For What It’s Worth

For my last birthday, my son and daughter-in-law gave me a gift certificate good for a “behind the scenes encounter” our local zoo.  There were lots of different options to choose from (some easily ruled out, as I have no desire to get up close and personal with large reptiles.)   I chose the Penguin Encounter, and last Tuesday, my husband and I joined a small group of people who toured of the zoo’s penguin facilities.  We learned how the penguins are cared for at the zoo as well as how they live in the wild.  We also learned about the zoo’s efforts to preserve the natural habitat of penguins, and finally, we were actually able to “meet” a couple penguins.

IMG_0697We were instructed to sit quietly on the floor in a large circle.  Then the keeper led in two penguins, explaining that these two were well socialized and accustomed to walking around in the building.  We were allowed to gently touch their back or chest with one hand if they came close enough that we could touch them without leaning forward or extending our arm.  Sure enough, one of them waddled right up to me, and now I can honestly say that I have “petted a penguin.”

I really appreciated this gift, and not just because it was so fun to interact with a real penguin.  It also served as a timely reminder that what I value most in life has nothing to do with material objects and everything to do with how I get to spend my time.  Hanging out with my grandson, going on a trip to somewhere I’ve never been before, having dinner with good friends, even helping someone in need: these are the experiences that make life so interesting and that create memories that stay with us forever.

Like most people, I have a tendency to acquire far more things than I actually need, and even a bit more than I truly want.  I think it’s partly a result of human nature, and partly a result of the consumer-driven society I happen to live in.  It’s so easy for us to believe we want or need something, especially if we happen to notice that lots of other people really want it too.  (Remember Beanie Babies?)   Sometimes it seems as if unreasonable greed lives just below the surface in most of us, just waiting for something to trigger it.

But the truth of the matter is I have almost everything I need or want, and there really is very little reason to bring even more stuff into my modestly-sized house.  Which is something I’ll need to remember as I help my mom sort through all the things she’s accumulated but has no room for as she downsizes into her new apartment next month.  There’s going to be a whole lot of stuff that needs a new home, and I want to make sure that very little of it finds its way over to my house.

Because when you come right down to it, stuff is just that:  stuff.  And accumulating too much of it just makes our houses too crowded and our lives too complicated.  Far better to spend our time and energies doing the things that make us happy.  And who knows?  Sometimes that might even mean petting a penguin…..

82 thoughts on “For What It’s Worth

  1. As far as I am aware, there are no obituaries which note what possessions the deceased had. “John” is not remembered because of his Ferrari. “Jane” is not remembered for her 5000 sq ft mansion. We tend to remember people for who they were and what they did. We do not tend to remember what they had! This should give us all something to ponder when we decide that a bigger TV would be nice (or whatever). Perhaps a donation to a local charity would be more rewarding. Great Post Ann.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks, Colin! And I agree, no one is remembered by what they had (unless is was something truly unique), but we certainly remember who people are and what they did. Which is a wonderful reminder of how we should be spending our time and resources!

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  2. Penguins are all dressed up and no place to go. Love your posts. YOU were my very first post I read regularly when I was introduced to blogging. Therefore, I just nominated you for the Sunshine Blogger Award. It’s also new to me, but I just HAD to nominate you. Check out my post today where I give your blog a review. Muddle no more. Hugs from Dallas. – Alan

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    • Wow, Alan, thank you!!!! I had no idea my blog was the first you read! And thanks for the nomination and the review, that is very much appreciated. I can’t really participate in awards any more since I only post once a week, but I am very honored that you thought of me. (And sadly, I’ll probably always be muddling, even through my old age, which seems to be fast approaching. LOL!) Thanks again, you really made my day!!!

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      • A year and a half ago when I first started blogging, I found one of your posts. 🙂 I absolutely loved it. I felt inspired to blog as I read your posts and they resonated deeply with me. I often think about things you say and I have learned so much from you! Your honesty is so refreshing, and your kind soul shines through. Thank you for being you!

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        • Oh my gosh, Linda, thank you for your kind words! I hope you know how much they are appreciated. It can be so intimidating to write a blog, wondering how our posts will be received, so when people take the time to write such encouraging comments, it helps A LOT!
          I’m glad you found the inspiration to blog, since your blog is terrific and your words inspire the rest of us. Keep it up!!!

