On Simplicity

May 18, 2008

Stop and See the Cherry Tree

Filed under: Simplicity in Theory — Serendipity @ 5:00 am
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It’s amazing how some things can stop us in our tracks.  These rarities can snap us back to reality or allow us dream for a short while. Anything that’s out of the ordinary can have this effect.  For me, that “thing” is the cherry tree in the backyard.

The cherry tree blooms for a very short period, often just a matter of weeks.  While it blooms, it’s a riot of beautiful color.  Once the blooms fall off, the tree looks like any other.  So, when that tree blooms, I know I’d better stop and take notice or risk missing out for the next 11 months.

The limited beauty of the cherry truly forces me to stop whatever I’m doing each time I pass by. Just stop. Take a good look, appreciate its beauty, and ponder how soon it will all be over.  It’s a bittersweet moment that has a way of putting other things in perspective.  Troubles, like these blooms, will soon pass and be forgotten.  Good times also are precious, and must be enjoyed while they last.

The cherry out back is also an incredible way to mark the time.  In the daily rush, it’s easy to go from December to May without blinking.  But with each spring, that precious cherry forces me to acknowledge another year gone by in a very organic way.  It’s a subtle warning: spring is here, it’s time to stop and enjoy it.  And I do.

May 15, 2008

Am I Just Faking It?

In reading other blogs, I come across quite a few items that make me question whether I’m truly a simplifier or not. After all, Xin Lu at Wise Bread, in a great post on living in small spaces, is willing to forgo a sectional for a beanbag. I, on the other hand, am not willing to ditch my sofa for a beanbag at this point. Am I just providing lip service to the idea of simplicity? After all, if you’ve read a few posts here, you know that I love clothing, I live in a big house, will probably never get rid of my television (dude, no MXC?), and so on… Does this mean I’m just faking it?

What Simplicity Means to Me

When it comes down to it, I don’t think I’m just faking it. This isn’t just a cosmetic choice for me. In my own life, simplicity isn’t a race to the bottom to see who can live with less. It’s about making conscious choices, being thoughtful in what I bring into my home and into the world, and focusing on relationships and experiences instead of stuff.

How do I accomplish this? What do I focus on? Here are my top priorities:

Not buying crap. I do a pretty damn good job of not buying things “just because.” Things I buy aren’t just bargains, they’re things that either promote health, bring me or someone else joy, or are really going to be useful.

Keeping media to a minimum. I don’t eschew television, but I also don’t watch that much of it. I stay away from sensationalistic news and gossip. For wimpy news, I stick to headlines instead of reading fluffy article after article after article.

Keeping my personal spaces clean and minimalist. I can breathe in a clean home. I can create. I can dream. I’d prefer an empty room in a beautiful color than a fully furnished room full of useless accessories. It still comes down to pure aesthetics, but it’s also about feeling like things have purpose.

Time commitments and lifestyle. I try to keep my time as my own to give myself freedom and peace of mind. With a job that’s essentially a community service, I can feel good keeping a good portion of my time off to myself to spend with family and friends.

Is Champagne Ever Simple?

I’ll agree–I’m not the traditional voluntary simplicist. While I do have a persistent and weird desire to be a survivalist, I always picture celebrating the first successful potato crop with a champagne toast. (I know.) However, simplicity isn’t just about cutting stuff out of your life. It’s about stripping life down to the bare essentials, throwing out all assumptions, and rebuilding the world around you to fit the dream you have, not the one you’re told to want or raised to believe in. After all, life should be rich. It just doesn’t have to be rich in money, or stuff, or accolades.

Big, Fat Faker

The verdict? I am a faker. A big one. Because in my eyes, simplicity is about having as much as possible. As much time as possible. As much love as possible. As much joy as possible. As much fun as possible. As much honesty as possible. As much thoughtfulness as possible. As much freedom as possible. I don’t want just a little, just enough to get by. No, I want a ton! Perhaps I should look into the availability of “onabundance”….

May 13, 2008

Simplicity Does Not Mean Living Like a Hippie

Filed under: Simplicity in Theory — Serendipity @ 5:00 am

I hate the word hippie. (Hippies themselves I like). People who don’t have green values tend to throw the word out to negate any point you might be trying to convey. It’s similar to the word “prejudiced” in that once it’s thrown out there, there are few productive ways to continue to the dialogue without having it turn into a lecture.

The word in its current form is meant to conjure up images of people in peasant dresses, tie dye, and Birkenstocks. These cartoonish people are unwashed, unrealistic, live in ridiculous communes, dance around yurts, and eat soy bean curd all day. Like all effective stereotypes, this image allows others to dismiss the group in question since they’re clearly living on a different plane that no person living in the “real world” of mortgages and insurance can be expected to emulate.

Do these stereotypical hippies even really exist? Well, having spend significant time in both Davis and Santa Cruz, California, I can confirm that they do. Do they consider themselves to be “hippies”? It depends on who you ask. Do they represent the larger movement of green living and voluntary simplicity? Not so much.

If you studied the majority of people who considered themselves to be living a life of “voluntary simplicity,” I imagine that they’d look surprisingly like everybody else. I know that I don’t fit the “simple” stereotype. I love big sunglasses and pretending to be glamorous. I dream of exotic vacations and good liquor. I like to spoil my dog. I long for a home that’s impressive and elegant (though I settle for “not ugly” and “relatively clean”).

Does this mean I’m not a true simplifier? Well, that’s another topic altogether. What it does mean is that living simply isn’t about cutting yourself off from mainstream values and desires–it’s just about focusing on the ones that you actually care about while letting the others fade into the distance. If that means I need to find a communal yurt to dance around, that’s fine–just let me know where to ship my shoe collection ahead of time.

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