The Simple Life – Simplicity vs Lowering Your Expectations

Simplicity is at the core of living a simple life, along with frugality (not to be confused with poverty or lack), best use, gratefulness, and beauty, among many other things that I will write about on this blog, according to my experience. When pondering about this topic, it occurred to me that many people do not want to live a simple life; simplicity does not entice them, and that is fine too. Other people may have a misunderstanding of simplicity and may think that by embracing simplicity, or overall, a simpler existence, they will be lowering their expectations, standard of living and even quality of life. That is a misconception that may scare them away from simple living.

Simple living is about appreciating every aspect of one’s life, environment, and possessions. It is about only allowing what serves us now in our spaces and enrich our lives. It is about enjoying those aspects/things that will best fit our lives and also, making room for those things, dreams, aspirations … that will enrich more our life and the lives of others by default.

When we live a simpler, balanced life (not perfect) in turn, we can give more to others, whether that is materially, in time, or by giving of ourselves. For me, that is the opposite to lowering one’s expectations; on the contrary, it is about raising the bar because I am operating from a place and disposition, of generosity and gratefulness, and not of lack or disillusion. To put it in terms of the material as an example, when we live simply, we will bring into our environment that which we value (not necessarily monetary value). If I value durability in a product (clothes for example), I might forgo cheaply/fast made items which will cost less and will be easily affordable in quantity, and instead, bring one piece that will last for many years but will cost a bit more. This can be applied to every aspect because I am operating from a value system, what is important to me. This is far from lowering one’s expectations in life. Living simply opens space, time, and energy (mental, physical, even emotional) to welcome new opportunities and enrich our existence. This is far from lowering expectations.

Simplicity can be beautiful and breathtaking. (Photo by M.A.D.)

The Simple Life – Welcoming Spring One Day at a Time

We had very nice weather over the weekend, so we decided to clean up the garden and set up a few things for planting season. We are surrounded by trees and no matter how much leaf raking we do during autumn and winter, we always end up with tons of leaves to clean up, especially now, when a few windy days come up during March and April. We’ve had a few days of very strong winds, one of which truly shook me a bit, and there are many down branches as well. We had plenty of chores, which we enjoyed thanks to the good weather. For some reason, here in Virginia, I find myself wishing for the start of spring, and I find winters long and cold. Having lived most of my life in Jersey, I find that odd, but my husband feels the same way. My favorite season used to be Autumn, but now, I am starting to love and crave for Spring. There is plenty to be thankful for during the seasons.

Little birds are starting to show up in numbers. My husband made the pumpkin for the veggie garden out of scrap wood. We hung up a birdhouse that my sister gave me. They had a 5K on their farm (Barn on the Hill), and they gifted birdhouses to participants; she saved one for me. It looks lovely next to the Faerie Garden.

We cleaned up flower beds, removed old stumps, planted some flower seeds, repotted plants that needed more space, and became a bit creative. We started a new planting area near the entrance of the property, an area that we need to develop much more in the future. An old tree trunk is now a planter, and an old magazine rack will become full of hot pink flowers at one point. Our goal is to add at least one thing every year.

White farmhouses get very dirty during the year. My husband and I cleaned up the house twice a year during spring and before Christmas. It takes a bit of work in some areas. Power washing will be something to consider in the future. We are still saving for a new roof (cash only is part of the simple life), and that one needs to be repainted, hopefully over the summer. We took everything out of the porch, and I cleaned the chairs, tables …. while he worked on the siding. Once we finished, we decided to change things a bit (decor wise) from last year.

With most of the garden ready, our next item on the list will be preparing the veggie garden for planting, and some repainting here and there. We are setting things up for an upcoming yard sale as well, and there are some farmhouse projects lined up for the year. With everything that is going on in the world these days, chores are helping me a lot in dealing with the great sadness that it causes. Keeping busy helps my mental sanity. During this time, my novels have been put to the side, and being in the present, doing chores, helps me deal with all this. I hope you enjoyed this post.

The Simple Life – Simplicity and Beauty

As I have slowly learned to embrace a much simpler life, I have also learned to find simplicity and beauty in the everyday flow. Easier said than done at times. When we are presented with good and rosy days, a lot easier, but more challenging when what we perceive is the not so nice or the ugly. Embracing a simple life taught me to find beauty and simplicity even in those circumstances. Never easy at the start, but willing, the focus and vision became clear, and I realized that even in less than perfect or idyllic circumstances, one can find something good, even beauty, and learn appreciation for what truly is. It is through challenges that we grow the most, although I believe that one can experience growth looking at a beautiful sunset or watching a fire, more so when in the midst of it. In both circumstances there is beauty and simplicity, that is, if we care to see in humility. I have experienced both extremes and can honestly say that from both there is much to learn and appreciate. I’ve found that simplicity and beauty are always present, inviting us to learn a life’s lesson. Maybe not so easy to recognize when we are in the midst of a challenge, when things don’t seem too pretty, when anger and bitterness dominate our thoughts and hearts, but much later on, when we have surrendered our will to God, and experienced a shift in disposition, acceptance, the beginning of clarity.

