2: The Pick-Me-Up that Doesn’t Work

2: The Pick-Me-Up that Doesn’t Work

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less


The Pick-Me-Up that Doesn’t Work

We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.

~Frederick Koenig

I was surrounded by piles and piles of clothes. Some showed signs of wear, others had been worn only once or twice, and a few still had tags. They held no appeal for me. Old or new, they had lost their luster and since there was no space left in the closet, they had to go. Spending hours sorting through the clothes and placing them in trash bags, I patted myself on the back for my efforts. In addition to de-cluttering, I was helping people. I shared clothing with friends who were ecstatic to get the text, “I’m cleaning out my closet.” The rest went to charity organizations that would profit mightily from my barely used wardrobe.

We all cope with stress differently. A treat, a little pick-me-up, something to take the edge off the harshness of life. “You deserve it,” the ads were quick to promote, knowing just the right thing to say. “Yes, I do,” I thought. “It’s been a hard day dealing with squabbling children, endless dishes and being the one to keep it all going.” It was exhausting trying to keep the peace, and while some women might crave chocolate, I craved a place where there was no chaos and no one would expect anything of me.

A little trip to my favorite store usually did the trick. As I opened the door, scented candles ushered me in. Taking a deep breath, I could feel the stress fading away. No one here pulled on my arms or climbed on me like I was a jungle gym. In fact, they asked if they could help me. Here, I relaxed more deeply than any yoga meditation. As my shoes echoed on the wood floor, I could hear myself think in this beautiful place. I wandered around the store touching soft fabric between my fingers.

This store represented everything I wished I could be. Neatly lined racks, evenly spaced hangers, and I wasn’t the one who would do the cleaning. Store employees knew me by name, and I left with a shirt or a dress in a pretty shopping bag. Who am I kidding? There was never just one. The shopping bags burst with my finds. I left on a high, feeling as if I had done something truly meaningful. My world was not so bleak as I pulled into my driveway.

The problem was, it never lasted. Endless shopping trips later, I had a house full of stuff, most of which I neither used nor cared about. As I pulled the tie on the last bag of giveaway clothes, I glanced at the clock. I was shocked at how many hours had passed. When I added up the amount of time spent purging the stuff, not to mention the buying, I realized I had been wasting the most precious gift I had been given… my life.

A few days after my closet purge, a dear friend and I were having lunch. I learned she had been taking classes toward a master’s degree. I walked away proud of what she had accomplished, yet wondering how she found the time to make this happen. Due to the amount of stuff in my house, sorting and picking up dominated my day. It dawned on me, if I had fewer things my whole life would be less cluttered. I could take the time I spent shopping and picking up to do something worthwhile.

Feeling inspired, I started that day. It took nearly a year to go beyond my own closet and go through everything in my house. I squeezed in a little time every day between carpool drop-offs and soccer practices. I went through every nook and cranny. I put to use my marketing degree and opened an online store, selling what I could and donating the rest. Things began leaving my house every day. Peeling away at the layers of stuff sitting around, with each decision to let go I felt only one thing… relief.

Wedding gifts that had not been used in a decade and a half were the first to see the door. Bulk items kept on hand “just in case” were the next to go. No toy was safe. I encouraged my kids to sell anything they no longer used, and I let them keep the cash. They learned a lot from the experience. Most of all they learned they had a lot of things they didn’t care about. We cleared out an entire room of toys, consolidating them to a game room upstairs.

With that empty space I created a peaceful room where I could read and write. I no longer needed a store to calm my spirit. I often find my daughter curled up on the couch reading, a quiet place away from her rambunctious brothers. It was in this space I started to dream again. Not about what I could buy, but what I could do to make a difference.

Understanding I am better off without the clutter has led to a whole new way of living. I have more time to spend on the things that matter — lunch with my husband, playing with my children, a handwritten note to a friend, a volunteer opportunity. When the familiar need for a pick-me-up does creep in, I’ve discovered I can hit the gym or take a walk in the fresh air. Being physically active does far more to lift my spirits than any shopping splurge ever did.

This year for my birthday I received several gift cards. My family knows me well, so it didn’t come as a huge surprise when they were for my favorite store. I have to admit, I was giddy at the prospect of a shopping trip. Some habits are hard to break. I determined though, before I set foot in the store, I would only use the value of my gift cards.

The store clerk greeted me by name. “It’s been such a long time since we’ve seen you!” she said, nearly pulling me into a hug. For reasons entirely different than her intention, she could not have paid me a nicer compliment.

Checking out with my single item, she detailed the new fall collection arriving the following week. I mentally checked my calendar, debating which day I could swing by the store, and then I stopped. My face broke into a wide smile as she handed me the small bag. “Take care,” I said simply, walking away knowing I would not be back no matter how gorgeous the colors were. There will always be more. Another collection to see. The latest, the greatest, better than the last… and I am better off without them.

~Katie Bangert


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