The best birthday present: realizing I didn’t WANT anything!

For my recent birthday, a dear friend sent me an Amazon gift card. My teenage daughter saw it and said, “Ooh, lucky you! What do you want?”

Image result for don't get me anything for my birthday

No, seriously, it’s not.

For the first time in my life I could honestly say, “I can’t think of anything that I want.”

Victory!

Ok, I know that’s a weird response, but for a large part of my life I was a “buyer.” Frugal—yes, but also very covetous. As a teenager, I saved up for months for a name-brand denim jacket because I was sure “looking right” would bring me status and approval. It didn’t.

As a young married, I scoured decorating magazines and watched HGTV for hours (back when it was still interesting) plotting how to decorate my own humble abode. Having a house that “looked right” would bring me happiness and contentment. Nope, didn’t happen.

Even now I still struggle with covetousness. Last week I passed by a gorgeous house for sale and thought, “I want that!” But I don’t need something that large, I can’t afford it, and I already know it won’t bring me additional happiness.

Because buying and owning things don’t make life better. Things just smother life.

About ten years ago, after some financial setbacks, our family of ten was renting a small place in a town I don’t care to remember. It was there that I realized something: I wasn’t any more, or less, happy there than I’d been when I had a nicer house and better stuff.

Duh.

My happiness came from being focused on the people around me, not the stuff around me. I was very worried about my kids, having moved them from one place to another, and yet another in a short amount of time. We didn’t discuss what we’d lost but what we still had, and fortunately for us our kids’ wants were few and easily meet with a trip to the dollar store. (Since we’d quit watching TV a long time ago, our growing kids didn’t know what was trendy and what they “should” want.)

More recently I’ve learned about minimalist movements and have written here and here and here about my own attempts at eliminating junk. Before our move from Utah to Maine, I took countless trips to the dump and donation center, worried that all we owned wouldn’t fit in the largest rental truck. I’m happy to report that I’ve missed NONE of the stuff we threw/gave away, and that our 26-foot moving truck even had some room to spare. Not bad for a family of nine and all their possessions.

I’ve still got a long way to go in minimalism, though. Because this rental house has no closets, my bedroom has four large boxes of comforters, sheets, and pillows–more than we really need. Half of the boxes we packed for the move we haven’t touched yet, but are sitting in the garage waiting for the next move to a more permanent house. Some of those boxes may never be unpacked but tossed instead, and I’d be fine with that. I have dreams of moving into a tiny home when we retire in twenty years, but right now I’m needing the space of about eight tiny homes for what I still own.

But in my old age (sliding to 50, so I’m growing reflective in my maturity and sniffing haughtily as I do so) I’m realizing that my happiness is linked to only a few things:

  • my family, healthy and progressing;
  • my ability to write;
  • places to walk;
  • a peaceful place to live;
  • time to study and worship; and
  • enough clothes for a week.
Trish 2015 portrait small

I recently read that “women of a certain age” should avoid denim. I’m now avoiding things that tell me how I should dress.

(About those clothes: I’ve culled my wardrobe to have changes of clothes for one week, two batches for summer and winter. My uber-minimalist teenage son, who can fit all his possessions into two large bins, has taught me that I don’t need more than eight t-shirts and five pairs of jeans. But my sweaters . . . that’s still a work in progress. And I do still have a denim jacket, one that I inherited from a friend some years ago—it’s the one I’m wearing in my author photos.) ==>

My list above is short and peaceful. Quite the contrast to the lists of what I wanted when I was younger; those spanned 30 or 40 items. Seasonal duvet covers, dining room hutches, wall-hangings, couches, kitchen canisters, a bench for the front porch, skirts, jackets, sweaters, collectibles. (Oh, the dreaded collectibles! They’re all gone, now.)

But this year for my birthday, I couldn’t think of a single thing I wanted, because I already have all I want!

(My husband and kids did buy me a boxed book set—the second Percy Jackson series—which I’m sharing with my 10-year-old because she shared with me her boxed set of the first Percy Jackson series. Yes, I’m very mature for sliding toward 50 and I’m still sniffing haughtily about it.)

