Saturday, October 23, 2010

How to live a simple life

Here’s a question for you: When you hear the term “simple living,” what flashes through your mind?

I confess I get a kick out of reading “simplicity” books, largely because I find them so misguided.

Take the following example, borrowed from a book which shall remain unnamed. This passage is under “Get rid of your anger.”

Granted, getting rid of your anger could indeed simplify your life. But how does this author recommend doing so? Well, every morning (every morning!) you’re supposed to go into the bedroom, pile your pillows at one end of the bed, and “bow gently to your inner self and to the universe.” Then you’re supposed to beat the holy tar out of your pillows as a “spiritual exercise.” When you’re finished, catch your breath, “come back to your center,” then kneel once more to bow to yourself and to the universe. Voilà.

I, for one, find this to be an incredibly stupid idea. I dunno, maybe it’s because I don’t harbor that kind of anger. Maybe it’s because pillows are expensive and I don’t wish to destroy mine. Maybe it’s because my kids would think their mother was a lunatic if I did this on a daily or even occasional basis. Maybe it’s because I think the idea of “bowing to your inner self and to the universe” is nothing but ridiculous New Age mumbo-jumbo.

There have been an enormous spate of simplicity books on the market in the last fifteen years or so, and they’re all rich in stuff like this. Ultimately you’re encouraged to give up your job and spend the rest of your life volunteering for social justice, move to a cabin in the woods (in order to more efficiently commune with nature), eat lots of organic foods, meditate on the “universe,” and master creative and unusual yoga positions.

Simple living, eh? Wrong. Wrong wrong wrong.

Do you honestly think eating granola or living in a log cabin or beating your pillows to a pulp will make your life simpler? Maybe a teensy weensy bit, but overall – nope.

Now keep this in mind as we switch topics. The reason this subject is on my mind lately is because of an email my mother just sent me.

Apparently my brother has a childhood friend whose mother just passed away. Very sad, to be sure. But………

“Talk about a dysfunctional family,” wrote my mother, who knows the family. “The mother [the woman who died] met a salesman and started having an affair with him. She and her husband have a very mentally handicapped daughter. The mother would have Al [the father] take care of their daughter so she could go sleep with her boyfriend. Eventually she divorced her husband and married the boyfriend. He [the boyfriend] couldn’t hold down a job. When she met him, he was having an affair with someone else and had been kicked out by his wife. His family is furious at him and refuses to see him…”

Are you confused yet? I know I am. Compared to this woman’s shenanigans, my marriage of twenty years seems almost boringly wholesome. I wrote back to my mother, “My life is so simple.”

And that about sums it up. Simplicity isn’t living in a log cabin or doing yoga. It’s not about eating organic food or getting rid of call waiting. It’s doing things like marrying a good person and keeping one’s marriage together. It’s staying out of debt and living within one’s means. It’s about dealing with the monkey wrenches in life, like having a handicapped child, in a manner that is mature and stable.

In other words, simple living can be summed up in three simple words. Got a pencil? Here they are:

Make. Good. Choices.

That's it.

If this twit – may she rest in peace – had resisted the temptation to have an affair (a CHOICE) and instead had poured her energy into her marriage, perhaps she could have passed into the next life without a great deal of explaining to do at the pearly gates. Not to mention having acquaintances indulge in the forbidden pleasure of gossiping about her shortcomings rather than remembering her with admiration.

So consider this: is your life simple because you eat organic food? Or is it simple because you choose to work on your marriage? Is your life simple because you therapeutically and prophylactically punch your pillow after bowing to your “inner self” (whatever the heck that is), or is it simple because you have no debt and live modestly within your means? Is your life simple because you stop answering the phone every time it rings, or because you resisted having an affair and instead kept your family intact?

It’s like my editor who wrote the piece on being a lazy homeschooler. His life is simpler because he CHOSE to raise his kids away from the toxic “socialization” of public schools.

By now you may be snorting with derision at my, well, simplified notions. “How can I live simply in a bad economy? How can I get out of debt if I can’t find a job? How can I work on my marriage if my spouse is the one having an affair?”

You’re right – some things are beyond your control. So here’s a concept: seize and simplify the things that ARE in your control, and work to make good choices within those spheres. If your spouse is the one having the affair and broke up your marriage, then what decisions can you make from now on that will simplify rather than “complexify” your life?

See my point? Not everything is fixable. You may have suffered a horrible trauma in your past or been buffered by the winds of fate and economic forces in the present. You might have picked a bad spouse or refused to take your kids out of public school even when they started hanging with the wrong crowd. But nothing prevents you from making good decisions about your future. That’s in your hands and you can blame no one but yourself if you keep making stupid decisions.

I feel rather passionately about this topic because stupidity is rampant in our society. It’s even encouraged and rewarded. For example, a vast majority of people who are poor are poor because of their lifestyle CHOICES. These include thinks like having babies out of wedlock (A CHOICE), dropping out of school (A CHOICE), doing drugs (A CHOICE), marrying a bad person (A CHOICE), etc.

