Thursday, 17 January 2013

simplicity for the real world



The word simplicity has been making it's rounds for a while now.  I was first introduced to it in 2005 when I went to a lecture given by the author of Simplicity Parenting.  Kim John Payne spoke about simplifying our parenting and the lives of our children by reducing toys, noise, information, meals and home environment.  It all made so much sense to me.  I, along with the other nodding parents in the room signed up in our hearts for turning our lives around.  I  zealously went home and got rid of the toy box.  I bought a book shelf and hand selected beautiful wooden toys, only enough to fit on the shelves and no more.  I cut my son's books down to five and put the rest away.  We stopped giving him too much information and made sure that we had a strong rhythm in our home.  Many of the lessons I learned still stick with me to this day, but I, like most people am still affected by the world I live in.  As much as I would love to live in a zen world, I don't.

I am bombarded daily by the news, by stuff, by kids activities, by the pressures of the modern world including all that goes along with social media.  Never in history have we been so available to each other which creates a whole new level of pressure and expectation.  We live in a plugged in world and it is hard to escape it unless you are planning on moving to some remote place in the wilderness and living like my ancestors did.  That is not realistic for most people, it certainly isn't for me.

Never before have we had so much stuff available to us, everything from do dads that fill up kitchen drawers to cheap clothes to electronic gadgets that are out of date by the time we get them home.  I often find when I go to the city that I am suddenly struck with a near panic with how many beautiful things I find.  What is always so fascinating is how much I didn't know I even wanted them until I saw them.  The point being, that my life was just fine without the new linen set, but now that I have seen it, suddenly it seems as though my bedroom could just never be as lovely without it.  So many of us fall into the "I just have to have it" trap, bringing home way more than we could ever need and when we find it on sale, all the better.  Trouble is, our homes and our lives are filling up with clutter and in the end we are no happier for it.

All this stuff isn't bringing us lasting happiness, in fact is is doing the exact opposite.  Shows like "My Shopping Addiction" and "Hoarders" are perfect examples.  We have now reached a stage in our history where we are no longer the ones in control, consumerism is actually beginning to consume us.  Consider the story of Michael Marin who killed himself in the courtroom as he was being sentenced to jail time for insurance fraud.  Or the man who was a hoarder just this week in Vancouver who was found pinned under all his junk in his house after three days.  He will likely loose his leg that was twisted and lost circulation during his ordeal. We are literally drowning and suffocating from all of our stuff, it is killing our souls and sending many into bankruptcy.  People are miserable, dissatisfied and in debt like never before.  Relationships are falling apart from financial stress and what do we do for a pick me up?  We go shopping.

Where does it all stem from? Our society is suffering from a sincere lack of connection.  We are lonely, we are depressed and so we shop, we consume, we make ourselves believe that this discount store find will make us feel better, but it never does for long.  Or we spend hours a day on our screens.  Social media outlets were created with the intent to create connections with long lost friends and family and to foster new relationships, even if that meant you were a world away.  It was meant to be a place where we could come together when in the past it may have proved to be nearly impossible to foster those kinds of relationships.  However, it has all taken a sad turn.  Now social media has sparked a new kind of social anxiety, an outlet for bullying or as I like to call it harassment and so many of our friendships have been boiled down to one line status updates.  When was the last time you actually picked up the phone to talk to someone, or better yet, had a coffee with them?  Commenting on someones status is not nurturing a friendship.  My eight year old wants an ipod touch for his birthday so he can text his friend. I said, at your age, you can have a pen pal. Learn to write a letter, send a little treasure and develop a relationship.  When was the last time anyone wrote a real letter with the imprint of your soul in your handwriting on paper?  It isn't the same as an email or text, it just isn't.

I have been feeling this way for a while and back in November I found this book, "Less is More"  I would like to recommend this book to everyone I know.  It is a wise collection of essays all about the simplicity movement.  It creates a meaningful dialog about how much we consume, what we bring into our homes, how much time we spend with screens and how to find a deeper connection through paring our lives down to enough, not in excess.  I loved this book so much because it takes the idea of simplicity out of the new age book store and applies it in a real way to our everyday lives.  It has changed so many things for me and affirmed my feelings that I have held for so long.

I am not a zen Buddhist who lives on a remote mountain.  I have two school age kids and a computer that lets me shop at all hours of the day if I want.  I love to watch deign shows and be inspired by beautiful things.  I love beautiful things.  But I think that simplicity is a practice not an instant pill.  I have a wise friend who once said that the joy in beautiful things is often enjoying them on the shelf, look at it, love it and then put it down.  Just because it is lovely doesn't mean I have to own it.  That simple bit of advice has saved me hundreds of dollars and a house full of clutter.  I still have to purge once in a while, but I am ever more careful about what I bring into our home.  I am also learning to spend less time on my computer and more time with people face to face.  It's a process, one that I encourage you to consider.  It has brought more gratitude in my life, more contentment and a deeper connection to those around me, but most importantly to myself.  Get the book from the library, read it, digest it, share it.  Don't even buy it, the library has it so it doesn't even need to clutter your selves when you are done with it. There is freedom in simplicity, I am learning to appreciate that more and more everyday.

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