Three Little Words

A few years ago I got a birthday card that I just loved. It talked about those three little words that every woman wants to hear, then inside the card it spelled them out: “You’re not fat.”

O.K., O.K., maybe “I love you” would still win in some hearts, especially around Valentine’s Day, but when you reach a certain age,  isn’t saying “You’re not fat” pretty much saying the same thing?

There is a new set of words that I’ve learned to live by in the last couple of years. Things like a terminal illness in the family, a job loss, being overwhelmed and facing an empty nest — these set of a soul search and a change of mindset that has made my favorite three words: “Don’t need it.”

It began with the illness that hit us like a tsunami. My big, handsome, deep-voiced husband collapsed and triggered a “stuff” purge of the same enormity of the diagnosis that predicted he would be dead in 60 days. Within 10 days I had taken two truckloads to the Goodwill and three truckloads to the dump.  Nothing like imminent death to want every drawer in order, every closet organized, vases stacked neatly in cupboards (LOTS of vases come with LOTS of flowers once word gets out). Even the dark recesses under the sinks got a thorough edit. Throw it away, throw it away, throw it away – this was the mantra that somehow was supposed to be a trade-off of sorts. If I got rid of all the extras, maybe I would be allowed to keep the important things – like the man I loved.

So, out went the leather love seats that I was saving for my son’s first apartment, the desk I had as a child, the glass-shelved “credenza” where mother kept her figurines. Figurines! My husband is dying. Who gives a crap about figurines?

Death is a great clarifier.

Of course, he didn’t die after all, but lost his sight and has dementia, so in this country, with this healthcare system costs, the second purge set in – downsizing. Going from our sprawling, somewhat worse-for-wear house (that ballooned and contracted as adult children left and came back) to a three bedroom condo was the strategy.

First there is just the reasonable downsizing like the four cookie presses that we used to have pumping at once in five pairs of hands. That part of our lives is over. I will never have all five daughters in my kitchen at once baking. One is enough. In face, will I ever really use even ONE cookie press again? Well, maybe one. The electric one for when the arthritis sets in.  Multiply this mentality to purging luggage, Halloween decorations, garden tools, winter coats, and pairs of jeans. Lots can go.

Then there is the downsizing that comes just from putting your house on the market. All those expert Home&Garden channel shows that demand that you remove anything personal, any clutter, anything tattered, stained, old, and out of date. That takes a big chunk out of anybody’s home, let alone a woman past fifty with grown kids. Bookcases can’t be laden and overflowing with favorites like the biographies of Anita Hill and Joan Baez, two copies of the Lord of the Rings series and a shelf of videotaped movies. One or two per shelf is it. So the garage sale has a huge banner that says Books 25 Cents and you learn a lot about your neighbors by seeing which ones they pick up.

Finally, when you think that you’ve mastered the art of “Don’t need it,” comes a new level that slams you when you lose your job. Now, the holy trinity of words has to apply not only to what you are giving away, but to what you would normally buy. Water bottles? I pay for the water that comes out of the tap, why pay again?  Housekeeper – I’m home all day. Gardener – kill the gym fee and the weeds at the same time. Food? The vegetables that come from the foodshare warehouse are just as fresh from the ones at the grocery store.

And somewhere along the line, “Don’t need it” has become the first thing that comes to mind when I shop. And it feels good. When my sister heard I was selling my house, her first comment was, “What will you do with all your stuff?”

“Get rid of it.” What else?

So, this past Christmas had a theme for me – hand-me-down or hand made. I knitted like a madwoman and gave away beloved books, dishes, ornaments, and created a dress-up trunk for my grandchildren. I loved giving away things that I have treasured. I don’t need to HAVE them to still treasure them.

I could win a book contract tomorrow, or receive a life insurance check, or a great job again that could put me back on the major consumer list with a high end credit card limit. That would be great. But I’ve learned the freedom that comes from “Don’t need it” and never plan to go back to the bondage of wanting something I don’t need

Anyone want an electric cookie press?

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