My senior year in high school we read Thoreau’s Walden and along with the rest of the class, I rolled my eyes. This small volume published in 1854 by New England philospher and Transendentalist Henry David Thoreau recounts a couple years of his life which he spent in the woods at Walden Pond near Concord, Massachusetts. Coincidentally, that year I also got to go on a once in a lifetime trip with my dad back east and we visited Walden Pond. There is a sign on the site of his small cabin and a stone cairn commemorating Thoreau’s stay there. I, as practiced in the art of sarcasm as any of my peers, had my dad take a picture of me removing a stone. (I was going to put it in, but it’s an old slide. I need to borrow the slide gizmo before I can scan all those old real film slides. Here’s wikipedia’s picture of the rock pile cabin site.)But the main point I retained from the book was the concept of living simply. Thoreau writes:
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.”
In college, I read Walden again, this time voluntarily. I still remember one night sitting in an armchair by a window in a reading room of the university library, watching the snow falling silently, and thinking, “This man is a sage. I need to learn to live more like this.”
20 years (and all that comes with that and 5 kids) later, I hear the urge to simplify for the umpteenth time and I’m back to rolling my eyes. Not with any sarcasm this time, but with extra emphasis at the end of the roll from exasperation. I know I know, deep down in my sucked out marrow I know I’ve got to simplify! I’d also consider it quite a luxury to spend a while living in a rustic cabin on a pond all alone somewhere. That thought is part of the new eye roll. I’d like to see Thoreau try living his principles in my moccasins. Really, the more kids in the house, the more living you’ve got in each day–I have him beat on that account.
But with simplifying, it’s just so hard to know what to cut out. Do I really let my complainers quit piano lessons? How important is it that the kids get their rooms clean? How important is it that anything get clean? What about having dinner together as a family? What about making dinner in the first place? And do I take time to chop up fresh vegetables that only I will eat? Is it okay if my daughter plays the Wii in the basement for while longer a so I can pester my son who just got home from school? Should I be writing such a long post that no one has time to read anyway?
It seems to me that I have been getting the message left and right for the last few years that “less is more” when it comes to things packed into a day. And I’ve needed that repetition because I frankly I’ve just been too busy to deal with this issue. How can I see myself as valuable if I cut out things I value? How can I keep my morale up if I stop squeezing in creative projects? It’s like cutting off my limbs.
The fact that it’s hard doesn’t take away anything from the fact that more than ever, we need to cut things out of our lives and our families’ lives. The high level of difficulty does mean that we need to revisit the topic again and again, and keep our guard up. Being the Mom means that along with our husband (who, face it, is really just an assistant in this area) we are chief of the schedule (well, less and less as the kids get bigger and bigger, but that’s just one more reason to tackle this asap) as well as the most likely one to know what’s best.
And I have to remind myself that by cutting out some things, I’m really giving more time to the things that are more important. Too often I’m looking at this all backwards. Or I cut something out and fill the time with whatever happens to happen that day, instead of consciously using that time wisely.
I have several excellent sources to quote, but since they aren’t gathered together neatly, I’m going to leave it out in the name of keeping things simple. It’s all contributed to the muddle in my head, so hopefully you’re getting the best of it all.
One thing we must remember, is whatever we decide is best for us or our family has nothing to do with what is best for anyone else. And even if it does, you can’t think that way. And the reverse is true, too. Just because the neighbors do soccer doesn’t mean your family should.
I want to live “deliberately.” I have a purpose in life, and I don’t want today to go by in a rush of near-bus-misses and missed showers. I want to live today, and tomorrow, on purpose. And to do that, there isn’t anything else to do, but to simplify. Rinse, repeat.