55: When Less Truly Is More

55: When Less Truly Is More

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less

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When Less Truly Is More

Owning fewer keys opens more doors.

~Alex Morritt

We stood in the middle of our living room, overwhelmed by the task of sifting through our charred belongings. The evening before, we’d returned from dinner and a show with friends to find two fire trucks and an ambulance in front of our house. The firefighter said he wasn’t sure how the fire started, but luckily our neighbor called 911. We had left the windows open and the fans running to help with the scorched smell, and we spent the night in a hotel.

“Where do we even start?” Ed asked.

“I guess we should start throwing stuff in these trash bags,” I ventured. “If there is anything that looks like it might be salvageable, let’s put it on the front porch.”

I ripped open a box of trash bags and handed one to Ed. I put on a pair of disposable gloves and picked up what had been a photo of the two of us on vacation in Hawaii. How could I throw it away? Ed barely looked at an item before throwing it in the trash bag.

“Maybe we should go through things together,” I said.

“Honey, that’s going to take twice as long.” He gave me the “are-you-going-to-control-this” look that I’d gotten from him several times throughout our twenty-two-year marriage. It was usually followed by a comment about me acting like my mother.

“Okay, you’re right.” I went back to working on my own corner of the room while trying not to cringe every time he threw something away. He didn’t understand. Our house had been a great source of pride for me over the years. It was almost as if creating the perfect home was a way of creating the perfect life, even though real life had never quite matched the life I tried to create. We owned china and silverware for elaborate dinner parties that we never threw. There were extra bedrooms for children that we never had. Suddenly I realized how much of my life had been spent preparing for my life. I began to cry.

“Honey, it’s okay.” Ed tried to console me. “We’re just lucky we weren’t here when it happened. They’re just things. They can be replaced.”

He kissed me on the forehead and then looked at me tentatively. He was always visibly uncomfortable when I cried. I calmed myself and we continued to work well into the night and then headed back to our temporary home.

The efficiency we rented was 500 square feet. Our house was more than four times that size and I couldn’t image how Ed and I could live here while the house was being repaired. For the first time in years, we’d have to share a bathroom. I looked at the tiny table that was so close to the stove; it would be impossible for both of us to share a meal there.

“Do you want to go out for dinner tonight?” I asked.

“Sure. I saw an Indian restaurant about six blocks away. We could walk there.”

That night was the beginning of the end of our routine lives. In our home, Ed had his man cave and I had — well, I had the rest of the house. Often, after work and on the weekends, we would spend time in our house completely separate from each other, only meeting up at the end of the night when it was time for bed.

In a four-bedroom house, it was easy to grow apart, but living in one tiny room changed that. We went to outdoor concerts, museums and new restaurants together. I no longer spent an entire Saturday doing housework because it took only fifteen minutes to tidy up the apartment. Getting dressed also became a breeze because I only had a fraction of the clothes I’d previously owned so I didn’t spend hours trying on clothes or looking for matching accessories.

We spent almost three months living in what was essentially an oversized hotel room, but we enjoyed our time there. Learning to live without the items that we thought were essential helped us to realize that they weren’t essential at all.

When the renovations were done, the house no longer looked like our home. The new paint colors, hardwood floors and appliances that I’d selected were beautiful, but they weren’t for us. I had no desire to begin filling the rooms again with stuff that we rarely used and didn’t need. It occurred to me that I had bought so many things that were supposed to make life easier and better, but they’d done just the opposite.

Five months later we sold our house to a lovely young couple with two kids. Spending time outdoors was something that Ed and I discovered we loved, but brutal Chicago winters kept us indoors a lot, so we moved to Florida. The proceeds from selling our house were more than enough to buy a two-bedroom condo. The best part is that it’s within walking distance of the beach, which is where we now spend most of our time. I never thought I would be grateful for a fire, but I feel freer and lighter than I’ve felt in years.

~K.D. King

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