Wisdom Gap


In this case, time really is money.

Urgency Day 23

500 Things Items 469-77: Gold Jewelry

  • History: Sundry items of assorted provenance
  • Value: INTRINSIC!
  • Parting pain: Gold is at a historic high, so parting is the opposite of painful!
  • Un-possessing: Our local reputable dealer

Sam was taught the Golden Rule early.

But with only 22 days to go before Launch Day, I’m starting to realize there are a few lessons of intrinsic and extrinsic value I will not have time to teach Sam before he leaves for college.

Sure, I think we’ve done an admirable job in several crucial areas:

  • Because he knows to take the popcorn out of the plastic wrapper before nuking, he won’t burn down the dorm.
  • Because he knows how to separate lights from darks, he won’t turn all his clothes pink.
  • Because he can work and play well with others, he won’t become the dorm hermit.
  • Because he knows about predatory lending practices, he won’t graduate with future-crushing debt.

Not a bad list for anyone.

Plus, he can do a lot of things I can’t: Tune a guitar, for example, and at this point, ANY algebra. So maybe the few things I’m ruing say more about my regrets rather than reveal a wisdom gap in Sam. Probably.

And probably the things he will wish he knew are things that aren’t even on my radar.

The third week Sam was in Kindergarten, Paul and I went to our very first Back to School night. We were eager young parents delighted to sit in our tiny assigned chairs, marvel at the vivid surroundings, and beam at every class chart that held a laminated index card with Sam D. printed on it. We were thrilled to anticipate all the knowledge our five-year old would gain that wondrous first year of his formal education.

We did not anticipate being sharply reprimanded by his teacher, Mrs. K., who said she was

shocked  that not one of these children can cut along the lines!”

Paul and I leaned into each other and whispered, “Isn’t that what they’re supposed to learn in Kindergarten?”

I will keep that Kindergarten Back to School Night in mind as Sam departs for college. Lessons will fall on both sides of the ledger: learned and not yet learned; expected and lacking. Some skills he will proudly display and share; some he will acquire for the first time. And he will be just fine.

Really my regrets aren’t about running out of time to teach Sam skills or share lessons.

My regret is simply running out of time.

Follow up to the last post Fraud Alert (but not to the Correction to Fraud Alert):

In an effort to minimize as much as possible the hypocrisy gap between my downsizing efforts and our college shopping frenzy, I will try to downsize a similar item for each of the ones we need to purchase. So for example, if we need to purchase extra-long bed sheets, I will downsize a regular set of sheets; if we need to purchase shower flip-flops, I will downsize a pair of sandals. This will be in addition to the existing project, but at this point, I don’t intend to document it. Just know it is going on. Thanks for your understanding.


Riches to Rags


left-leaning wear

Urgency Day 66

500 Things Items 421-22: Two Men’s Shirts

  • History: Years ago, there was a Christmas when everyone gave Paul shirts from Eddie Bauer
  • Value: Many many years of reliable, wrinkle-free service
  • Parting Pain: Yes, a little, for the nice fabric
  • Un-possessing: They’ll probably go from “riches” to rags. It’s a theme.

One of the joys of my downsizing project has been discovering the merits of good old American thrift–

— and by American, I mean anyone-anywhere’s grandparents. My maternal grandmother was Powhatan-enough­­­, as we like to say. She could and did:

  • Sew, crochet and knit
  • Can, pickle and preserve
  • Clean fish and pick steamed blue crabs to a fare-thee-well
  • Start and run two successful small businesses
  • Squeeze a penny until it screamed

And, darn her, she didn’t live nearly long enough to teach me this stuff. Of all her skills, I’m working hardest on the penny-minding. I’ve been able to pick a blue crab clean for years, but at current market prices, doing this would negate many many of my pennies. Many.

Part of minding pennies is recognizing that we already have enough stuff. More than enough stuff. So when something wears out, we don’t necessarily replace it.  A few things, yes we do, but many things, there is simply no real need. I’ve written about several items that challenge need-to-replace expectations:

Exhibit A: My toaster broke and was not replaced. I continue to use the oven broiler.

Exhibit B: My blender was breaking; it could have been fixed, but I was unexpectedly given a new one– which I kept.

Now these examples may be a matter of personal tastes: I don’t mind broiling and I don’t mind gifts. But here is my take-away: I didn’t rush right out and replace either of these failing items. My family found another way to carry on toasting and blending.

Not personal enough for you, how about clothes? What if I suggested not shopping for clothes for around 2 years? And yes, “clothes” includes shoes.

It just got personal, right?

In the last approximately two years—a time span which includes the expected downsizing (Sam’s departure for college) and the un-expected downsizing (Paul’s departure from corporate America)—I have purchased 2 new scarves and a couple of tee shirts. That’s it. Didn’t buy a new frock for my niece’s wedding; haven’t even gone the dreaded-bra shopping. I’ve just made do. We’ve just made do, Paul and I, that is– Sam’s a growing boy.

