“Traveling Light on the Road of Life,” column for April 8, 2014

Years ago, I reached a stunning realization that has served me well in all my seasons since. Simply put, it is this: The mark of a good outing is how little stuff you have to drag along.

I believe that to be absolutely true, whether the journey be a quick trip to the park or a rite of passage on the road of life. Unfortunately, unlike you, I don’t always stick to my beliefs.

I became a mother at 23, had no family nearby, aside from a husband who was hip-deep in teaching high school and coaching. But as fate would have it, my good neighbor Myra found the grace to take me under her capable wing.

Some 10 years my elder, and the mother of three to my one (when we first met), Myra was possessed of many fine gifts, including the strength of Samson, the patience of Job, the wisdom of Solomon and a vast collection of Tupperware.

What she saw in me I will never know. I remember the day she called to say: “I’m taking my kids to the park and wondered if you’d like to go, too? Or don’t you do that kind of thing?”

My firstborn was 4 months old. I had only recently resumed bathing once a week, whether I needed it or not. Suddenly I was consumed with guilt for having never taken him to a park.

“Uh, sure!” I’d said, trying to recall where I last saw my shoes. “We’d love to join you!”

And so began the first of many outings to the park or the beach or the mall to see Santa, or even a weekend of camping. I learned a lot from Myra, none the least of which was this: If you travel with a friend who packs twice as much as she needs, you don’t need to take half as much stuff.

At the same time, I began to realize that even without a well-stocked friend, I didn’t need a lot of stuff. Jeans could be reworn. Socks could be washed. Food could be found. Games could be invented. Toys could be imagined. Some things could simply be done without.

And the best part? The less time spent packing and hauling left more time for having fun and making memories.

I had a lot of fun, made a lot of memories and traveled as light as maternally possible while my three kids were growing up. And somehow, I still accumulated an enormous amount of stuff.

After their dad died, I found myself alone in a four bedroom house with five sets of dishes, a garage full of tools I had no clue how to use, and an attic stuffed with sports trophies, Barbie dolls and G.I. Joe action figures.

So much for traveling light.

What is it with stuff? Seems the more you try to get rid of it, the more it digs its claws in your hide like rats on a sinking ship.

Years later, when I remarried and moved to Las Vegas with my new husband, I packed up that house, gave boxes to my kids, had the mother of all garage sales and walked away with half of what I’d owned.

It felt good. I swore I’d never amass so much stuff again.

That was eight years ago. This morning I looked in horror at my closet and realized the rats were back. Not just my rats, but my husband’s. The man collects baseball caps the way Myra collected Tupperware. At least Tupperware, to my knowledge, never smells like old sweat.

I did not, I swear, touch any of his stuff. But I bagged up more than half of my own to give to someone who might use it. One person’s castoffs can be another’s treasure. My husband promises to do the same this weekend. Or next.

It’s hard letting go of things and times and people we once loved. But the only thing worth keeping, really, is memories. Everything else just weighs us down and holds us back.

I want to travel light in life, to keep my closet uncluttered, my suitcase a carry-on, and my heart open wide. Who knows what new treasures await?

I just wish I hadn’t gotten rid of all my Tupperware.


  1. Beautiful ,every word is so inspiring . I find your articles in the pile of newspapers ,save it and recycle rest of newspaper, I share it with so many friends and co workers to read and return it some other day . Feel little sad as no body returns my saved page to read it one more time as I want to read it again some time later . One day I put the name of web site to search and found each one saved here . So happy I can read them so many times more . Thanks for this wonderful site you made to save them all . Can not wait to read one more article this Sunday .

  2. Sandy Hall Wilhite says

    Sharon, your column hit home with me. When my husband passed away in 2009, I found myself just like you. God sent me a wonderful 2nd. husband who reminded me that all this “stuff” was just things and I could still have memories long after tossing. After a huge yard sale and I swear I didn’t buy back one item I placed in the sale, I truly knew what he said and what you say are true. It was harder for me to part with clothes for some odd reason. As fate would have it, our church wanted gently used clothing for women in shelters and I was finally able to clean my closet and give three huge trash bags of clothes that read a “4” in the label. Last year, I swore to myself that I would get in those this year–yeah, right–if you put a “1” in front of that “4”. I actually felt good about donating and we had a special time in our worship service where you brought your items and laid them at the altar for these poor battered women. I will admit I made my husband carry two of those bags and an usher carry one of them to the front of the church, but my heart smiled when he walked back down the aisle and sat beside me.

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