There’s this oxymoronic notion running in our culture that one must simplify to live a happy life. Did I say it was moronic? Or did I say it was an oxymoron? I think in my heart I think it’s both.
Simplify. The word denotes ease. Simple living. Breezy, easy living.
Sounds good, no?
The notion is easy for me when I have that suitcase packed and I’m headed out the door to an exciting adventure four plane flights away. Or even a couple hours ride in a ‘packed to the gills’ minivan. I have no dishes to wash, no meals to plan, no house to clean. There’s not enough kids’ toys to worry about their perpetual perfect placement…the floor will do, or the sofa, or the bathroom counter. I don’t have my stuff requiring my constant fussing, so I get to find a new book to borrow, a new hobby to start. There are always new people to meet and a never-ending source of activities we haven’t done or seen before.
These are travel adventures though.
Through travel, we are designed to live simply, without many accoutrements (or at least that is my, my husband’s and travel extraordinaire Rick Steve’s opinions—we have seen couples with a half dozen pieces of luggage, young couples toting baby cribs and strollers with their toddlers…); travel was meant to be experienced as ‘living lightly’.
Regular living though, that put your brick down, find a mailing address and sign up for an account for a national energy retailer to send you your monthly bill, well, that’s much more difficult to make simple.
I would know.
I have tried.
I don’t want to suggest I haven’t accomplished a wee bit in the simplicity department. I did somehow manage to sell my childhood-drafted dream home.
I was attempting ‘farmhouse extraordinaire’. It was a light blue, had the white shutters and single-hung windows. I spent hours, days, months planning this home. And I took great delight in every moment. Every nook and cranny of that maple and alder kitchen was intentional. I pored over granite samples, stainless steel appliances, the cutouts and niches, brushed nickel faucets and pot lighting. My olive oil knew where it would live. The food dehydrator too. If it didn’t have a prescribed address, it wasn’t in my kitchen.
The rest of that home didn’t have quite that care and attention. But I still pulled out my existing furniture and measured and planned and drew and drew and drew.
It was a childhood dream come true.
Before it was even complete, my real estate friend and I walked through. She remarked that the dining room would also make a lovely study for someone one day.
Perish the thought! I would never sell my baby.
And then I did.
When we specifically felt called to leave it, and the big life that we had concocted in our minds, so we could simplify life, we put the sign in the front lawn (probably the only justifiable reason for a front lawn) and we moved…to something simpler.
Or so I thought.
I wouldn’t purchase a new home, in a new neighbourhood, in the new city we were to be living in. I couldn’t spite my first home like that. I couldn’t live in a wannabe dream home either. I’d just finished living in my dream home. If I was to simplify, it would have to fit my daydream of simplicity.
An old home. With stories in it its walls. But smaller, of course, minus the eighteen foot entryway, minus the granite, minus the sidewalk remarks of ‘holy smokes, who lives there?’ It didn’t have to have everything my dream home would, but it required the basics, in style.
It would have stories, surely. It would be the same age as one of my grandmothers. It might even have entertained the Prime Minister back in the sixties. His Justice Minister lived there. There was a family that lived there thirty years. My husband met that previous owner one day in the office. There was the theatre producer, and the older lady that purchased land from the neighbours to build the craftsman home. If these walls could talk, they could write a book.
So when we began to simplify again, we’d pull old totes of baby clothes and decide just how many saved onesies was ‘cute’ and how many saved onesies was ‘mommy hoarding’. We’d find totes of nursing school notes…fifteen years ago IVs had different procedures, babies didn’t co-sleep and even if I did return to nursing, I wouldn’t be consulting these aged resources…so out they went.
I discovered I was an organized hoarder. You know you’re an organized hoarder when…
- Have enough photo albums, scrapbooks and photo boxes to fill an entire home library.
- Know which tote houses your first teddy bear (yes, you’re forty and you still can’t part with him).
- You have a tote dedicated to ‘lonely’ socks.
- You have a tote for photo negatives (ode to the digital age: You save me space! Thank you digital discoverer!)
- You have a tote for clothes you wore in your first year of marriage…that burgundy outfit for your first Valentine’s; it’s out of date and too big for me anyway….the whole tote has got to go.
- You have a tote for unused picture frames.
- You have three totes of baby clothes and one large tote of kids toys, for the grandkids (yes, my youngest is still five).
- You know which tote houses your grade seven year book and that porcelain mother goose that opens to a perfume bottle–perfume that you mixed from chicken boullion and water when you were just six.
- Come to think of it, you really should have taken out shares in Rubbermaid before you got married.
- Oh, and the kids think you have too many books (oops, wrong list—that belongs on the ‘you know you’re a homeschooler’ list).
Then we decided to move, again.
A piece of land, an opportunity for animals, a big ole garden and skys the size of Texas with the backdrop of the Selkirk Mountains. The nearest town with the grandeur of San Fran, the coffee worthy of Paris and the friendliness of family (or hippies, or a family of hippies;).
Homeschoolers, off grid… sounds nice. Not going that far. Been there, done that in East Africa. And it ain’t as quaint as it sounds. Romantic it is not. Electricity is kinda nice if you like a freezer filled with food for tomorrow or you don’t prefer washing your clothes in the tub. Water right from the tap and not brought forty five minutes upward from the local creek is a pleasure, even if you have to filter it eight hours, boil it and filter it again. I could learn to chop wood. I already hang my laundry to dry and plant some food. But I’ll leave ‘gridlessness’ to others more adventurous.
But to an even older home we’ve moved. So it is rented. It’s not our home. In the words of my ‘poster child for a happy face’ eleven year old, ‘it’s good it’s not our home, cause it’s a crappy one’.
It certainly isn’t something I’d purchase. It’s certainly not a charming old home. It’s just old. Old old. With a lot of stories too, but I’m worried they’re stories we might not live to tell for the next year.
I found one of my girls huddled in her blankets in her 1970s floored and wood paneled rooms brooding under her blankets. I gave her a pep talk:
- This is temporary.
- We have stuff to do in the meantime. So, in the meantime, we will live life. Do things. Instead of organize things.
- Make your list. Paint your room. Sew your closet curtains. Plant your garden (ok, so she dreads that). Plan your outdoor stage and write your plays. Send out those babysitting signs.
- We have life to live!
It is hard, hard work subtracting from our lives. The material things, the aesthetics, the comforts…but it gives us a lot more time to spend it doing the things we want to do, also known as living our lives.
And so the quest for simplicity continues.