Long ago, before my children were born and I still had time to do things like brush my teeth or read something more profound than “Pat the Bunny,” I read a sentence that changed my life:
“The mark of a good outing is how little you take along.”
Don’t ask where it came from. I have no idea. All I know is, when I read it, I shouted, “YES!”
One of the mixed blessings of growing up poor is you don’t have a lot of stuff to take care of. You learn to “do without.”
You might wish at times for shoes that actually fit. Or a bed you didn’t have to share with your sister. Or a doll like the one your friend got for Christmas and wouldn’t let you hold.
But you don’t truly miss them. Things are just things. They are not the same as people you love. And the time you save taking care of “things” is time you can spend on finer pursuits.
I don’t know what those pursuits mean to you. To me, they are times spent watching a sunset. Sharing a meal with my husband. Listening to a friend pour out her heart. Or singing a song (“The wonderful thing about Tiggers is Tiggers are wonderful things! Their tops are made out of rubber! Their bottoms are made out of springs!”) for a 4-year-old who’s doing flips on a trampoline.
I’d rather do those things than take care of stuff. Wouldn’t you?
Over time, I’ve lost loved ones: My parents, my grandparents and my first husband. None of them were people who cared much for “things.” But near the end of their days, they grew increasingly less interested in the material world and focused on family and friends.
When they left this life, they traveled light as air, wrapped only in the grace of God and the love of a great many people. I can’t imagine a finer outing.
Gifts often come from loss. It’s a lovely thing when life opens your eyes to see both what you need and what you don’t.
Some years ago, when I remarried and decided to move with my new husband from California to Las Vegas, I spent months packing up a house I had lived in for thirty years.
I got rid of old newspapers, clothes I’d not worn since the days of mini-skirts, and five sets of dishes. I filled four dumpsters, several Goodwill Stores and held the mother-of-all garage sales.
When I finally got on the road to Vegas, I was traveling light with a bare minimum of what we’d need, furniture, bedding, pots and pans, plus a few things I couldn’t bear to part with: Photos and keepsakes, reminders of who I was, books that were like old friends.
For a while, our new home looked pretty good, clean and uncluttered, like the life I want to live. I arranged my keepsakes on shelves in a corner of our bedroom. If you visit us, you won’t see them, but I do: Photos of my kids and grandkids. A rag doll my grandmother made for me when I was 6. A wooden mold in which she’d let me pack the butter from her churn. A small ceramic pitcher my dad made in the VA hospital while recovering from a stroke.
To me, those aren’t “things.” They are treasures that remind me of loved ones and their steadfast love for me.
But as for things we don’t need and never meant to keep? They’re like weeds in a bean patch. You don’t need to buy them. They sneak in and grow up overnight while you sleep.
This morning I looked around at my once “bare minimum” home and saw all sorts of stuff I could get rid of. Clothes that don’t fit. Books I won’t read. Things I don’t know why I kept.
It’s time to clean house. Again.
Life is a great outing. I want to travel light on its rocky, winding road with just a few keepsakes to leave someday for my kids and grandkids to deal with.
When I leave this life, I’ll travel light as air. But Lord willing, tomorrow, I will carry yet another load to Goodwill.