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  3. What a great gift, Ann. I love penguins! Most of us probably have more stuff than we need. When my parents downsized, we had a terrible time getting my mother to part with things. She was never like that before developing Alzheimer’s, she always like to donate things. It was so stressful for me and my father.

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    • Oh, I’m so sorry, Jill! That must have been just awful, especially since it was so out of character. Few things are harder than watching a loved one struggle with Alzheimer’s Disease. I really wish you hadn’t had to go through that!

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  4. Ohhhh, this was a good one! I agree with everything you said. When we clutter our homes or even fill it with way more than we need, we inevitably junk up some aspect of our lives too. When it happens when we are old, it’s understandable, but if it’s something that has its roots in our youth, it’s a red flag.

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    • Yes, I think it is. Sometimes stuff is a substitute for what we’re missing in our emotional lives, and that is a sign that we need to make some big changes. As you say, it’s more understandable when we’re old, but when it starts in our youth or middle age, that is a huge problem. Thanks for the comment!

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  5. I bet that was fun! I’ve had my share of “behind the scenes” at zoos and aquariums – they are really interesting! I got to fill in for a zoo technician when she was on maternity leave. I vaccinated monkeys, drew blood from a eland, and trimmed nails on a Gambian rat… I cleaned the teeth of a cougar and changed bandages on a ring-tailed lemur. It is lots of fun but it was important to remember that the animals were still wild!!

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    • That sounds amazing! Honestly, I always wanted to work in a zoo, but never got the chance. And you’re right, it is always important to remember that even though they live in a zoo, the animals are still wild. (Even the socialized penguins had to be handled carefully.) They say that even the lions born in the zoo setting will track the squirrels and other critters that roam nearby.

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    • I know…I was trying to think of a better word than experiences while I was writing the post, but couldn’t really come up with anything. But still, it’s so much better than stuff, especially at this point in our lives. Thanks for the comment!

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    • It really does! When I think back over my life, I remember the things I did and the people I spent time with. I don’t remember the stuff I owned. (Unless I’m in an antique store, and suddenly see a toy just like one I had as a kid….LOL!)

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  6. What a fun experience Ann. I couldn’t agree more on experience vs stuff. After spending the last 3 months sifting through 57 years of stuff at my in-law’s home, it has been even more apparent as to the insignificance of stuff!

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    • I had the same experience when we helped clean out our in-law’s house, Lynn! They had lived there for over forty years, so they had a lot of things stored there. And really, they only used a small portion of it in their daily lives. It really made me recognize that we can make do with so much less than we realized. Now good experiences, on the other hand…there’s never too much of those!

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  7. Oh, how I loved reading this post this morning! Spending time with the people we love and doing things we enjoy far outweighs the material ‘stuff’. It is our experiences that we remember, and not our clutter! 🙂 I love your third paragraph…I should pin it someplace as a reminder. 🙂 Time is a resource we only get so much of, and we should spend it wisely.

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    • That’s what I’m finally figuring out! When I was young and just starting out, my husband and I did need to accumulate things to furnish our house, etc. But now I realize that I have the stuff I need, and adding more is just a waste of money and time I would rather spend on people and experiences I love!

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  8. What a nice thought! Having a penguin walk right up to you paints an unbelievably cute picture. I can imagine that they would be be very sweet in person. You’re right, Ann, memories are much more valuable than any stuff that we collect. I could probably throw out half our stuff and never miss it.

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    • These penguins live apart from the rest of the penguins in the exhibit, although they live in the same sort of environment. The keeper said they ride up and down the elevator with her, wander around the back halls, and absolutely love the woman who feeds them. So they were quite friendly, but she said most penguins are, even the others who live in the zoo. And yes, our memories are what we need to treasure the most, I think. Stuff is stuff….or so I keep reminding myself!

