There’s this notion running in our culture that one must simplify to live a happy life.
Simplify. The word denotes ease. Simple living. Breezy, easy living.
The simplify notion is easy when I have a suitcase packed and our family is headed out the door to an exciting adventure four plane flights away. Or even if we’re just travelling a couple hours away with a packed minivan. Travelling enables no dishes to wash, no meals to plan, no house to clean.
There aren’t kids’ toys to perpetually move. I don’t have all my stuff and stuff always requires perpetual organizing and tidying; instead, I get to pursue a new book or a hobby. There are always new people to meet and new activities we haven’t experienced when travelling.
Life is simple when we travel, without accoutrements, so we are living lightly. Or at least that is me and my husband’s approach (we have seen couples with a half dozen pieces of luggage, toting baby cribs, and strollers with their toddlers). These are travel adventures though.
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 a monthly bill, well, that’s much more difficult to make simple.
I would know.
I have tried.
I had the privilege of designing and building my dream home. This was a childhood dream, since I’d drafted house designs since I was very young.
This home was light blue, had white shutters, and single-hung windows. I spent hours, days, months planning this home. And I took great delight in every moment of planning. 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 had a special location in my kitchen. 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 and an expression of my childhood creativity.
Before it was even complete, my real estate friend and I walked through my nearly-completed home. She remarked that the dining room would make a lovely study for someone one day in the future.
Perish the thought! I would never sell this house.
But then I did. For the sake of simplifying our lives.
We put that FOR SALE sign in the front lawn and we moved to a simpler life.
Or so we thought.
I purposefully didn’t purchase a new home, in a new neighbourhood, in the new city we were to be living in, because I couldn’t spite my first home like that.
If I was to simplify, it would have to fit my fantasy of simplicity.
We bought an old home with decades of 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?
This house had stories: it was the same age as one my grandmas. It might even have entertained the Prime Minister back in the sixties because his Justice Minister had lived there. Once upon a time, another family had lived there for thirty years. Once upon a time, a theatre producer lived there. If these walls could talk, they could write their own theatre production.
So when we began to simplify our lives, we pulled out old totes of baby clothes and decide just how many baby onesies was cute to keep and how many baby onesies was mommy-hoarding. We found totes of my fifteen year old nursing school notes when IVs had different procedures, babies didn’t co-sleep, and even if I did return to perinatal nursing, I wouldn’t be consulting these aged resources, so to the garbage they went.
I discovered I was an organized hoarder. You know you’re an organized hoarder when…
- You have enough photo albums, scrapbooks, and photo boxes to fill an entire home library.
- You 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 discovery!)
- You have a tote for clothes you wore in your first year of marriage.
- 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 (though my oldest child is twelve).
- 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 bouillon and water when you were just six).
Come to think of it, I really should have taken out shares in Rubbermaid before I got married.
Oh, and the kids think I have too many books (oops, wrong list—that belongs on the ‘you know you’re a homeschooler’ list).
We lived in that house for seven years. Seven years where we travelled and homeschooled our family of four. Then we decided to move, again, and simplify again.
We purchased a three-acre parcel of land, an opportunity for animals, a big ole garden, and skies the size of Texas with the backdrop of the Selkirk and Purcell Mountains. The nearest town with the charm of San Fran and energy of Portland, coffee worthy of Paris, and the friendliness of instant family. We were creating the homesteading homeschool life.
We’d be off grid homeschoolers: the ultimate simple.
Since we experienced off-grid travel in rural Ghana, with occasional electricity, we knew it wasn’t as quaint or romantic as it sounded. Electricity is kinda nice if you like a freezer filled with food tomorrow or you don’t prefer washing your clothes in the bathtub and hanging it outside to dry. Water straight from the tap, not hauled forty five minutes from a creek downhill is a pleasure, and filtering water for eight hours, boiling it, and filtering it again is not.
As semi off-grid homeschoolers, we could learn to chop wood and harness our forest for heat, we could continue to dry our laundry on a line, plant vegetables, grow a fruit orchard, raise chickens for eggs and the freezer, raise goats for milk, cheese, and soap, and keep a large guardian dog to look after the goats. But I would still go to the grocery store for pineapples and pepper and other things I can’t grow.
I know that living off-grid in order to simplify my life is a fantasy. Living off-grid is hard, hard work.
The goal is to give us a lot more time to spend doing the things we want to do, also known as living our lives.
It’s not about deleting extra tupperware, the ones that don’t have lids, or baby clothes that I’ll never use again, or choosing an off-grid life. It’s about harnessing every moment of the day so I can live my life on purpose.
- When we dailiy acknowledge that this life has a timeline, we honour the the finite time we exist, and we see the necessity to own the time we have.
- We need to ask ourselves if we are living a life worth living today?
- We need to simplify our homeschools.
- We have stuff to do in the present. So, in the present, we will live life. Do things. Not just organize things or constantly attempt to simplify.
Seize the day. Carpe diem.
We’re jolted out of complacency when we hear of a friend’s child killed in a car accident, when we have a pregnancy not continue to term, when our marriage explodes. We’re jolted when we catch a glimpse of a World Vision commercial, or hear of a teenager drowning or when we call an elderly friend to catch up and discover she’s passed away. We’re jolted when we’re forced inside our homes because of a pandemic.
Our days are limited, we know it. We have many reminders that this is true, but given enough time, we can continue living and forget that this is our reality.
Then there is that one day, when that one thing happens, where we can no longer deny what we’ve been told: that our days are numbered. We finally stop to reconsider the content of our life. Are we living beyond regrets? Are we enjoying every moment? Are we learning not to care what others think?
Are we living a life well-lived?
Live beyond regrets. Perfection isn’t ours to capture, so we’ll never be mistake-absent. We can bestow grace on those that need our grace, and even more challenging, extend it to ourselves.
Enjoy every moment. This is not gonna happen every moment if you have dishes to wash, again, or more than one child learning peace-making skills, or you wake up with a crick in your neck. Not EVERY moment is good, but this is the moment we have, so enjoy it.
Learn not to care what others think. Teach people how to treat you. You are never NOT going to care what everyone thinks—that’s a sign of a sociopathic diagnosis. You were born to care, commune, and connect. But there is caring about others and caring too much.
Do the thing you want to do. If you think you can’t do what you want to do, you won’t. You’ll overlook opportunities staring right at you. There are seven billion people on this planet, and not everyone can own the biggest house on the block, fly their private jet, graduate medical school, mediate the middle east, have their name in lights, or travel the world, but we all can do the thing inside us that we are meant to do.
Live a life well-lived. Sit with your people and commune. The people in our neighbourhoods, our churches, our kids’ dance classes and the lady teaching piano–these are our communities. Learn from them, share with them and share what you know; be present. And do the things you want to do. Though it’s awful hard to change some circumstances, keep moving towards occupying the everyday with the things you want to do.
Don’t just write a bucket list, write “What am I going to do today that I WANT to do on today’s list”. If the Knitting Pinterest board sits untouched, time to change that. If you plan to learn the piano, have your daughter teach you. If you’ve had enough with that math program, find something else. You want to save for Paris, set money aside every day. You want a cappuccino with a book every morning? Set an alarm clock.
In my life well-lived, I aspire to sharing my time in the developing world again. But until then, I will put into practice what I have learned: to carpe diem, seize the day, and live a life well-lived, today.
Enjoy the book of homeschool encouragement for you, homeschool mama: Homeschool Mama Self-Care: Nurturing the Nurturer
Call to Adventure by Kevin MacLeod