Thursday, June 11, 2009

real simple

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.

46 comments:

  1. Amen! I agree with you about life being more work then and modern people having more time to pursue family and interests. I think, though, that some of what is attractive about Farmer Boy and that life (though I probably wouldn't make it through the winter!) is that all their work directly impacted their lives and they often pursued it together. Also the family functioned as a whole, even the kids. They were all needed and valued.

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  2. I love this post! I agree - simplifying life doesn't mean being lazy or doing nothing. Maybe it's more about productivity, cutting out things that don't matter or waste time, and prioritizing the important things in life; savoring the small delights and not stressing over insignificant bumps along the way.

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  3. I think you've got it right.

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  4. How very true. I think you are absolutely right. Thank you for putting this into words!

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  5. You made some excellent points about work...I think we have this notion that work is bad, but I wonder where it comes from. I believe we were created to work, and this is good. Until my laziness kicks in and reminds me otherwise.
    I too read those books and love them. We have no idea what exhaustion is, do we?

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  6. "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. "

    Completely, COMPLETELY agree. Well said.

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  7. Thank you for that very touching and thought provoking post.

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  8. I think what simplifying ends up meaning is more about where one's attention and focus is rather than how much free time we have. A simple life has more of a focus right where you are, on your home family and community rather than on 85,000 different interests and paths. This doesn't mean you live in a bubble it just means that you are more intentional in where you place your focus. When these choices are deliberate the outcome is usually more pleasurable, productive or both.

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  9. You nailed it! I think simpler means less - less clutter, less distractions, less . . . why is less so hard? PS: I also adored the Little House books - had to have read them 10 times since I was about 8 - it is fun to revisit and read them from an adults perspective!

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  10. Thank you for this! I totally agree. Having grown up on a farm (and a very small farm at that) I always chuckle a bit when people talk about the "simple farm life", in actuality, as you pointed out, there is non-stop work! I think one thing we can easily do to simplify our daily lives is think about the things we do more - for instance with a little thought the shopping trip can cover three or four errands instead of having to go out separately for each thing, and then there is time to sit down with some tea! I'm working on that for starters!

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  11. I share many of your thoughts even about the Little House on the Prairie Books. I read those books many times while growing up. I determined then that I never wanted to be a farmer's wife. Mrs. Wilder worked hard all the time. However I'm fascinated with the concept that they were practically self sustaining. On a side note, a read once, that women today spend more time with their children than say 100 years ago thanks to the advent of things like the washing machines, vacuum cleaners, and dish washers. Thanks goodness for electricity. I wish I had the source for that factoid.

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  12. I love the way you explained this! And I agree with your first commenter, Helen, about that time of life being appealing because of their working together as a family. In this modern life, we don't have to work as "hard," but we are often times "alone." I have always been drawn to the Amish way of life, atleast the fictionalized way of life in books mind you, because even though they worked so hard, they did it together. The women were together baking bread and pies, quilting, sewing, making wedding and baby items. The men worked together to farm and build. It was simpler in that everyone knew their place and how what they did was important. I think for me, yearning for the "good old days" speaks to the part of me that wants to belong and to be known and to feel like I'm doing something needed. Does that make any kind of sense??? :)

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  13. I think you are right. Simplify doesn't mean less work, it means more meaningful work. Not running after the illusive dream of a bigger house, etc. but appreciating the little things in life. Seems like life will always be busy. It's just how do we spend the time that we have. Good thoughts! Thanks!

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  14. This is where I would insert one of those little (cheezy) emoticons of two hands clapping as if to say HERE! HERE!

    Having had a Laura Ingalls Wilder day at my son's school lately, and then deciding to daunt the task of making homemade bread (a very small token on the old-fashioned scale, and mostly because I love the flavor), I have thought an awful lot about ALL. THE. WORK. those olden-day ladies (men) had to do just to survive. While my bread making might involve fresh ground flour, I didn't have to raise the chickens (nor clean the coop), drive a horsedrawn buggy to the store to buy sugar, yeast, salt and other essentials. I also have an electric oven, and an air-conditioned kitchen.
    (Can I make that last paragraph smaller text, because I didn't mean to post so much.)

    Seriously, you are right. It is time with family, the moments and memories of doing things together. I particularly enjoy seeing the posts of your little one and the books you read with her.... her tiny little fingers pointing to an image.... or her hands on a camera. One can certainly tell she is loved. It also reminds me that you are a Mama, just like me, and you make time to stop your work (and family provision) for moments with your daughter.

    You are doing right, Liesl.

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  15. By the way, is that clover? My mama would make little "princess" crowns for me by weaving the clover in and out. And, she also taught me to get a sweet taste by plucking one little white bud (is that they're called?) out of the head of the flower and nibbling on the inside end.

    It's these simple things that I remember.

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  16. I enjoyed this post, too. I have been feeling somewhat guilty for the work that I do, even though it's not all that much. But then it seems that lazying around all summer and being the party director for my kids is not fulfilling to me. I, too have been thinking about moms in an earlier era. They weren't entertaining their kids 24/7. They had plenty to do themselves. Although, like has been said before, when I'm cooking and cleaning the kids can "help" but when I'm working on the computer, not so much.

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  17. Anonymous2:36 PM

    You said that so well! I too have thought about this historical rosey-glorifying thing that happens- pioneer life seems like all-out survival and hardness (the laundry alone). Thank you for sharing those thoughts.

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  18. Yes- and perhaps not running children around involving them in too many organized activities-letting them imagine, play, and dream more-without involving them too much in adult worries and stress. Even Laura and Mary got to do that!

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  19. so true. thanks for sharing your thoughts, i really enjoyed this post :)

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  20. Richly told...I agree so much! In our life (and I know it's not for everyone), this translates into educating our kids at home. It's a lot of work, but it's done side-by-side with the people I care about deeply--my kids.
    Thank you for your insightful writing!

