I am a wealthy woman

23:57, Mar 09 2014

A few years ago, I had an epiphany while walking through the bedding section at the Invercargill Warehouse, feeling up winter duvets, and wondering if I could just get away with using a flat sheet as a fitted sheet on a bed I had just inherited, in the south city room I had just moved into.

The flat sheet was half the price of the bottom fitted sheet.

It seemed stupid to pay for a fitted sheet. For the last year since that moment, I had been studying in Wellington, then doing guiding trips around the South Island, then travelling overseas, and during this time I had fallen asleep most nights in hotel sheets, backpacker sheets, sheets  wrapped around the bottom cushions of friends' houses, or, more frequently, no sheets at all and just my sleeping bag.

It had been a couple of years since I moved into a bedroom or flat of my own. And I had forgotten, I realised, as I stood, overwhelmed in the bedding aisle, how expensive sheets actually were.

Sheets were still foreign to me as I adjusted back into a non-transient world, where housing didn't change with the seasons.

My  life before Invercargill was so totally far away to me that afternoon.


It still never fails to fill me with wonder every time I hold those two months up in my memory like two different calendar pages: in May I was sending out my CV from an internet cafe in Malaga, Spain, sipping, alternately, fresh-squeezed orange juice and cafe con leche, in nearly dread-locked, sea-salty hair; wearing the same sundress I had been washing out each night with cocoanut shampoo and hanging out to dry on a balcony.

And by July I was wearing three layers under an overcoat and shopping for spoons and a bedside lamp. I had a new haircut, throw pillows and a washing machine and dryer.

One month you are living off a savings account that is dwindling down to the last $500. The next month you have a paycheque that is fairly comfortable.

And the likelihood of that paycheque continuing to come into your account is quite high, if you continue showing up for work.


I was still adjusting to this new reality.

And while I was adjusting to being back in adulthood - or the version of adulthood I held up in my head - I was shopping for bed linen.

On that mid-winter afternoon in Invercargill, I reached for the flat sheet because it was on special.

Surely, I thought, holding up the flat sheet, this will do. In many places in the world, people don't even have bed sheets.

And then, a wild, dangerous thought struck me.

I could, if I wanted to, actually buy the fitted sheet.

I could buy the fitted sheet and still pay my rent. I could buy the fitted sheet and even go get a coffee afterwards and still pay my rent.

I could get the fitted sheet. I repeated this to myself (hands slowly, fearfully, putting the flat sheet back in the bargain bin). I was allowed to get the fitted sheet.

It felt almost immoral, putting the flat sheet back; a sheet that I would have gotten tangled in and had mid-sleep wars with; a flat sheet would have made bedtime a little bit annoying each night.

Twenty minutes later I was revelling in the bliss of a fitted sheet. And a coffee after. I sat with my purchase, and my flat white, and watched the winter rain beat the window glass of the cafe and I felt oh so very frivolously wealthy.

When you move around and explore places, go to great lengths to spend a weekend with childhood friends, and spend money on plane tickets that will take you to beaches you have always wanted to get to, your money drains slowly, but very surely away. Your chequing account, and then your savings account, the one you will never touch, takes a beating.

And then there is a period of time when you stop moving. Because you have to get a job.

And you want to have a job. In fact having a job you enjoy begins to feel like an even dreamier destination then the sands of that faraway beach.

And it is during this time of steady employment you rebuild and restore.

I loved my fitted sheet years in Southland.

They were a time of doing that kind of rebuilding and restoring, not just of my savings account, but that buried part of me that loves to sink sweetly into a world of nesting, build a community of friends, and invite them over to enjoy the spoils of the wealthier years (after the fitted sheet episode, came the glass trifle bowl purchase, which was the beginning of the slippery slope to the record player and a growing vinyl collection).

Having that travel time - in which I was adventure rich, but money poor - was a fabulous contrast to that season of having a boring, but lovely old life of curling up in bed (on a perfectly fitted sheet) and falling asleep reading library books (another sweetness of nesting is that you have to prove that you have a proper physical address before you can get a library card in a new county or district. I still, nostalgically, carry eight in my wallet from the past 14 years).

Mise en place.

Meaning: Everything has a place. It's a phrase one of the chefs I work with says often. She even has it tattooed on her shoulder.

It means every utensil, every pot, every knife has a place that is extremely crucial, right down to the teaspoon.

This is important for a kitchen to run smoothly. I wrote it down and pocketed it when I first heard her explain the phrase to one of the sous chefs, because it seemed to infer more than just basic kitchen organisation.

Everything has a place. Mise en place.

The five months of moving and travelling, visiting and writing, dreaming big at home in California and doing a few ''cancel and continues'' as my friend Lisa Eagle calls them, between there and here in Montana - that had an important and valuable place in my life. Just as much as my fitted sheet years in Southland did.

I think of this as I look around this tiny space that is my room - and not even an entire room; I have half a room divided by a wardrobe - and gaze with great pleasure on the Desert Essence shampoo and conditioner on my shelf.

I bought them last week with my tip money. Oh, I felt so extravagant.

I like the look of them so much that I keep them in my room, not in the shower, so I can see them and remember to be thankful for having a little bit more money again (my goals, when I first arrived in Montana in December, were broad, but clear: write, ski and save money) which means I don't have to buy terrible 99 cent shampoo in travel bottles and keep watering them down to make them last.

And this is terrible to say. Opthamologists look away right here: but I can finally go back to wearing both contact lenses, instead of stretching them out by wearing only one at a time (I learned a few years ago that the other eye will adjust on its own. I know. Bad, bad, bad Gwyneth). Anyway this  is just how I roll when I'm poor.

But those poor seasons (often doubling as the best times of my life) are part of the Mise en place of my kitchen, my life.

They remind me to be thankful, to be thrilled, to afford fitted sheets. And cool shampoo with expensive, decadent packaging.

And clear vision out of both eyes; no headaches.


I am one wealthy woman.


The Southland Times