Saturday, July 31, 2010

Ready to work?

I've blogged about this before, but sometimes we assume that simple automatically equals easy. This is not necessarily the case. Indeed, many times simplifying takes a lot of planning, work, and time.

For instance, moving from our giant house to our current small house was our first major simplification undertaking. Notwithstanding the anxiety and stress of selling one house, building another, and the actual process of moving, there was much work to do once we moved in - mainly, even after paring down, how on earth was I going to move my piano, 2 harps, quilting and sewing fabric, supplies, and books, computer with assorted office accessories, and exercise equipment, into this smaller space? How was I to organize it so that I could keep what I used frequently in appropriate places but still have reasonable access to necessary items I used less often?

Of course, paring down is when you ask the question, "Do I really need this?" That question is a beginning, but you have to be careful you don't handle the simplification process the same way the school systems usually do - "Oh, we need to get back to basics like reading, writing and arithmetic, and budget cut on art and music, because they aren't really necessary." On the contrary, I happen to think art and music are very necessary, and my creative hobbies are as necessary to my existence as the pots and pans in the kitchen. Other people might look at the "stuff" I have for music, sewing and quilting, and see excess. I see tools that enrich my life. Again, simplicity is different for everyone. So even after we pared down an abundance of unnecessary things, we still had a lot to fit into our small house. That took a lot of work to figure out and things can get crowded in here sometimes.

This month we finally accomplished what we had talked about for years but were too afraid to do - simplify two cars to one. Everyone is so used to having a car apiece these days (and most of the time, out of necessity, with couples having two jobs with two commutes) that it seems almost anxiety-provoking to go to one shared car. However, in our situation, Ed is retired and is around the house all day, whereas I have to commute to the hospital, and when I'm not working, we do everything and go everywhere together, that it seemed to us that having two cars (and their coexisting registration, excise tax, repairs and maintenance costs) was not required anymore.

It was after we traded in our two cars and bought a new one that anxiety set in for me. I immediately started considering every possible circumstance where one car would be restrictive. If Ed needs the car during the day, he will have to take me to work and pick me up. We wouldn't have a backup car in case something went wrong. We have to keep changing the seat position to accommodate each of us. What if Ed were chain sawing wood and had an accident? He wouldn't have a car to drive to the emergency room. What if I am at work and have an accident or acute illness? He wouldn't have a way to come be with me, as the car will already be at the hospital. It's the same as the "what if" syndrome one encounters when one is fixing to throw/give away an item - "What if I need this one day?" Nope, never easy.

I am also in the process of revamping my wardrobe, to pare down and buy/sew clothes that work in such a way I can get by with less. Should be easy, right? Sounds that way, but it's not. When you have fewer pieces of clothing, each piece has to step up to the plate and fulfill its responsibility on a higher level. Each piece has to conform with my list of requirements - it has to fit, be comfortable, go with most everything else, be a color I love, be a style I love, be a fabric I love, be flattering to my figure and coloring, be age-appropriate, be office-appropriate, be affordable, etc. Most of the time for me, by the time I consider something in ready-to-wear, it won't even pass the first requirement (fit), much less all the others. When I sew a piece, I can be more choosy about the fabric and colors and style, but every pattern needs a great deal of measuring and adjustment before I can even use it. Again, this seemingly uncomplicated process of simplifying my clothing has taken on a life of its own.

Although a real endeavor at simplification can result in contentment in the long run, the process itself is usually not easy. It can be stressful, time-consuming, and a lot of hard work. It involves introspection, thinking, brainstorming, searching through myriad choices, making hard decisions, flexibility, and organizational skills. You have to define your "needs" and "wants" and even before that, define and refine your definition of "needs." I think the whole attempt is like planting a garden. You spend a lot of time planning before you even plant the seeds, then you spend more precious time watering, weeding, pruning, and generally maintaining your project. Only you can decide if the effort is worth it for you. My personal experience says it is. Just remember, the whole process, though it is work, can have its own set of blessings, and once you finally simplify one area of your life, you'll probably find another one that needs attention, and you have to start the process all over again. It can be scary, but then, isn't life itself filled with leaps of faith - every time you make important decisions, such as whom to marry, whether to have kids, where to live, what job to take? Sometimes you just have to jump in there and try. You might be surprised at where simplification will lead you. In the meantime, be ready to sweat.

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