In praise of the simple life

With this dazzlingly springtastic weather (which had better last– surely we’re through with the frigid legacy left to us by the groundhog?), my thoughts have been traveling spring cleaning-ward.  On a recent weekend afternoon, the Man and I decided that this year, finally, we are going to do something about The Office.

The Office is where I check Facebook work.  Because it has a door, The Office is also a repository for random stuff that we don’t know what to do with, but that we do know we don’t want littering up areas where company could see it.  It’s convenient, because people who see the rest of my house think I’m organized.  But when I enter The Office, the clutter is waiting, and it snickers at me while I’m trying to get work done at the desk.

No wonder I’m so inefficient.

Every year we make a valiant attempt to reduce the pile.  However, since the next 364 days are usually spent topping it off–and adding a few more things– it’s an exercise in futility.  Where does all this stuff come from?  More importantly, do we really, truly need it?

A few years ago, we did a temporary (as in, four and a half months) move from Alaska to Washington, D.C.  All we brought to the capital was what we could carry in a few suitcases.  The rest of our stuff– all my kitchen supplies, all our books and DVDs, most of the Maiden’s toys, our crafting stuff, our cars, and a lot of our clothes–stayed behind in the great white north.

On arrival, my heart sank. Could the Man and I– and our busy then-toddler Maiden– survive for several months in a small apartment without any of the daily necessities that we couldn’t imagine living without?  A simpler life might sound good on paper, but could we actually live that way?

After the initial “culture shock,” I was astonished to find how much easier it was to live without the stuff which we’d thought was necessary to survival.  In fact, it was incredibly liberating! The apartment was neater than our house, because I had fewer toys, books, and papers to pick up. Fewer surfaces and less clutter on the countertop and table meant less time wasted putting things away.

Sure, cutting vegetables for soup took a few minutes longer without a food processor, but then I didn’t have to take out, clean, and put away the processor, either. There was no place to store incoming mail, clean laundry, kiddie toys, or mixing bowls, but that meant I had to deal with them right away, rather than letting everything pile up and get out of hand.

In fact, having fewer things made my life more manageable. I was amazed to discover all the free time it created. I could now spend mornings sightseeing, working out, or going to social events, the grocery store, the park, or the library—and still have those two precious hours during the Maiden’s nap time to write or catch up on paperwork.  The Maiden and I got along much better, since there was less for her to tear apart (and for me to subsequently put back together).

I had more time to have fun with my family, but paradoxically, I was also finally caught up on the mundane little things that make a household run smoothly. That means I didn’t have to feel guilty about taking time to work on my personal goals that always had seemed to get sidetracked before.

The difference was remarkable. It was as if all those possessions were holding me back from my real potential. Maybe there were so many things to deal with back home, that I could never really catch up and feel “done.”

I’m back with my comfortable stash of stuff now, but as the spring cleaning itch starts to move me again, I’m thinking fondly of those apartment days.  The “simpler” life was a positive experience.  I’m not exactly ready to take the plunge and get rid of all my possessions…but on the other hand, maybe I can survey my stuff with a more critical eye.  Here’s to a smaller– yet fuller– life!

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