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Information on creating your best life, finding your deep passions, defining your dimensions of balance and meaning, etc. after you’ve done all the things you fantasized about as “retirement.”

Lessons from an Old Friend

Lessons from an Old Friend

A few days ago, a special friend celebrated a milestone birthday.  A big milestone. 

She turned 100.  I am so lucky to have her as a friend when she got that far.

Ruth is not “one of my parents friends” or the relative of a former spouse of whom “I got custody.”  We met four years ago when we were both involved in a nonprofit vintage fashion show guild that raised money for Goodwill programs. 

No, she was not licking envelopes.  She helped us get in and out of the vintage clothing at shows all over the region.  (She also made sure we were careful with it, often picking up things models had dropped on the floor in haste to get into the next outfit ASAP and hanging the clothing carefully so it could be safely stored.) 

She still lives in her own house—thanks to a heavy commitment from her daughter (who ran the fashion shows when we were doing them).  Up until a year ago when she had a bad fall, Ruth lived alone.  She’s still functioning in that home (with ongoing help from her daughter now)–gets up every morning, dresses, and participates in the day. 

Her heart rate is something like 31.  Yes, that’s her pulse.  How she has the energy to do anything more than breathe is a mystery to me.  But she is still very much alive and involved.

We love stories about centenarians who are still full of life.  We pass along the YouTube posts of older adults doing young at heart things.  Celebrating that pluck gives us a more upbeat sense of where we are all going.  But my chance to get to know Ruth has taught me far more valuable things about how to travel the route as we near the “end of the road” with dignity and grace.  And a good sense of humor.

After the fall that triggered some health problems, I started visiting with Ruth every few weeks so her daughter could get some time on her own without “worrying about Mom.”  I asked to do that to offer Nancy needed respite from caregiving.  But my time with Ruth very quickly became something I personally benefited from in both obvious and subtle ways.  My bond with Ruth was easy to build and means a lot to me.

Ruth has taught me so much about how to live well when living becomes tenuous.  Every day, she gets up and goes on.  She’ll keep doing that until her body gives out.  But it’s how she does it that has made it such a rich experience to know her.

She’s fun to talk to.  Since she hasn’t heard them before, she finds all the crazy stories of my life entertaining.  But we also talk a lot about her family and her heritage and things she’s done with her life.  Even though she is starting to slow down in major ways, we still have two-way conversations.  (A lot of us don’t get that with our teenage kids…or spouses in their prime!)

She is grateful, especially for all the good people who have come into her life.  She notices them and appreciates them.  (And as one such person—at least in her opinion—being appreciated by Ruth makes you feel pretty dang special.)  She has told me again and again, that the reason she has lived this long was all the good people who came into her life along the way.

She embraces the age she is now.  She certainly didn’t expect longevity.  Her mother died when she was seven and her dad died when she was sixteen.  She doesn’t lament “being old,” and she doesn’t whine about what doesn’t work.  She finds the good, the upbeat, the interesting and pays attention to it.

She engages.  When I visit, she’s happy to see me.  When I tell her about something I’m trying to do, she encourages me.  She builds me up in so many little ways….by asking about what I have been doing….by laughing at my “creative catastrophes”.…by inquiring about my kids and grandkids.  She is still part of life in how she lives her day.

She’s patient with herself.  It’s so easy to get sucked into the “injustice” of no longer being able to do things you used to be able to do for yourself.  She does what she can and then accepts help. That’s not easy, but she does it with grace.

She has kept her sense of humor.  On her birthday, I asked her if she was going out dancing that night to cap off her big day. She put on a thoughtful look and then said, “Not tonight.  It’s been a long, busy day, and I’m a bit tired.  I’ll do that tomorrow.”

But even all of the things listed above in total don’t capture the magnitude of what she’s given me.  She’s taught me not to be afraid of extreme old age.  You can still be the timeles you that you are at your core then.

She does that beautifully.  And I have learned so much for time with her. Thank you, Ruth.

Life’s Little Train Wrecks

Life’s Little Train Wrecks

Over the weekend, a group for which I have written grants in the past blew up. Not literally, but in terms of the cohesion of the volunteers. One of life’s little train wrecks. Sometimes it’s a community effort, as this is. Sometimes it’s a work group. Sometimes it’s a family. What’s the lesson when it happens?

