I started working as a health care aide over a year ago now. I began my career at an assisted living complex where I went into people’s “homes” (rooms) and helped them get up, get ready and get on with their days. This particular establishment doesn’t insist on standardized beds, but allows people to bring in their own furniture. Though some have rooms that scream “recently purchased” at Bed, Bath and Benign, most of the contents have aged right along with their occupants. It’s not just their furniture, but their pictures, knickknacks, linens, and clothing, pretty much everything connected to them.
Most seniors are on fixed incomes and can only afford the essentials. They come from a different time when money and things were scarce. People took care of their possessions, expecting them to last and one did not discard something because it was old, if it was still functional. Some seniors may have the dough and the desire for new things, but simply can’t do the physical work of walking, wading through the overwhelming landslide of products, comparing designs, colors, features and prices, purchasing and carting it all home, nor do they have relatives who have the time or willingness to help them. Some have very few possessions and, with the small space they come to inhabit, this may be a good thing.
I found myself being drawn to the rooms which looked decidedly worn out, probably because I felt comfortable in them. Growing up, we always had what we needed, but we never knew fancy. My brother and I used to laugh about the legless couch in the basement floating on telephone books. My husband and I are still using the dining room table I grew up with that’s as old as my parent’s marriage (55 years). My daughter has the dresser with the crooked, orange crayon line scribbled down the middle of one of the drawers, where my sister tried to mark her territory. We are well into our 23rd year of marriage and, yes, we are carrying on the tradition of using what we have until it croaks. Our expensive stoneware plates are looking so shabby I’m considering using my China every day. The brass bed I bought as a single gal is green with tarnish and loses a bolt every time we move. Our things, the things that we like to look at, the things that make us feel good and comfortable, the things that save us time and do the work we don’t want to do, are aging.
Things get dusty, soiled, stained, smelly, faded, wrinkled, weathered, ripped, chipped, cracked, and broken. Hopefully, we exhaust them and then replace them but, it seems, this is not the case in our culture. We were camping with friends and I was sorting through our mismatched ancient silverware at mealtime. One of them commented that we could get a nice matched set at a good price at Canadian Tire. Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that things have to look nice and match to be useful. Every piece of that old silverware does exactly what it was designed to do, but the odd patterns are too disconcerting and so, for the good of all, they must be buried deep beneath the earth’s crust where no one will have the misfortune of laying eyes on them again. I pretended not to hear the suggestion, but wish now I would have told them to, “Look away, if it bothers you.” How flippantly do we run off to the store when something doesn’t look right anymore, when it’s no longer new, shiny, or trendy? How many people die of starvation every day while we feed our incessant hunger for more by purchasing the latest gizmo with one hand and using the other to toss the “still functioning” loser in the ever-growing gizmo pile?
Of course, when you have a budget this is not as much of an option. You have to wring the life out of your things. I was serving dinner a couple of years ago and the handle of my crock pot broke off as I was setting it down, spilling its hot contents across the table. It was delicious, by the way. I’ve continued to use it. The knob that regulates the temperature recently cracked in half and fell off, but it still works. Maybe it’s become a hazard, but I can’t see parting with it when the meals keep coming. We throw so much away, I fear there will not be space enough on this good green earth to hold it all and, I can’t help but think, that the edition of our wasteful garbage to our soil, however carefully handled, will come to adversely affect our health in the future.
I credit my sister and a couple of friends for turning me on to the merits of the thrift store. There was a time in my life when I wouldn’t have thought of buying someone else’s castoffs, essentially their trash. Now, if I need something, it’s the first place I go and my children often join me. I do have one rule; secondhand unmentionables are forbidden, for obvious reasons you don’t want me to mention here. Otherwise, you can find all manner of things and you’d be amazed at what other people deem unworthy. You pay a fraction of the original ticket price and you heroically save and extend the life of something that wasn’t near ready for the dump. I always wash everything when I get it home and I enjoy it just as much as anything I’ve purchased new from a mall, if not more, because I’m doing my part to keep the earth healthy and I’m using my resources wisely.
I read a book on dream fulfillment once. The author recommended we gather pictures of all the things we wanted in life, compile them and then regularly review them or dream them, conjuring up what it might feel like to have the things we desire. The author led me to believe if I did this, my dreams would come true. Who of us that has ever watched a Disney movie doesn’t want their dreams to come true? I chose a hot pink binder with a snake-skin pattern and spent days poring over magazines, painstakingly cutting out the things I wanted in life. I cringe when I think of how shallow my choices were. Of course, the first couple of pages were about knowing God and his word and serving him and having a happy marriage and family life, but many pages after that were about indulging myself with things, the house with the porch, the closet full of expensive clothing, the vacations at world-class destinations. Somewhere along the way, I stopped looking at that binder. After this last move, I was unpacking a box and there it was. I leafed through it again and instinctively began tearing out all the pages, but the first one. I have stuff and could do with less. What I need, want, and long for is God. When I surrender, submit and abide in Him, dwelling in a place of gratitude, there is richness to my life that cannot be measured. When I take my focus off of Him and place it on something I believe I’m lacking or when I begin to compare my things to those of others, it’s amazing how quickly I become miserable and dissatisfied. Yes, I will be the old lady with the threadbare clothes, the worn furniture and the dated decor, but Jesus has promised, if I give myself to him, that he will make me new and there’s nothing on earth I want more.
Authors Note: This was written a number of years ago. The bed is retired and the dining room table is being used as a desk. We’ve thankfully received other hand-me-downs to replace them. I used the crock pot this morning. 🙂
Complete the experience. Listen to Scott Wesley Brown’s Things.