Judy and John are great friends of ours. Recently retired, they own a beautiful waterfront house in Maryland, a small condo in Florida where they “winter,” and a sailboat just large enough for the occasional cruise down to the Bahamas.
They are kind and generous people, who lead a very rewarding and enviable life. But what struck my wife and I when we visited them this summer is how remarkably simple it is.
Their home is tastefully but almost sparsely decorated with quality furniture, a few pieces of just-right art, household necessities, and little more. They have no cable TV and no magazines. They buy books (lots of books), read them, and then pass them along to others. And when they decide to take a trip (which they often do), nothing stands in their way. Their children are grown and they have no pets. So they can pack up and leave for a month, on a few hours’ notice.
The simplicity of Judy and John’s lifestyle made a big impression on us. It was even more striking in contrast to what we witnessed at our next stop, the home of two other good friends of ours.
Like Judy and John, Chuck and Laura are kind and generous people — and their children, too, are grown up and living on their own. But there, the similarities end.
Literally thousands of trinkets and knick-knacks overpower their entire South Carolina home. There is “stuff” everywhere. You can’t even sit down without moving a pile of something or other.
The dog seems to have some kind of psychological problem (I believe he thinks his tail is a cat) and requires almost constant attention.
They have five — five! — cars that are shuffled in and out of their narrow driveway on a regular basis, depending on . . . it’s not clear what. There are only two people here, yet some of their vehicles have enough room to accommodate the Von Trapp family.
We brought a “hospitality thank-you gift” for them, but after walking in, we realized that giving it to them would be a cruel joke. The last thing they needed, was one more thing.
The issue came into focus when the trip was over and we were back home.
Looking around our house after being gone for those few weeks made it distressingly clear that we were in danger of creeping into the scary territory we’d just left. We were getting very close to having “stuff” all over.
Back at work on Monday morning, I mentioned it to Michael Masterson.
“I’ve written about this before,” he said. “Your home should reflect who you are, what your values are, and the things that you feel are important in your life. If it doesn’t, neither you nor your guests will feel comfortable in it.”
I looked through the ETR archives and, sure enough, that’s one of the main points he made in Message #835.
Our home was starting to not feel like “us.”
My office was full of computer reference manuals and old entertainment equipment was piled up on shelves and in closets. My magazines were stacked in almost every available space throughout the house. A poster that my wife hated from the day I brought it home was still hanging on the wall (and I wasn’t really crazy about it anymore either).
It’s easy for things to slowly deteriorate — so slowly that you don’t even notice it at first. The toll it takes is subtle but very real.
You begin spending time shuffling things around instead of engaged in productive activities. You start buying extra things because you can’t find the originals. (“I know it’s buried here somewhere.”) At some point, you get so overwhelmed it’s tempting to just give up trying. You feel that you’ll never get out from underneath all the mess.
You don’t have to live that way.
About a month ago, my wife and I decided that something needed to change, because we didn’t want to live that way. We came up with a plan and have already started fixing the problem.
On Monday, I’ll tell you how we did it, and how I got a very nice “personal bonus” out of it to boot!