Starting to understand that less is more

ushwaia2On December 9th we flew from Buenos Aires to Ushwaia, Tierra Del Fuego.  Ushwaia is the most southerly city in the world, and South America’s starting point for travel to Antarctica.  We had a day in Ushwaia before our ship sailed, so we took a narrow-gauge train and visited Tierra Del Fuego National Park.  When I say “Tierra Del Fuego” it feels like a treat; one of those magical places I learned about in geography class once upon a time a long time ago.  Imagine; me – a nice Jewish girl from London, Ont. in Tierra Del Fuego!  As we used to say in the 60s – far out!! 

Not so long ago I spent a wonderful day of celebration driving up the
Pacific Coast Highway in California, heading for San Francisco. Mid-afternoon we – my sister Fran, pacific-coast-highway-2 brother-in-law Ed, and partner David – stopped to stretch our legs and walk around Carmel. It’s when doing things like this that I notice some real changes in my thinking. If you don’t know Carmel, let me tell you a little about it. Most simply put, it’s a town for the rich, centering on Ocean Avenue which – no big surprise – leads you down to the ocean. Art galleries and boutiques line the streets. En route to Carmel we’d all been talking a lot about how our lifestyles need to be changing. This conversation, which was really focusing on the environment, has been running around in my head for some time as I’ve been thinking about retirement and what it will mean to me in terms of the way I live my life.

Let me go back some 35 years to when I was on the verge of giving birth to my first child. An overwhelming desire to “nest” predominated my thinking and I spent my days “feathering”. I painted walls and furniture. I crocheted comforters. I cooked and baked and then cooked some more, convinced that in the days ahead I’d be so busy with a baby that meals would have to just appear from the depths of my freezer. I came across a recipe for meat pies at this time and somehow they seemed to represent the epitome of what I’d need as a new mother; a meal in one dish that would only require some reheating and would provide all of the ingredients of a well-rounded dinner. By the time I’d finished this cooking binge I think I had about 20 of those meat pies nestled comfortably away … and then when I actually heated up the first ones I realized that each pie was enough for 4 people! For the next few months if you came to my house for dinner you had meat pie. My comfort and security were symbolized by that abundance of pies.

Now – to today. I’ve been “un-nesting” somehow. Last weekend I ransacked my book shelves and filled 9 large bins with books to give away. I’ve dropped off enough used clothing to take care of at least one small family. I’ve outfitted friends with full sets of dishes and cutlery I’d been saving just in case one day my children might want them … which of course, they haven’t. I guess that part of leaving my old working life behind has been to leave some of the excess trappings of that life behind as well. In lifting the weight of work from my shoulders I’ve also wanted to lift the weight of the ballast – I mean wonderful things – that I’ve collected over the past 59 years.

This activity has been buoyed by my growing belief that one of the reasons we’re in such an economic crisis is because we’ve become completely lost in our ability to differentiate needs and wants, desires and requirements. Our endless quest to be consumers has led us to trade off the important things in life – things like having the time to care for each other – for just plain gathering of more things. I wandered in and out of a lot of shops today and saw a lot of beautiful things. Not so long ago I’d have arrived back at the car toting countless bags filled with more sweaters, more shoes, more kitchen gadgets. Today I found myself looking at these same items that would have called out to me not so long ago and thinking: “that’s very beautiful, but I don’t need it and I don’t want it.” One of the squares we walked through in Carmel this afternoon had a slogan; painted on the walls in big, bold letters it proclaimed: “Carmel Plaza – Where Indulgence is Encouraged”. I laughed when I saw it because I knew that there, in those few words, was the formula that had led us all into such a dreadful place where our very existence is being threatened by our indulgences. Today I got back to the car with only a container of fat-free yogurt, an apple and that wonderful warm feeling you have on your skin when you’ve been walking in blissful sunshine.

retirement-is-wonderfulOne of the shops I was in had some framed quotations on the wall. As much as I’m still clearly stumbling my way into retirement , the grin on my face as I read those words was a reflection of what I’m starting to understand retirement will mean for me. It isn’t just leaving a job behind. It’s feeling free to adjust what I do to be more in line with what I believe. I’m worrying a little less, now, about managing on a smaller income because, what’s becoming increasingly clear to me, is that in living what some might see as a smaller life I’ll actually be able to live what I see as a larger life. And that’s got to be a good thing.

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