A clouded vision cannot see beauty, even when in front of it. A heavy heart cannot experience simplicity because it is burdened at the moment, in a complicated state, far away from simplicity. Only when we let go and open our mind and heart to receive a new beginning can we see the new dawn. In learning to live a simple life, I had to let go, but I received so much more.

Photo by M.A.D.

The Simple Life – Gratefulness

Grateful – Appreciative; thankful. Expressing gratitude. (American Heritage Dictionary)

Sometimes, we forget the meaning of simple words. When living simply we go beyond ridding ourselves of unnecessary material and non-material items, and as a natural next step, we end up practicing frugality. It has been my experience. We start appreciating everything in our lives, develop a thankful heart, and start expressing our gratitude in many ways.

In embracing simplicity, I started appreciating my environment and the things that comprised it, material and unmaterial. I view the things that I had learn to appreciate during the process in a different light. These are not only things that serve a purpose and function, but also enrich my life. I am grateful for what we have, and for each day that I am given. I started operating in gratefulness, in gladness, and respect of the gifts I had been entrusted. In the process, I learned to become a steward of these blessings. In mind and heart, I went from ownership of things to stewardship. Owning became less important, and generosity towards myself and others went along with feeling grateful for what God had given me. My focus slowly switched from accumulating to a more giving/generous disposition because despite crazy challenging circumstances, I felt blessed and not lacking; I started operating from a place of abundance. I switched my attention to gratefulness and now I focus on what’s important – experiences, people, values … Things are enjoyed and shared because they take second place. I feel blessed and grateful for it. I have given new meaning to our possessions – these do not control my attention anymore; instead, these serve us, our lifestyle, because while embracing a simple life, I am operating under gratefulness and generosity with myself and others.

Every person takes as long as needed to embrace simple living; after all, it is an individual process that develops in many layers, steps, and what fits me doesn’t necessarily will fit another person. In the writing of these series, I come from a place of understanding my own journey, with the hope of inspiring.

Photo by M.A.D.

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you – Matthew 6:33

The Simple Life – Frugality

Frugality – Thrifty. Not very abundant; meager; economical. (American Heritage Dictionary)

After reading the above definition of frugality, no wonder why many people stay away from frugality, as far away as possible. It is very negative, and also depressing. I just don’t agree with that definition, although I will go along with economical, and maybe thrifty. Many people equal frugality with lack of something. The word has been given a negative connotation, one of deprivation, and even poverty. It couldn’t be further from the true meaning.

A person who consciously and voluntarily practices frugality does not suffer lack of something, instead maximizes the enjoyment of it. Maximizing use and purpose, as well as longevity of an item not only saves money but also “honors” the item and our living space/surroundings. Being frugal goes beyond minimizing expense; it also means approaching the items we use in our daily living with gratefulness and best disposition. Best use and the extension/expansion of it falls under this frugal approach. When embracing a simple life, simplifying our surroundings and the way we live, a natural shift to frugality happens. Wastefulness becomes alien to us, and instead, the things we bring into our home fit well with our lifestyle. There is no need for the unnecessary, duplicity, or even impressive name brands. Instead, the focus is on how these items can fit and serve me and my family better, and how these can improve and simplify my lifestyle and surroundings.

Frugality goes beyond the financial scope, although for most of us it might start that way. When we embrace a simpler lifestyle, we become more creative in the way we use what we own, whether these objects are practical, functional, or just bring pleasure/beauty into our space. Frugality goes beyond our material and financial spaces; it becomes a way of life, parallel, and part of living a simple life. Frugality sparks creativity in finding new ways for best use and possibilities. When approached in a positive way, frugality and generosity go together, along with gratefulness.

Now, does that sound so bad?

Photo by M.A.D.

The Simple Life – Simplifying Your Space

In the pursuit of the simple life, most likely, the first thing we focus on is our physical space, our home. For the purpose of this post, I will refer to “space” as not only the physical aspect, but also, the space that extends to the mind, being that anything that occupies an important part in our life – goals, dreams, values, interests … I am not a minimalist, neither a tightwad, although sometimes I would like to be, but someone who likes and enjoys simplicity and strives for balance.

The desire for simplicity moves us to start decluttering our physical space. We start with the things we own, and by the time we are done, we find ourselves looking into other areas of life that go beyond – our future plans, finances, work, habits … In my experience, letting go of things could be overwhelming, more so if circumstances at the moment challenge other areas of my life. Change is never easy, even when it is welcomed. Sometimes, there is a catalyst to that change, an event, a person, or any other circumstance that might induce change at a quick or slow pace, and of course, that comes with a set of emotions and responses attached.

