She sorts her lego by color and style, hoping to pull together sets long ago pulled apart and dumped into the bins. Her heart is set on buying a laptop now that she is nearing 12 and this means letting go of the old to help usher in the new. But the basement floor is littered with lego as she works slowly, methodically, over a period of days.
She has been in a decluttering stage with her bedroom, too. I watch and understand that there is an important shift taking place in her mind, body, and spirit. She is transitioning from child to young woman and this is hard work. If I rush the process, impatient with the mess, eager to control (oh, boy, am I eager!), then I disrupt and dishonor the natural, healthy process. She is seeking simplicity in her way. Choosing what no longer serves and clearing space for the rest.
But sometimes the mess multiplies as we search for simplicity.
The basement Ping-Pong table is strewn with two guitars in various states of disassemble. The big sister has taken the electric one apart and sanded the other down to paint a zentangle across the front. Not a work or school project. This is simply part of who she was created to be – a hands dirty, push the boundaries, competitive, creative, take risks kind of girl.
Instead of applying to one school, she applied to three. She was accepted into all six programs. Messy. But she, too, is searching for simplicity; trying to find her own clear way in a world chock-full of interesting possibility. Never one to take the easiest path she must labor to sift through all the details and options. And as she does this work, things get messy.
I don’t step in and try to make the way pretty or clear. She must wrestle her way through, cutting and slashing to carve out her own unique path or she will resent me. I cannot determine or define simplicity for another.
The path to a simpler life can be messy.
Today I sit and work on a module for a class I am teaching. The dishes wait for me, a load of laundry piled on and over my chair at the table. New visitors arrive at my website and it bothers me that I don’t have an up-to-date gift for them to welcome them to my home. But simplicity for me involves authenticity and part of my honest to goodness truth is that there is always work left undone.
I see the mess but choose simplicity. I focus on this one work project. I love my child, home sick this week. I breathe and choose joy. Today I chose well but sometimes I choose order over relationship or consistency over authenticity. And those days, what might look all neat and tidy to the outsider, like perfect balance, is actually messier still.
Sometimes it feels like there is a whole lotta mess making on the road to simplicity.
When I lack a learning curve in my life I tip into depression. I have work to do and a desire to serve. I set boundaries and acknowledge my limitations in an effort to live with simplicity and still, it seems I fall short. My family needs more of me. I am rarely available to friends. I forget to practice self-care.
My husband wants me to be happy and yet also wants me available to our family more. And I want that, too, but must also balance that with my need to pour out and be constantly learning and growing. He works hard and I want him to rest more but he must balance that with his desire to serve and provide and be trustworthy.
There are not always clear and easy answers on this road to simplicity.
Countless people Marie Kondo their homes or reduce their possessions in a search for simplicity. But owning 103 items, choosing a minimalist wardrobe or living out of a camper van is not enough to calm an anxious heart. To remind someone of their worth, to help an individual truly live with purpose, health, and joy.
Sometimes these choices are simply another form of hiding, of performing. Of measuring up. And sometimes they lead to greater mess making than before the decluttering process began. Throwing your husband’s stuff away may not be a good decision after all. Aggressively forcing your family to come on board with your minimizing may lead to more strife than peace. Following the crowd without defining your own version of a full, joyful life can be destructive.
We want to live healthier and tip into restriction.
We want to know God and tip into legalism.
We want to love well and end up feeling resentful.
We are told to dream big and ignore the small gifts of today.
We work to get out of debt and forget to have fun.
We raise our beautiful family and lose our self in the process.
We let go of one bondage and find our self-mired in another.
The way to simplicity can be messy.
The answer is not, of course, to quit or lose hope. It is to understand that you are human. You will struggle. The glossy pictures on Instagram and the parenting books full of stories of joyful, well-fed families reading novels by the fire, they are all only part of the story. A glimpse of the whole.
Keep seeking simplicity. Continue to let go and wean and cut away that which no longer serves. Look for truth, set boundaries, pursue a life of purpose, health & JOY.
But also be gentle on yourself and on those around you. Be wary of comparison. Be patient.
And remember that the way to simplicity can be very messy indeed.