I’m still musing here about “giving” and “giving up.” They go hand in hand, don’t they? The more we are willing to give up, the more we have to give to others, right? It makes giving up all the more inviting. Once we think of it that way, we start looking around our world, and inside ourselves, to see what we can do without, so that we have more to give, and likewise, less to waste.
And this is the backbone to simple living. The less we have to clutter our lives, both physically and emotionally, the more we have for whatever we believe to be most important.
It may take us time to lighten our loads. Not just days, but months, years, decades. It may be a lifelong journey of discovering what we are holding on to that we do not need or that is weighting us down. And it also may be progressive. Once we start to simplify, we begin to feel lighter, freer, more thoughtful, more generous. Perhaps we will find that the less we have to clutter our lives, the more clarity we end up with. We are able to see better what is most important for each of us.
When we begin to pare down, we begin to reevaluate what is most important to us. And I think when we have less to distract us, we take more pleasure from those things that mean the most to us.
I’m probably not saying anything here you don’t know and you haven’t thought about. But we all could use reminders from time to time, support for our beliefs, understanding for our actions. I know I could use that.
Here’s a good example. TV. I don’t have television. It’s not that I necessarily think television is “bad.” I know there is some good stuff on from time to time – I do watch TV when we travel. But my thinking is that I only have so much time in the evenings, and I prefer to spend my time talking with my family, reading, doing crafts, writing… If I had television, I am pretty sure I would have less time to do all these things that I still feel I don’t have enough time for! So, it’s easy for me to do without the television. It’s an painless one for me to give up, and to clearly see what I have more to give by giving up.
Yet, there are some things that others may say are decadent that I truly do not want to do without. These are what I call my “Little Luxuries.” (OK, my horses are a BIG luxury, but I’m not counting them. I still try to rationalize them as being part of our work.)
The first of my Little Luxuries is my bathtub, and decadent as it may seem, I use it quite regularly. It is my biggest extravagance. My other Little Luxury is scented candles. Very self-indulgent, I know, but I don’t want to give them up. Both Little Luxuries bring me a great deal of enjoyment, and both I can try to justify as being somewhat practical. OK, just somewhat…
I’ll start with the bath tub: it not only cleanses me at the end of the day, but warms me up no matter how cold it was outside, or how cold the house will get that night. I become warmed to my bones, my body temperature raises, and although I go to be with a wet head (as everyone knows who has visited us or the ranch, our solar electrical system strictly prohibits the use of hair dryers), I am warmed until morning. I prefer my bath as hot as I can take it. We keep our hot water heater turned up to this setting – however hot I can take the bath without needing to run cold water. It’s a more efficient setting also as there is then no fear of scalding yourself on unnecessarily hot water when doing the dishes or washing your hands. When we first moved up here, several people encouraged us to put in a hot tub. We did not think we had the power or the water for a hot tub. Instead, we put in a bathtub. And Bob made it beautiful: he put it in the corner of our loft, with a large picture window looking out over the mountains (imagine staring out from the warm tub when the snow is falling like a dreamy veil over the landscape), with smooth, flat rocks we gathered from the surrounding mountains that he inlaid along the top surfaces; and warm rich cedar wood shelving (to hold all those scented candles…). No doors in this bathroom – open so I can soak as long as I want and still visit with the boyz reading down stairs. Peaceful, relaxing… and practical? Well, I think more so than if we tried to put in a hot tub. But something I would not want to live without. I have lived for years without running water, having to haul water. Even up here for our first winter. I can’t say I minded the extra chore of gathering water and being especially conservative, but the one thing I still so loved treating myself to was a good hot bath – even if it meant warming tubs of water on the woodstove!
The other Little Luxury is the scented candles. And again, I try to justify these because we’re often short of electricity, so the candle light can supplement our power source. Yes, I can even read by candle light. Twenty or thirty years ago, my parents told me it would damage my eyes to strain them that way, but here I am at forty two and I still don’t need glasses, not even for reading, not even for threading a needle (though I will confess, this one is getting a little harder). I usually wake before there is even a hint of light in the sky. I can feel my way down stairs, but feeling my way around the cabin to do my morning house chores (get the fire going, make the coffee, let the dog out, feed the cats, etc.), gets a bit tricky. It helps to have a candle lit. And the light of the candle isn’t too bright – I can see my way around, but I don’t feel I disturb my husband as he sleeps. We don’t have a privacy wall up in our sleeping loft, I wanted things open when we designed this house (yes, the bathtub is up there, too). It works really well to circulate the heat, and we just have the main wood stove successfully heating the cabin (though Forrest’s room remains pretty chilly). The open design also helps us use less lights. That, and the white ceiling – a most practical design choice for conserving electricity. One light in the main room enables us to see everywhere in the cabin. Anyway, we’re a small and comfortable family; we only need a small and comfortable cabin.
Well, I may be close to justifying the use of candles, but I don’t think I can ever come up with a good reason for splurging on scented ones except that I really like them.
As you can see, besides justifying my Little Luxuries to you, I am also showing you what I am comfortable giving up (an abundance of electricity and water), and what I do not want to live without, if I have the choice. Since right now in my life I do have the choice, I would like to live as simply as possible, but still hold onto those Little Luxuries. If I gave them up, I’d feel somewhat deprived. No, I am not a monk nor a saint. I do my best, but I try to accept my imperfections.
Anyway, here’s what I was thinking about last night – as I was soaking in the tub in the candle light – everyone has a different level of what they can give up. How simple can we get? If we give up too much, we feel deprived, and usually end up needing the pendulum to swing the other way, and to cover ourselves with luxuries. How can I explain this better? The idea was clear to me last night! OK, here’s an example: I love to camp, and when I do, I feel wanting for nothing, except when we come home, I am grateful to take a bath and sleep in my bed. And I don’t need anything else. I have a low level of luxury need, perhaps, but I’m comfortable with that. I don’t feel deprived. On the other hand, upon returning from a pack trip with guests, I have heard folks talk about how they can’t wait for a Coke, or put on clean clothes, or to talk on the phone, or to sit at a table in a restaurant for a fancy meal. I hear that I think perhaps they went to too far – they deprived themselves too much, went too far beyond their comfort zone. As a result, they were going to have to swing the pendulum around to the other side and spoil themselves with an abundance of luxuries to “make up for it.” I think that kind of defeats the purpose, but maybe I need to learn more here. Maybe it’s their start, and slowing, through time and keeping it up, that level of the pendulum swinging back to the luxury side will be less and less each time.
If we take extremes, even in the form of simplifying, then usually the laws of nature will swing drastically and try to balance us out. I’m suggesting we don’t need to be extreme. We just need to simplify. Slowly and comfortably. Think of one thing at a time we can do without. Without feeling deprived. And feel good about each step we can take to simplify our lives, remove the clutter from our closets and our brains!
Everyone has a different level of what they can give up, what they can do without, and how simply they can comfortably live. Know yourself, be true to yourself, and move forward with your goals of trying to simplify and better yourself based on your own comfort levels, not based on mine or anyone else’s.
I personally still have a long way to go…but like all the other lessons, I hope to enjoy the journey.