“Traveling Light on the Road of Life,” Sept. 19, 2017

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 am, 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.

Comments

  1. Bonnie Whisler says:

    Sharon, I have to tell you that it was such a thrill for me while watching TV last month. My daughter recommended that we watch the program Ozark. While watching, I said to John, “That looks like Josh Randall.” Sure enough, it was him. It was so good to see him as this mature man.
    I just had to tell you. I also really related to this article. I am trying to do with less.

  2. Mildred Hogue says:

    Reading this column today makes me think of my own house and the things that have accumulated over the years since I have been sick with Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue. I have been sick for about 20 years and being unable to do much but try to keep my job my house had become like something from the show “Hoarders”. I was finally forced to retire from my job because of my illnesses, and still being almost bedridden with pain and fatigue my house continued to choke me. About a month and a half ago on a Saturday afternoon I laid down to take a nap. I had a dream, or a vision, of Heaven. It was the most beautiful sight I have ever seen, completely indescribable, and in the center there was an image of a figure and I heard “Get your house in order”. I woke up saying “Get your house in order” over and over. The next day I got up and walked past a cabinet in my kitchen and thought, “I need to clean out that cabinet”. I got down on the floor and started pulling everything out and got rid of 90% of everything in there. Old Tupperware that I had been hanging onto for more than 25 years. Some of it had never even been used. From that time on I kept cleaning out cabinets, closets and everything that had piled up. I have had more energy than I have had in 20 years. I have gotten rid of so much stuff my house looks like a different place. I have given it all to a young lady who has had to start over without anything. So far she has hauled off a truck load and a car load of things. I still have another truckload for her, and I’m not even half way through cleaning out. I feel like a new person !

  3. Kate Sciacca says:

    “But Lord willing, tomorrow, I will carry yet another load to Goodwill.”

    A woman after my own heart… my two favorite places, Goodwill, and the City Dump. We cleared out 25 years of life in Fairfield and filled the biggest dumpster Solano Garbage sold…and headed to Nevada determined to stay “uncluttered.” Yes, well, that was six years ago and I’ve become well acquainted with the local Goodwill folks – and the heart skips a beat when my yearly free dump coupon arrives in the mail. The best laid plans….

  4. Fred Hernandez says:

    Funny I should read your column today. I spent a great deal of the day sorting out goodies and odd things I give away as Mystery Boxes at my weekly Recovery Center meeting. Mostly wacky things. (Last week I gave away a plastic cherry stone removal device) And most folks kindly pretend that they don’t know who provides the Mystery Boxes. But I threw away half a garbage can of stuff I just couldn’t stand anymore. A plaque: Horse riders are stable people. A boxed sleeping Santa that never worked. A place mat honoring cowboys. And a clown statue whose note had rotted off. I’ll never tell what I DID keep. But you can bet it’s weird. I send you love.

  5. Nicole Kirk says:

    Hi Sharon it’s me Nikki, Linda’s daughter. I recently moved from Michigan to South Carolina and moving was more than I could have handled on my own due to the fact I didn’t ” travel light” but thanks to family that helped i got most of my stuff here. I’m Traving back this weekend to get a few items stored in my niece’s garage. I totally agree that things do tend to weigh us down and the older i get i realize they become more of a burden for our children to go through some day. I truly enjoyed your article and it truly fit the moment in which I’m currently in. Sincerely your cousin Nicole Kirk (Melinda Marrical daughter)

  6. PJ McCreary says:

    Thank you for the birthday article. It really did resonate with me. When I went through my own cancer journey, I had a paradigm shift in priorities, and, for sure, “stuff” became clutter. Relationships took center stage. Fortunately I already had a strong relationship with Jesus, but I sure did learn to trust Him more! And He’s even given me another birthday to celebrate! I will be happy to go and be with Him, but as long as He wants me here on this wonderful but crazy planet, I am also happy to stay!

  7. Carol Toothman says:

    Just when I think this is your best story yet you write an even better one!

  8. Sally Merrill says:

    This must be a wisdom that comes with age! I’ve been looking around feeling the same way… there are “things” I collected for years that I know my daughter doesn’t care about that now I feel like I could let go. I have certain keepsakes I’ll always treasure, but it’s time to start getting rid of “stuff” that’s cluttering my life! Thank you once again for a wonderful message!

  9. Janet says:

    I am in that stage now since the loss of my husband in May of this year. What is going to happen to all my “treasures”? Probably end up in a dumpster somewhere. Young people nowadays don’t want their parents junk!

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