I’d like to believe that as we get older, we get better at not only staying out of the middle of this kind of stuff, but of also being peacemakers–the force that helps knit the group back together. In this case, the older ones were nowhere near that. I’m not central to this group, and my role in the weekend disaster was as a spectator. But there are positive things to learn just by watching.

The group is a niche historical society, tasked with maintaining and providing access to a lighthouse and related structures in a city park. They have been diligent over the last 25 years. Six of the seven buildings in the compound have been restored, and they are in planning to do the last one–the lighthouse itself.

One of their annual community events has been an afternoon tea at the lighthouse keeper’s cottage during the month of December. These folks weren’t spring chickens when they started doing that, and they’ve been at it a while. They’ve been thinking they needed to stop hosting the tea because they didn’t have the stamina anymore.

Then several new volunteers agreed to do the tea. Problem solved, right? It should have been. Instead it turned into this train wreck. Usually, something trivial triggers this kind of disaster. In this case, it was two words–“Holiday” and “Christmas”.

The email I watched spool out was to okay the flyer announcing the tea. What should have been a routine nod, turned into a major email argument over whether they were going to call it a “Christmas Tea” as they had since when they started doing it or a “Holiday Tea” as the team planning the event deemed appropriate.

At first it was civil: “Please change it back to Christmas.” Then people started to “vote” with more heated words. Then Santa (the guy who said he would BE Santa for the event) said he wouldn’t show up if it wasn’t “Christmas.” My thoughts ran in two directions as I watched: “This is so sad” and “This would be really funny in a sitcom.”

Except it wasn’t funny. I also don’t think it was political. (I live in the Pacific NW, a proud part of “the Left Coast.”) No, the problem was an inability to let go that the longtime members couldn’t even see in themselves and a frustration with that for the newcomers who had to use their energy and enthusiasm to deal with the roadblocks instead of the event.

I tried to defuse the situation by asking whether they were planning a community event for our diverse, current community or a reeneactment of what the lighthouse keeper would have celebrated in the early 20th century–aka “Christmas”. But it wasn’t a rational situation so that went nowhere. (Silly me.)

Eventually, one of the new volunteers forthrightly described how difficult it was for the team that was so ready to make it happen to have everything they suggested and planned shot down or stonewalled. That was brave. But it didn’t stop the wreck either. The oldsters involved have “hearing problems” that have nothing to do with their auditory acuity. No one stepped up to that truth from the old guard.

In her last sentence, she quit. I can’t help but wonder if the rest of the new volunteers will follow suit. It wasn’t about “Holiday” versus “Christmas.” It was that the old guard wasn’t able to do the work any more, but they weren’t able to let go of dictating exactly how it was to be done.

So….the lessons…

First, I do NOT want to do that. Ever. If I can’t do the work, how it’s done isn’t my call. No matter how many times I excelled at doing it in the past.

Second, peacemaking is a lot easier if people are willing to be rational, but that’s not the typical terrain in this kind of train wreck. You can try, but don’t be surprised if you get ignored.

Third, there will be differences of opinion when you’re part of a group. Respecting and addressing them is best done face to face, and, if possible, one on one. Also right away and bravely.

Fourth, some things cannot be fixed. This organization may end up folding because they are so inept at giving full status to new volunteers.

There’s no good lesson in having that happen.

When the wheels fall off…dealing with decline

When the wheels fall off…dealing with decline

The last 24 hours have given me a front row seat on something none of us want to think about: decline.

Photo by Jacob Kiesow on Unsplash

Yesterday afternoon, I visited a dear friend who is dealing valiantly with the limits imposed by a 99 1/2 year-old body. Her ability to continue to be engaged is inspiring. She remembers that I have granddaughters, asks about my time with them after I last visited her, tells me about her family, sees me to the door at her home, and makes me feel about ten feet tall in her opinion of me. She is definitely a gem. But there’s no denying that it’s getting harder and harder for her to be alive physically.

Last night, my son and daughter-in-law were over for dinner. My daughter-in-law is in the unenviable position of having to manage her dad’s finances when he still believes he’s capable as an investor but has reached the point of making mistakes. So far, she’s been able to mop up behind him. She doesn’t want to deny him his identity as a savvy business person, but how many mistakes is too many?

