Getting Bolder: Stories…not Stuff!

Not long after my husband died suddenly, I decided to move forward with our plans to have fun in our retirement. I felt I owed it to his memory to continue on and buy a camper. After all…we were standing in one when he had his fatal heart attack. The first thing I did was take off and spend three months in the wilderness and backroads of Colorado. It gave me a lot of time alone to think. I needed to evaluate my life…my legacy. Death makes you do that.

I was living in a two-story, three-bedroom home in a semi-rural area of Western Colorado…working part-time, filling in the blanks with my creativity. I had started a small business in my art studio in my home and was creating jewelry from antique silverware and maps. I had an Etsy shop and a Facebook page and was developing a small following when my husband died. We had just refinanced the house five months before with plans to double and triple our mortgage payments, hoping for a payoff in less than ten years. Instead, I was faced with less than one-tenth the income and a mortgage that wouldn’t be paid off till I turned ninety! I had no idea what to do.

I had always deferred financial matters to my husband. I was visiting with guests in our home after the funeral when a friend overheard me say I needed to start formulating a plan….soon! The next day I received an e-mail from her. She said she didn’t want to intrude, but she couldn’t help but overhear my dilemma and wondered if I had anyone helping me with my finances. My friend was widowed a few years before, so she knew what I was facing. I was so relieved and immensely grateful. She offered to set up an appointment for me with her financial planner the following week. I met, and immediately bonded with, my new financial planner. She specializes in women in transition…especially women who have suffered a loss. Getting my finances in order was the first step to transitioning to this new life I had not planned for. I met with my planner monthly for the first six months, learning about budgeting, retirement, IRA’s. She helped me learn to be a good steward of my money.

As winter wore on and I worked on my art, I began to really notice the clutter around me. I’ve always been a pile maker and the “keeper of things”. Living those three months in a sixteen foot camper made me realize I really didn’t NEED all this stuff around me. Everything began to weigh me down and I felt burdened by the very things I could never part with. This was new! My piles, and the resultant clutter, had been a thorn in my Virgo husband’s side all along. Ironic that I should rid my life of all this after he was gone.

I had a small life insurance policy and once the bills were paid, there wasn’t a lot left. The mortgage wasn’t huge, but still…it was debt and I wanted out from under it. As spring approached, I decided to sell my home and downsize. Stepping away from the familiar, letting go of collections, releasing my stranglehold on a life I could no longer afford took an immense amount of courage. I realized there were two ways of looking at this…that I was losing my past or that I was gaining my future. I needed to lean into the future, trust my gut, and BE BOLD!

It was Easter weekend when I made the decision to sell. It was my birthday in mid-June when I finally had the house ready to put on the market. I worked through one room at a time, purging years of accumulated possessions. I cannot tell you how many times I sat down in the middle of the floor and cried…mourning not only my husband, but the life we had planned, the future I was sure I was going to live. One afternoon, I was going through the spice cabinet, throwing away long outdated items, tossing too many duplicates to count. When I removed the items from the front of the middle shelf, there was my husband’s secret stash of jelly beans. It was too much. I laid my head down on the counter and wailed. It wasn’t fair. This was MY house…this was MY stuff. I wasn’t feeling very bold at that moment but still, I persevered. I filled carload after carload of clothes that didn’t fit, tchotchkes I didn’t want to dust anymore, baskets, collectibles, Christmas decorations, art supplies, golf clubs, Stuff, stuff, stuff. Then, the magic happened. I felt lighter…free…unburdened by the weight of all the things I loved. The things I owned, I really HADN’T owned. They had owned me. From that moment on, I worked with great fervor…ridding myself of anything that didn’t serve me in this new life I was creating.

Once the house was on the market, I moved into my camper. I didn’t like the house anymore. My husband “lived” around every corner. Besides, I had worked really hard to get it showcase worthy…I didn’t want to clean and re-clean over and over. I took off with my little home on wheels for a week or two at a time, returning only to change the fresh-cut flowers on the table and check the mail. After a couple stalls, the sale was finally completed and I was liberated from the albatross my house had become.

