Monday, August 8, 2011

thoughts on living simply

Thoughts on Living Simply: Day 1

I’ve been thinking about living more simply. But it’s hard. For example, I am sitting upstairs in my bedroom. This is what I see:

An unmade bed. A sheet on the floor at the end of the bed. (I guess I was a restless sleeper.) The Three Little Pigs. Poems for the Very Young. A package of baby wipes. Three crumpled baby wipes that I used last night to wash my face. Six books scattered on the floor by the bed (Reluctant Pilgrim, The Bible, The Book of Common Prayer, The Pale King, The Joy of Less (HA), Surprised by Hope. Two more books sitting catawampus on my desk (All That is Bitter and Sweet. Unconditional Parenting). Two magazines (hand-me-down Mary Janes Farm). A megaphone. A glass of water. A bottle of water. A can of half-frozen La Croix lime-flavored sparkling water (my post-workout treat). A Quik Trip lid and straw. An overflowing trash can. A dusty bedside table. A split-open smoke detector. A bag of cough drops. A charger for Matt-only-knows-what. A stray sock. A sports bra. Clothes from two days ago. My half-empty coffee cup.

It sounds worse than it is.

No really.

I have to say that, because as I write I am filled with utter, horrific, paralyzing shame.

And now I have to backpedal really really fast and make you like me again and tell you that my downstairs looks better than this room does. I think there are a few dishes in the sink, but I wouldn’t be mortified if my mother unexpectedly waltzed through the door. Right now, though, I am hidden up in the attic. I only come here to sleep and to write. When I come up here to go to sleep I am too tired to clean it up. When I wake up in the morning I am too tired to clean it up. But honestly, based on the mental gymnastics that go on in my brain when I write, I am surprised I haven’t convinced myself that I need a pristine workspace and that I haven’t spent all of my writing time cleaning up. That says something, probably.

Thoughts on Living Simply: Day 2

It doesn’t look quite so bad in here this morning. I threw the dirty babywipes in the overflowing trash can on my way out the door yesterday. I also carried down my water bottle and my water glass and my coffee cup and my can of sparkling water (I have a fear of dehydration, it seems). Because I had written about the cough drops being up here, I even remembered where they were last night when Amélie asked for one. I have a new half-empty coffee cup up here at my desk this morning, plus a half-eaten omelet which will, most certainly, be completely eaten by the time I finish my 30-minute writing stint. Everything else is pretty much as it was yesterday, except that the books, while still on the floor, have adjusted their positions a bit based on where I tossed them after reading last night.

Thoughts on Living Simply: Day 3

I think I am imprisoned by my clutter. It seems that way, anyway, since I can’t get beyond actually writing about it.

Again, everything is pretty much positioned as it was on Day 1 and Day 2. Our puppy Leia just found a bottle of Tylenol that was buried someplace, though, and she is now using it as a chew toy. And yes, I am aware that it is a very bad idea to let the puppy chew on a bottle of Tylenol, but taking it away involves taking responsibility for where this bottle of Tylenol should actually go. Besides, she kind of looks like she might have a headache. Tomorrow I do know that one of the books on my desk won’t be here anymore, because it is due at the library. At least, I hope it won’t be there tomorrow. What are the odds I will remember to go to the library today?

Here’s what I don’t get: if I love order so much, why do I have such a hard time attaining it? If my life is ever-so-much-more peaceful when my environment is orderly, why is it not orderly???

One time I was staying at this one place, and I’m not going to tell you where I was, but let me tell you about it. I had someone wake me up at 6:00 in the morning so that I could take a shower. I actually had to check out my shower items, which was annoying, but at least they were all together and someone knew where they were! I took a shower, got dressed, put on makeup, fixed my hair, and then I straightened up my room before heading to breakfast. The room was not attractive, by any means. The walls were bare, and I remember that the comforter on the bed was a sickly shade of pink. I had a small wooden desk and a chair, and my school books were neatly lined up on the shelves above the desk. Every morning I would make my bed, straighten the shelves, and then take a deep breath and look around the room with peaceful satisfaction. It took me approximately 3 minutes to clean up that room, because my possessions were so few, and I could not believe how the timbre of orderliness in that room struck a chord of peace within my soul. Then my day would begin, following the schedule posted on the giant pad of paper at the front of the common room, and while my days there were not easy by any means, the fact that I had a sparse, neat room to return to at various points during the day helped tether my soul to a peace I am certain I would not have felt otherwise.

So the question is this: why don’t I live like that? Granted, I stayed in this place only 10 days, and there were many things I need in my daily life that I didn’t need there. I didn’t do the cooking. I didn’t do the cleaning. I didn’t have kids at the time. I didn’t suddenly take up a new hobby there. And granted, by the time those 10 days were up I was nearly clawing at the door to get out, but I don’t think that the reason was because I had been staying in a clean, organized room.