This morning, a good friend is starting a “tile job.” He has done this work for friends for a long time. This time, he needs to do it with one hand that doesn’t work very well because of the combined mess of falling off a ladder and too much delay within the healthcare system. He’s been resilient his whole life. Can he figure out a way to do it again?

These things don’t look similar on the surface, but a closer look reveals them to be the same thing: how to keep on living the best you can when life smacks you with some kind of “disability.”

In other words: What do you do when you can’t do what you used to do the way you’ve always done it? Especially if that activity has defined you as a person?

We need to see it differently than we see it as a culture now. Decline…becoming less able…isn’t some kind of personal failure. It’s a normal part of life and deserves respect. It’s also not “the end.” It’s a turning point–a change in direction. As with all turns in the road, it’s diffcult to see what comes next until you’re through it. You still need to keep going. You may need to slow down to get a sense of what this curve can tolerate, but stopping entirely isn’t even safe, much less interesting. And turning around isn’t an option at all. This is where you are and forward is where you need to go.

You can still have a life, you just need to figure out how to accomodate this new reality in how you go about it. That’s not easy, but after about thrid grade, most of life is not easy. Believe or not, we’re back to Nike time: Just do it.

Start by figuring out what was most satisfying about what you were doing before. It could be the competence you felt. Or the interactions that effort involved. Or what you created. Or one of a million or more other things. What did it give you?

Then work at coming up with other ways, that are more feasible in the new reality, to give yourself that same kind of satisfaction. Choose one and try it. If that does it, great. If not, choose a different one. Keep going. Period.

Not being able to do what you used to do yourself also means you have the chance to learn something most of us never get good at: Asking for help. This critical skill is not taught in our society. We mature either expecting someone else to do everything for us or refusing to admit that we need help at all. Ever. Learning how to ask for the help your really need–and only that–takes skill. And skill takes practice. This is one we’d probably all do well to work on our entire lives. Later in life it’s mandatory if you want to thrive.

Decline is inevitable. But there is a choice in how to deal with it. What you do when you can’t do what you used to is a chance to grow into someone new. Someone more skilled. Someone who’s moved to a higher level on how to gets things done. This is not a bad thing. Unless you decide it is.

Greetings from Lazarus…

Greetings from Lazarus…

photo by Peter Pryharski,

About six years ago, I went from a cocky, exuberant, in-your-face active “senior she-jock” to a physical basket case. Every day became a struggle just to get the simple things like laundry done. I took naps morning, noon, and sometimes in the evening, and still fell into bed exhausted. I woke myself up moaning in pain.

My healthcare team were involved but pretty much useless. All the tests came back normal. “You’re doing really well for someone your age” may have been well intended, but it stung like hell. What seemed so acceptable to them as my new lifestyle was lightyears away from what I had been doing recently. And enjoying immensely. Most of them never grasped that.

Instead, they were firm in trying to make me believe all that was over. “You are just going to have to do less”….”Get used to being less active”….”This is the way your body needs you to live now”…etc. Given as professional advice. Stunningly clueless. And nowhere close to what I needed.

Eventually, the right resources came into the picture. I am grateful for them. But I am also proud of my own dogged persistence in not accepting all the wrong things I was told along the way and continuing to search for the real answers instead.

It’s tempting to go through a litany of the things they decided I had that were not the case, to give you a long list of the tests we did and describe the heavy emptiness that came from not knowing what to do next when each “maybe” came back normal and ended in silence from the doctor who’d ordered it. It was hell, and I won’t pretend it wasn’t. But it was my hell and one I had to walk through it to learn what it was time to learn. My job, so I could get past it, was to get honest about who I am, what’s really important to me, and what it is I’m here to do. That took six long years. It was worth every second of it.

This website and my commitment to living the last third of life on fire and growing went dormant while I did that work. There was a TON of doubt that I would ever again have enough of a life to be able to enjoy living it, much less have anything to offer for others to use in living theirs well.

I don’t need to go into the details of this quest–at least not right now. But I do need to point to what’s different about Mining Silver as of today.

Today we launch a completely revised version of the website, which has been around since 2008. When I started, I was in lock-step with the marketing and online gurus, focused on “what I had to sell”–my books and availability to speak, do seminars, etc. Now the emphasis is on providing information and insights to spark conversation, either by comments posted here or in real life after you read something here.

