Thursday, May 19, 2011

Defining, "Living Simply"

Simple, from the Latin simplus. to reduce in complexity, reduce to basic parts, to make easier to understand.  It also means not complex, elaborate; not deceitful, sincere.  It can also mean a fool, and I have felt like one of those often enough.

In the context of the title of this blog, I think I am going for reducing in complexity. Did you ever think, “My life is too complicated, I wish it were simpler?”  But how do we accomplish that?   Neighbors walking past me working in my garden last summer would comment on how they wished they could live the simple life like I was.  Simple? Have you ever tried to grow enough food to feed your family through the winter?  There is nothing simple about it! 

I know there is an idyllic viewpoint about people who garden, can their own food, sew their own clothes, eat organically, recycle everything; but none of these choices are simple.  In some ways living this way can increase the complexity of your life.  So how do we find a way to live that is less complicated?

For me, it is all about choices – not just for now, today and this week, but for years to come.  It is less complex for me to eat out every meal, until I add in the factor that I would have to work more to pay for that choice, which would increase my stress, and my health would eventually suffer from all the preservatives, fat and sugar I would consume.

I have spent a lot of time finding suppliers of organic foods, but that is also an expensive choice, so I save money growing my own food   But that choice adds complexity to my life also.  I have to research, decide what type of seeds to plant, when to plant, pick slugs off the plants, and weep when worms destroy my cabbage.  I have a friend who struggles ever year to keep her dogs away from the broccoli – she has yet to harvest any, but she has really healthy dogs.  In making these choices, we are growing toward a vision of what we want our life to be, and that satisfaction is where “Living Well” comes into focus.

I have a vivid memory of my oldest daughter bringing home from school a “Just Say No!” button, from an anti-drug program.  She told me I needed it more then she did; and she was right.  I had bought into pressure from media, peers, friends and neighbors that in order to be a good parent, I needed to say, “Yes” to anyone and every program that asked for volunteers.  I was a single mom that worked full time, but was also a 4-H leader, a Sunday school teacher, sang in the choir, baked for fundraisers, chauffeured my kids to school events and clubs, and I was tired all the time.  I had very few friends that I could hang out with – I was too busy.  In the end, all I was teaching my kids is how to fill up their day with busyness; some of it had value, and some did not. When I received that button over fifteen years ago, it was a wake-up call.  Since then, I have been happily saying, “no”, and spending more time playing games with my kids, reading good books,  watching sunsets and working on making my life less complicated.

In the 1970’s, a friend gave me some prose she had written on what it meant to be “earthy”; that was the catchphrase of the day forty years ago.  Her list was comprised of things like riding a bike really fast with the wind blowing your hair back and feeling joy in that, jumping into a cold lake on a really hot day; simple things that you could take pleasure in.  My list would include working in the garden early in the morning and there are no sounds in the neighborhood, just the birds singing, and a nuthatch flying down and perching in the vine above my head and singing to me (probably hoping I will expose some bugs).  It would also include watching my granddaughter become a passionate gardener – planting, and watering and being introduced to the joy of helping things grow.  Being earthy is not caring about your manicure (hard to do as a gardener – and think of all the money you save!); getting giddy over the radishes poking their leaves through the dirt – when something simple can fill you with a moment of pure joy, then you know you have simplified your life.

For more thoughts on living a simple life, check out the May-June 2011 issue of Connection – a newsletter for NW Friends.

I especially appreciated Colin Saxton’s musings on one of the Friend’s Queries, “Is your life marked by simplicity? Are you free from the burden of unnecessary possessions? Do you refuse to let the prevailing culture and media dictate your needs and values?”

For the uninitiated, Friends Queries are questions that we muse on, to help center us, to remind us about the things that ought to be important to us.  So I continue to wrestle daily with defining how to live simply.  What choices do you make that lead you to a simpler way of life?

1 comment:

  1. I don't remember giving you that button - that's funny. =)

    One thing that makes my life more simple is not caring about fashion. I have no idea what the latest fad is in shoes or clothes or jewelry and I'm sure I've probably saved loads of money over my life in not buying those things. I usually shop for clothes at the thrift store and only buy what fits, is comfortable, and I know I'll wear. I have a small wardrobe and I'm never embarrassed about mounds of clothes I don't wear or having nowhere to put all my shoes.