The Simple Life

A week ago Saturday night, around sundown, I was comfortably ensconced in my camp chair, knitting as long as the fading light allowed. I was keeping one eye on my project and the other on the darkening sky, watching for the first visible star””or more likely, the first visible planet, as Jupiter was riding high in south and had dominated the early night sky the previous evening. Pausing a moment to lean my head back and look straight up into the heavens, I realized I was feeling something odd, though quite pleasant. It was a suffusive warmth, a deep relaxation, almost a lethargy; it was a sense of not wanting anything to change, except for the relative light in the sky””I didn’t want to move from that spot, ever, and I didn’t want anything around me to change, either.

It was contentment, as bone-deep as ever I felt it: a thorough-going happiness with myself and the world around me. The day had been long and hot, but enjoyable: we had roasted under the scorching desert sun at the Highland Games, returned to camp mid-afternoon, showered away the dust, and then hopped into the pool for a leisurely soak that returned our core body temperatures to something close to normal. After the sun dropped low enough to cast shade over our campsite, taking the edge off the heat of the day, we grilled and ate a delicious dinner. Once the clean-up was done and the evening fire built, there was nothing to do but relax and wait for dark. Nothing, that is, but whatever we wanted to do: read, knit, chat, smoke, nap, take snapshots, pet the dogs that wandered by, poke at the fire when it died down””all of that, or some or none, and two more days empty of deadlines, pressures, demands stretching away before us. No wonder I felt so relaxed! There was literally nothing in the world that I had to do for the next couple of days, but a wealth of things I could do if I chose to. It was the perfect balance point between stress and boredom; it was contentment.

It’s pretty funny, if you think about: we’re comfortably well-off citizens of the wealthiest, most technologically advanced country in the world, so what do we do for vacation? Why, we go play at being semi-homeless in the pre-Industrial age, of course. It’s very Marie Antoinette at Petit Hameau; I guess the more you have, the more you need to take a break from having it every now and then. Or, as the Simplicity movement likes to put it: you don’t own your possessions; your possessions own you.

Which isn’t to say that I’m ready to call the Goodwill truck and load it up with half our household; I like my trinkets and my comforts and my entertainments. But it does make me wonder about how much we have versus how much we need, and how to find a happy balance between them. Even if we did pare down to the bare minimum of clothes and kitchen goods and sell the TV, there’s no guarantee that living an “˜indoor camping’ lifestyle would translate to that same contentment I felt at the fireside. Still, I would say that our household scales tip well past the “Need” marker and deep into “Have” territory. Perhaps a small donation to Goodwill is in order”¦

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8 Responses to The Simple Life

  1. Corvus says:

    So funny you should bring this up today. I’ve just misplaced a pocket knife (it’s probably at home or in the car) and I was reflecting on how possessions used to float in and out of my life with great fluidity, but how they’ve accrued around me now, gaining a certain immutable mass.

    While I no longer kid myself that I could pare back to a duffel bag and an electric motorcycle (for one thing, I’d need at least comfortable transportation for Ms. Z and (T.S.) Eliot), I was wondering how far I could trim back before I started to regret it.

  2. CountessZ says:

    I think about the hold that my possessions have on me all the time. How, even though I like to think that I live a life that is not defined by what I own, I still feel the need to have a computer and internet access and my books and so forth to feel in some respects like myself…

  3. Corvus says:

    At what point does expression tip over into definition?

  4. kaizerin says:

    It’s a recurrent theme in my life, the periodic urge to simplify. Every few months, I pack up a few large bags to give away to the charity that does door-to-door pick- ups in our neighborhood, yet my drawers don’t get emptier, nor does my closet. But living in a tent for a few days, with one duffel bag of clothes, a “kitchen” that fits in a backpack, and a bag of non-electronic amusements kept me perfectly happy, so I know I could made do with less.

    But at least I’ve improved my situation to the point where I no longer have the recurrent nightmare where I am forced to suddenly move out of my home, and have to carry everything I own piled up on my shoulders. I used to lose a lot of sleep to that one.

  5. Ramona the Wise says:

    This must be a universal theme. When Kai, P & I lived in “the little house”, I used to dream of the day when I would only possess what would fit into my small bedroom. I still dream of that downsizing 27 years later. I look around the room I am now in and ask, “If I could take only one thing from this room with me, what would it be?” Such a loaded question when so much in here connects me to family, friends, hubby and READING! Oh, yes, and to the internet. What did we do before the internet?
    Kai knows how little we/she grew up with. There was the time the t.v. died and we did without for months. Did we miss it? Maybe. But we had BOOKS.
    I spent last weekend with my baby brother – 10 years younger – a mere 53. He is a librarian for a MO university. We talked about the changes in campus life since I dropped him off there as a freshman 35 years ago. ….the dichotomy of two students walking across campus together texting others (or in some cases, one another) instead of talking! …& the i-pods, etc. We are becoming a society of disconnectedness. (Is that a word?)
    And, trust me, it all began with t.v. “the ruination of the country.”
    Oh, oh. I am pontificating and sounding like an ‘old farte’.
    I recently viewed (yes, on the dratted t.v.) a program about a man who has spent his last 40 years mapping the arctic; recording the changes in his environment; trying to educate young people – his hope for changing, therefore, saving, our planet. He was in his 20’s when he left MN on his mission. It is the kind of story that always makes me wonder, “What have I done with my life?” Is there still time for me to volunteer in a third world country? Or do I only have to look around here in Iowa? Just because I remember what it was like to pick up pop cans for the five cent refund, do I have to go back there? How do we maintain our own comfort level and still contribute to the longevity of our planet? And why not spend and waste when so many others around us spend and waste a hundred times more than we?
    So, Kaizerin, in that dream/nightmare; what did you carry in that pack upon your shoulders?

  6. Preston the Envious says:

    We may have grown up with very little, but at the same time have a lot….Mom you may not feel like you gave us kids everything, but what you gave us shaped us for the rest of our lives….

  7. kaizerin says:

    Hear, hear, Preston! Looking back, I realize how poor we were, but I didn’t feel that poor at the time. Sure, we weren’t rich, but we always had a roof and food and toys and books. Maybe I was just raised to be glad for what I had, and not worry so much about what I didn’t.

    If we could only have one or the other, I think we got the better deal: internal resources over material goods. I mean, you can always grow up and buy yourself the toys Santa failed to bring you (hello, eBay!), but once you’re spoiled into believing you should be given everything you want on a platter, how do you grow up into a self-sufficient adult?

    I think you not only did your best by us, Mom, I think you did the best by us. Perhaps out of necessity, you taught us there were things that mattered much more than material possessions.

  8. Preston the Envious says:

    Right back at you, sis! I love how you ended your post-that was what I was trying to say…I was alway thankful for whatever I had….from the books to the boxes (and I mean BOXES) of markers. I remember always coming home with another batch of new markers….just loved them to death…but I degress…you are a wonderful mother and you did what you had to do and I am very thankful for that.

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