This is not about making money for me. This isn’t even about creating a following. I want to do what I can to raise awareness about what’s possible, reasonable, and worth pursuing in the last third of a life. That will be a work in progress until I take my last breath and a collaborative effort with anyone willing to be involved. As of this moment, there are new pages (the permanent information that stays in the same place on the site) plus ten years of blog posts about living this stage of life well (a list that gets longer every time I add something new). The site is content rich. That’s ALL it is–content…ideas, information, observations–you get the drift. Please explore. (And comment!)

Online Dating Scam — Field Notes

Online Dating Scam — Field Notes

Okay, this has happened twice. Time to say something. I don’t know if it happens to guys (probably), but here’s what it looked like for an older, heterosexual woman:

OMG. Dreams DO come true! This amazing guy contacts you. He’s beyond your wildest dreams…handsome, cosmopolitan–and European, experienced with the world in ways you aren’t, fun, and very very interested in getting to know you. He’s protective before he’s even met you, worrying that you might be working too hard or that you were at risk with some minor bold thing you mentioned doing.

He gushes about how wonderful you are–ordinary you!–and goes on and on about your beauty (heady balm coming from a guy 7 years younger than you). At his most polished, he transports you to a romantic world that leaves you breathless with delight. He gets me!

When executed by someone less practiced, it comes across a bit more like clunky job interview–lot’s of questions in quick sequence without much chance to reply. But you see that as his earnestness about wanting to know more and still buy in. And you give him the benefit of the doubt with the way he phrases things because “he wasn’t born here”.

He hits all the right notes: He wants a deep, loving, trusting relationship. He wants to make you his queen. He wants to give you the finest things in life–and has the money to do that. He wants to travel all over the world with YOU.

But…. he’s busy with important things. So he can’t meet. He wants your phone number and email so you can “go faster” than with the messaging the dating app provides. He promises you will meet “soon”….when his work situation calms down….when he’s had time to tie up this important deal….when he has this big professional event he’s working on planned.

Before “soon” arrives, there’s an emergency, perhaps due to what he’s attempting with his exotic business. Before “soon”, you will have developed enough of an appetite for his attention that you’re tempted to give him that money. Very tempted, even if you’ve been 60% sure it’s a scam from the very beginning.

This romance is not something online dating can do for you. Online dating is just a way to MEET people you want to date. You have to take it from there to build a relationship. If your dream guy is suddenly there and acting like you two are in fully committed relationship as just an online dating profile, you’re not looking at the real thing.

You have to meet before you know if it’s going to go anywhere. When you get wound up in a 100% online romance, you’ve taken a detour into Fantasyland. IT IS NOT REAL. And don’t think that because he has a business website and/or a LinkedIn profile it confirms what he told that he’s legitimate. ALL of it can be faked.

Don’t blow off discrepancies. First he spouts Bible verses like a devout fundamentalist Christian, then he says he’s a lapsed Catholic who hasn’t been to church since his wife died five years ago. His profile says he’s 6’3 but when you ask him, he says he’s 5’10. He sends you a photo (of someone else) and says he’s making coffee in his office when the kitchen pantry is open right behind him. We all want to give people the benefit of the doubt with little mistakes. But if they keep happening, pay attention. If the person running the scam is part of a big operation, they’re going to have trouble keeping the details straight. If they’re operating in a foreign country, the difference between what we call an “office” and a “kitchen” might not be apparent.

Be wary of a guy whose use of English is off. I’ve communicated online with an “Italian” and a “German” who both turned out to be fake. Neither was good with English, particularly grammar and syntax. I tolerated this, because “he wasn’t born here.” But looking back, that wasn’t justified. Both had mentioned that their last 30 or more years had been spent in English speaking countries and that they ran successful businesses there. You have to speak good English to do that. I’ve also met real online dates, one who left Hungary at age 13 and one who arrived from Kenya about 10 years ago,. Both spoke perfect English. This is not about “spurning immigrants”.  It’s about paying attention to whether his backstory and his performance match.

