17 Sep
The Gift of Doing Without


I am grateful that I didn’t have everything as a child. Receiving whatever you ask for can stifle the development of your creativity and your trust in yourself. There is nothing more inspiring to one’s creativity than wanting what cannot be had, at that very moment.

Like many children, I had a very colourful inner life. As a child, I spent hours dreaming, planning, and pretending. I designed my life in my head. I had time to be still and think.

On my fourth birthday, we had a party. It is the only birthday I remember, until my thirteenth. My mom had read in Chatelaine magazine that the easy way to host a child’s party was to prepare individual party boxes ahead of time. She wrapped open-topped boxes in coloured tissue paper, filled them, and placed them in the fridge. They were lovely. I took in every detail. Inside each box, there was a sandwich, a little jelly cup, a piece of cake, an ice-cream cup, a drink in a small lidded Tupperware glass, and a paper serviette. From that moment on, I loved the idea of planning.  

I am glad I took the time to appreciate the party boxes before the fabulous Ms. Hilary arrived. Little Hilary wore a party dress, had a professional haircut, and spoke with a British accent. She was dazzling in every way. I couldn’t stop staring at her.

The party took place on the rooftop. We lived above our printing office, and you could step out the door of our upper floor, onto the roof of the lower level, which extended about eight feet. It was a wonderful place to have a party. Never mind that there were no rails around this open rooftop space, and the drop was about ten feet, should someone go over the edge. I remember Hillary sitting on the shingled roof, her skirts piled all around her, and her serviette placed perfectly upon her lap. She formed a beautiful contrast against the rustic grey building. I’ve loved the concept of contrast ever since.  

As I went to sleep, on the night of this birthday party, I began weaving bits of my future. I designed the dress I planned to wear one day,  deciding on the colour, texture, and trim. I visualized the closet where I would hang it. I imagined the closet in the bedroom I would own and furnished the room with a vanity and a bench to sit on. I could come back to the daydream anytime and build on.

I have a photo of me wearing torn jeans, scuffed oxfords, and an ill-fitting T-shirt. Unadorned brown barrettes tucked my thick hair away from my face. I had tried to embellish the look by draping a string of beads around my neck. My love of accessories was born from necessity.

I began to make discerning choices whenever I had the option. Once a year, when my brother and I chose new Christmas sleepwear from the Eaton’s catalogue, I picked a long Victorian nightgown. Pyjamas weren’t for me, or Hilary, I was sure. 

When my aunt offered to sew me a skirt and took me to a fabric store, I looked at every possible bolt. I chose a blue floral print from the less expensive section because she was paying the bill, but I had noticed more costly cloth. I watched her agile hands as she made the skirt, and I thought of her whenever I wore it over the next several years. She had given me lots of length in the hem. 

After I completed grade six, we moved to a small city, and my mother saw a long summer stretched before us. She placed my brother and me in piano lessons, but I was unimpressed. Then my mother asked me if I’d like to take a sewing class. My mind flew to the blue skirt. I enthusiastically accepted. 

I felt inspired! I loved the fabric, the thread, the patterns, and the smell of everything. The old sewing machines smelled of oil and lint. I learned to identify fibre content by smell! My pretend closet could become a reality. 

That summer, I made an apron; we all did. Mine was pink and red and very feminine. My mind oversimplified but concluded that putting a back on an apron would result in a skirt. My love for designing was born.

One day, as I waited in the car for a long time, I flipped through the pages of an old magazine. There was an article about the two-piece corduroy suit trend. The model wore leather gloves and a fabulous hat. Time flew as I thought about buying the fabric, cutting out the pattern, selecting buttons, and polishing my shoes until they looked like the patent ones on the model. Waiting in the car was an opportunity to dream. Several months later, after hours of babysitting, I was able to buy the supplies to create that suit. It was lovely to wear it finally, but anticipating the moment had been the most fun.

Years later, I spent several months planning and making my graduation dress. I hand stitched rhinestones onto the neckline and empire waist of that garment. I enjoyed planning and sewing. It was satisfying to wear it, but anticipating the debut of the dress had been the best part.

Had I been given a dress like Hilary’s, would I have learned to sew? Had I had everything I thought I needed, would I be who I am today?

I married an entrepreneur, and I know now that my comfort with anticipation equipped me for life with him. I have always loved the journey more than the destination. The ability to dream is a gift. I have never feared starting over because I know how to cope with having less. It is a gift to learn patience and to love anticipation. Taking time to savour an idea helps prevent the making of mistakes. Often a better idea is developed.  

I am thinking about making a new dress for Christmas. Hmmm - will it be velvet or washable wool? I will think about it when I get a minute.  Even if I never get it sewn, there will be something beautiful in my pretend closet.


Comments (9)

  • Doreen Thiessen
    July 31, 2021 at 09:54 am

    Written beautifully and bringing back so many vivid memories of high school days! The life of an entrepreneur starts with a dream, lots of planning and finally the execution of dreams and detailed planning! You have accomplished all with your expertise in style!

  • Isabelle Mills
    September 18, 2014 at 08:23 pm

    Maureen, I knew you could think, plan and create wonderful assignments so it is good to know why. I love your graduation dress, I'm sure it was the most beautiful one there. I find creating ideas the most joy I can have. The mind, where they are created, is a wonderful gift. Isabelle Mills

  • Amanda Soulodre
    September 18, 2014 at 11:40 am

    I loved this article Maureen! So vivid and a great message! I have two little boys, and while I do love giving them presents, some of my favorite times are making things out of things found around the house and using our imaginations. A great reminder as a parent. :)

  • Patty Watt
    September 17, 2014 at 10:23 pm

    Hi Maureen! I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed reading this!! And...I couldn't agree more. :)

  • Marion Murawsky
    September 17, 2014 at 08:46 pm

    Wonderful story Maureen, so similar to my own. You write beautifully.

  • Bev Ashdown
    September 17, 2014 at 04:53 pm

    So well said Maureen. I totally agree with all that you said. I too grew up not having much & had a friend with a beautiful red plaid dress & a white "fur" cape. I did a lot of dreaming back then & to this day still do while always asking "what if". That would probably be why there is no fear of the unknown because when you had less, everything you now have is so much more, and is just a plus! Thanku for sharing my friend :)

  • Mitzi Gold
    September 17, 2014 at 01:35 pm

    Dear Maureen: What a lovely share! I feel like I got to know the young Maureen and that has added to my understanding and appreciation of you. I believe in having the time and freedom to dream and create.....it adds our unique signature to our life. We create what's meaningful for us. To share our special insights and creations is such a gift. Wishing you a wonderful "free" day. Hugs, Mitzi

  • Kay Robertson
    September 17, 2014 at 11:27 am

    Maureen You are testing my math ability, asking me to answer a skill-testing addition question before allowing me to comment! Hoping I got it right, I'll now say that I loved this little blog piece, especially the picture and comments about your grade twelve graduation dress. I likely knew at the time that you had made that dress but I needed to be reminded how much you sewed then - and still do now.

  • Rauncie Kinnaird
    September 17, 2014 at 11:10 am

    I love to travel but the anticipation and planning of the trip are as important as the trip. I love to search out a destination and imagine the warm waters or tranquil beaches.... It is the journey!

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