Today is a perfect summer day, not too hot with a pleasant breeze. Underneath the gazebo I can peek out and see a bright blue sky bordered by a lush canopy of green and a few fluffy clouds. Cicadas and birds are the only living things I can hear, except for my own breathing and tapping on the iPad screen. In my head, I am going through the list of projects that need to be done: the trim that needs to be painted, the siding that has seen better days, and the gazebo that is starting to rust. My brain moves inside and starts to go through outdated cabinets, ratty furniture and walls that we never painted after moving in. The list gets longer and longer.
And then in my head I sell it all and move us into a three-bedroom bungalow.
Lately, I’ve noticed that my thoughts are swinging erratically between two extremes. On one hand, I look at my home or my wardrobe or my possessions and I think, “You should have more / nicer things. You work hard, you deserve it.” And on the other hand, I look around and think, “You have more than any reasonable person should expect or can use. You don’t need anymore.”
I find it exhausting and maybe a little healthy.
Our society is flooded with consumerism. Everywhere you look are examples of beautiful things that promise a beautiful life. It feels like more and more we are tying the value of our lives to the value of our things. Maybe it has always been this way, but I am feeling it acutely now in my middle years. I have example after example coming to mind. The friend who is building a new home and sharing her journey on Facebook, with every gleaming picture a comparison to my dated 1990’s medium oak. The cottages lined up along the lakefront, their boats on lifts or at docks as we go through the process of trailering our speedboat in and out each time. The new gazebo our neighbors built with custom screening, a ceiling fan and twinkly lights, when our deck has a hodgepodge of furniture including plastic tables with peeling spray-paint.
And each time my inner toddler pops out, “I want. I want. I want!”
And each time my middle-aged self reminds my inner toddler that we don’t always get what we want. That I should feel joy for the friend who is finally putting down roots in a home that is all her own. That I should feel appreciation for having a boat at all, and that we could hardly find the time or energy to keep up a second home. That we don’t spend enough time on our deck to invest in something better. That sometimes, enough is enough.
I think one of the reasons I am struggling is that it is hard to acknowledge that life is finite. There are only so many experiences you can pack into any hour, day, week, month or year. There are choices we make about how we spend our time and how we spend our money. A moment spent here, on my deck typing this reflection, is a moment I’m not spending driving my convertible or boating with my husband. Sleeping an extra hour this morning meant I didn’t get up and take a ride on my bike, one of my favorite purchases two years ago.
That’s why when I’m overwhelmed I make the mental leap into letting it all go. Living in a tiny house or studio apartment would mean I wouldn’t have to choose. I wouldn’t be able to add more and more, there would be less to keep up. It would mean that I wouldn’t feel conflicted, the space would prevent that from happening. Someday I hope to let go of these trappings and live a big part of my life on a sailboat. It’s the ‘tiny house’ that fits me best, where I can stow everything critical in cabinets that lock, shelves with rails and hanging nets. I can take pride in finding a way to pack everything we could possibly need for our adventures into a ridiculously compact space.
And, thankfully, iPads are really small.