Be sure he’s still on the dating site. If you suddenly can’t find his profile when you go to remind yourself of something in it, get suspicious. He might have taken it down so you can’t check details or the dating site may have recognized it wasn’t a legitimate profile. If his (her) profile disappears, back away! Also be wary if he wants to jump to texting or email right away instead of using the messaging site for your initial interaction. Messaging on the site it safer.

Don’t buy excuses for not meeting in person. He may claim he wants to wait so that meeting to be special (and then wax eloquent about how he will treat you when the time comes). He may say he’s swamped with work and just doesn’t have time right now. He may claim he’s stuck in a foreign country. (This one is a great set-up for the pitch–“I need money to get home because….” .) When you push him to meet, he (she) will accuse you of not trusting him as a deep relationship demands–to make you think you are wrong. Real date material wants to meet you. Neither of you have anything to gain by doing the pen pal routine any longer than it takes to decide if you are interested in meeting each other.

The first time this happened to me, I was too curious to walk away quickly. I sensed it was very likely a scam, but I wanted to know how it worked. Was it a group doing it or just one sociopathic romeo? Does a scammer request photos from his marks (which both did) so he can use them to create personas for new cons? Was a woman or man the mastermind? (I’m guessing women write the scripts. They are uncanny in saying what women deeply want to hear.) Was it a foreign operation or a homegrown version of despicable?

When it happened again a few days ago, I only had one question: Am I being romanced to finance a Russian troll farm? Are some “troll farmers” spending their entire shifts cooing sweet nothings in the electronic ears of well-heeled older Americans looking for love online and vulnerable in their generosity. (Yeah….repulsive.)

I don’t have answers to any of these questions, and it’s wiser to leave it at that. The more important thing is sound the alarm so you don’t get caught up in it in the first place.

If the situation is a full blown romance before you’ve even met–and the other person keeps postponing meeting, shut it down and move on. The longer you let it go on, the more tempted you’ll be to give him (her) that money when the inevitable pitch comes. JUST STOP!

Do YOU celebrate?

Do YOU celebrate?

Night before last, I went to a funny, holiday-themed play at a community theater with a group of friends.  On the way home, I learned that two of the women with us were turning 80 within a few days of each other at the end/beginning of the year.  They are both vibrant, engaged, and living real lives.  I had to admit I was surprised.  (We have the stereotypes on this so wrong as a society!)

What was more interesting though was how they were seeing the milestone.  The difference between the two of them could not have been more dramatic.  One was going to San Diego (from the Seattle area) for two weeks of assorted celebrating.  She was excited about the coming decade and ready for it to be her “best decade” just as her grandmother had admitted of her 70’s a generation before.

The other was dreading it.

They are both virtually the same age.  Are they going to have the same quality of life?

The “dreader” saw the need to redirect herself as we finished the ride, which is the great news in this.  But what about the ones who don’t get the innoculation of someone else’s happier approach?

You’re gonna turn 80 either way (at least if you are lucky enough to get that far).  Seeing the pluses is a whole lot more fun.  And ignoring the ridiculously inaccurate set of expectations we are bombarded with from the culture is critical.

I always make a big deal over the “zero” birthdays.  It’s my excuse to do something particularly grand and/or self-loving when they are mine.  I also love to mark 75 for women friends.  Party, fresh flower crown, BIG deal fun.

But celebrating doesn’t have to be reserved for certain birthdays.   There are unique milestones that also warrant some festivity.  (At the moment, I am looking forward to the last day of my online dating subscription….)

What does celebrating accomplish?  At its very core, a celebration says “There are things going on in  my life.  I have completed something important.  And I am happy about that.”

It also says “Life is good!”

But the most important thing it says is “I am not done yet!”  Oh yeah.  I will celebrate that again and again and again.

Are You in Retirement Jail?

Are You in Retirement Jail?

Okay, you’ve been retired for long enough that you’ve done all the things you “didn’t have time for” plus a few.  None of it is as exciting as it used to be.  The “good life” seems like it’s outside a window with bars, and all you get in your own day is weak gruel and the tantalizing but unreachable view of that beyond.  What happened?

Retirement was supposed to be this glorious never-ending vacation.  You could do whatever you wanted.  Go when you wanted.  Sleep in.  Hang out.  Let up.  It’s all about you you you, and it was going to be soooo lovely.  What happened?

