The Second Half: What have you got to lose?

By Kathleen D. Tresemer

In my Second Half, I have an unending urge to SIMPLIFY. This is not just a reference to my “stuff,” but to every area of my life: physical, emotional, social, spiritual. Seems like this “urge to simplify” is universal in our Second Half—having spent the first half of life acquiring stuff, we now long to be unencumbered.

I find I have boxes of odds and ends in my closets and attic, things I once thought I should keep for some reason. “Am I just too sentimental?” I asked Second Half pal, Pat. “I have good intentions, but I can’t seem to get rid of this stuff…I might need it someday.”

“I get up every day with that idea—cleaning out and simplifying—but then I get so busy,” Pat shares. “I do admit, however, that I can always find something else I’d rather do!”

While we contemplated our psychological roadblocks, I wandered over to one of my favorite Web sites, the Zen Habits blog at Created by writer Leo Babauta, “Zen Habits features three powerful articles a week on: simplicity, health & fitness, motivation and inspiration, frugality, family life, happiness, goals, getting great things done, and living in the moment.”

I found something Babauta calls the “100 Things Challenge” dedicated to helping people reduce their personal belongings to 100 items or fewer. Here are his minimal rules for the challenge:

→ Only personal things, things that belong only to me. Doesn’t include household furniture, dishes, cleaning supplies, or other shared items such as our family digital camera and the TV.

→ Books aren’t counted.

→ I can get new things, but will try to keep them under 100 things.

OK, I can’t even begin to figure out how many personal items I have, let alone take the time to count them. “I guess that means you have too many,” that wise-annoying voice in my head tells me.

Simplifying is not such a difficult project when I’m doing it for someone else. For a special birthday present one year, I enlisted the help of son Joe—we completely cleaned and reorganized Hubby’s garage while he was gone for a long weekend. I swear to you, he never missed the truckload of stuff we disposed of during that marathon effort.

“I need help!” I cry. “Clearing away the debris of my past is too big of a job for one person!” As with the garage project, my son is willing to help—in theory. Trying to find a time when he can come over to perform such a crappy job is the next hurdle, sort of like asking, “When would you like to come over and have your eyeballs gouged out?”

I recall a scene from my young adulthood: Mom invited us all over for a lovely dinner. As we left, she handed us each boxes of our childhood crap, saying with great enthusiasm for the gift she was passing on: “I found all this stuff of yours in the attic! Take it with you and enjoy it.” Having raised nine kids, Mom was a Master Simplifier!

I find my own indecisiveness regarding my stuff comparable to Steve Martin in the movie, The Jerk…remember this?

“And I don’t need any of this! I don’t need this stuff, (he pushes all of the letters off the desk), and I don’t need you. I don’t need anything except this (he picks up an ashtray) and that’s it, and that’s the only thing I need, is this. I don’t need this or this. Just this ashtray. And this paddle game (picks it up), the ashtray and the paddle game, and that’s all I need. And this remote control. The ashtray, the paddle game and the remote control, and that’s all I need. And these matches. The ashtray, and these matches, and the remote control and the paddle ball. And this lamp. The ashtray, this paddle game and the remote control and the lamp, and that’s all I need. And that’s all I need, too. I don’t need one other thing, not one—(sees something) I need this! The paddle game, and the chair, and the remote control, and the matches, for sure. Well, what are you looking at? What do you think I am, some kind of a jerk or something? And this! And that’s all I need. The ashtray, the remote control, the paddle game, this magazine and the chair. And I don’t need one other thing except my dog. (Shithead, the dog, growls) Well, I don’t need my dog.”

(The Jerk written by Steve Martin, Carl Gottlieb, & Michael Elias; this excerpt found at )

OK, maybe I’m not so bad after all! Here’s my LOSE IT list:

1. Weight—I am eating more fresh, less processed food; I am spending more time in physical exercise, losing one hour each day previously spent sitting on my butt.

2. Activities—Like any good workaholic, I have a tendency to over-extend; I will lose activities that start with “I should …”

3. People—I am losing the need to please, only attending social events that make me say, “I can’t wait to see/go to…”

4. Stuff—I am losing stuff one small space at a time (i.e., a drawer, a tabletop, a shelf); for this, I will enlist the aid of someone unattached to my stuff.

My new mantra: “And that’s all I need!”

Take a look around, readers…what have you got to lose?

In her second half of life, Kathleen D. Tresemer is both a journalist and an award-winning fiction writer. She lives with her husband on a small ranch in rural Shirland, Ill. Kathleen can be contacted by e-mail at

From the June 16-22, 2010 issue

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