Lots of people are temporarily down on their luck because of circumstances beyond their control (medical bills, lost job, etc.), but these are usually people who will get back on their feet within a reasonable amount of time. And outside of their present difficulties, their lives may be admirably simple.

But it’s the people who make bad choices, again and again, who have the most complicated lives. These are the people who marry multiple times, father children out of wedlock, abuse a variety of substances, and then wonder why my husband and I are so “lucky” to have a simple life.

Look, we all hit speed bumps in the road of life. We all make mistakes. Everyone is a sinner. No one is immune. No one is perfect. It’s how you handle the big and small choices and decisions before and after those bumps that will determine how simple or complex your life will turn out.

The cheery news is simplicity is within virtually everyone’s grasp. A few attitude adjustments and changes in one’s behavior can go a long way toward making your complicated life a lot simpler.

Write and tell me what those things are. I’m always interested.


  1. I sure like this piece. It's crisp and quick and oh so relevant.....Donnish in its tone and tenor...(you just keep lettin' that Redundant Feller influence ya, don'tcha?)....and simple.

    Pretty much most trouble is easier to stay out of than to get out of.

    I think being exposed to life lived in a permanently non-electrified community is a great advantage to anyone interested in getting fully focused in on the true and most simplified basics of day to day living.

    And if we speak in this sense of simplification, are we also speaking of simplistic?


  2. Save the Canning JarsOctober 23, 2010 at 8:23 PM

    To simplify is a daily choice.

    For example: I got a phone call this afternoon from a friend who had just come home from an auction. He bought a ton of junk, telling me he spent $4900 at the auction (Did I just hear you gasp?)

    He invited his friends over to pick through the junk and he made some money back as we purchased the extra stuff he did not want. It was like an impromptu garage sale.

    He kept pushing me to take empty, decorative perfume bottles. I took the canning jars and the oil lamps. Again he pushed me to take the perfume bottles AND the huge 1950's flower vases. I was not about to bring home "stuff" I don't need.

    Now look at Patrice's pictures in this post. The lamp is practical, the barn wood rustic, the crochet work provides a touch softness. The beauty is in the balance.

    Every day I purpose to avoid the emotional and physical junk of this world. I chose to spend time with God and He keeps me simplified, satisfied, and balanced.

  3. Men do not care how nobly they live, but only how long, although it is within the reach of every man to live nobly, but within no man's power to live long.


  4. Fantastic post, Patrice. It really strikes a chord for me. It's amazing just how complicated people can choose to make their life, without even realizing the impact of those decisions.

    Unfortunately for too many folks the impact isn't just felt by them, but by others around them as well.

  5. I suppose what I resent most is being forced to subsidize those that make bad choices. I do my best not to be a burden on society only to be penalized by having money taken out of my paycheck to go to those that are.

    Apparently government officials do not know the first tenet of training animals (and raising children): If you reward a behavior (such as providing a financial incentive for financially irresponsible behavior), then you're going to get more of it. If you punish a behavior (being financially responsible), you're going to extinguish that behavior.

  6. "If this twit – may she rest in peace – had resisted the temptation to have an affair (a CHOICE) and instead had poured her energy into her marriage, perhaps she could have passed into the next life without a great deal of explaining to do at the pearly gates."

    Having been through the experience of divorce 20+ years ago, I have often given the same advice to people complaining about spouses.

    Spend the energy today on your marriage and you won't be wasting it later on divorce. The best investment you can make.


  7. Very relevant post, Patrice. My husband and I talk about this frequently. Our lives are "boring" and "uncomplicated" in the sense that we don't have to try to create a false life. Trying to fulfill a void or fantasy with an affair, or lying all the time, or trying to keep up with the Jones', trying to impress people with a bigger nicer house, cars, clothes, etc. Also, like politicians digging themselves further into the hole of lies, corruption, and flat out stealing from the American people. I think a lot of it is a false sense of power in one's life. Trying to create an "expected" life.

    We try to scrape by and it is hard limiting two teenage daughters to less when all their friends have more (according to them). Also, we are the strictest parents of anyone in the whole school. And yes our children go to a public school, so please don't condemn us for that. I am a school teacher as well, but I have opted out of the union, so please believe that there are Christian school teachers with morals, values, and ethics that we are passing on to our children and that don't push the progressive agenda on our students. A good, simple life starts with the truth in all areas of one's life.

    1. it is hard limiting two teenage daughters to less when all their friends have more (according to them)...
      Our son used to let us think, he tells me he was much better off than many of his friends...You're giving them more than parents who give their kids money instead of love and guidance.

  8. Simplicity, to me, is less stress. It just so happens that the more self-sufficient I am the less stress I have.

    The less junk I have, the the less time I spend cleaning it all up.
    The less bills I have, the less stress to pay for and keep it up.
    The more I contribute to my community, the less I have to avoid it.
    The more time I spend with the kids, the less chance of them going astray.
    The more I cook at home, the less I weigh and the healthier we all are.
    The more prepared I am for any given situation, the less likely it will happen and the more prepared I am to handle it.

