Friday, January 01, 2016

A Simple Life

I have often mentioned in my writings here at Willow's Cottage that I am interested in simplicity, simple living, minimalism, whatever-you-want-to-call-it.  So I thought I would put down in words and on this page my thoughts about it.  When did I become interested in minimalism?  What were the factors which prompted my interest?  What have I done to pursue and maintain this lifestyle?

In my early growing up years, I don't think I ever entertained any thoughts about simplicity or simple living.  Certainly, I enjoyed gardening and helped my parents and my grandmother in the gardens they planted every spring.  I know that I loved camping in our travel trailer and sleeping in the small tent with my brother.  We lived in a small house and later in various apartments while my father's job took him to different cities all over the US.  During my post college years, I watched my mom and dad continually downsize as they tired of moving all their stuff from Oregon to California, to Illinois, to South Carolina and to many other places.   I think that my first introduction to 'simplicity' came when my mother-in-law gifted me the More-With-Less cookbook by Doris Janzen Longacre.  By that time, we knew we would be moving overseas to a remote location, most likely one which had little in the way of material goods available.  Strangely, the prospect excited me.  I read the cookbook cover to cover and discovered a whole new world of simplicity and self sufficiency.  During our years of living in Indonesia, we traveled by small plane and helicopter and often carried in and out of our jungle bush house village only the things that would fit in one suitcase per person, weight on the helicopter being of strategic importance.  Living light was just our way of life.  After returning to the US and being confronted with western materialism in its appalling, pushiest form (advertising), we determined that we would not be sucked in to the typical American Dream.

When we moved to Oregon in August 1990, we owned two used cars and only the things which would fit in them, including our four children.  We had shipped many boxes of books from Indonesia, but when we moved into our home, we had no book shelves on which to place them.  We six all slept on the floor until we were able to purchase mattresses.  My parents and other family members shared their excess with us--bedding, tables, chairs, plates and bowls.  Truly, we had what we needed.  My favorite appliance?  The washing machine.  No more hand washing our clothes.  Our first Christmas, the children each received a treasured gift--bookshelves!  I think it was that same year my parents gave each of the six of us (and my brother's family too) fleece blankets.  When I visit my children's homes now, more than twenty years later, I still see those blankets folded on their beds and being used to cuddle the next generation of little ones.  Certainly, my blanket is still used every night on my bed.  Why do I remember bookcases and blankets?  They were given with great consideration by people who loved us and knew what we truly needed.  Because we had so little in material possessions, what we did have we treasured and cared for.

As we moved through the Nineties, guiding our teenagers through high school and into college, and our financial situation improved, we were continually challenged by our environment to indulge our desires for more stuff.  Quickly, I realized that having more stuff meant more cleaning and organizing.  I remember the day I stood in my little kitchen and declared, "I would rather have a peaceful and uncluttered home than keep all the things which constantly slither through the front door."  Sandra Felton's book The Messies Manual became my new favorite book.  I interviewed my friends who had uncluttered homes.  Best advice:  Count the number of items you want to have on your bathroom or kitchen counter and NEVER exceed that number.  For example, if you normally keep THREE items on your bathroom counter, if you find FOUR things there, immediately put one away.   I chose ONE spot for bills and checkbooks.  I finally learned to file.  Maybe these actions seem simple to most people, but I had to learn them.

Among my friends, I became known as the Simplicity Lady.  I read simplicity books.  I taught simplicity classes.  My possessions have swelled and shrunk through the years, but I have maintained the simple life which I chose nearly forty years ago.

Now that we are empty nesters, we have downsized to two bedrooms, two baths in our home.  I continually monitor what comes in the house and make sure that at least the same amount goes out.  The past few years, minimalism and the tiny house movement have become more mainstream.  My nephew builds tiny houses and it seems to be a thriving business.  I notice more and more people commenting that they need to downsize.  There are blogs and books to help no matter where you are in the process.  I regularly read several blogs-- Becoming Minimalist, Miss Minimalist, Be More With Less, To Simplify, to name just four among the many.

Simplicity/minimalism is, simply, my way of life.  At times, my focus shifts a bit, but always I return to Less Is More. A Simple Life allows us to live debt free, to work a bit less, to enjoy traveling.

I think that this year 2016 my word for the year is going to be Simple.  I wrote about Simplicity in January 2011, but I didn't make it my word of the year.   Now that I have chosen Simple, I will be considering how I can incorporate Simple into all areas of my Life.


Mereknits said...

Such a fascinating post today. I live in a pretty big house that has way to much in it, but over the last few years I have tried to get a handle on it. On New Year's Eve I sent four more bags of things to the Goodwill store, And toys Little Buddy received for Christmas meant that many were donated. I am working on it!
Hugs to you and Happy New Year.

Gracie Saylor said...

"Simple" challenges me. I frequently debate with myself, the question: "How much is enough?" I have been given much more than I need and have not shared as much as I should have shared. "More with Less" is my favorite philosophical cookbook, but I continue to want to do better in living out it's philosophy. Thanks for this post and the last two I just caught up on, Willow. My word for this year is "mercy." Every day I need mercy and need to extend it! xx

Deb said...

I love this post! We are now empty nesters as well and we are trying to purge and declutter our homes and lives and rid ourselves of what we don't need and what is no longer working for us. It is a work in progress. I will be purging more when my foot heals. We have a large home now and are looking to move closer to family into a smaller home sometime within the next few years. Great post and inspiration for the new year!

snoopydogknits said...

How interesting! Simplicity is the key to most happiness in life, I suspect! We could certainly do with a declutter! Happy New Year to you! Ros

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Julene said...

A post full of memory triggers (ha) and they are the true treasures! Love to you!

Tracy said...

Hi, Willow! Sooo glad to catch up with you and look at the year past. And this is so beautifully expressed. I so much enjoyed hearing your journey to and through simpler living. I hope you'll write on this again from time to time. And this is a topic very close to my heart as well. We began "downsizing" possessions a few years ago when doing some long-term home improvement projects--we realized the accumulation and had to stop, reduce and refocus. We're still living this simpler life too, and learn so much. But there is such happiness to be found, and less can truly be more in great ways! Be More with Less and Becoming Minimalist are my fave simpler living reads too. :) Well, here I am, slowly emerging from jet lag fog and Christmas glow here... Looking forward to sharing another life-rich and creative year with you here! Wishing you & yours all the VERY best in 2016 and more... ((HUGS))

nikkipolani said...

An interesting story of how your sensibilities developed, Willow. Removal of stuff and resisting bringing in stuff have always been challenging. At my new job, the open-plan office and clean-desk policy gave me a great foundation to implement simplicity and going electronic whenever possible (with the benefit of Ctrl-F whenever I need a reference).

A Joyful Cottage said...

Having built our small cottage this past year, we often now hear comments from people about how they wish they had less to take care of, and that they're thinking of downsizing to something like our home. I love this simple life we live. Have a great new year as you continue your own simple (but elegant) life. Hugs, Nancy