And yet we’ve managed to look presentable each and every day, by wearing what we’ve already got in our closets.

Last week when Paul pointed out the holes in the elbows of the two dress shirts I’m downsizing today, I was actually sad. I love these shirts. I love the material– the nice crisp cotton broadcloth– and I love that they didn’t need ironing: Thank you Eddie Bauer wrinkle-resistant fabrics. But mostly, I love these shirts because they perfectly set off my sweetheart’s eyes. He has the nicest blue eyes.

He also has—and he will confirm this—enough shirts; these two won’t be replaced. How many is enough? Ask your grandmother. It’s almost certainly fewer than you already have.

But now, I do think it’s time for something new.

It’s time I learned to sew.

House Keeping


not keeping

Urgency Day 100

500 Things Item 400:  Sponge Mop

  • History: From another era
  • Value: Mine never fully wrings out and gets icky
  • Parting Pain: I really only use Swiffers, so no
  • Un-possessing: Free-cycle (i.e. out next to the garbage)

People expect empty shelves.

Since starting this project 400 days ago, I’ve gotten rid of 400 things from our home. More, really. So, when people come to our house, they truly expect to see empty shelves, bare walls, closed off rooms.

And you know what they find?

Full shelves, decorated walls, open doors.

The most dramatic realization in this project is that more than 400 things can lift right out of a home, and no one will notice. And I don’t mean 400 Lego pieces:

  • 41 Kitchen items
  • 58 Decorative items
  • 54 Items of clothing
  • 21 Wardrobe accessories
  • 35 DVDs, CDs and tapes
  • 4 Pieces of furniture
  • 8 Electronics
  • 43 (+ one trunk load) Toys and games
  • 28 Household items such as tools
  • 1 Christmas Wreath
  • 1 Box of Mouse Memorabilia
  • 186 Books

480 items, right there. Over 20% more stuff than planned: That’s a lot of wiggle room– and even that’s not completely accurate. I often underreported whole categories of items. Take clothing. A bag bulging with clothing to be donated would add just a couple of ticks to the Project counter. And books! One day I counted 127 books as a mere 4 items!

The idea was to stay on track, one thing a day for 500 days. If some days more downsizing was accomplished, well, this is one case where I will admit more is better. Only one, though.

So here we are: The last 100 days of my 500 days of highly monitored downsizing. And friends of this Project are aware that #500 will be a doozy. But I’ve known it from the start; it’s part and parcel of the entire endeavor. I knew I would be launching Sam at the end. Launching is necessary and exciting and heartbreaking and wonderful.  In terms of your child, launching sounds a whole lot better than downsizing.

What I did not know for a very long time during this process, was whether Paul and I would also need to downsize another very significant thing in our lives, at the same time we were launching our son.

For a very long time, we thought we would also need to sell our house.

Now “need” is an interesting word. On paper, we probably do still need to sell our house. But we can’t, not now. Right now, very few people can.

So we are keeping the house. We are profoundly grateful that this is even an option, grateful to every person who helped and prayed and employed and loved us to this point. We’re digging deep and digging in. We’re keeping the house, and launching the child.

Launching #500

in 100 days.



tapes delayed

Urgency Day 200

500 Things Item 285: Harry Potter 5 Tapes

  • History: Tapes, yes tapes, of our most beloved series
  • Value: Countless hours of pleasure, but tapes deteriorate…
  • Parting Pain: …And these particular tapes are haunted
  • Un possessing: Free-cycle

Proust had the smell of madeleines;  I have the sound of Jim Dale’s voice.

It’s apparent by the Urgency number: Today is a milestone. We have 200 days left of this version of Life with the Self-Contained Unit.

It is conventional wisdom isn’t it, that once you go off to college, home is never quite the same. Where is Home? Is it the place your parents live, where you slept and ate, played and dreamed, loved and cried until you left one wrenching August day? Or is it the place you went to? The new place where you slept and ate, played and dreamed, loved and cried and maybe studied a little, with hundreds of other scared kids some of whom became your new tribe, your new family, in your new home.

Two hundred days.

That’s the apparent milestone. Another one arrived this morning as well. After 455 days, we took our lives off pause.

This morning, Paul went out the door to a job. It happens every day in other houses– though not nearly enough houses—but it hadn’t happened in our house for 455 days. Four hundred fifty-five days ago, Paul came home from work early; came into our kitchen while I was having lunch, doing some paper work and listening to the soundtrack of our lives, the Harry Potter books-on-tape. It was Order of the Phoenix, not my favorite, and still near the beginning of the story. Hearing the garage door open so early, I knew something was wrong. Sickness leapt to mind first, but somehow I knew: No, not sickness. I pressed the pause button on the tape player.

Our lives have been on pause for almost 15 months. Of course, even in unemployment, Life goes on. We slept, ate, played, dreamed, loved and cried, more and less, but blessedly– though for not nearly enough people– still in the same house.

