Over the past months, I’ve found myself gravitating towards a simpler life. I say this as a homeschool mom in a one-income household. My husband works from home, too, so we spend a fair number of our days in pajamas. Also, I’m not a hoarder. Few things give me more pleasure than a thorough purge. I’m comfortable saying, “No,” so our schedule isn’t overloaded. Still, I’ve been searching for something I can’t quite put my finger on. Do you ever do that? Wander in a new direction as though compelled by some mysterious inner compass?
It started when I was researching for the school year, choosing curriculum, organizing unit studies. I stumbled on a blog written by a Christian Bohemian Homeschooling Minimalist. (How’s that for a combo?) Her posts were splattered with sunny, winsome shots of her children romping on the beach, trekking through the woods, coloring with beeswax crayons. Something about the loveliness and simplicity of her world tugged at my wavering inner needle.
That blog led me to a book called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo. Apparently everyone knows about this book except me. Turns out, it was precisely what I needed to read at the moment I needed to read it. I began to look at my relatively neat, organized house and see hundreds of items that had no place or purpose. I stood in my kitchen holding two whisks and wondering why on earth I’d moved from house to house dragging two of an item I rarely use. I was especially struck by Kondo’s assertion that when we have too much, when we’re unable to let things go, we can’t see what it is we actually need right now, in this moment.
From there, I watched a documentary called Minimalism and another called The Plastic Ocean (which about killed me). I read five more books on de-cluttering, simplifying, and reducing waste. I donated, sold, emptied, and reevaluated nearly everything in my house. And after what I hope is the last trip to make a donation at the thrift store, I think I’m coming nearer to what it is that’s been stirring in my heart.
Erin Loechner, from Chasing Slow.
“Do you know the difference, grammatically, between more and many? I learned it in college from a professor…who had adopted and raised a thirteen-year-old son alone, who, when her partner left her…when she and her son slept on cardboard for a time, had turned to grammar, to education, to self-reliance for her worth.
Many, she explained, is measurable. We owed many large sums of money. We missed many meals. We did not have many items in our care.
But more, she explained, is immeasurable. We wanted more. (How much?) We needed more. (How much?) We would never, ever, I feared, have more. (But how much?)
More, she said, is a never-ending immeasurable. It can’t be counted or valued or summed or justified. More is always, by definition, just ahead at the horizon. That’s why we never stop chasing it.
More is never enough.”
At last, a moment of clarity. I’m hankering for change because I’ve been living in an awkward, stumbling rhythm that is murder on my soul. I’ve bought the lie that if I had a little more of this or that, I could settle down and be content. I’ve been running like mad after a never-ending immeasurable. I’m disillusioned. I’m weary. And I do not want to make a trite statement about swimming against the current or fighting the inertia of our culture. This feels more serious than that. The stakes are higher. The Enemy, in the guise of ten thousand beautiful, smiling people on ten thousand commercials and magazine articles and billboards and social media outlets, is always telling me that happiness (joy, fulfillment, peace, acceptance, security) lies just ahead, just on the edge of the horizon.
How many shades of eye shadow must I own to be beautiful? One more.
How many “on-trend” outfits do I need to be accepted by my peer group? Just a few more.
How many books will I have to read to feel educated and informed? Quite a few more.
How many great homeschool projects should I plan in order to feel competent as a teacher? The moms on Pinterest are doing dozens more.
How many throw pillows will it take to make this room look perfect? One or two more.
How many incomes/pay raises/savings accounts would make us really comfortable as a family? One more would probably do it.
If we were fabulously wealthy, we’d have learned the lesson by now. If we were desperately poor, we’d have no hope of reaching that glittering horizon. But those of us with a little leisure time, a little spending money, are the easiest prey. We’re so close to that green light. Every advertiser worth his salt knows it and uses it against us.
Try to drown the voices if you like. Stay at home, refuse to turn on the television or open your computer, and you’ll discover that every product in your house is talking to you, one bold label shouting that it’s 3x more powerful than the competitor, another whispering promises that you’ll look years younger in only 30 days. I went to Kroger this week to buy food to feed my family, and Christmas music was playing over the intercom. (The date was November 2nd.) And here is another lie: that if we make more out of the holiday season (if we buy lots, lots more and host more parties and wear more stylish holiday clothes and travel to more exotic places and decorate our holiday tables with more gold-dipped branches and pine-scented candles and fresh pomegranates and glittery pine cones, and do it all for two full months), we will finally arrive at a haven of perfect contentment just on the edge of the horizon. Can you smell the warm gingerbread? Can you hear the jingle bells? If you buy this chutney, everyone in your family will get along!
On paper, I see the absurdity of it all. At the grocery store or the mall, or when my index finger is hovering over the “Add to Cart” button, the lies aren’t so clear. It’s easy to be counter-cultural if all I have to do is boycott a movie I find offensive. But what if my whole life, my house, my wardrobe, my bank statements, are proof that I’m like everyone else—the product of a thoughtless, single-use, throwaway, our-resources-will-last-forever, live-to-buy culture? What if, while I claim to live from a deeper reality, I chase the same illusions as those who have no hope?
I’m reminded of S.D. Smith and his thoughts on margins. There’s nothing appealing about a page crammed to the borders with ink. In the world of printing and formatting, it’s understood that readers like margins. They want the words to sit comfortably in their lines, with generous spaces between. Poetry takes the illustration even further. A page of poetry is more blank space than words, and those are few, neatly placed against the left margin, each chosen with care, bearing a certain weight, irreplaceable. The empty space around the words highlights their importance.
Like a painting in a museum. When Marie Kondo teaches you how to de-clutter your home, she doesn’t ask what you want to give away. She asks what you want to keep. She asks about the garments you feel beautiful in, the pieces of art that are deeply meaningful to you and your family. (And now I am nearer than ever. The needle has settled. I think I’ve got it.) I don’t want to be a frantic consumer. I don’t even want to be a collector, gathering bits of junk or treasure, heaping them into piles around me so the next generation can sort and redistribute them. I want to be a curator, to choose my clothing, my tchotchkes, my commitments, my investments, with extreme care.
The task will require imagination. I may have to rethink my strategy for holiday shopping or simplify my list of homeschool projects. I might have to get creative and come up with a new recipe from the ingredients left in the fridge. Certainly, I will have to reimagine my life apart from the “ideal” that advertisers are projecting day in and day out.
(“More is a never-ending immeasurable. More is never enough.”)
I’d like lots of white space, I think, so the reader’s eye is drawn to the words I’ve chosen.
My life, my words. Just a few. Just enough.
She never saw any of this coming.
She also had no idea of becoming either a mother or a writer, yet here she is, living in Nashville with a husband and two kids and three published books to her name. She ponders the humor of God and the strange adventure of living while she drinks kombucha on the porch, or plans new homeschool units, or reads everything from Emily Bronte to Dave Barry to Betty MacDonald.
You can find her books and an occasional poem or some such at www.helenasorensen.com.