Relax.  This is normal.  The traditional version of retirement works at first, for most of us anyway.  Then, for a lot of us, it doesn’t anymore.  All those versions of play get stale and depressing, bereft of meaning and woefully short on a sense of connection.  Why?  Because humans are wired for more than that.  We need to be productive members of a tribe–working together to solve problems that have an impact beyond our own day-to-day needs.  All this “go off and play by yourselves” can be toxic in high doses–sometimes within a year of retirement.


Well…  First, realize that “retirement” is not this homogenous string of days stretching to the end of your life with the same fun the same way with the same people.  The counterpoint to that is also not true.  You aren’t meant to spend all day every day doing work other people need done–but without pay–because you “have time”.

Retirement is likely to be a big chunk of your life and has stages within the stage itself.  The initial years are usually about “doing all the things I didn’t have time for when I was working”.  That may be learning something you’ve always been intrigued by or traveling to places you’ve wanted to see or just sitting on the deck drinking coffee (or a glass of wine…) while your former coworkers slog through traffic.  It may be all of the above and more, including getting involved in some kind of volunteer work to “give back.”

Typically, this evolves to a second stage though.  Some of those interests don’t pan out.  Travel starts to become “same old same old,” and the volunteering gig goes sour for whatever reason (lack of stimulating work, difficult organizational dynamics, or a change in the direction of the entity with whom you are involved, for example).

No need to panic.  It’s just time to rework the plan. THIS is what an effective retirement strategy is best at–acknowledging when what you’ve planned is not what you need and doing the work to come up with something that is.

When we walk out the door of work for the last time, we don’t know where the health monsters lurk.  We don’t know what we’ll like of what we want to try.  We don’t know what’s ahead with our relationships.  (They aren’t static.   At some point, someone you’ve been with will either die or leave or someone you didn’t expect will walk in and take a place in your heart.) You don’t know who you might meet, if a best friend will move away, or whether you’ll decide you need to move yourself for whatever reason.  All these things are part of life.  Ignoring them is what puts you in that jail.

The standard assumption is that what’s outside the original plan is always negative.  Let’s take a better look at that.  If what you thought would satisfy you doesn’t (like playing golf three times a week when you really only need one round to scratch that itch), do something else.  You know more now that you’ve been living the plan.  It’s time to look at “What do I want to do now?” again.  And this time, the answer just might be quieter, more serene, and probably more focused on community, connection, and commitment, than the grand adventures of the first stretch of this stage of life.  Or you might decide you need to be more adventuresome.  The point is that you need to ask yourself and then listen for what you heart tells you.

Life changes on a dime at this point.  That’s not all bad.  To thrive, we need to keep growing to our very last breath.  Starting over (again….and again) is an excellent way to do that.

Ahem…about Your “Stuff”…

Ahem…about Your “Stuff”…

It’s time to admit something important. At some point, someone is going to have to deal with your “stuff”. We don’t seem to be aware of this as we keep adding belongings.  Clutter is just a fact of life, right?

We keep stuff for all kinds of reasons–  “I might need it…”  “It was Grandma’s…” “I might decide to go back into that…”  But the ongoing accumulation of “things” is a slow motion disaster.  A few weeks ago, a woman in Connecticut was killed when the floor of her house collapsed—because of the weight of the stuff she had on it.  They didn’t find her until two days later; the volume was so massive that it looked like the floor was still there when the police checked initially.

That’s an extreme case, but we’re all affected by “stuff.” If you haven’t had to deal with someone else’s after they’ve died, count yourself lucky. If you have, you know what I’m talking about. But here’s the deal. If you can’t face dealing with it, how can someone else—who knows a whole lot less about it–manage to do it after you’re gone?

My family just went through this. Six siblings plus a dear and unflinching sister-in-law hauled load after load out of my youngest brother’s 900-square-foot home for five full days. We got rid of over 100 cubic yards of “stuff.” Don’t naively assume it was just a case of walking it to the dumpster again and again either. Landfills have rules these days. You must dispose of electronics, assorted batteries, fluorescent light bulbs, oil-based paint, other hazardous materials, etc. in very specific ways—or face a fine. There’s a whole different routine for latex paint. Plus, if those doing the disposing have half a conscience about environmental stewardship, there will be trips to the local food bank, Goodwill or a similar second-hand store, and perhaps the local Habitat for Humanity ReStore to donate appropriate “stuff.” And there will be lots of trips to the recycle center.

