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I washed my own car today.

I was raised to wash my own car, children of parents who were still awed that they even owned a car. But somewhere along the way between kids in team sports, homework at the kitchen table, weekends at Scout camp .... and two hours of commuting, I was seduced by the carwash. It was only $1.99 with a fill-up back then. Plus tax of course. It was the best $1.99 I spent each week. Made me feel like I had live-in help, it did. The suburban Mom’s answer to the “spa”, blissed out by those floppy rags slopping back and forth over the old Honda.

So today I washed my own car. It wasn’t just that the price of all that luxury has now risen to $4.99 plus fill-up. Although to be honest, I’ve been getting out of the habit of washing it at all, now that I play gas pump roulette ...as in “I’ll only get $20 worth because it’ll go down tomorrow.” A car wash with “$20 worth” is $7.99 and that exceeds the limits of my self-indulgence.

No, it’s more than that. I’m 52 years old and my job just disappeared. That’s right. A government contract was not renewed at my agency and there you go, unemployed. It didn’t actually come as a surprise, I’ve been preparing for it, planning for it. This is my opportunity to redefine myself. The rest of my life starts now.

A big part of this process will be discovering what I need to survive and thrive. I’m not feeding growing teenagers anymore. I’m not reaching deep for hockey registration fees or Scout uniforms or math tutors. Can I find happiness living on less ...and reclaim a whole lot more of my life?

Washing my own car on this extraordinarily warm, sunny day seemed like a good place to start. But I can see this living on less is going to take more than that.

We were in Costco last night ...big mistake, I know. But there we were. Purpose of the expedition was a compressor hose for himself and some cheap cheese.
So there we were at checkout, playing our usual little game, “Guess the total”. He said “$400”. I said, “No way. No more than $200”. I must be living in the land of denial already, because the lady behind the cash register said $431.”

So then, this cannot continue. I am going to have to make good on this business of living more simply. Big ticket items in the buggy? A couple sets of dishes ...everyday dishes at that. But the thing is, our kitchen dishes are a disaster. Scarred and chipped and missing their mates. They’ve been in need of replacement for years now, but I’ve never seen anything I really liked before. Then last night ...there they were. The same perfect moody blue as the wallpaper behind the table. A match too exquisite to leave on the shelf.

I left them in the box last night ...pondered on them today. I pondered all the way up Granville Street where I checked out the placemats in Ming Wo because I simply cannot put those new dishes on those faded, fraying old placemats. At least I was smart enough to stay out of Pottery Barn.

In the evening we popped into Home Depot for a gallon of paint. We are doing up the hallway. Summer is coming and the overseas guests are already booking dates. That’s good. Always a magnificent motivator for getting the place tarted up. The paint isn’t too expensive, won’t break the budget . But then I wandered down to the window coverings department and found these cunning little wooden shades that would be so perfect. It had never occurred to me before, how tired the old beige blinds are looking. But with the new paint going on, well .....

This is going to be a whole lot tougher than I thought, this living on less. With thirty years of having two good-sized incomes coming in I’m addicted to shopping. No, not compulsive stupid shopping. I never buy anything that isn’t a good deal. Well, almost never. I am just accustomed to buying whatever I think I need. It is the redefinition of need that is going to be the challenge.

The dishes are now unpacked so they’ll stay. But the placemats will have to do and the blinds will be fine. Who notices blinds? As for Costco ....that is one major addiction. I may have to make that a no-go zone for me. At least until I get my concept of need resized.

Carolyn Usher