When striving for a simple life, decluttering our space is a good place to start. Letting go of what doesn’t serve us anymore or doesn’t honor our space anymore is a first step in the pursuit of simplicity. This step will prove challenging but necessary because it will exercise our will, as well as test it, and serve as training for when we move into other areas of life that are more complexed – habits, finances, goals and dreams, health … It is a process that will take some time and varies by individual. It is also continuous because we evolve in time. I can say that I am still in the process of letting go.

The items that are the hardest to let go are sentimental items, or represent a memory, even when these don’t serve us anymore. Instead of owning the sentiment or memory, we have placed it on the item. Letting go of gifts or things that cost much money is also challenging. Things that represent for us an ideal place or time in life are difficult, especially if it is something that we see ourselves doing/being in a future that is generally not planned for or mapped. We tend to internalize that ideal life as part of us even when it has not materialized. Even when we know that these things do not fit our lifestyle anymore, or are not being used anymore, or ever used, we want to hold on for fear of losing the dream. One thing that helped me in letting go of items in those categories was realizing that I was hoarding an item that someone else needed, and I did not need. When we can easily meet the need of another by letting go of something, we operate from a place of generosity as opposed to selfishness. Understanding this concept makes it easier to let go of these things that have a hold on us but do not have a place anymore in our home and life. During this process, I understood that I owned much more than I needed. I understood that my physical space should be a representation of where I am, not where I was or some distant place in my mind. That would be like living in my past or in a future that has not/will not materialize. This can be tricky because if my present circumstances are crappy or less than ideal, I don’t want things to be a representation of that; I want out of it. That is when the process of simplifying helps. Instead, I surround myself with the things that serve me now, have a purpose, fit my lifestyle better at the moment, and honor the person I am now. There is no shame on it; we all want to be better, and even when circumstances are not ideal, we can certainly “make room” in our lives to welcome better days. Living now doesn’t mean to stop dreaming and hoping. It is a spiritual journey, undergoing change.

Having less has made life easier and simpler in many ways; however, I am not done. I honestly can say that if I were to place all the items that I have let go in the past seven years in one location, I would be able to open a small thrift store. I am not proud of that. Although I am not a minimalist, I do live simply, and what is in my home has a purpose and is being used at the moment. When an item stops fulfilling its purpose or functionality, now I know it is time to let it go. When everything has a defined purpose and a place, I end up with less things to handle or that occupy my time and energy. At this point, I am comfortable with letting go of anything I don’t use. That includes things that will only have one use. For example, a kitchen gadget that I let go was a garlic press. It is something that has a single use, but not necessary, as I can do the same thing with something else. Another one was a lemon squeeze gadget. For me, these were not necessary items. Now, if I had a problem with my hands, arthritis for example, those items would be needed and would make life easier. This is an example of how individualized this process is.

The longer one lives, the more things one accumulates, and most of those items are not used anymore or do not fit an actual lifestyle. That is a green light to let these items go. Things that bring to mind bad or sad memories, regrets, guilt, or any less than positive feeling don’t belong in my space as well. Those feelings occupy valuable space in my mind/heart, space that is better filled with positive and good feelings/emotions. So where did I start? For me, clothes are one of the easiest things to let go as long as I keep only what fits me now, feels comfortable, and looks good on me. Anything else must go. Most likely, what has not been worn in a while will not be worn any time soon, another sign that it stopped serving its purpose and must go. If you don’t know where to start, this is an easier and less painful way to start.

We are conditioned to own things since childhood, and it is also in our nature as gatherers and collectors. Many of us follow patterns throughout the years, and for that reason, it is harder sometimes to let go. Where we come from, culture, socioeconomic status, country of origin … it all has to do with how we deal with stuff. If we want to live a simpler life, we can start one day at a time, one item at a time. One thing I understood and found interesting during this process is that there are items that we own out of habit or conditioning. An example for me were metal dishwashing pads. Although I found that they clean well, I really did not like them that much but used them and kept buying them. I did not like the metal/rusty smell and that some rusted fast. These also hurt my sensitive skin when I washed dishes. I don’t wear gloves and do not own a dishwasher. I was using these out of habit, but most important, there was a beautiful memory attached to these that I wasn’t aware of until I asked myself this question, “If I dislike them so much, why do I keep buying them?” The answer surprised me. It was the memory of my grandmother. She used them all the time, and I could visualize her in my mind, washing dishes in the kitchen. These metal sponges or pads had a pleasant memory attached that I would revisit in my memory every time I used them, whether I realized it or not. Once I understood that, I was able to keep the memory and ditch the sponges. That is just a simple example of how we end up keeping things we don’t even like in our space. Sometimes, it goes beyond the “use it or lose it” because it goes deeper than that. I was using the metal sponges. That is why looking for our responses to these situations is important and an eye-opening experience.