Accumulated “stuff” is not the benign, minor flaw we want to believe it is. Letting stuff you don’t need, don’t use, and don’t care about pile up leaves less space, resources, and time for what could bring you joy now. Holding onto too many things from the past means you don’t have faith in the present–or the future. It’s also a waste of money if you’re insuring, maintaining, paying for space to keep, and otherwise lavishing resources on all that “stuff.”

My loved one didn’t set out to leave a huge mess for the rest of us to clean up. He felt he needed everything he acquired. That’s how we usually amass stuff…a teeny bit at a time, time after time. But “stuff” doesn’t go away on its own. Somebody is going to have to deal with it eventually.

All six of us siblings came home vowing “I’m not going to do that to anybody!” so I’ve been thinking a lot about what I can do make getting rid of my “stuff” less of a burden when I depart. Everyone’s list will be unique, but here’s what I’ve come up with so far:
1. Clean out the file drawers! Going through files is huge time sink for next of kin, and I can find most of what I’m keeping online if I do need it.
2. Make sure my kids really want what I’m keeping for them.
3. Whenever I learn someone needs what I’ve discovered I have (and don’t need), give it to them.
4. Mark the contents of boxes I do keep. Include a “Get rid of after ___” date to avoid going through boxes again myself when I can.
5. Donate to the food bank from my pantry. (This gets food I bought for a unique reason and then didn’t use onto someone’s plate rather than sitting on my pantry shelf until it expires.)
6. Dispose of the old paint immediately when I repaint. (But do keep the new paint for repairs.)
7. Be honest with stuff I get as gifts. If I’m not going to use it, return it, donate it, or regift it.
8. Remove anything I haven’t worn in the last year from my closet. Donate what I’m willing to part with. Put the rest in a separate stack. If I don’t wear it in another 12 months, donate it then.
9. Go through my bookshelves quarterly. Pass on anything I don’t expect to read again.
10. Leave notes for my loved ones about what’s what and how to get rid of it.

I want to do this right. From what I’ve seen lately, it’s a really good way to say “I love you.”


Beginnings Are Messy

Beginnings Are Messy

The farther you move through life, the more tempting it is to want to have everything under control.  Bad plan.  That strategy is a nice straight road to boredom.  Being a beginner until the day you die is an important piece of creating a good life.  And beginnings are not controlled situations.  Beginnings are messy.

When you move, things are total chaos for a while.  When you start an art project, everything you might need gets hauled out of drawers and closets.  To renovate your yard, you usually create a mud bog at some point in the process.

To make something better, most often, you need to make a total mess of what you already have.

And that’s okay.

In fact, it may be an essential piece of appreciating what you have once you’ve completed the change.  My mom’s yearly version of this process was the family camping trip.  Dad was great about getting everything needed by a family of nine packed in–and on–the car, getting us there, getting the tent set up, etc.  He was really good at making order of the inevitable chaos.

Mom, however, was better at appreciating the chaos.  “Going camping” was our vacation and that meant new adventures for us kids and the chance to break from the routine for our parents.  But “going camping” also made us all appreciate that routine when we got home and had everything put away.

The disruption and confusion of going in a new direction can be unnerving–and almost always is when you change anything significant.  But that doesn’t mean you don’t do it.  It’s just wise to realize what you’re getting into.

Beginnings involve going in the wrong direction.  When  you start something new, even if you have a full set of instructions (which most things in life don’t have), you make mistakes because the whole idea is new and a challenge to grasp.  Mistakes are every bit as much a part of getting things to go the way you want as the things you get right the first time.  Wrong turns help define the context of what you’re doing and help make it work well.  They’re most valuable if you use them–figure out what they’ve taught you and then move past them.  But if you can’t get that far about what went wrong, at least relax about the fact that they happen.  When you start something new, there are going to be mistakes.  Sometimes lots of them.

Beginnings usually involve a few restarts.  Thinking that it’s going to be smooth sailing from the get-go just invites frustration.  Redirects are inevitable. Sometimes, you don’t even know where you are trying to go when you start out.   And when you need to change course, you often need to just plain stop before you do so.  So if the project doesn’t keep going at a steady pace, don’t be surprised.  And for heaven’s sake don’t get all torqued about it.  Starting something new takes courage.  Finishing something new takes patience and tolerance–for clutter, confusion, and starting again….and sometimes again and again.