I immediately traded in the sixteen foot camper for a thirty foot and left Colorado. I lived a nomadic lifestyle, traveling 55,000 miles over the following two years. I lived here and there…on a farm, on a cliff overlooking the Ohio River, in the backyard of my son-in-law’s parent’s house, in campgrounds from South Dakota to South Carolina and all parts in between. A year ago, I was traveling cross country to attend my high school reunion when I received a call. My elderly aunt wasn’t doing well and couldn’t live alone anymore. My uncle took her to live with him and asked if I could live on the family farm and take care of it for him. It’s the home of my heart…my grandparent’s farm in the hills of West Virginia. A small, two-bedroom, simple farmhouse on seventy-four acres with three barn cats and a passel of possums. It’s more roots planted than I’ve had since I sold the house and I am being exceedingly careful about accumulating more “stuff”. I still remember the pain of downsizing and don’t want to go through that again.

I’m still a nomad, of sorts. I travel a great deal. The thirty foot camper is a pain to haul for just little weekends away so I did buy a project trailer…a 1967 Franklin. I want to have it ready by next summer. I’m at a place in my life where I am unencumbered and now my preferred collectibles are stories…not stuff!

Ginny McKinney, Sister #3537

Ginny McKinney

Follow Ginny, Author, Blogger, and Speaker at Marshmallow Ranch 

Stay tuned to this spot as we explore the transitions that we encounter in this march through life. I’ll be featuring some amazing women as we discover the myriad ways we Sisters adjust to the changes thrust upon us. I hope you’ll grab a cup of coffee and sit a spell by the fire with me.

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Showing 14 comments
  • Profile photo of elizabeth corey
    elizabeth corey

    I feel so fortunate to have met this amazing woman on my very first SOTF event and my first trip alone camping out of my car. She opened up a whole new idea of how to enjoy life fully without being burden by the “stuff” of our past. Thanks Ginny!

    • Profile photo of Ginny McKinney
      Ginny McKinney

      It was such a pleasure to meet you and so happy my story had an impact on you! That’s the beauty of Sisterhood, isn’t it? ❤️

  • Profile photo of Olivia Karis-Nix
    Olivia Karis-Nix

    One thing in particular you said really struck me: do I own my stuff, or does it own me? I think I will start looking at objects in my house with that in mind and see what happens … Thanks!

    • Profile photo of Ginny McKinney
      Ginny McKinney

      Olivia…that’s something that just struck me so hard when I was slogging through the downsizing. There are, of course, items that are difficult to part with for sentimental reasons. A friend of mine was quick to say she left a marriage with nothing someverything she has, she worked hard for. That’s a valid point. All things considered, there are very few things I’ve regretted sending on to others and none that I can’t live happily without. ❤️

  • Profile photo of Mary Ann Simpson
    Mary Ann Simpson

    I have been doing a lot of thinking about stuff now that I am a widow. I look around wondering how much of it really means something to me. Time to start shedding the weight of it. Your stories always resonate with me. Thanks Ginny for sharing.

    • Profile photo of Ginny McKinney
      Ginny McKinney

      Mary Ann…I’m glad my stories resonate with you. I think most of us get to a “certain age” when the tchotchkes we’ve gather become burdensome. We discover that children don’t want them and usually the grands as well. I swear I felt 100 pounds lighter with every load I carried out that door. Too bad Mr. Virgo (or Hubby #2, for that matter!) didn’t get the chance to reap the rewards of my purging! ❤️

  • Profile photo of Ashley Parks
    Ashley Parks

    I’ve been following you for a week, somehow I found you maybe through Pinterest? I looked at the Sister’s on the Fly site and first I got mad. I have three children. How could I be in this club? I’m a widow of four years. I’m just starting to breathe easier and feeling more adventurers. I love camping and I love to travel. But, I’m limited in my support of taking three children so I can get a weekend to myself. Every year since my husband died, I take a trip away for his anniversary date. This is our 2nd camping trip for the anniversary. My 17 year old,14 year old and 10 year old though grumbled about no wi fi and fussing about staying 4 nights in the pop up together. I complained to my mother who understood because she and my father hauled our butts when we were younger camping in a pop up. She said, well, Ashley, why don’t you take a trip by yourself. I was stunned.
    wait what? me camp alone.
    It’s been percolating in my mind and somehow here I am. yep. I fussed last week and this week I joined. I love this post . This year, I finally have been facing some demons… My messy cluttered house. I follow fly lady. Ironically she was a fly fisherwoman and now I am following Dave’ Ramsey’s plan for my finances. My chin is up and next up is trying to learn how to fix things I don’t know how to fix. Like, my awning. Or maybe I can even do a pop up makeover? I hope I can meet you one day. WV is not too far from me, so if you ever camp there or near me on the East coast maybe you can give me a shout out. Thanks for putting your thoughts out in the world. I cried when I paid for my membership because I was so excited about finding a group that can be just for me.
    Best!
    Ashley

