Friday, March 09, 2007


A great number of participants in the simplicity movement call themselves followers of “voluntary simplicity.” This affirms that their lifestyle changes are based on desire, not necessity. I can’t really call our lifestyle changes exclusively voluntary. To be sure, we crave a life of peace and simplicity, so a strong desire is there, but our changes are also borne out of more practical reasons.

We got our heating oil delivery today, and the bill was $237.00 for 4-1/2 weeks. That is probably half of what it would have been in the old Victorian house. Our electricity bill has been halved, our property taxes have been halved, our house insurance has been halved. Add to these regular expenses the issue of frequent and costly old-house repairs on an ongoing basis, and you can clearly see a few reasons why we moved. As beautiful and meaningful as that big old house was, it was financially inadvisable for us to continue to live there. It was a financial drain that could not exist indefinitely.

So in a way, we have no choice for downsizing. Fortunately, it is a fulfilling way of life for us.

Some people come into downsizing kicking and screaming. The power of culture is still strong. The encouragement to “upsize” and accumulate more and more never disappears. Sometimes a decision to simplify is sidetracked by catalogs as much as a decision to diet is blown off course by our culture’s obsession with food. It's easy to assume the attitude of victim, focusing relentlessly on the injustice of it all. Part of the downsizing is necessity, but all of it is our fulfillment. It is the path we are choosing more and more frequently. It is nice, isn't it, when what life demands of you is the same thing that you most strongly desire anyway?

We’re not fighting our simplicity movement. We are choosing instead to embrace it. It forces us to continually reexamine our priorities, and that is, as Martha Stewart would say, a “good thing.” A definition of embrace is this: “To accept or support (a belief, theory, or change) willingly and enthusiastically.” Some might call it “riding the wave” or “going with the flow.”

Some of my acquaintances ask me what it’s like going from a closet the size of a room with built-in shelves, ceiling lights, and tons of space to a regular small closet with one shelf and no lights. They ask me how hard it is for us to adjust to having no garage, after we have enjoyed years of a 2-car garage with automatic doors. They ask me how we can possibly survive with only two channels on TV and painstakingly slow dial-up Internet connection.

My response has been consistent. When I can’t see my shoes on the floor of my closet, I just smile. When I have to scrape my car off in 0-degree weather at 4:30 in the morning, I smile again. When I have to move the ironing board and two boxes to access a drawer of quilt fabric - yes, again I smile. (When it takes me several hours to download a 2-minute video of Caroline reading....OK, I get quite grumpy.) The questioners are incredulous, of course. How can I smile at things that would most likely be irritating and at times totally exasperating?

Necessary simplicity, voluntary simplicity, or combination thereof - whatever you want to term it - has become integral to our lives. We could fight it, or we can embrace it. We have chosen to embrace it.

I stand in front of my closet and remember the conclusion I came to a couple of years ago - that if I had too many clothes to fit in this closet, then I just had too many clothes, period. When I watch the crazy weatherman on Channel 7, I enjoy a pleasant diversion and get to see Ed go nuts at the same time. When I move stuff around in my sewing room/office in order to access other stuff, I’m reminded how much wonderful fabric and books and tools I have. When I scrape my car before I leave for work, I take a moment to look up at the sky, rewarding myself with glimpses of an extraordinarily large moon or shining stars - a view which can put a realistic perspective on life itself. I even marvel at seeing my breath in the frosty air - appreciating the ability to see that which is ordinarily invisible but without which I wouldn't exist. Embracing simplicity tends to make one annoyingly philosophical.

Oh, I know the “honeymoon” with simplicity may not last. I know I will find mud season particularly unpleasant when our yard has no grass yet. But I sincerely hope this enjoyment of location and circumstance continues until the day we die. I believe embracing - certainly not fighting and not just accepting - the whole lot of it is the secret.

We don't want simplicity to be just an acquaintance we tolerate because we have to; we want it to be a dear friend that we have invited to live with us. And I hope that will make all the difference.

1 comment:

Elderwoman said...

Carol, I am certain, from my own experience, that your love of the simple life will not end when the 'honeymoon' is over. As in any good relationship, that love will continue to deepen, to a point where you couldn't imagine living any other way. And that's because you have discovered the secret of embracing 'what is' and just simply being in each moment. That is a pearl beyond price. When you have that, a consumerist lifestyle full of toys and 'stuff' just looks empty, hollow and meaningless.
It just reminds me of that ancient teaching story about the man who went on a long and tortuous journey in search of buried treasure, only to discover, in the end, that it was actually buried under his own hearth.
Many blessings,
Marian Van Eyk McCain