryer in the other room.  I can see for miles from my second-story bedroom windows over rolling fields, woods and a quarry.  My dream actually materialized better than I had first imagined all those years ago.  The question that came to mind yesterday I wrote in the card was what other dreams have I completely repressed and pushed away?  I’m going to search this out and see if there is something else I am missing in my life that I haven’t given myself permission to pursue.

Maybe the dreams of our youth don’t really die but just sit and wait until we remember we had them.  After all, back then we were more likely to follow our hearts than make excuses why we can’t make them happen.   We were allowed to dream back then.  When you grow up, you’re expected to be responsible and make practical choices but not all dreams are “practical” or even seem “wise” or even “grow-up”.   I intend to revisit my youthful dreams.  Dig them back up and really examine them.

But this time I am going to listen to my heart rather than my head…  Happy Dreaming!

Beauty is an Attitude…

Yesterday we attended a festival where our favorite attraction is the belly dancing or danse du ventre as it was known in the Victorian era as coined by the French.  Or in Arabic it is “Raqs Beledi” or a folk dance.  Each year we make a point to stop and watch the women dance and they draw a huge crowd throughout the day.  They have beginners and experienced dancers, all colors and all shapes and sizes.  They dress in all sorts of beautiful pageantry, with brightly colored hip scarves and well, things I have no idea the name of.  And all ages.  I am not great at guessing ages but I’m certain this one lady is over 70, but I could be wrong.  There was a few girls that were probably 8 or 9, concentrating hard on following the moves of the troupe.

Many of the women are familiar from seeing them year to year.  And there are always new faces as well.  It seems the troupe grows bigger and bigger.  Few of them have what anyone would refer to as “perfect bodies”.  But how many of us achieve that stellar stature based on the ideals of society, media and so on.  The world would be boring if we were all “perfect”.   Many of them would be classified as “plus-size” or even “obese” but I find them all to be beautiful.

They are not afraid to step out and bare their bodies, especially their mid-driffs which I can honestly say, there weren’t any washboard super flat abs even on the thinnest women.  Whoever dreamt up that concept for both men and women is probably selling something “diet” related.  If that was “normal” then the few people that do have it would be able to eat more than a few crackers and not work out 10 hours a day.

Their smiles and complete embrace of the dance, which can be seen as provocative in some cultures, made everyone who watched feel wonderful.  Smiles were on most spectators faces.  The women and girls were simply enjoying their craft and not worrying if they had “muffin tops” or a “pooch” or fitting into any stupid cookie cutter ideal of what someone else deems “acceptable”.  Their attitudes were contagious, their attitudes made each on of them beautiful.

Beauty can be narrowed down to such a minute description but those who subscribe to this way of thinking miss out on all the beauty the world has to offer.  What people of all types, colors, ages, sizes have to give the world.  Being thin or skinny doesn’t make a person beautiful, it just makes them thin or skinny.  People, especially women, have this misnomer of that when they reach their ideal weight that their lives will suddenly be perfect but it’s furthest from the truth.  You still deal with harsh people, bad days at work, tragedy and so on.  It’s not the magic cure-all to a dissatisfied life.  It doesn’t suddenly make you “better” than heavier people.  It simply doesn’t make you better at all.  It may offer you the ability to shop in different stores, or be more active or fit in the airplane seats better and that’s all positive things.  It may drastically improve your health.  But it will not make you famous, or popular or bullet-proof.

Age is the other thing our society seems to frown upon.  Aging is put up there right with taking out the trash or getting a yearly examination.  But I watched several of the older women dance, their bodies still moving lithely.  Though they have wrinkles and some grey hair, I found them to be the most beautiful.  They had survived many years and still found beauty and joy in life through dance.  Maybe the skin on their tummies sagged a bit more than those in their 20’s but I found it reassuring it’s not horrific as women are lead to believe.  Sending thousands of us out for medical procedures to keep our youth.  What’s wrong with getting old?  You can be stunning at 70.  Embracing your stage in life, standing with confidence and exhibiting a graceful and passionate outlook, is much better than Botox.  Why can’t we just get old?  Why do we have to look “young”?

My grandmother was in her early 80’s but she never really saw herself as old.  She would wear high heeled pumps and fitted suits that someone much younger would wear.  She didn’t hesitate to put on the red lipstick, her best looking wig and tasteful jewelry for church.  I remember her telling me one day on the one of our Sunday calls (which I sorely miss), “Oh, Laura, I don’t want to be like those old people at church” she mused after service one day.  I bit my tongue and stifled a laugh because she was probably one of the more elder members.  My grandmother was rarely “old”, it was all in her attitude.

So be your beautiful self.  Fat, thin, in the middle.  Young, middle-aged or experienced (I like that word better than old or senior), it doesn’t matter.  Beauty is an attitude, so just be beautiful!