Thursday, October 04, 2007


I have always had a love/hate relationship with rules. I realize the world is not black and white; indeed, I tend to scoff at naive people who have that world view. The truth is, though, that sometimes I fight against rules and other times I welcome their restrictions.

Rules can make us feel safe, for instance. Ed once preached about a psychological experiment where they had kids on two different playgrounds. One playground had no fence, and the little children were generally afraid to venture out into what was to them a wide expanse of the unknown. They pretty much stayed huddled together in the center of the playground. The second playground was just as big, but had a fence. Can you guess where all the children headed? For the fence, of course, with some even trying to climb it.

Experts say that children (especially the young ones, but older ones as well) love to test boundaries. They do this because the boundaries of their lives are sometimes ambiguous (how I hate that word!), and other times because the rules may be clear, but they want to see if the fence will give way every once in a while. Rachel has had many a frustrating day as Caroline and Charlotte test the limits.

Some things in life give us a good mix of rules and freedom. My favorite quilt store, Keepsake Quilting, has a quilting contest several times a year. Called the Keepsake Quilting Challenge, it has just a few rules and a lot of leeway. The entry rules give the dimension measurements. The rules state that you have to buy a certain packet of fabrics from Keepsake Quilting, and your quilt has to incorporate most of those fabrics. You may get to choose one or two other fabrics to complete your design. It has to follow the theme for that specific contest, which varies, but which is usually a big enough umbrella to encompass whatever interpretation you might want to use. With these few rules, many quilts are made that on first glance seem to have little in common. They are marvels of workmanship and creativity.

Then there are the hard-and-fast rules versus implied rules. When she was a little girl, Rachel once entered a coloring contest at a restaurant. She was given a standard picture of an outdoor scene to color, and she did a good job, as did many other children. After she won the contest, the manager told her that she had impressed the judges because she had drawn and colored in a sun where there was no sun. They admired her creativity. I guess the rules did not specifically state you could not add anything, and her creative license saved the day.

I have usually been a dutiful follower of rules in my life, even as a teenager. I followed the school dress code, I didn’t smoke, didn’t drink, usually got my homework in on time, and generally behaved myself. My one big irritation, though, was being told what to do in certain instances. I loved to read, but if a teacher demanded I read a certain book, I immediately developed a hatred for it, sight unseen. If I had picked up the same book on my own, I might have enjoyed it, but to be forced to read it sucked all the pleasure out of it for me.

When time came for our senior graduation picture, we were told to wear our graduation attire and to be sure to wear black shoes. Why that irritated me, I have no idea, but as a last defiant gesture to high school, I balked. If you look carefully at my class picture, I am in the front row wearing white shoes. It probably made me feel a semblance of control in what was a very, very anxious time. But I will say this - one has to know the rules in order to choose to break them.

In our simplicity journey, we make our own rules, and our journey is unlike any other. It’s a roller coaster, it’s a maze, it’s a walk in the dark, it’s serendipity, it’s adjustment, it’s regret and disappointment, wonder and delight.

I’m being featured soon in an online-only new women’s magazine (, where I will give highlights of my individual journey to simplicity, and three other women will give theirs. They will talk about their own rules and their own goals, and I am anxious to see the various quilts we are each making with our lives, using a few basic rules and a mountain of creativity. I’ll never be totally at peace with rules, but it certainly is nice when you’re old enough to make your own. I can live with that.

1 comment:

Chris said...

I hop over here on occasion to read some of your thoughts. I found this particular essay particularly thought provoking. The trick to following rules is for one to know which rule needs to be followed and which rule can be broken. Once you master that (with some maturity under your belt) life should be relatively easy.

I love reading your essays on life.