I have to admit there was something I wanted this year: a family portrait. For one weekend, the first time in over four years, our entire family was together, and I paid money (and I hate spending money) for a photographer to prove that. Here’s the wonderful result:

trish-9 FIXED

This is all I need: my family, healthy and happy. (With adequate clothes–note the prevalence of t-shirts and jeans.) But since I can’t live with all of them anymore, this reminder that they are still around, and still mine, has to be enough.

All I need for this portrait a frame. And maybe if I had a gift card to buy one . . .

Hey, Paula–guess what you bought me for my birthday!

     “The world is all about getting more, building higher, and looking better. The world believes ‘enough’ is defined by what they have, plus a little more. So they’re never satisfied. Their hearts are small and weak.” Gleace sat back and looked at his guests sadly. “And that’s why the world is dying.”  

     Perrin sighed. “I once told Shem I thought the most dangerous sentences began with the words, ‘I deserve . . .’”

    “Precisely right. The world will always believe it deserves more.”

~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti, Forest at the Edge series

10 thoughts on “The best birthday present: realizing I didn’t WANT anything!

  1. (Smiling) Beautiful photo, sentiments and musings. A very Happy Birthday to you Trish. Remember, we can’t hold back time but we can choose what we consider “Maturing”. Keep the squirt guns and water balloons handy.
    Reading about families like yours makes the pieces of humanity I surrendered in the service of our country completely acceptable. So glad to have enjoyed your books and this blog. Are you sick of Lobster yet?

    Like

    • I haven’t even TRIED lobster yet! (Not much of a seafood person–sacrilege, I know. I’m a vegetarian. Still my friend?)
      When and where did you serve in the military?

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      • I’ll forgive you for not trying the Lobster. 🙂
        I served from 1977 to 1982, US Navy. Three years on an Aircraft Carrier (USS Ranger CVA-61) and two years on an Armed Food Supply Ship (USS Mars AFS-1) serving Expeditionary forces in Kenya, Oman and the Persian Gulf. I was a Machinist Mate, working in engine room #2 on the Ranger and then on water distillation on the Mars. The military provided a safe place to go up and a sense of purpose for a time. Until I no longer believed in what I was involved in.
        I have spent the rest of my life involved in the service industry in form or another. It has given me great satisfaction to be of service to my country, to my community and to the world at large. I can honestly say I have made a difference, saved lives and generally made the world a better place.
        “How do Billboards talk to each other?” “Sign Language!” 🙂

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      • Oh, man. You give me this wonderful list of what you’ve done over the years, then you follow it up with “Sign language.”
        Not sure if I can forgive that, not at all.
        That’s a great thing to be able to say you’ve made a difference–I’m assuming a GOOD one. I think that’s what all of us need to be able to say. I’m working on that myself.

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  2. YES. Would you believe that we have spent the last little while seriously downsizing, giving things away and decluttering in general? I’ve never felt better. Every time I get bored (I’m not sure this is the right word; is there such a thing as boredom with a four-month-old baby and almost three-year-old boy at home?) I end up going around the house and getting rid of more things. I’ve actually told my husband to stake his claim on things that he wants to keep, just in case they fall prey to one of my moods 🙂
    And don’t even get me started on the “I deserve” topic… When you first posted about it a while ago (in reference to your book, I think) it was one of the most well-put truths I have ever read.

    Like

    • With two little ones you are DEFINITELY not bored. But you are restless, which I think is an excellent thing, especially when it propels you do something that makes you and everything around you better!
      I was decluttering without my husband, and when he flew home right before we moved, he was very concerned that I’d chucked his stuff, too! I assured him it was all (mostly) still there. What they don’t know, right?
      I’ve decided everyone “deserves” peace of mind, and it’s up to us to get that ourselves.

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      • Restless, that’s it!
        I do the same: it becomes a will-he-know-this-is-missing game…
        That’s so great (especially the getting it yourself part) 🙂

        Like

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