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  21. I agree. Simple to me means less of pretty much everything except work and family.

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  22. Johanna3:30 AM

    This is so true. Focussing on the "simple" things like cooking dinner together with my bf as a daily routine is such a great way to feel grounded for me – and to not loose myself in all the things I think I need and want to do in these small days.

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  23. I sure can relate to that...
    We've been living with no TV for about 4 years and have realized that we do much more than before: learn more new crafts, read more, bake more, etc.
    My husband and i are the kind of people who are never ever bored : we love to learn new stuff by ourselves in a DIY kind of lifestyle. SO yes it's a lot of work but it's also more "simple" than going shopping, getting "fed" by the TV.
    Thanks for this post!
    Amélie - working mom with a huge pile of launrdy ;o)

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  24. So much of what you say is true, our lives are truth much easier than they were 100 years ago. Personally, I think the "simple living" concept being marketed to us by the media is really guilt-free living. How to have a beautiful home, clothes, food, vacations and other luxuries and justify one's over-consumption with the humble stamp of "simple living."

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  25. liesl,
    lovely post has got me thinking. last night i read THE TOWN MOUSE AND THE COUNTRY MOUSE to my son in bed. it is all about the simple life vs homemade and doing things yourself, and in the end enjoying it so much more for the effort. i think today women have a poorly defined definition of a 'role' in which to play, unlike in the pioneer days when everything was cut and defined as what needed to be done that day. there would have been no sticky notes or procrastinations, the butter must be churned when ready or would spoil, thus no pastry for a year or so. i yearn for those times when i am still. in the wind, i can still hear the voices of these women calling to me. werent they beautiful.

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  26. This was a great post! Thank you for sharing it! I also agree with all of the commenters who talk about knowing where their work fits in and what it contributes. It is easy for those of us working in offices to lose sight of this and dream of "simpler times". But it IS better to focus on where we are, not another place, just because it seems easier, as you say!

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  27. What a great point. Those were my favorite books as a little girl, and they now reside at my mother's, just waiting for my daughter. Perhaps that will be my summer project when visiting ... to re-read.

    Just imagine, I grumble about making dinner for my family of 4 and keeping the floors swept. What an easy life I have in comparison to those hardworking men and women.

    I'm off to work on my very first quilt. How Laura Ingels Wilder of me.

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  28. Anonymous10:24 PM

    Yes!

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  29. Oh, so nice to read your thoughts on simplifying, I agree wholeheartedly and appreciate the reminder to more carefully approach days.

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  30. Great post, and I couldn't agree more!!

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  31. You have eloquently put into words my own thoughts over the last few months. It is wonderful to see so many people agree...

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  32. I so agree, its been many years since I watched much TV. And I found lots of time once I stopped sitting there night after night. Now I stitch or read or head into my sewing room and work on a project. Last year I discovered the Pioneer Woman blog and goodness the amount of physical labor still involved in running a farm/ranch from the top to the bottom, Mom, dad and all the kids is still mind boggling.

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  33. You are absolutely correct, a simplier life does not translate into an easier life. We've found that out here at our place as we've tried over the last year to teach our children more about being self-sufficient and raising animals - it's more work than I've ever done! However, it has forced us to work more closely as a family and it's really brought us together as a team. In the end that's what matters! But, simple ain't easy :)

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  34. Kirsten11:01 AM

    Wonderful post. Sometime simple does seem to get mixed up with lack of "work". Thanks for putting in words!

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  35. I completely understand what you are saying. I quit my job to be a stay-home mom, and there were moments of bliss reading on the porch swing, but it was still a lot of work. And then the makings of what is shaping up to be a fulfilling, enriching, wonderful little business fell into my lap, and suddenly I'm working TWO full time jobs-- caring for my boys, and working every single spare moment they don't need me, sacrificing sleep, reading, and relaxing to do what feeds my soul. But I'm learning to really sink in deeply to the little moments of calm and quiet-- they are so much more fulfilling and restorative because they are infrequent. I'd rather be busy with my hands than watch tv. I'd rather grow some of our food in the backyard, dirtying up my hands and my childrens' hands than go for a manicure. I like the idea of streamlining my life a little so that every moment COUNTS-- far better than many dull moments where nothing much counts, you know?

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  36. I'm glad to read this as I am looking again at my relationship to work, esp. at home. I somehow expect that all my little home things should just happen, because there is other work to do! While we certainly have it much easier/lighter than our forbearers, there is a lot of work that goes into caring for a home and a family! I appreciate the definition of a "simple" life including attention to our intention and choices.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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  37. I, too, loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder books as a child and am fairly certain that, based on that reading and all the other pioneer literature I devoured, I could raise sheep, shear them, dye and spin wool, and come out with a dress at end. A big claim for a girl from Larchmont! No, there was no rest for the Wilder family (or the Ingalls); I suspect Ma would have given a lot for access to a washing machine! Our lives are simpler in many ways, but perhaps less rewarding in others. It sounds like you're finding the balance, somewhere in between - and expressing it beautifully. Bravo!

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  38. Love how you put that! So true. And yet so HARD! But I guess that's the point, though, when all is said and done.

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  39. I re-read the Laura Ingalls books every 5 years or so, and not only do they make me think about what is valuable in life, they take me back to my own childhood when I first loved the books so much. I love them with all my heart.

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  40. Thank you for verbalizing exactly what I have been thinking and feeling. Cheers!

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  41. A simple life is a good life. What could be better than the smell of homemade bread? Or sitting with tea and reading on a porch as the day lazes by? Time goes by too fast and part of it is from how jam-packed our schedules become... the pursuit of family and hobbies is something, I believe, that brings far more happiness than career and worldly success.

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