Sunday, November 15, 2009

in search of simplicity

image from here

I've always been drawn to idealistic extremes. As a young adult, I made many embarassing bold proclamations that may have gotten me a bit of a reputation. Mostly, they earned me the merciless mocking of my younger sister.

I wanted radical simplicity. I thought that bread, apples, and cheese would be the perfect diet. I wanted to eat nothing else.

I wanted to live in a spartan dwelling, like the apartment prepared for the prophet elijah, a small room with "a bed and a table, a chair and a lamp" (2 Kings 4:8).

And perhaps a bowl, a spoon, and a book.

Books about thoughtful people in prison appealed to me probably because it seemed great to be in a very austere, minimal environment. You could read, or write your thoughts. Besides your meals, there was little else to consider.

In high school I took to wearing jeans and white t-shirts every day (or most days). Even today, I love the idea of not really having to think about what to wear. I have a couple pairs of pants, a tall stack of white t-shirts, and maybe 3 sweaters that I rotate among (I do have more clothes than that, but those are what I wear most days). In summer, I usually have one or two pairs of shorts that I wear pretty much all summer.

Indulge me a little longer on this reflection.

A couple of years ago, I read a book that inspired me to embrace this minimalism with regard to my diet. Not the bread, apples, and cheese diet, but a diet that inspired me to eliminate foods not in their natural state. Butter, not margarine. No prepackaged, processed, complicated foods with long illegible labels. Rather, fresh produce, milk, eggs. Jars of rice, lentils, beans. Homemade bread, biscuits. Honey, olive oil.

A diet that perhaps a 15th century monk would recognize. With some exceptions of course.

In the area of home furnishings, Adam influenced me to move towards glass, metal, and wood, rather than plastics, in the kitchen. And I sold my ikea pressboard shelves and made some of my own rustic, quirky creations to take their place. I realized that I preferred fabrics of cotton and wool and linen rather than synthetic blends for curtains, sheets, or towels.

In all of this, I've had a lot of fun discovering old fashioned, minimal ways.

But my biggest challenge is the middle path, something that has never been my strong point.

Shaving my head and throwing everything away is not a good thing. Holding onto bits of string, rubber bands, found paper, found wood, miscellaneous glues, tape, old letters, tools for various handcrafts and hobbies and cooking, old wine corks, bottles of various drove me crazy. Adam's clutter...well, I eyed it with fantasies of donating things to the goodwill.

Then I realized that his collection of stuff is valuable, and time and time again he has the little gadget or tool that is exactly what i need, and chances are it dates back to when he was in high school or before. Which is pretty awesome.

I guess the austerity of a monk's cell is not exactly what my life's destiny is. But there is an austerity that I do think is right, for me. I think it's the choice to buy less, and try to make more, to patch old things, buy old or used things whenever I can. To have fewer things in order to have less mental clutter.

I guess this quest for the perfect formula for a simple, mindful life is my life's journey. And letting go of easy, extreme answers is not easy but it's part of my learning to be balanced.

Also, being kind and accepting of others is far more important than achieving that pure, simple, and somewhat intolerant art form that I have a weakness for.


herM said...

heard, felt, shared.

Beth said...

i was so mean. good thing you are a good sport. remember making plans to make moccasins and forts in the woods? i think the minimalist was in that too. it was exciting to think of surviving with the bare necessities.

Wordsmyth said...

"To have fewer things in order to have less mental clutter."