There has come a time in my life when I have looked around my house and asked myself, “What am I doing with all this stuff?” That moment was about two years ago. And, like any good epiphany, I handled it by getting into my closets, taking inventory, giving away what I thought I didn’t use anymore and organizing the rest. Outside the closets I took down, picked up and boxed up and gave a few things away to my daughters or charity. But, everything else got squirreled away in, where else, but, the closets. That made me feel good for a while. I’d gotten a lifetime of clutter under control or at least it looked like it was under control. I had less stuff sitting around on tables to dust, wash or place in an attractive way. I liked my new clean look.

Much of our knickknack stuff has come in the form of gifts from family and friends or hand-me-downs, including some heirlooms, from my or Martin’s parents. Even some of our furniture has come to us in the same way. It’s been accumulated over many years. We occasionally do the clean out, give away routine and Martin has even sold some of his used motorcycle, bicycle paraphernalia on eBay. Then, there are the shelves of art we’ve produced, mostly in the form of gourd art, where we’ve carved, dyed, braided, papered and otherwise decorated gourds. There are also a couple of paintings I’ve produced recently. So, even though we haven’t purchased a lot of knickknacks, paintings and prints, we still have a house full of stuff.

Long before retirement I reached the point where I didn’t want to spend my time dusting and cleaning stuff that served no other purpose than to sit around on shelves and tables looking pretty. We also had pieces of furniture, which just didn’t fit with the overall theme and scheme of the other pieces. Our willy-nilly eclectic style sometimes annoyed me. I knew someone a few years ago who, as she and her husband prepared to downsize and retire, had held an auction to sell off their stuff, all of it. They wanted a fresh start for their new life so, like New Year’s, out with the old, in with the new. They made out really well on the money end and went on a shopping spree for the new stuff. So, as I looked around my house, I thought about what I would dump. Certainly, not all of it but I was so tired of the stuff, I thought, surely a lot of it. And, I wouldn’t be replacing any of it.

But, as I started going from room to room and thinking about what I would discard, I thought, “Well, certainly not those two old office chairs in the great room.” They are 1950’s or ’60’s and don’t go with the Italian style of the house or other furniture we have. But they are solid maple and after I picked them out of the trash (yes, that’s right, scavenger that I am, I raided somebody’s dumpster), we had them recovered and voilà!, they look fabulous. Not my grandmother’s chocolate pot or Martin’s grandmother’s carnival glass wine pitcher. Those would go to our daughters someday. Not the dish on the table given to me by a former assistant my last day on the job. Wait. What was I doing? As I looked around at all the stuff, I had another epiphany. It is the stuff with all the crazy stories or old memories evoked or the item touched by a loved one long past or the gift given from the heart, which creates the warmth of our home, the richness of our lives. The stuff isn’t just stuff after all, but symbols, artifacts of who we have been as well as who we are. Suddenly, eclectic seemed less annoying.

So, what am I doing today? Opening some boxes, unwrapping some stuff and putting it back on shelves and tables. I guess I’ll be dusting a while longer.


I worked at one time or another with people who prided themselves on being able to multi-task. They would work on the computer while supposedly listening to an employee or talking on the phone. These were the same people who would cram their calendars full of meetings, rushing out the door to get to the next venue as they pulled out their cell to answer voice mails on the way. Lunch was often just another meeting or grabbed on the run, if at all. I didn’t live quite that frenzied a work life but I did pedal as fast as I could to balance work and home. I’m organized. And my goal on both ends was to be as organized as possible so I would have more time with my family as well as a snippet now and then of me time.

My weekends were spent meal planning, grocery shopping, cleaning and doing laundry, all of which were a family affair. I guess that was the family time I wanted so badly. We’d all troop to the grocery store walking the aisles, filling the cart and checking off the list. I told myself that by spending the weekend prepping for the week at home I could relax on week nights. The truth was my frenzied weekends allowed me to work longer hours. At some point I realized I was no longer stopping to smell the roses. One supervisor told me I could get more done before 2 p.m. than most people could do all day. That should have been a wake up call! I was a workaholic. Both at work and at home I pedaled as fast as I could, absent from my own life. And, at times, I was a stressed out mess.

So how do you dial it down? It took years for that to happen and when it did, I was racked with guilt, feeling lazy. Dialing it down is tough for a couple of reasons. First you’re surrounded by a world where just about everyone else is moving at the speed of light. Yeah, they’re a stressed out mess just like you but most people think that’s the way life is. We’re now into at least a third generation of frenzied living. The idea that Grandma and Grandpa didn’t live this way is not even on most people’s radar. So when you slow down, especially at work, you may be seen as lazy, a loser, no longer a player, which leads to the second reason it’s tough to dial it down…you. Can you make the transition to a simpler reality? Do you have the mental and emotional strength to get off the bicycle and just walk while everyone around you continues to pedal as fast as they can? There are things you can do to transition to a simpler life.

If you’re not in a position to all out retire, you can opt for a new career. Most of us aren’t doing what we wanted to do in life. What was that for you? Is money the reason you aren’t doing what you dreamed about as a child? If so, you’ll have to look at dialing down your financial obligations. Selling the big house (and the big mortgage) may be part of the package. Less to clean, heat, cool and pay taxes on. So will be getting rid of the vehicle that requires a vehicle loan. Your European or even Mexico vacations may become staycations. But exploring your own town or state can be more fulfilling than laying on a sandy beach in a foreign country. Your kids may have to work part-time while going to college, which will look good on their resume. You may also have to find new friends. The true friends will be there no matter how nutty you look when you give up your big corporate job to farm or paint or become an x-ray technician. They’ll be your friend even if you trade in the SUV, the boat and the vacations for a used Toyota Corolla and drive to the nearest state park for a staycation.

Even though we’ve downsized and simplified, my husband is still pedaling some days. Recently we had a family dinner. While the rest of us were sitting around enjoying antipasto and wine, I looked out to see Martin sweeping the porch. He hasn’t stopped the perpetual motion yet. I have to remind myself it’s only been two months since he retired. My point is this. Even after making all the changes in your life to simplify, to slow down, you may find it takes a tremendous amount of determination to actually do it. Why? We’ve lived at light speed for so long now that anything else seems unnatural. It seems unnatural to actually have face to face conversations without gadgets to look at. It seems unnatural to just sit and enjoy a setting sun or the view from the garden or back deck. It seems unnatural to just curl up with a book and have complete quiet without checking emails or talking on the cell. So, prepare yourself to be prepared to struggle with dialing it down. It’s OK. Eventually, you’ll get there. It took me 18 months to dial it down and I still pedal some days. But the days where I spend a bit of it piddling around, guilt-free, are getting easier to take.