The Radical Act of Simplification
I’ve spent these last ten days mostly in solitude in what I dub our “little house on the prairie.” My husband was in another state. My kids are grown and out of the house. We are pet-free. Typically, I’d fill this “alone” time with dates with friends. However, this time, I was intentional about ensuring that I had plenty of alone time.
What arose for me in this space of ten days was the beauty of simplicity. In these ten days, I basked in the solitude of our little house. I ate simple meals outdoors on the patio. I found simple pleasures like reading on the front porch or enjoying the moonlight on the back patio.
Full confession! My “little house” is little is by comparison. My two-bedroom, two-bath, ½ acre home would be a mansion to many in the world. However, moving here from a five-bedroom, 3.5 baths, 10-acre mini-farm with two barns has been a lesson in simplification.
The truth is that I loved the big house. The umpteen flower beds. The greenhouse. The pond. The vegetable garden. The spacious rooms and outdoor spaces. Our little house was a “practical” move. A look ahead at preparing for getting to a future decade where a single story would be wise and a walk-in shower a necessity. Where upkeep was less and expenses were slashed.
Although planned, I found downsizing was hard. I never had to make hard decisions about what to keep and what to toss in the big house, as there was room for it all. In the little house, every piece of furniture, memorabilia, and possession became a conscious decision.
I went from thousands of books to perhaps 75 (and growing again). I parted ways with my grandparent’s bedroom set and the antique washstand I so loved. I no longer have a guest bedroom, and when the grandkids stay all night, they sleep in popup tents in the living room.
So, let’s be clear. My “little house on the prairie” is not exactly a Ralph Waldo Emerson “living in a cabin” experience. Yet, our move and my last ten days of relative solitude have provided me with a host of insights on simplicity, the act of stepping into a space with less, and what that might mean in the larger world we inhabit.
In our modern-day world, complexity abounds. At home. At work. Socially, in our communities, our nation, and our globe. The advances of the 21st-century contribute to this, but the ability to communicate across time and space virtually instantly is like rocket fuel for complexity. Our lives are global, interconnected, and inextricably entwined.
There are many causes, and they are as complex as the lives we are living. It is easy to get overwhelmed at trying to make sense of it all, let alone do something about it. But perhaps we can seek ways to unravel the complexity, one tentacle at a time. One person at a time. One action at a time.
For to do so means we can begin to reclaim some time. Some energy. Some resources. Some sanity. Some of ourselves. Some of our humanity. Some of our joy.
I am fully aware that advocating for simplicity and “less” can be a radical notion. In a society that sets status and acquisition as the pinnacle of success, doing less and having less is counter-cultural. I’m not advocating for living the life of an aesthetic or doing without life’s pleasures or ceasing the quest to be our best. I am advocating for the notion that we can make conscious choices about what we allow in our lives and take a firm stand on driving out complexity that adds little or no value.
Each decision is a unique and very personal one. For example, I limit social media to LinkedIn and Facebook. No Twitter. No Tik Tok. No Instagram. For me, two is enough.
As another example, I prefer to buy books and then pass them along. Others make heavy use of the library to simplify their life and finances. Others may only read e-books on one device. And others who have the space and derive joy from an extensive library can create one.
No matter in what areas you choose to be intentional about, this rule holds true:
It’s easy to add; more difficult to subtract, especially when society is telling you to be more, consume more, achieve more.
In my ten days, my mind kept coming back to these questions:
· What if instead of more “stuff,” we had more soul?
· What if instead of making more money, we spent the money we do have with more consciousness?
· What if instead of working more hours, we worked more on the things that really matter?
Simplification is indeed a radical act in our consumer-driven society, where expectations and messaging abound to do more, be more, buy more, achieve more.
Simplification requires a deconstructing of all that “external” noise and getting to the essence of what is most important to you. Which, in turn, requires contemplation, conscious choices, and then the courage to say no to yourself and others.
I wondered in those ten days if we would be served to Marie Kondo our lives and not just our closets. In the event you missed this movement, Marie advises us to organize and simplify our closets by dumping all our clothing in one big heap and then handling each garment or accessory, one by one. As you touch each item, you ask yourself if this particular thing brings you joy. If yes, keep it. If not, discard it.
What if we used the Marie Kondo for the rest of our lives. To inventory the various things in your life and ask if they bring you joy. This might include your possessions. Your friends. Your work. Your home.
In two decades of a daily practice of gratitude, one lesson has become deeply engrained with me. It is that frequently it is the smallest of things that bring me the greatest joy. A hug from a friend. A smile from a stranger. Flowers on my desk. Watching the sun rise or set. A long walk in the woods. A good chat with a co-worker. A job well done. A task list completely checked off. Beautiful music. Quiet times and noisy times.
In my ten days in my little house, I made a nightly ritual of sitting on our patio in the moonlight with a cup of hot tea before I went to bed. It was quiet and still and perfectly lovely. And I found that my little house on the prairie was simply all that I needed.