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Knowing Myself Series – Part 1: Love What I Have

By Ilene Marcus November 29, 2022 Lifestyle

To be in a healthy romantic relationship with another, you must love yourself first. A hard-won lesson for me, as it is both cliché and overused. I wanted to do it my own way.

Three years ago, at 58 years old, I met my soul mate and we fell in love. That’s only part of the story. Learning how to be truly with another and at the same time true to myself is much harder than it looks. I had a steep learning curve on how to be the best for me and the best for us. Ain’t that the truth?

I wasn’t raised in the south. Or the hood. Most definitely not the sticks. I grew up in the suburbs in the ‘60s. No one even used the term burbs then. What was important was that the suburbs were not the City.

My parents and their neighbors had left the city. They had moved up and out and were building that American dream. The word “ain’t” was never used. It was considered extremely poor form. A rookie mistake. So, in my first professional job, when my impressive boss with her undergrad from Vassar and grad degree from Columbia said, “Ain’t that the truth,” I adopted the phrase on the spot.

She used it sparingly. To emphasize something very basic, although just not evident. A truth so simple that even I, a world class complicator, was unable to twist into knots, rationalize and add complications. It was that simple.

“Ain’t that the truth” is my catch phrase when I want to emphasize a point. I say it under my breath, almost as a prayer to listen to what is happening. To honor that moment. Most importantly, those words are never spoken, if I don’t mean it or I am just going with the flow.

When the word “ain’t” crosses my lips, it makes me stop and take double notice. It signals me to pay attention to what is going on. To slow down and be clued into the moment.

Ain’t That the Truth

What happens when you are over 60 and have never had a true romantic partner? A partner who fills you on the physical, emotional, and spiritual level. Your equal.

Over the last three years, that journey has changed both of us. And now we are at a crossroads. Can we truly be better together? To do that I had to step back and love myself first.

Loving myself first has never been my default. I am a people-pleaser, and I like to take care of others. And I lost myself a bit. Staying solid in this relationship meant I had to acknowledge my deep beliefs and opinions that are not serving me anymore.

I had to learn to recognize my real wants and desires. Not what I imagined them to be. Not as a career woman balancing life and raising a child.

Who Am I Now?

I had to find what is important to me as a mature sober woman turning 62 years old in two weeks. As the woman I am now. I had to distillate all the lessons and experiences that brought me to this point.

Oh, I knew myself. What I like to drink, what type of food I like, how I like to decorate. I just didn’t know who I was at the core. What was truly important to me.

Have you ever found yourself digging through cabinets for the tea you like, or rifling through your closet in search of that one sweater you want to wear on this particular day.

This is about putting what I love first. What I value in easy reach. Not holding it for a rainy day. No more saving what I have for some day when I may need it. Today is the day.

It all started with a wise therapist who gave me an easy way to get to know what I love. To show me who I am. What makes me smile. A way to get me to know myself better. To put what is appreciated in my path, so that I can appreciate myself.

Here is my step- by- step action plan:

Start with One Cabinet, One Drawer

Start with one place. A drawer, a cabinet. Empty it. Totally empty it. Clean out the cobwebs, the dust, any crumbs. Then start putting in only things you love. They don’t have to be useful; they don’t have to be what that cabinet was used for before. They just must be things you love. You want to look at. You value. Don’t judge the item, just fill the space.

For me, it all started with tea and a kitchen shelf. Although I have always been a devout coffee drinker, now I tend to drink one cup in the morning and then switch to tea. My kitchen traffic pattern did not reflect this.

In my empty cabinet, I put in the tea bags I use daily, my favorite mug, a tea pot belonging to my great aunt, albeit I never once witnessed it used. It is so pretty. I added a few favorite mason jars and a small picture of a sparkly unicorn. Everything in that cabinet makes me smile, every time I look at it.

Next, I moved on to my junk drawer. Which was filled with random stuff. When it was finally empty, I added only things that I wanted to honor and loved to use or look at. These included my favorite stapler, which I use all the time, a pair of flower-handled scissors, a ring I sometimes wear, some favorite ribbon and a few cute magnets. You get the idea.

