EDITORIAL NOTE: This sabbatical/hiatus was planned to last two weeks which means I should be back today, but it will go on a a little longer. I will return on Thursday this week.
Some good friends, all met through blogging, are filling in for me while I take a two-week sabbatical from Time Goes By. Today’s guest blogger is Mike Nichols who blogs at Anxiety, Panic & Health which takes up much of his time. In it, he writes about the anxiety disorders and has several articles concerning anxiety among elders.
Mike lives with his wife and daughter in Columbus, Georgia, and is retired from the music and computer industries. Though trained as a classical musician, he loves the blues.
Three years ago my wife and I decided to move to a smaller house in a less expensive city. I had recently retired due to health reasons, and our income was halved.
Our house had two stories with a full basement, and every nook and cranny was stuffed with the detritus of 35 years of marriage, abandoned hobbies, two children and advanced packratism.
We soon came to realize that we had to think through this move, not only as to what we were going to do, but in terms of what it really meant and how it was going to affect us. The economic necessity was obvious, but if we just started throwing things this way and that, what would that accomplish but confusion and an impoverishment of spirit with less stuff?
After thinking and talking it over, we decided that what we wanted to have left are items that contribute to our quality of life, to the notions and habits that we hold dear, and to the things that help us live fulfilling lives.
In short, my wife and I came to view the move as less an economic necessity than as an opportunity to simplify our lives.
We gave away what we could: 37 cartons of books to a local book sale, a bedroom suite to a former student, darkroom equipment to my daughter's friend and even a car to the American Kidney Fund. We used Goodwill, FreeCycle, eBay, and several other agencies. What couldn't be given away or sold was tossed: We used five large construction dumpsters and could have used another.
Every item had its own story about the place it had held in our lives. Often we had to fight the urge to keep things due to sentimental reasons, but had to remember that we would have no place to put them in our new house. It was greatly liberating to get rid of those old monkeys that had been on our backs for so long.
Our "new" old house is charming, but has little more than a third of the square footage we enjoyed before. As is typical of houses of its vintage, it has few and small closets, no basement, and almost no attic storage. So we are still in the process of culling what we had already thought we had pared down to bare essentials.
Now our resolution to simplify our lives has hit a new challenge. My wife has lost her overtime hours, our investments have tanked and I am still not well enough to hold a job even if I could find one. What once was a sparse budget has become bare-bones.
Once again we are faced with making mindful decisions and taking measured actions when everything within us is screaming to panic.
Although our decisions ultimately will be about things that we can sell, services we can do without and what can be substituted for the things we want, our intention is to go beyond mere budgetary adjustments to making the process an opportunity for growth.
We found that though we have simplified our lives greatly, there is yet more work to do. Our principle of maintaining and enhancing our quality of life still has some major adjustments that need to be made.
For though we have gotten rid of a lot of physical stuff, our habits of mind have not changed. We are still the same people that are owned by the objects we accumulate, that are confused about the words "need" and "want," that are enslaved by the acquisitiveness coached by Madison Avenue and that grasp for the easiest solution to a problem.
More than clearing away the clutter of a lifetime together, we need to get rid of the junk that has accumulated in the corners of our minds over the decades. Cleaning out the habits of mind that have kept us chained for six-plus decades is much harder to do than simply tossing or selling junk or making budget cuts.
Still, our goal is not only maintaining our quality of life, but enhancing it. We are finding that we are appreciating what we do have more after having validated its place in our lives.
This is not an event that can be done in a weekend, or even in 50 weekends. It is a process, a journey toward a simplicity of mind and life that is truly liberating. Even in these trying times, it makes the future an exciting place to be.
[The story bin at The Elder Storytelling Place is empty so until some new ones arrive, let's revisit some from the archive. Today, The Cover-Up from Frank Paynter. All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. Instructions are here.]