Welcome back, dear readers.
It may seem like a strange time of year to talk about simplifying one’s life. A good many of us are currently being bombarded with messages to “Buy, Buy, Buy!” Some may be feeling pressure or sadness that they can’t buy the people they love “nicer” gifts. And even worse, some of us may go deeper into debt in order to do so, and be dreading those January credit card bills. What a way to kick off a New Year.
For every action, there’s a reaction, and as Western society has become more and more driven by consumerism, a number of pundits have climbed on the “simplicity” bandwagon. Whether it’s an annoying Suze Orman telling you to save all of your money or some other self-styled expert, there seems to be as much of that going around as there are holiday sales. And yet, it isn’t working, and a tragic example of this is hoarding, which shows how bad things can get when we take our desire for more, more, more! too far.
I don’t have much use for Orman myself. When I want to feel that my life is rich and that I have everything that I need, all I have to do is turn to the simplicity expert I first discovered as a child–Laura Ingalls Wilder.
As most of you know, Laura was an American author who wrote about her pioneer childhood in a series known affectionately as the “Little House Books”. By today’s standards, Laura’s life would be considered primitive. As her parents were new settlers of the American west, they did not have electric or gas heat, indoor plumbing, modern health care, or any of the million things we currently take for granted. Laura’s family suffered unbearable hardship, but they also experienced incredible joy. And the delight Laura took in the smallest things–from a few pieces of hard candy to a simple soup made with canned oysters and cream–is illuminating.
I’m not suggesting we give up all modern comforts and live like the pioneers. Far from it. But what if we tried to appreciate the things we have the way Laura did, even for a day? What if–instead of worrying about tracking down the latest iPad or iPhone or Trendy Toy of the Day–we took pleasure in the fact that we have warm homes to return to, lots of food in the fridge, and people who love us and who are always happy to see us? For me, a lover of long baths, I appreciate indoor plumbing and hot water heaters to no end. I’m happy that flour is something I can pick up at a store rather than have to grind by hand. I’m grateful for the little family I’ve created for myself.
When we appreciate the abundance of what we already have, we’re more apt to give to those who don’t. If you celebrate the fact that you’ve never gone truly hungry, and nearly starved the way Laura and her family did during The Long Winter, you may be moved to volunteer at a soup kitchen or contribute to a food bank. Both are in great need at this time of year.
I had to learn the hard way that having more stuff does not make one happy. And that the best things in life really are free (although a great sushi dinner is hard to beat). Approaching your life with a sense of wonder and appreciation for just how lucky you are may not be fashionable at this time of year, but I think it’s still in keeping with the spirit of the season.
What simple things are you grateful for?