The Freedom of Simplicity…
This is my first post on this blog dedicated to designing a beautiful life. The quality of simplicity has been in the foreground of each decision our family has made as we first imagined, prepared for, and eventually embarked on our Europe year abroad. As I have written about elsewhere on this blog, our family has been practicing simplicity for several years now and it has gradually transformed us.
One of the first books I read on this topic is one that I stumbled across 4 years ago in a small bookstore near Mendocino on the California coast. We had just finished our annual family summer camping trip in Fort Bragg and we were heading home. I was feeling especially inspired and refreshed by the week in the wilderness, and the clarity and resilience in my body, mind, and heart after a week of outdoor simple living — sleeping bags snuggled together in our tent, cooking under the stars, sea salt in my hair and dirt under my fingernails, and warming ourselves at night by the camp fire. So the book that jumped off the shelf and into my hands was The Joy of Less: A Minimalist Guide to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify (Updated and Revised) by Francine Jay (just recently re-published in 2018). I brought her book home and it sat near my bedside, unread, for the next year.
The following summer, I intuitively grabbed a handful of books to bring with us on our first family trip to Europe. Included in my small reading bundle was The Joy of Less. My uncle had generously offered his house to us on the beautiful Irish coast of Sheep’s Head. With this wonderful offer, together with 4 free tickets accumulated through frequent flyer miles, we felt we could not turn down this travel opportunity. We were on our first family pilgrimage to connect with our ancestry in Ireland and Sweden, and this is when I finally read Jay’s book, cover to cover. Jay’s message of minimalism read against the backdrop of beautiful Stockholm and the wild Irish coast, and interwoven with my felt connection to my ancestors, began to transform me. The clarity of being removed from our day-to-day time and space clutter, the simplicity and paring down that comes with travel, as well as the intimacy this ancestral journey brought to our family — all of it together began to offer me a new perspective. While we still owned a large house and struggled with an overwhelmingly busy schedule which we returned home to, for me, this was the beginning of visioning a more simple way of living.
Simplicity comes in so many forms. We have chosen to educate our children in the Steiner Waldorf method as an act of simplicity. The choice of less media, a lower stimulation environment, the beautiful and simple Steiner aesthetic, and the grounded simplicity of extended outside play are just a few of the features that intuitively drew me to Waldorf education. Many of the recent books on minimalism and simplicity emphasize one’s physical space — less clutter, a streamlined wardrobe, paring down one’s possessions to the essentials. I have certainly found a growing freedom moving from a sprawling house filled with beautiful things, to a smaller house with still-beautiful but less things, to our 6 suitcases that we will live from over the next year. I have found a clarity arises with a purified and simplified space. The less things I own, the easier it is for me to create an elegant space of simplicity.
Another important form of simplicity is that of empty space. I will be writing more about this element in a later post but for now just a few words. The notion of building in unscheduled time so that one’s mind can simply wander and reflect in this open field where creativity flourishes and discernment arises is poignantly articulated for me in the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. One of the primary threads of McKeown’s work suggests the need for open space in order to allow us to discern the essential from the trivial. And when we can discern what is truly important and essential to us, we can then live our life by design rather than default. This practice of creating a simpler life where there is built-in open space, supports me to live a life by design, rather than default, a life that is intentional.
My practice in simplicity has been to follow the seeds that were sown over several years — the fresh clear feeling I had in our simple living after camping; the book The Joy of Less that fell into my hands after that trip; the timing of reading that book after it sat at my bedside for a year, before I spontaneously grabbed it for our first family trip to Europe; the reading of The Joy of Less in the spacious context of the land of our ancestors — all of which created a path that led me to this moment. We are living in Ireland with very few possessions, I have created open space in my life to help discern the trivial from the vital, and I am continuing to explore the question of what makes a beautiful life while at the same time doing our best to live a life of creativity, simplicity, courage, gratitude. We are attempting to design a beautiful life.
Invitation to Practice:
In the following week, look for moments of open space — turn off the radio in your car and drive in silence; take a 10-20 minute walk without headphones; have a cup of tea and stare out the window — and let your mind wander and reflect, being open to the essential aspects of your life (what is most important to you and your life’s purpose) emerging from the trivial many (your “to-do” list).
Another practice to consider: look for small ways to simplify your life — create a giveaway bag and put it in an accessible closet near your front door to be easily filled for the next Goodwill run; graciously say “no” to an invitation you feel obligated to but really don’t want to attend; pause before you offer yourself up to be involved in a good cause and sleep on it, responding only after a bit of time and reflection. Thanks for reading and send me an email and let me know how these practices are going for you!