Beginnings often don’t look like beginnings.  Starting in a new direction is often disguised as something old ending.  This probably makes the messiness of a beginning even harder to endure.  When what you had worked for  you and was not something you wanted to change, it’s very hard to get on with the messiness of starting over.  That old reliable version of life was…well…yours, whether it was with a mate who died–or left, a job you lost, or health you took for granted. Pining for what was makes getting on with what’s next a lot more difficult.  Letting go of what you don’t have any more and stepping into the chaos of a new start is the only way to get on with your life.

Know that the disruption is essential and temporary. It’s easy to begin to feel like the turmoil is never going to go away, but that’s not what’s going on.  Psychologically, being able to predict what’s going to happen is as calming as being able to control it.   Reminding yourself that there’s an end point to the chaos gives you that predictability.

Beginnings are essential.   Beginnings can be intimidating simply because of the disorder and confusion they engender.  Begin anyway.  Having a good life is not a matter of having everything under control.  You need to keep your world expanding and to do that, you have to begin something new.  Again and again and again.


Kindness: The Low Cost Miracle Cure

Kindness: The Low Cost Miracle Cure

Try a little kindness when things aren’t going well. It’s amazing what you can get back on track with just a little dose—as the giver rather than the receiver.

For some reason, kindness tends to take a back seat when difficulties mount and that’s too bad.  That’s when we need to use it most—and I do mean give it not get it.  (Though being on the receiving end is nice….)

Being kind is not a matter of having money to throw around.  It’s more a case of noticing what you can give—a smile, a nod of recognition, your place in line if you really aren’t in a hurry.  Kindness is a simple, effective way to connect with the rest of the world.  And that, quite often, is what we need, even if the pain comes in different packaging—like a frustrating job search, bad news from the doctor, or mean-spiritedness from someone in your life.

One of my best experiences with the magic of simple kindness was in Scotland almost two decades ago.  I went out for a walk one morning in Edinburgh and passed a white-haired man also out for a morning walk.  I smiled at him.  Then came the magic.  I didn’t just get a simple smile in return.  The man’s whole face lit up with appreciation at being acknowledged as a fellow human.  Him showing me that moment of happiness made me delightfully happy.  All in literally seconds, with just the use of a few facial muscles.

That’s the biggest deal about kindness.  It’s not something you “do for someone else.”  Yes, your effort is usually extended toward someone else, but the benefits go both ways.  I smile again every time I think of that man’s reaction.  I feel good about being human and being alive again and again because of that one experience—where I made the easy effort to connect by smiling at him.

This isn’t just something to do in large, sophisticated foreign cities on morning walks.  Opportunities for little acts of kindness abound for all of us every day.  Pulling the neighbor’s garbage can out of the road when it blew there.  Trying to keep your car as far as you can from the cyclist you’re passing on a city street.   Letting mistakes go unmentioned when noting them is not going to improve the outcome.

So much of our energy these days seems to be focused on making sure other people know there’s something wrong with them.  Congress for sure.  But even with friends.  A dear woman I’ve been hiking with for over five years told me Sunday that my feet turn too far out when I walk.  What was the point of that observation?  (They’ve been this way for 65 years, and I walk fine unless I try to turn them in the way hers go.)

What would happen if we started an epidemic of kindness?  I’m not talking about huge acts of generosity like funding schools or building hospitals in Somalia.  If each of us decided to do five small acts of kindness everyday, my how things would change!

In part, we’d all feel better about ourselves, I suspect.  Most of those “this is wrong with you” comments stem from I-don’t-feel-so-good-about-myself thoughts.  Rather than trying to build yourself up by knocking someone else, do something kind.  It doesn’t even have to be for that person.  The resulting sense of peace alone is worth the effort.  Plus that other person might then be motivated to do some other kindness.

Kindness affects the receiver but defines the giver:  “I am well enough off that I can be kind.”  That sense of abundance doesn’t flow from the size of your investment account.  It comes from the strength of your character.  We can all be rich enough to be kind.  We just have to choose it.  Every day.