I try not to be a “thing” person. Things aren’t people or experiences or emotions. If I lose, break or otherwise ruin a thing, I don’t want to feel hurt. However, I do have a favorite shirt, a favorite jacket, a favorite pillow, a favorite plant and many other cherished things. They’re my favorites because they’re hand picked by me or by someone close to me. I’ve attached emotion to them. Emotion creates energy. And energy goes into the thing- both positive and negative. I am unfortunately still holding on to some negative clutter as well as necessities, like an alarm clock and a few different sized wardrobes. I didn’t really think about the effect these negative items were having on me until I got rid of a significant one- my old car.

Whether I wanted to admit it or not, my old car had a lot of baggage. I inherited it from my mom, though it was before she passed away. She was too sick to use it any longer so I paid it off and used it to get to her house from the city. This car was a means to an end, in too many ways. And because it wasn’t a car I ever wanted, I just tolerated it. While it enabled me to do things like grocery shop without a backpack and go places without calculating bus and train transfers, it was just a car. The line between A and B. A silver 2002 Toyota Corolla. The most popular car. The most generic car. The Smith of cars.

When it had troubles, I resented it. At times I thought about getting rid of it and not having a car at all. But once you own a car, it’s hard to go back to life without one. So I persevered.

Last month, when I could no longer justify the cost of making repairs, I knew buying a replacement was inevitable. Sticking to a conservative budget helped considerably narrow my car options. My list “must haves” included:

  • A hatchback, so that I could load things into my car easier
  • Some sort of aux connection to listen to music through my phone
  • Heated seats, because Chicago
  • A sun roof because it makes summer way more fun
  • Not silver
  • Not a Toyota

I had it in my head that I would get a Mazda CX5. The lines were sexy and it met all the points on my checklist. But after trying this car and a few others, I didn’t feel certain that it was the clear winner. My sister, and car-buying co-pilot, suggested I try the Ford Escape, which was a smaller version of the Ford Edge that she drove for work. I grimaced. At first glance, I thought:

  • This is an SUV
  • It’s way too “mom”
  • I don’t want this car

escapeBut to rule it out, I had to try it. So when it was my time to take it on a test drive, I got in, put on the turn signal and peeled out of the Carmax parking lot. This car was different than the others and different than I thought it would be. As I drove a very short distance, I had the biggest, dumbest smile on my face. Like, when you meet someone and you are CRAZY about them. In this car, the seat felt better. The ride felt better. The dashboard looked better. Everything about it made sense. And it had a PANORAMIC SUNROOF.

I took a week to think about it. Even though I risked someone else buying this car while I was thinking it over, there would be another one out there. It’s certainly not as stressful as buying a home or a formal dress.

The following weekend, I visited a Ford dealership to test drive brand new models. I debated the merits of buying a newer car and weighed the price tag that came with it. I worried I would regret the loss of disposable income and owning more car than I needed. So now the decision was clear- my sister and I returned to Carmax, where I traded in my old car for way more than the bag of Skittles my sister thought it was worth. The old car was now just a credit. The baggage was released. A weight was lifted. I would now get to buy a car of my choice.

I named it Gary.

At the end of the day, it’s just a thing. But it’s special because my sisters generously helped me buy it so I could avoid financing. And it’s not only got working brakes and air conditioning, but also a bunch of tricks like a large digital display, navigation, remote start and keyless entry.

I have never felt this way about a car. I think it’s because I decided to love this car allow myself to feel all the feelings. I bought Gary Weathertech mats to protect the floors. I placed a mango candle in the cup holder so Gary smells fruity. I keep the gas filled above the half mark at all times. When I’m parked at work or running errands, it feels like I have a loyal buddy tagging along, waiting for me at all times.

Gary reminds me that loving something doesn’t mean the thing has to be lovable, though this car is pretty lovable. Loving something (and someone) means that I decide to love it. Or not love it. Half-full vs half-empty.

Gary reminds me to keep an eye out for the things I love most and to let go of the things I’m keeping for the wrong reasons. I feel gratitude every time I drive, think about driving or simply think about how fortunate I am that this purchase was possible.

And now I don’t have to just focus on my destination; I can love the journey too.