Some days I literally gaze into the distance and fantasize about that place. Many days I wish I could bring that place here (minus the sickly pink comforter on the bed). Why don’t I? I think—I know—I am too attached to my things. Some reasons are valid. Some not so much.

We have these friends. They are Amish. Well, technically they are not Amish. They are Germanic Anabaptist Brethren. Or Anabaptist Germanic Brethren. Or something like that. They look Amish to us (minus the fact that they use buttons instead of pins, which in my mind is a wise alteration). They live in a simple house. They wear simple clothes. They don’t drive cars. They don’t have TVs or cell phones or laptops or game consoles or, actually, any electricity at all. The first time we met them was in the spring at the Kansas City Food Circle. We bought some eggs from Maria, their 15-year-old daughter, and her eyes were pools of peace. It was remarkable. It made me a little squirmy inside, because I wondered what she saw when she looked in my eyes. I longed for the peace in her eyes to reflect back into the anxiety of my own. We signed up for their CSA, partly because Amélie is obsessed with the Amish, partly because we thought that maybe if we ate their food we would somehow swallow their peace. I don’t think, however, that there are special peace vitamins in their beets or tomatoes or peppers. What I think is that their uncluttered life clears space in their heads and hearts and souls for an uncluttered, peaceful soul. They have found, I believe, that to find God and to find peace they need to clear a path. On the other hand, I begin each day longing for God and for peace, but along the way that reception gets all broken up, and I lose God and lose peace in the static of my email, my cell phone, my Facebook page, my things (and then more of my things).

But I don’t think I would look very cute in a bonnet, so becoming Amish isn’t an option for me. Besides, I don’t know how to sew, nor do I know how to eke out a sustainable existence. I don’t think those 9 quarts of salsa that I jarred last Sunday would keep us alive for long come winter.

So what do I do? How do I let go of the chains of my stuff that I drag with me everywhere I go? How do I simplify? Where do I go to detox from my addiction to stuff and technology?

Maybe I should start with one thing. One piece of physical or emotional clutter.

Here’s what I came up with for this week:

One piece of physical clutter: give away or throw away 10 items a day

One piece of emotional clutter: check facebook/email 10 times a day (this mortifies me, btw, that 10 times is actually an improvement. I almost didn’t post it here. I am really bad about walking by my computer and sweeping my finger across the touch pad to spend a minute or two checking in with people and finding out what they had for lunch or what book they are reading or what funny thing their kid just did. I don’t know that I technically spend that much time on FB, but if nothing else it distracts me from what I was originally doing, which then can lead to more distractions, which then…you get the picture.)

So what about you?  How do you get rid of physical and emotional clutter in your life?


  1. These are good questions.
    This is my merry chase.
    I think it is possible to find peace and a calm centered soul in the midst of our lives as they are (mostly). It is the internal shift I think, that creates the external habits. Sometimes the fake it til you make it heads you (me) in the right direction. I am always clearing. I have noticed that the rate at which we acquire things has changed. The way I look through the grocery sale flyers has changed. The way I stock up on school supplies has not, but I did fill need with my stash before replenishing our supply and buy accordingly.
    It isn't about parenting, but I think it is all connected. I listed to Lu from Parent2parentU on a segment from Purejoy Parenting and they were talking about thinking of what you want from your children...give that to yourself and then there is no need, just unconditional love. Further, what you want to give your children that you didn't receive, give that to yourself too. It doesn't seem connected with the clutter, but very much ties into the peace of our soul, which sometimes distracts itself with clutter:)

  2. Oh.oh.oh. My friend, how did you read my mind this morning?! Yes, it is my goal to reduce my time online too... You know, like the fact that I sat down to write an email and have been here for the past hour or more. Oh dear.

    And the peace of simplicity in general is a theme God has been pressing on my heart from several directions lately. It is time for me to heed the prompt. Thanks for pressing me onward with your honesty. I love you. :)

  3. You and I are one. I feel your burden. Maybe it comes through careful determination to remove items. Maybe it comes through careful intention at changing the way we shop, think like attraversiamodarmaz said. Maybe it comes through addiction to simplicity. Maybe it comes through surrounding ourselves with those kind of people. Maybe it comes through reaching out for help from our amish friends. Maybe it comes through reading books and magazines about it to learn how. Maybe it comes through reading books and magazines to start thinking in those ways. Maybe it comes through honesty, like you've done here. Maybe it comes through believing more in the present and future, and less in the past. Maybe it comes through a significant change in our conversations and behaviors; a noticeable personality shift with new strict rules. Maybe it comes through trusting your present self and letting go of the past. I don't know. I think it comes from all of these things, but it begins with your post here.