Sunday, January 04, 2009

Simply Life

Lauren just blogged about trying to live a minimalistic life in the space that you've been placed in. That got me thinking about my life now as compared to how I always envisioned myself living.

When I started college, I must admit that my parents almost needed a UHaul trailer to bring all of my possessions over the mountains. I brought everything but my kitchen sink. I couldn't be without the comforts of home, of course. I blew through my graduation money on things that seemed so important at the time.

In my sophomore year, after thoroughly enjoying a social issues class, I switched my major from history to sociology and along with it, my world view. As I read more about situations within our own country and abroad, the more I was determined to change my ways and learn how to be happy with less. At this point, I was surviving on less than $400/month (room & board paid for, of course) and driving a Dodge Dynasty. I was letting the simple things satisfy me and developing some life-long friendships. Through volunteering, I was realizing how very blessed I was to have a family who loved me, to be in good health and never having to worry about having a place to sleep or food to eat. I also realized how much unnecessary "stuff" I had and began to slowly adapt to the idea that keeping it simple wasn't stupid. I remember donating a lot of things to the Human Society Thift Shop and feeling so much freer afterward.

During my senior year, our main assignment was to write a thesis on how we viewed ourselves, our journey to that point in our lives and where we saw ourselves in the future in terms of social service. I searched high and low for something that grabbed me, talking for endless hours with my professor as he suggested reading materials and mentors to talk to. Finally, by chance, while shelving book for my work/study, I came across a book and submerged myself into the concept of simple living. Being happy with less, was it really possible or was it a far-fetched hippie notion? The more I read, the more it appealed and the more it made sense. Most things that we own are simply that, things. They rarely have a special attachment and oftentimes lose their luster very quickly.

But, more than that, simplicity requires a return to your roots and inner reflection. It is quite a journey to look inside yourself--seeing who you are and then developing who you want to me. This journey has been called a journey towards home, to one's core. Through my reading and reflecting, I discovered that who I was wasn't who I thought I wanted to be. I wanted to be someone who lived life, not just one who let it pass by. I wanted things to move me, not to be moved to buy things. I wanted to make a positive impact on the world and make it a better place. I wanted to truly embrace simplicity and it's adjacent minimalistic lifestyle.

Upon graduation and getting married, I sold off 80% of my belongings and moved to Michigan from Colorado. I had every intention of living out the lifestyle that I had laid out in my senior thesis paper. Ben & I rented a small apartment and I set off to furnish it very simply but tastefully. Then, somewhere along the way, my "road map" got tossed aside and consumerism took over. Eating out replaced home-cooked meals, instant gratification replaced careful planning and purposeful purchasing. Before I knew it, our apartment had been filled to the gills with "stuff". I really couldn't even tell you why we had some of things that we seemed to have to have at the time.

Fast forward to today. We still live in a culture where we want the latest and greatest in everything--cars, cell phones, iPods--but at the same time, we are the same people who are going green, living the urban lifestyle and the smaller, more simple life. There are magazines and websites devoted to small spaces and the organization of those spaces. Sparse furnishings and accessorizing is the trend these days. I have to say, this trend really does appeal, once again, to my inner being.

We are a family of 4 living in an 1100 square foot condo. We own computers, iPods and cell phones. We have "stuff" overflowing into our garage and storage closet. Toys loom everywhere! We outgrew this place within months of moving in. But, why is that? Why must we have so much that we can't happily exist in this space? Families in other countries (and even our own) live in much smaller spaces very happily. Unfortunately, we have got caught up in the whole American materialist world. Stores showcase all the things that we HAVE to have in our lives and we feel like we're failures if we don't have it. Never mind the fact that we have something similar that would do the job just fine. In some ways, I wish we could be convinced to buy what we need instead of what we want, but I'm afraid that we've become accustomed to needing more than we really do need.

As I look around our condo, I find myself wondering...do we really need all of this? Do the kids need so many toys, many of which never get played with? Mind you, I just donated a huge trash bag full of toys before the holidays to weed things down--but now, I realize, that was only to make room for the new toys they received as gifts. I mean, some days, I think my girls would be just as happy with crayons, an empty box and their imaginations. Is it necessary to have decorations adorning every surface? Just because we inherit something, does that obligate us to keep it forever?

I saw an article recently that made me think about all of this. A family found out that they were going to lose their home and would be forced to live in their 20 foot trailer until they could get back on their feet. Each family member--two adults and three kids (11, 7 and 3) were allowed to bring one suitcase and then one box of things that were special to them. Here's the question, could you do it? The way our life is right now, I can assure you that we couldn't! But, if forced to, it certainly would shine a light on to what we truly needed and the things that made us happy.

Maybe this family is on to something. Get rid of only want you desperately need and the things that make you happy or tell a story of who you are. The rest is just "stuff". This is easier said than done, I know, especially with children who seem to think that every toy is as essential to their lives as water. I will, however, make this pledge. I am going to evaluate everything that comes into our house--outside of the basics like food and clothing--to see if we really need it. Then, when something comes in, something must go out. I am also going on a mission for organization. What we do have and need to keep will be as organized as possible. This, apparently, is one of the keys to a simpler, less stressed life--knowing what you have and where it is. Thus begins my renewed attempt at a simple, purposeful life.

Call this a resolution if you want...I'm calling it a way of life.

5 comments:

Judy said...

I like what you had to say, Laura! It is so true that we tend to get caught up in the "stuff" and forget about what truly makes us happy. I look at my boys and how hard I am working to teach them this lesson, but it isn't easy with stores and commercials and the influence of friends that say otherwise.

About my summers in Denver - is that mall still there that had the basement/alley shopping? I think it was Cinderella City or something like that. I just remember going to a mall and the downstairs being underground (I think - it was dark anyway) and being like a London street or something...any of this ringing a bell?

Lolo said...

Hey Laura!

Thanks for the plug. Count me in on your journey, let's make it a more simple year!

I really really liked in your post, where you connected simplifying with an inner quality. You talked about getting to your core. This seems so true, at least to me, it's almost spiritual in a way. Once we let the outside distractions fade away, like passing, material items, all that we are left with is ourselves. Good bye "ego" self, hello real self.

Thanks for posting this, your take on things is really great. I loved hearing about your life too!
xoxoxo :)

Lolo said...

Hey Laura!

Thanks for the plug. Count me in on your journey, let's make it a more simple year!

I really really liked in your post, where you connected simplifying with an inner quality. You talked about getting to your core. This seems so true, at least to me, it's almost spiritual in a way. Once we let the outside distractions fade away, like passing, material items, all that we are left with is ourselves. Good bye "ego" self, hello real self.

Thanks for posting this, your take on things is really great. I loved hearing about your life too!
xoxoxo :)

Mary said...

We do get SO caught up in stuff - but also life has so much more "Things" that seem/are necessary than when I was your age - such as a "need" for computers, not just a "want"...cell phones that can be a lifesaver, ipods, other electronic gadgets etc. So, the expense of these make living more expensive than in simpler times...but that doesn't mean we should or need to indulge in other things, toys if you want to call some of these things, that we do NOT need. So, I agree with you in simplifying whenever possible. It's family and friends who make life really satisfying. It is just that sometimes it is hard to really tell "a want" from "a need" because society changes what is necessary and what is not. (I hope this doesn't sound like I am rambling on too much)

Mary said...

Laura - I just noted that "Lauren" was mentioned in this last blog - and I was wondering if this is the Lauren who worked with us at Baldwin. If so, maybe you and she would like to know that Joan Down's husband died last Aug. I think you both know her from Baldwin.

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