And it was in this same house, the same kitchen, where this morning I recreated the beginning of the pause so that I could literally experience taking our Life off of pause. After Paul drove off, after the garage door shut and the house was very quiet, I replaced the tape, left exactly where I had paused it 15 months ago, and let Jim Dale complete his sentence:

“The scrupulously clean kitchen had an oddly unreal glitter after the darkness outside.”

Sometimes, closure is real.

#500 Turns 18


Of all the fictional characters the Self-Contained Unit has been identified with…

Peter Pan

Capts. Hook & Sparrow

Link (from Zelda; trust me)


Harry Potter

McPokeman (inclusive mascot for the new millennium)

Aladdin (Jr., for legal purposes)

and Prince Ali (Jr. op cit)

…my favorite one has to be

Sam. That Sam I am.

Thank you, Donna– she brought the Dr. Suess classic to the hospital the day Sam was born, 18 years ago today.

I am Sam.

That Sam, I am.

mischief managed

Thank you, Paul.

Thank you, village.

Thank you, Sam. My darling, Sam.

run, jump, leap, fall, roll: repeat

Urgency Day 224

500 Things Item #277: Children’s Shoes

  • History: 2 years worth for one four-year old
  • Value: Hundreds of dollars and now priceless
  • Parting Pain: No pain, in fact joy
  • Un-possessing: Donations

I get the shoe-thing. I really do.

Is it because I’m a girl? I don’t think so, not necessarily. My sweetie, the Eagle Scout, likes his shoes. In some ways, his collection is less noticeable than mine: They’re all brown, black or gym-shoe gray, and they are all flat flat flat. On the other foot, they are, well, enormous. Size 12-13 enormous. Like, we have to factor in additional luggage for his shoes when we travel, enormous.

At least he’s indifferent when I pack an extra pair of sandals and/or wedges and/or fabulous knee-high boots. They all fit inside his size 13’s.

And shoe people tend to pass along the genetic trait for collecting. The pile of shoes pictured though? Doesn’t come from the Self-Contained Unit. His feet resemble his father’s, and haven’t fit in Spiderman Velcro snow boots for a long time.

The pile of little boy shoes, 24 for those keeping score, comes from a friend, a single-mom who’s been through some really tough times with her little guy. She loves to buy her shoes; she loves to buy his shoes. And she’s starting to connect the dots between buying too many shoes and not having enough money. And how many pairs of shoes does a four year old need to jump like Spiderman and learn like a sponge.

Not 24 pairs but at least one. Not all our kids have even one.

We are fortunate to live in a community of problem-solvers. I am sure we in Naperville are not unique in this; I’m sure your community has these angels, too—people who don’t just notice a problem or wring their hands over a rotten situation. People who kill the problem: kill it with kindness and tenacity and stubbornness, and a lot of laughing through the tears and frustration. People who don’t want you to notice them and their good hearts, but just their good causes.

Okay, so don’t notice Naperville moms Dr. Phyllis Parise and Cherish Thompson; just notice their mission,

Jolly Old Soles.

Jolly Old Soles, LLC was created by two working mothers who wanted to make a difference and Pay It Forward. Our mission is to collect and house new and used shoes donated via the generosity of our community and distribute them to those in need.

Pay it forward to those in need. My friend, the single-mom with the 24 pairs of little boy shoes, is paying it forward. So what’s the next step for these donated shoes?

You may have noticed a link on my Blogroll, and I mention it from time to time: Families Helping Families, the Naperville charity started by Vicky Joseph. FHF helps guide formerly homeless families into self-sufficiency. The bedrock, the non-negotiable cornerstone of FHF is the absolute primacy of education: staying in school, keeping kids in school, completing degrees, acquiring more training. This is the most significant way FHF improves lives. Jolly Old Soles donates shoes to FHF families.

So what’s the next step for some of these donated shoes? Through a classroom door.

I know what you’re thinking. This is not my donation, not technically part of my 500 Things. But if I can draw attention to this amazing effort, to the mission of Jolly of Soles through my project, I promise to make  up my downsizing day off to you.

I’ll step up. I hope you will, too.

Jolly Old Soles www.jollyoldsoles.com

Happy New Year, to one and all!

I’m sending you a quick note about a tiny improvement I’ve made to this site.

Starting today, you can also type in 500thingsproject.com as the blog address and be directed here! So, if you are ever kind enough to share my blogging efforts with others, there’s no more tedious spelling t-h-i-b-e-a-u-l-t.

This is especially appreciated at happy hour. Yippee.

Either address works:

  • sthibeault.wordpress.com

  • 500thingsproject.com

It’s just a convenience for me, you know, in my first step toward Bold New Endeavors.

Why am I hearing one of my favorite animated bits right now?

Pinky:     “Gee, Brain, what do you want to do tonight?”
The Brain: “The same thing we do every night, Pinky—try to take over the world!”

More to come. Thank you so much for your support.

gotta love a genuis who uses a #2

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