05 January, 2011

Continuing to Simplify

“Our affluent society contains those of talent and insight who are driven to prefer poverty, to choose it, rather than submit to the desolation of an empty abundance.” Michael Harrington
“Why do we have so much stuff?” my daughter asks as she peers at the piles beneath the window.  I have no real answer as the amount received this December is less than in previous holiday seasons… and there really isn’t much.  My daughter though, despite her young age, is all about having only what she can use or what she needs which is wonderful and yet challenging in a society that loves to buy and expresses itself through the giving of material objects.  She is all about simplifying, simplicity of environment and design, and simple expressions.  She is, perhaps, ahead of her time. 
This year I hope to catch up with her!
Living with stuff has never been an issue for me.  Clutter doesn’t leave me feeling uncomfortable or over stimulated, it just… is.  However, in the last month, I have begun to seriously consider the process of continuing the mission of life simplification to move beyond myself and into my home and office.  The idea of backing a dump truck to a window and pushing everything into it has held a certain appeal for a while now, but the reality of making it happen is stepping out of the shadows and into the light. 
Do we really need all this stuff?
“The art of art, the glory of expression and the sunshine of the light of letters is simplicity: nothing is better than simplicity.” - Walt Whitman
The idea of living more simply is not foreign.  I lived in Europe with very little; just what I needed.  It was an easy life with more time and space to roam.  With my daughter came more “stuff” that was thought to be needed though more often than not, it wasn’t.  With children seems to come this idea that more is better – more brings a brighter and happier child.  This idea is deceptive at best.  It has taken me years to come to terms with the truth – my daughter needs very little and desires much less.  What a concept!
This traveling season, for the first time ever, I did not fill backpacks with “things” for my daughter to do as we traveled.  I did not anticipate boredom and empty hands and a mind desiring to be entertained.  This season, I packed two books, a pencil and paper… and that, that was enough!!
Simplicity, simplification, recognition of need and appreciation of what we already have as well as recognition that with stuff doesn’t come happiness or contentment.  With stuff often comes discontent.  Simplifying removes the excess and allows the beauty to shine.
“The sculptor produces the beautiful statue by chipping away such parts of the marble block as are not needed- it is a process of elimination.” - Elbert Hubbard
The quote above is one I love.  It illustrates, for me, the beauty that lies within the concept of “simplify.”  Often, we think of simplification as removing clutter, cleaning closets, and ridding ourselves of those things in our lives that we don’t need or use – spring cleaning on steroids.  But the quote above reminds me that it is so much more. 
Throughout ten of the last weeks of the year, I engaged in work to simplify, yet it was completely internal – my heart and my mind.  This work will likely continue throughout my life as I continually step back and detach from the emotional and unhealthy entanglements that have been a part of my life. 
It is as if we are each works of art waiting to be removed from the stone or to have the years of dust and dirt removed from our canvas and our colors restored.
Stripping away the exterior and the distractions; shining light on the beauty within… as simple and as complex as it is in its natural state. 
The recognition of that beauty – the appreciation of what each brings. 
The freeing of space and time to allow for mindful living; deep breathing; and whole hearted listening and laughing.
Letting go of the worries and stresses of what has yet to happen and embracing today.
Practicing the patience of silence and contemplation before response. 
Giving recognition and respect and time and… self rather than material or that which money can buy. 
Removing ourselves from unhealthy situations and people to the extent possible. 
These are all things I began to practice during December – each something I am making a part of my everyday life.
“Each day, awakening, are we asked to paint the sky blue? Need we coax the sun to rise or flowers to bloom? Need we teach birds to sing, or children to laugh, or lovers to kiss? No, though we think the world imperfect, it surrounds us each day with its perfections. We are asked only to appreciate them, and to show appreciation by living in peaceful harmony amidst them. The Creator does not ask that we create a perfect world; He asks that we celebrate it.  ~Robert Brault

RAOKA is founded on the idea that we can do little things to make a difference. The little things in life, the little things that we all can do and do daily – like laughter, express passion, gratitude… These acts are noted by various people in accordance with a theme chosen each month. December's theme was Simplicity; The theme for January is "New Beginnings"!