    • Profile photo of Olivia Karis-Nix
      Olivia Karis-Nix

      Ashley, what an awesome story! So inspiring! You did something just for you and you soooo deserve it! I also just recently joined and I was positively giddy when I pulled the trigger. I have a 6 year old and 2 year old so the idea of something just for me feels slightly insane and yet oh-so-wonderful! And you, a widow, you deserve it all the more. I loved reading your post and I’m so happy you joined. Get ready for some wonderful adventures! Oh, and do that pop-up makeover! The Pop-Up Princess has so many ideas and examples of people who did it over a long period of time on a shoestring budget. Have fun with it!!

    • Profile photo of Ginny McKinney
      Ginny McKinney

      Ashley! I am so happy for you that you are finding your footing and you’ve joined the Sisters. Seriously, they saved me. I was on my first trip with them only two months after my husband died. There have been a lot of fix it things that I didn’t know how to do. Thank goodness for YouTube and Google! I have an entire world of information in my pocket and nothing, especially widowhood, is going to stop me from living every day my sweet man wasn’t given! I’ll check your profile and see where you live and maybe we can hook up for a fun camping excursion! You’ll learn so much…about camping, about life, about yourself…in this group. Happy Trails!!! ❤️

  • Profile photo of Timathea Workman
    Timathea Workman

    This is beautiful and heartfelt. Thank you for sharing it. I just joined, and this is the first thing I’m reading on the website. I was at an RV show today and met one of the Sisters. I told her I’d had the book about Sisters on the Fly (as a Christmas present from my family, who told me it had remained them of me, as I camp in my little vintage trailer solo or with my son when he was small.) I was looking for a new trailer that doesn’t have so much upkeep and maintenance and she made me promise to join. So I came home and did. I have a lump in my throat after reading your piece. I’m going through a simplification of my life right now. My son is in high school and I want to have a good new life in place for myself before he goes off to college. So many of the things you mention are what I’ve been thinking about: letting go of my little vintage trailer that I have so many wonderful memories of camping with my son in, or the months when my brother (who has since passed away,) helped me restore it, getting rid of the old parts of my life so I can move into my new life… anyway, thank you. I am grateful to find this group.

    • Profile photo of Ginny McKinney
      Ginny McKinney

      I am so happy you ran into that Sister at the RV show. SOTF is so much more than “having more fun than anyone”! It’s a lifestyle. It’s a wealth of knowledge. It’s a deep well of Sister love. Put yourself out there…don’t be shy. Sign up and get to know local gals. Branch out and go to big events. Hosting my first event in September was awesome! Be sure to contact the Wrangler(s) in your region. They are there to direct new Sisters to the lay of the land. Good Luck and Happy Trails!!! Perhaps we’ll run into each other around the campfire one of these days! ❤️

  • Profile photo of Cena Ewert
    Cena Ewert

    What a great story! Something I can definitely relate to. I am also trying to rid my self of excess stuff. I want to be free to travel and have experiences instead of a houseful of unneeded things. They keep us from moving on with our lives. I just joined. I don’t have a travel trailer yet, but that is something I am working on over the winter. Thank you for sharing!

    • Profile photo of Ginny McKinney
      Ginny McKinney

      Crab, thank you for your kind words. There are a lot of Sisters that never do have a camper so don’t let a little thing like that hold you back. There are often cabins, lodges, B&B’s, and hotels you can “camp” in. Some gals even convert a minivan or SUV into a “camper”. There are events that allow you to camp in a tent. The options are only limited by your creativity! Thank you for joining. Now, in the words of our dear departed Maxie…Sister #0…”Now, go out there and use the #%€£ out of that membership!!!” ❤️

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