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  9. Our community is home to over-wintering manatees and ‘swimming with the manatees’ has become an international tourist craze. Our county makes lots of $$$ on this endeavor. Not allowed to chase or feed, but if they initiate the interaction, we may touch and scratch. They love to be scratched by human fingers.😍

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  10. Aww – I so envy you! Petting a penguin definitely is on my wish list now! 😄 What a wonderful birthday gift! And you’re absolutely right about accumulating stuff simply being not necessary. (Although I do make exceptions for books and art supplies. 😉)

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  11. I suppose that’s an advantage of being a guy: not so many stores directly aimed at us, encouraging us to acquire more stuff. And maybe a less pronounced shopping gene.

    Doesn’t stop some of us though.

    Ultimately, you’re right. Experiences do bring more enjoyment than most stuff does.

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    • Yes, most men don’t shop quite as much as women, (although my husband is quite the shopper!), but I’ve found that they can still collect a lot of stuff, just in a different way. It’s so hard not to acquire more than we need, I think, which is why I’m trying to remind myself to focus on experiences instead!

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  12. Aww so sweet!
    I’ve seen these sorts of ‘behind the scenes’ gift options and I always thought they’d be quite cool. I probably would have gone for penguins too as they’re fascinating – it sounds fantastic, really glad you got to experience it!
    I agree that times like this can hit home with what’s really important to us, and probably for most of us while we can focus on the ‘things’ and physical stuff, it’s almost always the experiences and memories that are priceless. xx

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    • Thank you! It really was so cool to get to meet and pet the penguins, and to learn more about them as well. And that is something I doubt I’ll ever forget, which is way more than I can say for any stuff I happen to acquire. I guess this is a lesson that comes with age? But it’s one I have to work to remember!

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    • It would help if we didn’t guy stuff we didn’t need, I think. So much of it simply gets thrown away, and that harms the environment for sure. Plus, manufacturing things also creates pollution, although it also creates jobs, so that’s a tough one. Maybe the key is to figure out a way to manufacture only necessary things in a “green way?” And I can’t help but thinking that all this excess in our culture is a fairly new thing, and not a healthy one in any way: personal or environmental. Thanks for that insight, Kathy!

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  13. I love penguins and am so glad for you, that you had this experience. I’m in the middle of a move and have paired down our possessions to two large suitcases, carryons, and three 20 kg boxes to ship for my husband and I (plus some long time storage in the US). Have to admit, was feeling grumpy about it but that’s passed. It’s just stuff after all like you said. Great reminders, “What I value most in life has nothing to do with material objects and everything to do with how I get to spend my time.” Enjoyed your post as always!

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    • Oh, yes, there are always some things that are too special to us to give away! We have a box of “keepsakes” started for my mom, sitting in the corner of her living room, that she can add to as she goes through her stuff. And if that box fills up, we’ll just start another. But it is nice to see how cheerfully she is parting with the things she doesn’t want. Like you said, it’s freeing!

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  14. Miss Ann I’m just reading this and it feels like you must have heard parts of my prayers this morning. Funny, since you wrote this days ago and my prayer was just minutes ago.
    For instance, you wrote “Far better to spend our time and energies doing the things that make us happy.” How should I go about the doing part? Not totally sure of some things that make me happy without also feeling a bit like wasting (or premature use of) resources or having fun without my family. Not much here seem like fun to me and when I find or hear of something I mainly talk myself out of it. It feels strange going places or doing things by myself that require me to move out of my comfort zone or the ‘known’. I know better than to feel guilty or weird and I can encourage and help other people in similar situations but when it comes to taking my own advice and being confident and consistent, well, I’ve got issues.

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    • I honestly think it’s okay to choose what makes you happy! If going out doesn’t feel good, then maybe just stay at home, reading a good book? Personally, I’ve reached the age where I enjoy doing something new and different, but when I was younger, I was shyer and didn’t really go out of my comfort zone often either. And that’s okay. What is fun for one person can be a chore for another. I wish you the best of luck!

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      • Thanks for your advice and response. Books? Yeah, I have a few that I started reading. These days I only look at them. Going out and trying something new and different sounds good. I usually research info – how to get there, where to stay, what to do or eat etc – but then I don’t go. Ok I’m going to stop talking just in case today I’m focusing too much on the glass being half empty. Going back to being grateful for blue skies, cool temperature, lots of greenery, a good job, ability to save some money, decent health, calm and peace, and all the other things I have (or don’t have) that I can be thankful for. Thanks again.

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