If you are interested in participating in the RAOKA movement, please contact Zeenat, the lovely keeper of the RAOKA torch!


BigLittleWolf said...

I love this concept. I have tried repeatedly - for years - to simplify. In some ways I've succeeded; my kids have far less than many of their friends and believe me - it's perfectly fine. Moreover, when it comes to values, I think we're reasonable examples of paring down to (or "filling up" with) essentials.

But the "clutter" issue remains a problem. Many reasons for that, and each time I make small advances, the stumbling back is swift - usually to do with school projects and kids.

Still, I haven't given up! Especially on the simplifying the inner life, which really lets us focus on what matters.

Love this post. And bravo to your daughter for getting it so young.

Sara said...

TE -- I think your word for the new year must be "simplify." I just came from a new site and the woman gives suggestions for find your word for 2011. It's kind of cool. Check it out at: http://www.joytanksley.com/blog/2010/12/exploring-word/

I loved everything you said in this post, especially these words which are so true, "Simplifying removes the excess and allows the beauty to shine."

You've done a great job with the RAOKA words. Your posts are very interesting. I will look forward to your post on GRACE!

giulietta nardone said...

Hi TE!

I used to be drowning in stuff, now I'm just bushwhacking through it. Bagging stuff I paid good money for and dragging it to the donation center. Man, I'd love that money back to take more trips!

Even now, after dumping off bags and bags and bags of stuff year after year, I still have gobs of stuff stuffed in drawers. Sometimes I go into a drawer and find something I forgot I even had!

Now, I try to buy next to nothing, rather save the mula for trips or hiking or something experiential - a writing adventure, a singing adventure.

You are so right that the stuff does not make folks happy. You buy it and bring it home and expect it to somehow give you your life back, but all it does is create less room for your real life.

Great post! G.

Tim said...


I really enjoyed this post and learning that your daughter doesn't feel the desire to have a lot of stuff - that is so refreshing. While I don't have kids, I have a lot of friends who do and I'm amazed at how much stuff, toys they have. I suppose I may have been this way too. In any case, I also enjoyed what you said about living in Europe with very little stuff, which allowed you to roam much more freely. So true. Thanks again and best wishes for a healthy, clutter free new year!

Zeenat{Positive Provocations} said...

Oh how I can identify with bag packs full of stuff..since my little girl arrived. I used to do the same thing..carry so much more..especially when I traveled. But youre right..they really dont need so much. my girl is happy scribbling away in her little piece of paper :) We do fret too much over these minor issues and unnecessarily complicate life na.. When simplifying is far easier far far easier.
I'm glad you have been tasting the sweetness of simplification.
Thank you fro your beautiful insights here and for your lovely contribution to raoka. Appreciate your love and support :)
And...have any suggestions for topics...??? Let me know.
SO Much love,
p.s. sorry it took me so long to get here...I just got back home from a winter break yesterday. The past two weeks I've been traveling and handling all things online through my simple phone :)

Patty - Why Not Start Now? said...

Hi M - That dump truck idea works for me. I like to think I'm actually pretty good at letting stuff go, yet also I feel like Giulietta, taking out bags and bags of stuff each year but still feeling like there's too much. I've been thinking A LOT about that lately, and plan to write about it sometime soon.

p.s. your daughter always amazes me. Wise beyond her years!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi TE .. your daughter is amazing .. and you must want to step back sometimes and think where did this wisdom come from ..

Love her thoughts and your thoughts and the Robert Brault quote is quite beautiful .. we are asked to celebrate our wonderful world, and not damage it ..

Simplicity - I couldn't agree more .. but I need my books .. etc .. Have a very happy simpler New Year .. happy days too - Hilary