With my bedroom windows open, I'm awakened to the birds' morning songs—a cacophony of chirps and caws. It's loud and dissonant, but simple in its source—birds. Outside. Doing what birds do. I savor the sounds for a minute while my brain engages, and suddenly my mind chirps its own note: Get coffee now!
As soon as my feet hit the ground, what began as a simple start to the day quickly gives way to a complex schedule: Coffee. Shower. Out the door. Hour commute. At my desk. Onslaught of e-mail. Voicemail. Meetings. Decisions. Reading. More reading. Editing. Eat lunch while editing. More meetings. Write. Write more. Pack up. Hour commute. Stop and see Mom in nursing home on the way home. At home. Dinner. Homework with kids. Walk dog. Collapse in bed. Attempt to watch Netflix. Asleep within five minutes. Wake up at midnight. Turn off computer. Back to sleep. Birds chirping. Repeat.
The details may be different in your life, but the routine probably sounds grindingly familiar. And if you're anything like me, you probably ache for something simpler. Something slower.
In my article, "In Search of a Real Simple Life," I describe lessons learned when a simple life was foisted on my family and me. A house fire destroyed nearly everything we owned. We lost much, but what we gained—time and a changed perspective on possessions—far exceeded any losses. This experience was a watermark event on the Liautaud family timeline. It changed us and shaped our values in indelible ways.
I never thought I'd forget those lessons. And yet, 20 years later I'm seeing that they weren't etched on my heart; they were written more with a Sharpie, which, though supposedly permanent, really does fade over time.
I've been wrestling for some time at the crossroads of craving a simpler life versus the reality of my not-so-simple life. I ache for simplicity. I long for a slower pace. Fewer things, more time. This is my definition of a simple life.
And yet, as I assess my life and ponder how to achieve this hoped-for simplicity, I'm discovering that I may be my own worst enemy in the fight for it. I sabotage myself at every turn, it seems.
My closet is brimming with clothes that no longer fit or are out of style. But I hang on to them in hopes that sooner or later I'll lose 10 pounds, or the styles will come back and I'll have a ready-to-wear trendy wardrobe.
My schedule is crammed and spilling over like my dresser drawers. I'm perpetually exhausted and constantly chasing down my to-do list, which seems to have a mind of its own. It's as if tasks multiply on the list while I'm sleeping. But as long as I don't slow down, I can't let my mind wonder what a less-hectic life might look like. What might I gain if I pared back and slowed down in all areas?
Thankfully, I downshifted long enough to read Monica Friel's article, "From Hoarding to 'I Have Enough.'" Monica is founder of Chaos to Order, one of the first organization companies that made its start before closet systems were even a thing. Monica shares an incredible story of a woman she helped who was featured on the popular show Hoarders. Most of us won't experience this level of unsimple living. But if you're like me, you may fall into clinging to too many belongings, which can lead to feeling like you're a slave to your stuff.
If you ask people what their definition of a simple life is, some will point to the Amish. Who hasn't longed for a Lancaster County kind of life, if only for a moment? To ride buggies through back roads in the bucolic countryside, raise barns with friends, join with other women to can jams and pickle peppers—this feels slow and good. I want more of that in my life.
But being Amish isn't a panacea for our deeper problem of striving, chasing, and clinging. Jesus is the only real answer to this problem. Irene and Ora Jay Eash, an Amish couple who suffered unimaginable loss, had to learn just how true this is. In "Trading a Plain Faith for Truth," they share their heartrending story of tragedy and how it forced them to let go of their too-simple faith. In confronting the multifaceted emotional and spiritual questions their circumstances raised, the Eash family is now better equipped to face life—even Amish life—in all of its complexity.
So how about you? If you had to rate your life on a simplicity scale, would your score fall where you want it to be? Is there anything you'd change to simplify life? What steps can you take today?
This journey to a simpler life is more complicated than I would have guessed. But I'm committed to staying on this slow, steady road to Simpleville. Who's with me?
Marian V. Liautaud