From there this clean-out spread to every nook and cranny and inch of my home. No matter what drawer, closet, or shelf I look at, I love what I see. Drawer by drawer, shelf by shelf, all filled with things I love. It took me a while to get there.

Front and Center

Put things you love and need front and center. Eventually, all the superfluous utensils, clothing and stuff will naturally move to the rear of the shelves and drawers. Unused. Unneeded or perhaps they have already fulfilled their purpose.

I have a friend who started with one coat hook. She had six deep layers of coats she thought she may need, and yet never wore. What if it rains? What if I am cold? What if I gain weight? What if I lose weight? What if I go someplace special?

She hated looking at those coats. She confided in me she was always afraid the whole thing would topple over every time she walked by. The truth is, she wears the same “all purpose” jacket every day. That coat, the one she wore, she never hung up. She kept it on the chair next to the overloaded coat hook.

Once she could see that truth, she cleared away all the unused coats. Now she can hang up the one she wears every day. An added benefit, she can now sit on the chair that used to hold her coat and put her shoes on by the door. This changed the entire way she faced getting out of her house and then coming home.

What a difference putting what we need front and center has in everyday choices. Our surroundings become calm, creating a huge impact on how we face our days. Be patient with yourself.

Toss What Doesn’t Serve You

I know it’s hard to let go of the things that we thought we needed and wanted. For me, I often believed my life would be better if I had this one special thing or that gadget or whatever seemed to work for someone else. If I had it, I would use it and be happy. Having it sit front and center and then having to reach over it, to get what I actually needed, was starting to have the opposite impact.

It is these realizations, about how I live every day, that brought me into the space I am meant to be. This is not about a massive effort to purge and clean. It’s about finding the things you truly value. What you like. Over time, having more of the things you love, instead of tolerating what you hang onto, opens space in your life and frees your mind.

Miraculously, the things you keep will show you more of you who you are, what you love and what’s important to you. Being surrounded by what I value taught me to value myself. I forgive myself for the money, time and effort that didn’t pan out on some items.

My new belief: Reward myself for doing the best I could at the time, for not knowing better. Now I use what I love and value and get rid of the rest.

What’s Next

It is the small steps that lead to big change. Every one-percent change, on top of another one-percent change, shifts your direction and your perspective. Drawer by drawer. I pass this onto you. Ain’t nothing more important than having what you love, front and center.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

What is your truth? Have you cleaned out your space so that what’s left is what you really love using and looking at? How has this reflected onto your mindset and emotional state?

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Janice

I’m not sure why you put being from the south as being from the sticks or from the hood. I’m from Atlanta. I’m very well educated and certainly know social skills. Perhaps this bias should be examined. Other than that I enjoyed the article.

ilene marcus

OH Janice – I meant that it is a common southern expression – is that right? And from up north, it just wasn’t used in the suburbs – NO disrespect at all. Thanks for seeing past that and enjoying the article! and FYI – If I could I would move to Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama or Tennessee tomorrow – all places I have visited lots and love!

Ilene

Djamillah Samad

This strikes home,today! I have a closet between the entrance door of my apartment and my kitchen. It’s the “coat closet”. Yes, there are jackets and coats but most of them I don’t wear. Thus it has become an entire junk closet. What I don’t have and really want is a pantry! I read your post today as my new shelving is already on the way. It will be for food, wine, and cooking accoutrements that I love.

Shelly

I’m going through my brick and mortar workshop/storefront to purge, save, or donate. Letting go is hard for me. This is a great reminder how to choose what to hang on to. Thank you!

Ilene

It is hard! Follow what you love and use!

The Author

Ilene Marcus, MSW, MPA, is the author of Managing Annoying People and runs Aligned Workplace, speaking and training Leaders and Founders to attract and retain great employees. An emerging literary writer, her goal is to make you smile just a bit more. Please visit her website at Alignedworkplace.com.

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