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What a Nursing Home Visit Taught Me About Minimalism

Ever have one of those moments when you can almost envision what your life will look like in thirty, forty years?  For me, I have always been fearful about aging and death.  I think for most people there is a sort of sadness when we acknowledge the fact that our time here on Earth is limited.  Nothing makes that fact more evident that a trip to a nursing home.  That’s why I try to avoid them – you might too.

What a Visit to a Nursing Home Taught Me about Minimalism

Recently our church asked families to visit nursing homes to deliver Easter cards and gifts.  Always the one to raise my hand, I signed-up my eight-year old son, Lucas, and myself for a one hour time slot.  As the day drew closer, I became more and more dreadful. What would we say?  What would happen?  Would it be uncomfortable?  Questions swirled but there was no way to get out of it.  I really didn’t want to go but I wanted to give Lucas an opportunity to serve others.  What I didn’t realize is that a trip to a nursing home would also be another step in my minimalism journey.

Knocking on My Future

The afternoon had finally arrived to make our visits.  We only had four rooms on our list but I was racked with nerves. Of course, Lucas was excited.  I admire how eager children are to enter into new, unknown adventures.  Maybe its their naiveness but maybe it’s also their pure love for others still unjaded by life experiences. We knocked on a couple apartment-style rooms.  One couple was home but were taking some afternoon leisure naps.  We let them continue their day.  Another door knock received no response so we left our card and gift outside.  The third door finally yielded an opportunity to sit down and talk with someone.  A gentleman named Dave.

Meeting Dave

Lucas and I walked into Dave’s apartment after his welcomed response.  He was a hard of hearing so I talked to him in various noise levels until I found the right loudness.  Lucas was probably clueless about the fact.  Dave offered for us to sit and we obliged.  He mentioned that someone said people would be visiting him today and he was waiting around to see who it was.  That made me instantly grateful that I didn’t chicken out on our visit.  Lucas, Dave and I sat and chatted about the basic things in life: hobbies, family, plans for Easter, how long we lived in the area all while Fox News played in the background.  It’s funny how you remember little details like that.

What Dave Taught Me About What Matters

What we also learned about Dave was that he was once a Vice President of a very well-known company in the area.  I thought to myself “Wow, this guy must have been one heck of a businessman”.  He probably made a very good income.  He probably had a great home and could buy whatever he wanted.  His home could have been filled with furniture and his garage storing a sweet ride.  Now I don’t know if Dave actually had these things but I could envision the life of a vice president and all the potential it had.

I than took another glance around Dave’s apartment.  Dave didn’t have luxury furniture for us to sit on.  He graciously pulled up a comfy office chair for me.  Dave didn’t have awards on the walls from his past work.  He hung pictures of his late wife and times spent fishing with his sons.  And I was pretty sure he didn’t have a convertible waiting for him outside.  Whatever his past life was, whatever money and prestige he had in his younger years didn’t matter.  I realized that when we come to the end of our life, all the things we collect and work so hard to get simply don’t matter.  We are only left with ourselves, our family, our memories and the kindness of strangers to spend some time in good conversation.

Reflections of My Own Desires

Wow, what a revelation…. stuff just doesn’t matter.  When I turn ninety (which I would be blessed to be able to do),  I won’t care about those expensive bookcases I saved and saved for.  The time I spent building my writing career won’t matter as much as the time I spent with my children.  And I am 100% positive the type of minivan I drive now will be more than a distant memory.  I recently moved.  This has brought upon a lot of feelings of desire.  Wanting to buy some new furniture to make it beautiful.  An urgency to get the walls painted and flowers planted.  To get that modern farmhouse look I so want (yes, modern farmhouse is a “thing”).

But visiting with Dave made me realize that while these feelings are natural, I shouldn’t let them rule my day, consume my thoughts.  It would be foolish for me to spend every waking minute working on this home and growing my business.  I would miss the opportunities to chase my children around in the yard.  I would forget to enjoy the promise of springtime.  I would let the moments that matter pass me by.

My Minimalism Why?

I often think about why I choose minimalism as a life philosophy.  This day I realized that Dave was my “why”.  Minimalism to me is about what you choose to value.  What you place importance on in your life.  This world tells us to value what degree we have, what spring break trip we took our kids on, what neighborhood we live in, what clothes we wear.  I choose to value how I treat others, my faith and spirituality, my investment in creating kind little humans, my relationship with my husband, the impact I make on my community. When I am old and fragile and sitting in a nursing home, I want to be able to smile at my surroundings with a grateful heart.  I want to have photos of my family hanging on the wall.  I want a scrapbook filled with days well spent.  I want stories of the people I’ve met, the places I visited, the life lessons I’ve learned.   And I want a simple, comfy chair I can pull up for when a nice stranger comes to visit me.

*Out of respect for others, the names in this post have been changed.



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