Less is more
Living simply is paring away — stuff, obligations, expectations, people. It’s removing all the glut and rubble from your life, making space in your house, your heart, your brain and your life for exactly and only what you need. It’s getting down to the core of things and returning to a way of living that most of us can only vaguely remember: pleasures that don’t cost piles of money, rewards you don’t have to buy in stores, amusements that don’t require a screen or scrabbling with hundreds of other people to get to.
When I say live simply, I’m not talking about picking up a copy of one of those make-your-life-simple magazines at the checkout counter of the health food store for $4.95 and doing all the really pretty expensive things they tell you to do, like paint every piece of your living room furniture the same uplifting color of pea green. I’m talking about the practice of simplicity in all its forms as a kind of human grace and peace, about being present in every moment with the softest, smallest thing you can be present with —washing dishes, taking out the trash, choosing what you wear and eat and listen to, what you choose to throw away, what you save and use again. Simplicity can be as simple as sweeping the leaves from the path and using them to mulch the ferns, cutting up your old T-shirts and using them for rags, refolding and reusing a brown paper bag.
We feel good — hopeful, alive, optimistic — when we live simply because we can relax, knowing that we’re part of the solution and not part of the problem. We are not putting ourselves or the rest of the world in jeopardy by taking more than what is rightly ours. When we live simply we are able to rest in the peace that simple living brings: a quieting of the endless mental chatter and the agitation to have more, a simplicity of movement and action in the passage of each day. Time to sit still, to talk with your children, to stare into your lover’s eyes, to read a book, to water a tree, to pray.
Simplicity and hard times
It’s good to live simply when things are going well, but when life is difficult, it is essential. That’s because every object, habit, movement, conversation, undertaking, responsibility and reaction takes energy. The more people, circumstances, widgets, emails, objects, people and tasks you’re dealing with, the less energy you have. If your daily to-do list is already burning up all the calories you can cobble together from dawn till dusk on a “normal” day, where are you going to get the extra energy to deal with the flood in the basement, the banker banging at the door, all those extra trips to the lab and the X-ray department when the unbearable, or the unexpected, shows up in your life?
We are energetic beings, and in a single life we get only so much energy. Do you want to use yours sorting out your storage — as one person I know does practically every Saturday, rooting through her mother’s old tablecloths — or do you want to go fishing, feel the beauty of your humanity, breathe in the majesty of the elm trees, see the bleeding colors of the sunset? We came to life not to be saddled with junk, but to feel ourselves and the mystery of life. You will need to live simply through this crisis or else you won’t have enough energy to get through it. Once you have lived through it, you will understand more about what’s really important in life. In fact, maybe that’s why it showed up in the first place.
Our life’s purpose is not simply to amass more and more stuff, but in spite of the attraction of all our stuff, the seduction of all our material attachments, to connect with the depth of who we are. If you don’t live with simplicity through these hard times, chances are you won’t make it through. Instead of being a teaching, an opportunity or a transformation, the terrible thing you’re going through now will chew you up and spit you out: sick, addicted, friendless, bitter, maybe even suicidal or dead. Is it worth it, hanging on to every little thing you’re attached to, when, simply by having the courage to cut through some of the caked-on layers of stuff, you can regain your energy? Your disaster is asking you to learn to live simply so that, instead of being a dead-end trip, it can become the doorway to a powerful new chapter of your life.
Living simply and you
There is both a general urgency and immediate personal payoffs for living simply. When we simplify our lives, we become more available to other life experiences. What these new opportunities might be will only be revealed once you’ve taken the steps to simplify your life. Imagining the peace, the energy and the surprises that await you as a consequence of choosing to live more simply, how would you answer the following questions?
•What are 10 things you could get rid of immediately? Who could you give them to, so they remain helpful and useful, rather than throwing them away to join the 99 percent of manufactured goods that are in landfills? Can you commit to getting rid of ten things every week or once a month?
•What is an ongoing practice of conscious simplicity that you’d be willing to commit to, starting today?
•What are the rewards — concrete, emotional and spiritual — that you would like to receive from this committed movement toward simplicity? Spending less of your time dealing with possessions? Saving money? Living in a less cluttered and more beautiful environment? Cultivating a feeling of well-being, of sharing with others, of personal responsibility for the environment? Having more resources — ideas, energy, money — to focus on your current crisis or on other important problems? Increasing your spiritual connection to others and your community? Increasing the sense of peace in your own life?
“Do what you can. Where you are. With what you have.”
— Theodore Roosevelt
These are excerpts from the post Learn to Live Simply through Happy and Hard times, written by Daphne Rose Kingma for blog.gaiam.com.