Saturday, January 21, 2012

Simplicity: A Pipe Dream?

I am a lover of simplicity.  I am attracted by it and yet I find it a complicated thing to achieve.  The more people I live with, the harder it is to come by that simplicity.

Yesterday we were in IKEA and they have a fascinating display there, a 621 square foot "family home."  It has two very compact bedrooms, a bath, a living room and a surprisingly spacious kitchen/dining area.  I stood in there and looked around while Sunshine stood on the outside with the three little ones because there were a couple of shoppers in there in addition to me and there wasn't room for any more people.  I was thinking how in that tiny space, there was not room for even one of my children's possessions.  Yet it appealed to me so much; the clean lines, the lack of clutter, the simplicity - it drew me in.

As a child, my imagination was captured by the Laura Ingalls Wilder series of books.  I fantasized about living in that age where kids romped through wheat fields and Pa milked the cow.  I longed for the freedom of that open space and even more, to have the simple desire of a single sweet for Christmas.  I wanted to sit around the fire with the whole family and listen to Pa play the fiddle.  I knew that in reality, ma's hands were rough and red from the constant manual labor, that Pa was too tired to play that fiddle except perhaps on winter Sundays and that those kids could only go to school a few weeks a year because the rest of the time they were working very hard;  Laura probably wasn't jealous of Nellie Olson's possessions so much as her leisure. Nonetheless, I craved the simplicity.

I spend part of every day decluttering.  I give away truckloads of STUFF every year.  If I get something new for the kitchen, I give away something else.  But no one would say we have a simple life. 

There is more to living simply than not having so much stuff.  I am making more progress on some of those fronts; when we had babies, we used a lot of "old fashioned" baby stuff, like cloth diapers and nowadays, cloth training pants.  We don't get perms or color our hair (normally, anyway), we cook from scratch and we keep trying to garden.  We eat locally mostly, we focus on seasonal foods and we ride bikes with petals, not motorized kid cars and scooters.  We read books, we color with regular crayons, and the youngsters watch little tv and don't play video games.  My motto is taken from World War II, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without." 

Yet we are still enmeshed in conspicuous consumption.  We keep considering -and rejecting - solar energy; it seems like a risky investment in our hailstorm/tornado/windstorm prone area.  Many of our light-bulbs are incandescent because with three toddlers (including two boys) and one softball player, things are always flying through the air and the mercury in the new bulbs scares me.  Sometimes plastic wins over glass or wood in our house because of cost or safety concerns or both.  We have a lot of clothes so we don't have to wash them so often.  Life in a family of seven involves a lot of laundry, cooking, and entertaining the troops; certain shortcuts make life easier.

Sometimes I think simplicity is a pipe dream.  We make so many compromises.  Yet I cannot give up  because in many ways, I think the simplicity is what saves us.  I am not married to a man who is going to live in the woods and hunt for our food.  I'm too practical to wash my clothes by hand when Kenmore makes a great machine to do it for me.  It's a balancing act.  And a learning process.  Perhaps instead of seeking that ultimate simplicity the idea is to keep working toward a more simple life.  That fits.

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