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What I Thought I Had to Have

I really will wear other pants again. At least I think I will. And yet, despite this lofty goal, I’ve actually been fine wearing the same three pairs of black jeans since last March. I wash them regularly, of course, and though they're more worn-looking than they were pre-pandemic, they’re all I need. One of the important lessons I’ve learned since Covid hit is that all of those Sunday afternoon spending sprees at Macy’s were really not necessary—they were just fun. Plus, I have a closet full of clothes to select from should I ever need to put on semi-respectable work clothes and go out into the world. With re-retirement on the horizon, even that scenario seems more distant than it once was.

Like most people during the pandemic, I've thought about so many parts of my life, including what I actually need vs. what I might just want. At the start of the shut-down, for example, I told my gym that I just wanted to freeze my account. I wasn't ready to quit completely. But really? I’ve been running regularly, and lifting my little hand weights irregularly. I can’t imagine that I am ever really going to need to spend money to go back and use their hand weights, am I? Pre-pandemic I believed I needed the gym to stay in shape. Now I think it was an expense I used to convince myself that I had good intentions.

I feel protective now about how many hours I’m willing to invest in something that isn’t dear to my heart.

It’s funny what we determinedly believe we must have in our lives. I think back on bad relationships I’ve fought to keep, cars I’ve spent too much money on because I was convinced my life was better behind their steering wheels, and even jobs I was certain I had to have to feel that my life was complete. This time in which our days have been reduced to so little, relatively speaking, has given me lots of opportunities to look around and think about what actually makes my life good and what is just icing. I get it that a little icing is nice, but I'm realizing that I feel just fine without quite so many extras.

And now, partly as a result of this self-evaluation, I’m embarking soon on a life without the job that I have seen as making me feel whole. Many of us do that with work and relationships, of course, because it’s how we connect with all of the parts of ourselves. But I’m actually looking forward to exploring a little to see what else sparks my eye and my heart. These days I’m seeing retirement as the ultimate closet cleaning—holding on to the parts of being out in the world that bring me joy. I’m still struck by this confluence of pandemic smallness and restructuring my life for the next iteration. I will remember this is as the year that things got simpler.

Rarely in my nearly 70 years on earth has there been this kind of “forced” opportunity to take a close look at what I really need in my life, and what is simply there for some reason that was once valid but has now lost its meaning. Throughout this unconscious spring cleaning, I've thought it might be good to do it intentionally more often—take a look at what's still working and what I can live without. Having lived a long time without a routine evaluation of the parts of my life has left me with lots I don’t use, don’t need and don’t really want. It makes me think how unconsciously I’ve brought things into my world over the years and how rarely I've utilized the power of occasional simplifying.

Getting older probably prompts this kind of thinking anyway, because time feels so precious when there is so much less of it. I feel protective now about how many hours I’m willing to invest in something that isn’t dear to my heart. I have few regrets over how I’ve spent my money or my time—or even the shelf space I’ve devoted to items I’ve rarely used. But I’m hoping this current reflection reminds me going forward that there are very few things I really, really need. Most of what I need I have—in my village of people and right here inside of me. It’s been lovely to remember that, and to appreciate it in a more long-lasting way than I have before.


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