Time to pause and think and chat with a stranger in the grocery line. Breathing room to linger over books or watch movies with my kids cuddled under the well-used rag quilt. White space to putter around, preferably in my PJ’s, to prepare simple, real food for my family without rushing out the door, or to enjoy long walks with my husband. Holding hands. A daily rhythm with chunks of time earmarked for creating, connecting, moving my body and sleeping. Plenty of sleeping, please. An orderly, peaceful home environment. Living within our means, free of consumer debt, but with a bit of money set aside for books or occasional travel or art supplies. These are all goals of mine and some of the gifts of choosing to simplify for a slow & purposeful life.
Of course, not everyone desires a slow life but even if you thrive on more busyness than I do, if you are a journalist or surgeon or public speaker or a stay at home mama of many, surely you would benefit from a purposeful life. One in which your actions, spending habits, home environment and relationships truly align with your core values and desires. A general sense of peace that stems from being super clear on WHY you make the decisions you do.
Before continuing I’d like to briefly address the idea of privilege which affords me the freedom to carve out a slower, simpler life. We are a middle-class family in central Alberta, Canada, who pays a third of our income to taxes. We have free basic health-care and an extended health plan. Access to (relatively) clean food and water, libraries and public education – should we choose to use it. So absolutely, compared to most of the world, including my husband’s family, we are in a position of incredible privilege.
I have received a comment which likened me to a parasite, claiming that my lifestyle is only possible on the back of either society (nope, I am not on welfare) or a long-suffering partner (my husband and I make our decisions as a team and my willingness to stay home and bake muffins and home educate, take care of the bills, chauffeur, tend to the emotional and physical needs of our kids, etc. benefit the entire family).
Another commenter asserted that my choices were only possible because of “white privilege.” My African husband who immigrated to Canada at 30 years of age and grew up in poverty thought this rather humorous but another reader pointed out how insulting this assumption was; as though all black people obviously live in poverty and lack.
I have friends and family who are single parents and families where both parents must work minimum wage jobs (or close) to pay basic bills. So their lives are going to look different from mine.
And yet, I still believe that learning to simplify to live more purposefully can help all of us, regardless of precise life circumstances.
People also like to throw out excuses. Justification for why they must live the harried, unhappy existences they do. As if huge vehicle payments, fancy furniture, and trips to exotic destinations are non-negotiable. 3/4 of my best friends have made the decision to live on one income, with a side-gig here or there, while kids are younger because this supported their highest values and family priorities. They shop second hand, at least much of the time, live debt free (apart from mortgages for the most part), live creative, beautiful, inspiring lives. Not perfect, easy lives. Lives that involve sacrifice. And I believe they all model the power of thoughtful choice – the impact of spending time getting clear on who and how they want to be in their lives as opposed to being pulled here and there by shifting cultural values, consumer pressures to buy more or societal messages that we must always be more and do more in order to be happy or “successful.”
Anyways, what are some of the ways that I simplify in order to live a slower & purposeful life?
I Choose a Minimalist Wardrobe
My fashionista sisters and my daughters fall apart at this idea. It is not for everyone, I suppose. But a simple wardrobe, largely grey and black, makes me inordinately happy. Because I have strict maximums on the number of pants, tops, etc. that I own, I do less impulse buying (if something comes in, something else must go out). I add a little color through a cardi or scarves or my impractical but cute orange flats, but I actually prefer darker colors and don’t have to think much about what looks good together. Black and black always match, non? And I am trying to become better at supporting ethically sourced clothing which requires more thought and often, money.
I Menu Plan and Eat Simply
Some Holistic Nutritionists are amazing recipe creators or seem to LOVE spending countless hours in the kitchen. I actually prefer super simple food and plenty of time out of the kitchen. Pots of spicy soup or stew, hearty salad with a crisp baked potato, roast chicken and veggies please me. I am not a gourmet cook. I take shortcuts and don’t measure and my food is never Pinterest perfect. Ever. To simplify further we double up on recipes for leftovers and my husband cooks up steamy pots of Jasmine rice, black-eyed beans, and spicy tomato sauces to keep as staples in the fridge. Real food does not have to be rocket science. Of course I also sometimes burn my veggies because I’m multitasking as I cook so you probably shouldn’t actually follow my advice;)
I Say No to Most Opportunities
I went through an ugly period of burnout. Now, I practice telling people I’ll think about it when opportunities come my way. I have a rule (which I still break often enough much to my chagrin) that I take at least 24 hours before jumping into something because in the moment, starting a new work project, signing up for a new exercise class, or saying yes to a volunteer commitment might sound fabulous. But then I actually have to follow through. Joyfully. I do want to contribute to my community, engage in meaningful work and continue to learn but I aim to pause and consider very carefully before saying yes. After all, we’re surely all familiar with the adage, “every time you say yes to one thing you are saying no to something else.”
I Know My Big Rocks
I am clear on my 3 Big Rocks or major life goals. Every decision I make ultimately leads me closer to or further from these goals, though it is not always apparent at the moment. But this is where regular Life Visioning comes in. Sitting down at a minimum of two times per year to evaluate where I am at and if I need to shift course to better align with my Big Rocks helps me live with greater confidence and peace. Consider this: when you are at the end of your days, what is it you’d like people to speak about you or how would you want your closest circle of family and friends to remember you?
I Love to Declutter
Sadly, I am the only person in my home who loves to declutter. The mere mention of decluttering children’s movies or books or toys- which none of my children have touched in eons, by the way, sends my girls up in arms. They attach such sentimental value to these things so I try to do this in layers, bit by bit. And I allow them to keep some of their favorite books or movies in their baby boxes or rooms. A tidy, decluttered environment (this does NOT include their bedrooms) helps me think and breathe more easily. I resist purchases (except for books – amazon.ca is my nemesis) in general and dislike gadgets (except I really, really love my iPhone, laptop, and treadmill!) that I have to store and maintain. I get a high from hauling bags to the local thrift shop but have also learned to respect the other people in my home; I used to throw away my husband’s things which did not go over very well, let me tell you.
I Build White Space Into My Calendar
My assumption is that meetings always run longer than planned. Interruptions will happen. We underestimate how much time and energy will be required for various work projects or how much money it will really cost to take that inexpensive trip to Montréal. So I build the room for this into my calendar (and budget). This padding allows me to catch my breath and go to the bathroom (literally, I know how many of you hold it all day), put my feet up for a bit or actually give my full attention to a child who wants to show me their drawings and tell me all about the characters they are creating. In infinite detail. Actually, this year I have not done well in this department and my youngest has let me know it in no uncertain terms. But I am adjusting course and heading into a Gap Year to afford me more of this white space I so desperately crave. Do you have enough white space in your life?
We Aim to Downsize and Reduce Expenses
While some families at our stage of life are renovating or building new homes, our goal is to downsize when our youngest graduates. An apartment with natural light and a little balcony will suit us fine, providing it is cute and well-kept. We have never focused on wealth acquisition and our retirement goals at this point look like trips to the farmer’s market, long walks, and a bit of travel. Slow and Simple. We both hope to continue with some manner of meaningful work (paid or unpaid) until we can no longer do so. So even though we could buy nicer furniture or dishes and my kitchen is old (yet functional), these things, beyond basic upkeep for our home, are not priorities for us. You have permission to think for yourself about the kind of life you want to lead.
What might you need to simplify?
I could chew on this topic all day and would love to hear your thoughts. I know some of my online friends are selling homes and renting or moving to cabins in the woods or diving into full-time studies again to pursue a dream. It doesn’t always look like slow and simple. Yet each of these women inspires me with their thoughtful, very purposeful, life choices.