Ah, the simple life.
So many of us crave this so intensely, it makes our addiction to potato chips look minor.
I know one woman who is convinced that the only way she will find the simple life is by moving to a tropical island and settling down in a hut.
Another man subscribes to every magazine on simple living that he can find, and his bedside table is stacked with books on the subject. Time to read, however, is nonexistent.
Last week, the familia and I settled down, with blankies and pillows and hot drinks, to watch the 198o sleeper hit, The Gods Must Be Crazy, which chronicles the difference in lifestyles between overstressed, overworked, overwhelmed city dwellers and the gentle, quiet, contented Bushmen of the South African wilds.
You can’t watch this for long before you crave a lifestyle in the Kalahari desert, pounding roots with clubs (because there are no rocks), sitting around the campfire and communicating in clicks and whistles, and wearing a breechcloth.
Okay, that last one is too much for me.
But the tranquil, peaceful, halcyon life — free from thumping stereos, wailing sirens, telemarketing calls, truly unpleasant managers and bosses, copious paperwork in a paperless society, too much work required in too little time, not enough money and too many bills, new and improved government regulations — I’m sure you have your own list — we want simple.
And it seems impossible to find in the society in which we live. The only way to find it, we think, is to run away to that tropical island, far far away from everything that stresses us out everyday.
The problem with the whole tropical island scenario, however, is that even if we could afford the tickets and find ourselves a little property with the hut on it, we still have to eat, and spearing a fish with a sharp stick, if we’re not particularly adept at this, will become a stress of its own. So unless we have a private source of unlimited income, we may want to find an alternative to the tropical island scenario.
The good news is, there is that alternative. And the better news is, it’s within the grasp of all of us.
Living the simple life is a process, and the first step to achieving our goal is to recognize that there is a problem in the first place. Most of us have probably managed this step, so it’s time to move on to the second step:
Simplify something, anything, in our life and see what if feels like. Once you know what simpler feels like — and you like what it feels like — then you know what to do for the second step. While changing your job may not be immediately possible right now (and for many people, their job is one of the most complicated, stressful aspects of their lives), you can make changes in what you do when you’re not on the job.
Like turn off the phone — constantly being on and available to everyone all the time is stressful and the opposite of simple. If you can give yourself no more than 15 minutes away from being beeped, do at least that, and treasure a quarter of an hour of silence, independence, and freedom. Pretend you’re on a tropical island.
Clear your schedule, one evening a week, and make that yours, or your family’s. Watch The Gods Must Be Crazy (and turn off the phone).
Find something creative to do — a hobby, like knitting or building model cars or baking — and give yourself time to do it. Focusing on something we create gives us a sense of pleasure, confidence, and peace — especially if we don’t turn it into an obsession and start attending regular group meetings revolving around our hobby of choice.
The upshot is this: the simple life is lived by making one small change at a time, and building the next change upon the one that went before it. It won’t happen all at once, but that’s okay: fast and quick are aspects of our frenetic modern life that we’re trying to get away from.
Take it slow. Take it easy. Keep it up. Don’t get discouraged, and give yourself time.
Literally. Give. Yourself. Time.
I write about Financial Health on Fridays, and my book, Live Happily on Less (paperback or digital/Kindle), advocates becoming an irritatingly independent person who looks out for yourself and your family. You, and your family, are the driving forces in making meaningful changes — financial, personal, social, and spiritual — in your lives.
As a Christian who believes that we need to be irritatingly independent, as well, in our spiritual lives, I write Contempo Christianity articles on Wednesday for this site, and Commonsense Christianity articles three times a week for BeliefNet.
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This article was originally published in ThoughtfulWomen.org.