Friday, 23 July 2010

Friday Buoy: Simplicity and Just Enough

The other week, Casey in Michigan posted some precious photos of her great-grandparents livin' the simple life in the Netherlands (not these pictures, they were just inspired). I loved the pics, not only because they were old and sweet, but because I caught a tiny glimpse into the behind-the-scenes of my own Dutch great-grandparents' lives. Who knows, maybe they were friends before jumping on a ship to the promised land?  But when I started really thinking about their  lives, knowing full well they were much simpler than my own, all I could think about was hard it must have been!

In a frantic culture, simplicity sounds like the perfect escape. But in many ways living simply takes effort. Like hanging your clothes out to dry - sounds lovely but is a big pain in the * when it's cold and your apartment is old and tiny and you're running out of places to drape you sheets. Using the dryer at my parents' house since coming back to the US I'm overwhelmed at how quick and easy it is to dry things. And warm.

Making food from scratch is another example. I loved getting a veg box and seeing every ingredient that goes into my meal. In England, I made my lunch almost every day for 4 years, until the end when I got a bit lazy. But usually, I'd fashion my crazy concoctions (beets, seeds, quinoa, chickpeas, veg galore) in batches at the beginning of the week and have little tupperwares of lunch to keep me going throughout. I loved it (and saved money!), but it wasn't easy. Especially at mid-nights on Sunday standing sleepy in a kitchen trying to get creative with 12 leeks and a Jerusalem artichoke.

Anyway, I'm not dissing the simple life. I'm all about it. All I'm saying is:

a/ simple isn't always easy
b/ forced simplicity is even harder &
c/ I'm fortunate to have the resources to choose a simple life.

So, as Dan and I are building our lives here from scratch, I've been thinking about simplicity. How can we practically build a simple life? What do we  even want it to look like? What are we willing to sacrifice to get it?

When I think of a simple life it's not completely bare bones. My simple life right now includes working at a coffeeshop every day, because my priorities include lattes and wi-fi. I need wi-fi to work and I need coffee for morale, especially while still living out of a suitcase at the age of 30. And having gone without caffeine for 3 years I know my life is much better with a daily dose. I also like the idea of simple AND generous living. It's easy for extremists like me to fall into deprivation mentality/ extreme frugality, but I think the idea of simplicity is to allow you to live the life you want, and for me generosity is definitely a part of that.

A simple life right now is about knowing my priorities and avoiding clutter. Not just physical stuff (I'm building up, not paring down at the moment!), but also in terms of things to do, obligations and relationships. These things accumulate easily and vie for space and sanity, and I'm lucky to be in a place where I can pick and choose what I take on, diligently sticking to the basics but with a few extra flairs!

Here's a little food for thought for trying to live simply:
I'd love to hear your thoughts on simplicity. What does it look like for you? How do achieve pieces of simplicity in a cluttered world?

{Photos from flickr by mrwaterslide & theunquietlibrarian}


Rachel Womelsduff Gough said...

This is something I'm really excited about right now: living simply and generously. I've just learned to bake bread from scratch, which is a very basic thing that people used to do without even thinking. Our culture is set up for convenience, which can look like simplicity, but actually disconnects us from the real things, like food and working with our hands. That is simplicity to me, and beauty.

suzygold said...

WEll said. Have you read "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by barbara Kingsolver. She does a great job describing just how hard it is to live the simple life.

Casey said...

These photos are so great! Thanks for the shout out :) Loved reading this post as well, and have bookmarked some of your links...ditto what Rachel said!

alisha said...

Rachel, it's so true that convenience is different to simplicity and our culture revolves around convenience! I feel like you have to make a real effort to not get dragged into it here. Would love to try some of your bread sometime. :)

Suzygold, I HAVE read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and loved it!

Rachael Randal said...

For me, living simply would mean being content with what I already have and not constantly striving for more...Reassessing my priorities, so that I can take the time to enjoy what's most precious in my life.

Thanks Alisha - this has come at a good time for me ;-)

Rachel Womelsduff Gough said...

I would love to break bread with you Alisha! And Rachael, being content with what we have is so important, satisfying, and incredibly difficult. Even as I try to simplify one area, i.e. food, I think of all the kitchen gadgets that would make it "simpler." Really, it's just another excuse to spend money and gather stuff. I often wonder what someone from an earlier era, like the Depression, would think of our culture. (I realize there are still Depression-era people alive, but I mean someone taken out of their own time and plopped into ours, without the softening element of years passing slowly).

Jess Fouche said...

I love this topic! Thanks for you thoughts on simplicity and links, love the old photos too. What comes to mind first right now for our family is making bread from scratch, in general making food from scratch and eating locally, doing our errands all at once when we can and enjoying our home and backyard to the fullest, and saying no to activities that don't truly capture our hearts, no matter how good they might be, so that we can focus on and do really well in the areas we do commit to.

I love 'animal, veg, miracle'- great read!

Bob said...

Simply thought-provoking!
I hear you on getting rid of some of the "busy-ness" and clutter that plagues our lives.
Here's a complementary idea perhaps, though it may seem contradictory at first.
Seek a rich life, full of complexity and passion and uncertainty and adventure. Remember the ending of "Six Days Seven Nights," when Harrison Ford says to Anne Heche when she asks about their romance ruining his simple life: "Let's complicate the hell out of it."
So I think instead of seeking simplicity in the sense of lifestyle and ambition, we might seek almost the opposite of that. Create a work of art (always complex and risky). Take on the world's hardest problems. Even take on the forces of evil (Ephesians 6).
This isn't against simplicity, though, in this sense. The deep simplicity we need comes, thank God, through reverence, gratitude, and love.

Emily on the Southern Prairie said...

Thanks so much for the shout-out!
Simplicity for me in part has meant some of the stuff in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle -- growing food -- but yes, it's hard work! But it has mostly meant deciding to reject the idea of climbing a job ladder, wanting a bigger house or living in a cooler neighborhood, trying to be too many things to too many people... the cliches about stopping to smell the roses are true.

TheLadyWhoLunches said...

Just watched the show "Til Debt Do us Part" for the first time, and I love their ideas on how to simplify costs. Having emptied my closet of three garbage bags full of clothes before leaving the UK, I feel much lighter and back to basics. Jock and I could literally eat the same meal every night of the week. We're pretty simple, but I need a glass of wine once a week, a latte once a week and maybe a cigarette once a month. Those are my indulgences. Oh, and red lipstick.

Stacy said...

What an interesting post, and what great comments, too! I would agree that gratitude is incredibly important. For me, that's the biggest key to being content and not falling prey to the "more, more, more" of our culture. I also think that living simply means staying anchored in your deepest values and not cluttering up your life with things that get in their way--living more consciously and thinking more independently about activities, foods, work, etc. rather than just living busily/by rote.

alisha said...

I'm loving these comments too! And thanks for stopping by my blog Stacy.

I feel like a lot of simplicity for me is knowing what you I and going for it, instead of being roped into somebody else's dream because that's where the current is taking me. This is especially important when you're starting from scratch and there are so many options for how to build a life!

I love hearing about other people's journeys with simplicity - it's great food for though.

Nadine said...

Matt and I live a very simple life, but you're right, it's not always easy.

Buying bread is so much quicker than making it, but I love making it and knowing exactly what went into it and when it was baked.

When I look back to how much my life has changed in the last 4 years, it amazes me.

And I think that's the hardest part about leaving - I'm not ready to give up the simplicity we have here.

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