Moving to this place was a new beginning to a much simpler life. Every year I let go of more. Despite all the items I let go before the move, I feel that there is more room for improvement. So far, I have let go of many things since moving here, and over the past month I have boxed many more things that I don’t need anymore. We are planning a yard sale in the spring, and the proceeds will be used to fund a new workshop. The things that did not serve a purpose anymore will have a new one – make us some money for that project. These objects will serve a purpose in other people’s homes, whether these are sold or donated. These objects get a second chance, and so do I, living a much satisfying simpler life, and what can be simpler than that?

Whether clutter or habits, getting rid of these gives us space in our lives for inspiration, creativity and the pursuit of a more satisfying life.

The Simple Life – The Process

Photo by M.A.D.

Process – A series of steps, actions, or operations used to bring about a desired result. (American Heritage Dictionary)

For today’s post, I want to write about the process in pursuing the simple life. If you read the above definition of process, for me it was all that, and more, and I can honestly say that the process continues. It continues in the material, the mind, the physical, and the soul. If I go back to some of my posts about the simple life ten years ago, I see part of that process taking place in between words. For me the process was/is long, and I compare it to separating bolts and nuts into groups by size and form. Each person goes through their own bolts and nuts situation when pursuing simplicity in life. Although I am pretty sure that it might have started earlier than that, I can pinpoint the journey about over 10-12 years ago. Like any person with a brain would say, looking back, I could have done things much better, but that is always the case, isn’t it? Whatever brings you into the process, I have found that it is better to embrace the upcoming change with an open mind, in faith and hope, and focus one day at a time, whether that day brings a challenge or rest. Although not easy at first, a grateful attitude, and prayer, helps a lot. Depending on how you came into the process, willing or not, attitude is key, and it might make all the difference. Process will take as long as it has to. I can honestly say that now.

During the process, there will be highs and lows, a natural flow, and supernatural as well. Awareness is important, but many times our radar is a bit cloudy, and that is when prayer and a good honest attitude with ourselves help. I think that we are about to go through many challenges as citizens of this country, and of the world as well. It will be a process, in which we’ll need those two. But going back to my personal experience, I can say that this process started with the need of letting material stuff go, and that was the first tangible step that I took. I started decluttering my physical space, and eventually, decluttering other areas of my life as well – spiritual, financial … You have to start somewhere, right?

During this purge, the material stuff was the easiest to let go off, although not necessarily too easy. We accumulate things through a lifetime, and those things have memories, emotions, and feelings attached to them, so that is not so easy at times. The more we live the more we accumulate. I am still letting go of stuff, believe me. Every step takes you closer, and the more you let go, the freer and more satisfied you feel, to the point that you actually feel that there is nothing you really need, except for the important things in your life like God, people and values, beliefs… the not so tangible stuff. I can honestly say today that I could walk out of this house if I had to, and take nothing with me, and I will be fine, material stuff that is. I can appreciate beautiful things, like them, and enjoy them, but I am not tied to them as I might have been before. In the pursuit of the simple life, you learn to appreciate the good, the bad, and the ugly, although in the beginning you might not even like it or realize it, and even fight against it. The aha! moment comes later on, at least it did for me.

In ridding myself of much material stuff, I had to do it systematically, one step at a time; it was what worked for me back then. The process was a process in itself, if that makes sense. The method I used was to go room by room, and divide items into donating or give, selling, and trash. There wasn’t much in the trash category, but I started by selling stuff in three steps. We would use the money to put towards our upcoming move out of state. That added to the motivation. First, I sold things online. What didn’t sell online ended up on various yard sales, and what did not sell in a yard sale, we sold at a flea market in two occasions. At the end, we gave away the stuff to sellers that did that continuously for a living, and they were appreciative. I also gave stuff to family and donated an entire room full of stuff to a veteran’s organization in three different load trips at the beginning of the process. It took time and effort, and it certainly did not feel good in the beginning. Once we moved out here and were settled in the home after fixing up the place (you can check out that process under the topics farmhouse restoration, the simple life, or restoring an old farmhouse) I realized that there was still much more to let go, and I was able to give and donate much more. This process continues until today. After living here for about 6 years, I find that there is much more that I can do in this area. After all, it is a different space and a different lifestyle, and the time was necessary to understand what works and what doesn’t work in the new setting. It also let me explore new possibilities and understand why some of the stuff is not a good fit anymore. I will write about that in much detail. The next blogpost will be about simplifying your space, and it ties to this one. I hope you enjoyed this post.

The process continues until today.