30: Keeping Less, Living More

30: Keeping Less, Living More

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Time to Thrive

Keeping Less, Living More

The more you have, the more you are occupied. The less you have, the more free you are.

~Mother Teresa

“You have breast cancer.” It was the fourth time in seventeen years I’d heard those words.

The doctors gave me surgery and radiation.

Then they wanted to put me on a drug for five years. I knew it would suck the joy out of my life. Widowed the year before, I understood that nobody has five years to spare.

I prayed for guidance. Hoping I heard the answer right, I told the doctors, “No thanks.”

Usually I don’t pay much attention to my bookshelves, but it was about this time that I happened to notice how crowded they looked. Most of the books had been worth reading once — but not more than once. Why were they still hanging around?

I fetched a dust rag and some old grocery bags from the kitchen. I pulled books off the shelf, dusted them, and put them in bags. I kept only the Bible and a few old favorites.

With each book I bagged I seemed to feel a tiny burden come off my shoulders. I hadn’t thought my old books were any burden at all, but the idea of not making room for them any longer lifted my spirits. I stowed the books in the trunk of my car and donated them to the Friends of the Library the next time I drove by there.

My kitchen cabinets were stuffed with paraphernalia I’m embarrassed to admit I never used, like six muffin tins, an embellished earthenware wine chiller, and dozens of quart canning jars. I gave my kitchen extras to the Salvation Army and in return received a cheerful word of blessing.

Life felt a lot easier with a little less stuff, although I couldn’t see why. Owning fewer books saved me maybe ten seconds a month on dusting, and with less junk in kitchen drawers and cupboards I found what I wanted faster. But why should losing a little clutter feel like a big relief?

Leaving that question for philosophers and psychiatrists to debate, I began to scan the house for things to get rid of.

The Salvation Army got the jeans I’d outgrown, the high heels I teetered in, and the what-was I-thinking sweaters. I dumped broken flowerpots, dried-up paint, and margarine tubs that lacked lids. I shredded or recycled obsolete paperwork. I gave shabby towels to the animal shelter. I cleared space like a pioneer clearing land.

Sorting out needless possessions taught me what was my job and what wasn’t.

Using shabby towels — not my job.

Serving wine stylishly — not my job.

Re-reading mediocre books — not my job.

No longer did I have to squeeze my life into the space my possessions allowed. I found time to join a Bible class at church. There I finally got to know some of the good people I’d been sitting by every Sunday — plus, of course, I got deeper into Scripture.

I bought several different translations so I could gain the different insights they provided. After all, I had plenty of space on my bookshelves. Spending more time with God’s word gave me more confidence in Him.

Then my life changed again. “Will you marry me?” Richard’s smile glowed.

I knew God had brought Richard and me together. “Yes!”

Richard pulled me close in a long, strong kiss.

Our late-life marriage is teaching us to drop nonessentials. We have what we need, and we value what we have: this place, this time, this companion.

Five years have passed. Cancer has not shown up again.

Whatever comes my way tomorrow, I have lived today.

~Alison P. Martinez

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