    The more simply I try to live, the less stress I have, the happier and healthier we all are.

    I see the world as a better place thus reflecting that in my actions and attitudes. Less really is more.

  9. I can definitely agree with not bringing home unneeded items. That has been my simplicity down fall.

    But on the other side of the coin, I find that my own mind sees a new use for an old discarded item too easily.

    I usually end up instantly figuring out how to make something totally different and useful out of stuff people throw away.

    The problem is, I have to find a balance in my life and find the will to resist bringing home discarded items. You see, my intentions and re-designs may be good but the time to implement them is not always there so things pile up.

    When the stuff piles up I begin to get overwhelmed by the projects not started or completed so I ultimately end up wasting more time and energy getting rid of the stuff some one else got rid of. (which is picked up by some other poor soul and starts the cycle over :)

    So for me simplicity is just keeping my material acquisitions to a minimum and my projects moving.

  10. What you're calling a "simple life" is really a "peaceful" life. We are all such better people if we feel peace and comfort within us.
    Stop watching Jerry Springer, the Jersey Shore, Real Housewives of Wherever and soap operas on TV. Quit thinking you need any of this drama in your lives. IT'S NOT REAL, PEOPLE! Start thinking "How can I bring trust and security and love into my family?"
    Life is like railroad tracks. They get you where you're going. You can do the mental and emotional work of staying on the rails for a smooth and peaceful ride, or take the sometimes fun but always bumpy and debilitating path down the wooden ties. You're right, it's a choice.

  11. The definition of "simplicity" is probably a little different for each of us. For me, it's being debt-free, owning my home, being retired, and engaging in social activities that please me rather than those that I feel obligated to attend. As Patrice said, it's all about making the right choices. Those are the right choices for me.

    Somewhere along the way, somebody determined that because I make the right choices, I must help support those who make the wrong ones. This is not fair to me nor to those it purports to help. While the welfare state perpetuates dependence and an immature lifestyle, it simultaneously punishes those of us who provide for ourselves and make mature choices.

    Additionally, the welfare state has a twin sister, the nanny state. It complicates my life by telling me which choices I must make, rather than allowing me to make my own choices. I must buy CFL or LED lightbulbs when I would prefer to buy incandescent, for example. I must bring my own shopping bag to the store rather than choosing paper or plastic. I might eventually decide to buy CFL or LED lightbulbs and I might eventually decide to take my own shopping bag to the store, but I want to have the power to make those choices rather than have the government deprive me of my choices. These things complicate my life, despite my best efforts to keep it simple. Where in the Constitution does it say the government has the right or obligation to complicate my life in these issues - these choices? It doesn't!

    Come election day, I will remember those candidates and policies that make my life more complicated and I will vote against them. The nanny state and the welfare state must end.

    Trying to keep it simple in Northern California is nearly impossible these days. Why? Because I am losing my right to make my own choices.

    Patrice, you should run for political office. This country needs common sense people to fill the offices that liars, cheats, criminals, commies, and idiots currently fill.

    May God bless you and yours.

    Anonymous Patriot

  12. Wow, what a great post. I too am tired of paying for the slothfulness of others. While some people think I'm crazy for becoming a school teacher at my age, 43, I don't plan on working in traditional schools. You see, I work at a charter school that meets the needs of at-risk teens. These kids aren't fortunate enough to have parents who would be willing to homeschool. No, they have parents who are either generational welfare, or so self-absorbed that the kids are just an afterthought. I get parents wanting to enroll their kids because their welfare is about to be cut off because the kids haven't been in school. It makes me so mad that I have to pay for their laziness. But, the teachers I work with strive to teach these kids that they don't have to follow in their parent's footsteps. While we are still a public school, most of our teachers march to the beat of a different drum. We don't have a union, we can develop a relationship with our student, so we hope we can be part of the solution. That being said, I still think homeschooling is best. I know, this seems a bit choppy and random, but Patrice (and those who respond)you help me keep going when the going gets tough, thank you.

  13. I really enjoyed this post. Turing 40 this summer I finally fully embraced living the simple life. It has made life enjoyable again. If has taken 17 years to let go of resentment against my parents for bad choices on their part that caused them to loose the family farm that had been free and clear 60 years before they decided to take a horrible mortgage with 5 year balloon payment refinance option. It took 10 of those 17 years for me to pull my own head out of my butt, man up, and quit sniveling about the unfairness of the world. I decided it was time start rebuilding my life and trying to find another dream for the future.

  14. my home is bare bones simple..and even simpler if the power should go out. every evening i make a simple list of things i would like to accomplish the next day. the next day i look over that list...then do what is important and scratch off the unimportant. sometimes, there is nothing on that list except to enjoy life..and that is important.

  15. I'm grateful to see comments on this and other boards here by the conservative and Christian school teachers. It's really good to know y'all are out there living out and passing along your values and commitments.

    In the face of the often-dominant cacophony of screeching liberalism, it helps, as Linda said above, when things get tough, to hear from those standing strong and walking tall.