I've been thinking a lot about simple living lately.
Many of us today are attracted to the idea of a simple life, aren't we? The idea of living life more slowly and contemplatively, stopping to enjoy each day and having more time with our families and our hobbies. A number of glossy books and magazines have recently been published, catering specifically to this topic. And it has a genuine appeal on many levels, especially from the standpoint of our busy, hectic lives.
There is nothing I'd like more than to spend an week, or even just an afternoon, sitting on a porch swing and reading books to my daughter. Or lazing at the seashore.
Unfortunately, at this point in my life that slow approach to life isn't realistic. I might be able to sneak an afternoon or a couple of hours every once in a while, but running a business is hard work. There is very little time in my life for relaxation. Or even grocery shopping and laundry, at this point. And I'm sure I'm not alone in this regard. At least I can rearrange my schedule when a conflict arises, but many working parents don't have that flexibility in their schedules.
Often when we talk about simplifying, we reminisce about the good old days, back when life moved at a slower pace. But frankly, I'm not sure that long stretches of down-time are historically accurate. Our memories, or concepts of times past, deceive us.
I'm still a believer in a simpler, more contemplative life, and I'm still striving to achieve that dream of reflective time to sit back and appreciate. But I've been contemplating this simple ideal recently and finding that my understanding and expectations about simple are shifting. Let me explain.
Last summer I re-read Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books. I adored these books as a child, and re-reading them as an adult gave me a completely new appreciation for them. One aspect that especially struck me this time around was the incredible amount of work that was required for survival. Look at Almanzo Wilder's family in Farmer Boy. The Wilders were a successful farming family, and the book focuses on the work involved in running a farm. The Wilder family never stopped.
The physical labor of the men and boys was obviously incredibly demanding. And did you notice the work the women were doing alongside the men? Three massive meals were cooked every day, and included in those meals were homemade bread, pies, and all sorts of baked goods. Sometime on the side, preserves were made and doughnuts were fried. The amount of time and labor involved in just the feeding of this family simply astounds me.
The book also discusses the yarns that Almanzo's mother spun, the fabric she wove from the yarn, the clothing she constructed from the fabric. She wove summer hats for the entire family, all from materials grown on the farm. When did that woman sleep?
So perhaps this will be a bit controversial. But aren't we already less busy in many ways today? I don't spend as much time cooking or cleaning as the Wilders--far too little, I fear--thank goodness our apartment is small and easy to clean, although I make up for that by working hard at other things. And I think that my life already is simpler than it was for Almanzo's mother. I can come home at the end of most days, spend a little time with the kiddo and my husband, and at the end of the night have a few minutes to read before I go to sleep.
I guess what I'm saying is this: I think simplifying our lives today shouldn't necessarily mean doing less work. We shouldn't be mis-led into thinking that we need to relax more and that somehow not working equates to a simpler life. I think a simple life is realistically still very busy and full of work. It just means that we're consciously watching less (or no) T.V., buying fewer things, and focusing on each other while working together as a family to accomplish daily tasks.
I probably won't get a chance to finish the two quilts in my project bin for quite a long time, and I certainly won't be taking on any new large-scale projects for a while. But I can still eke out a little time for a small project with Tsia now and then, make a short trip to the playground or the library, or maybe even take a couple of days for vacation. I'll still be working very hard around those activities, but I'll also be trying to make my family a priority alongside that work.
That's my version of real simple.