Recently on Facebook, I asked if the “simplified life” was just an unattainable myth for parents of school-aged children. The reason I put it that way was because I have been remembering the days when my children were smaller and we lived a “simple life”. We had few commitments; I maintained a clean and tidy home and had time to bake fresh homemade bread every week. Life was simple.
Then we moved to Cambridge, England and ironically, life became even more simplified. It was true – the less stuff you have the simpler life becomes. We didn’t have a vehicle and therefore committed to nothing because if the weather was poor, there was no way I was packing the kids into the bike trailer and taking them anywhere. When we did go somewhere we walked or cycled. We bought only the groceries we would need for the next couple of days and we had no friends or family demanding our time. We very rarely had people over and I felt no obligation to keep my house spotless. There was always tomorrow. In everything, there was always tomorrow.
But the life we lived in Cambridge was not sustainable. It sounds lovely and romantic and while it was the best year of our lives it was only destined to be for a short season. We came back to Canada and I went back to work right away. Jakob started school, Ella went to preschool and speech therapy and we were back in the company of friends and family. Not only that but we struggled financially, as I knew we would. The lower mainland is not a cheap place to live and together Ben and I pieced together various jobs and gigs to make it work. Life became very complicated. I asked myself over and over again how this came to be. Who or what were the culprits?
When we had enough money, we weren’t constantly torn between which bills got paid and which ones we let slide. One might argue, “live within your means.” I completely agree with this however when rent is taking up 75% of your income it makes it difficult to balance. When you are single it is easier to live in less than ideal conditions. It is just you, and therefore it is okay to just rent a room, live with your parents or share accommodation to create some breathing space in the housing budget. When you have children this is a different ballgame. Even if you were willing to sacrifice space and try to downsize most landlords will not allow you to have two kids in a one bedroom apartment or suite.
So is it Kids?
Yes, I said it. Life seems more complicated with kids. I know the single people out there would argue otherwise, as they have complications of their own, but it’s true not only for the housing situation as stated above but also because, while it is tolerable to feed yourself no name hot dogs and live off mac and cheese, parents, generally, feel a deeper obligation to their children in the name of health. When Ben and I were first married we spent $150/month on groceries – let’s just say our budget for food has grown exponentially.
I tried to listen to the people around me. I read the books and the blogs and discovered I was not the only one searching for simplicity. It was all around me. The only problem is that the voices were only spreading myths about simplicity that only worked for a specific demographic and not for this working mother of three. They were not getting at the heart of the problem. They said,
Myth #1 Simplicity is in minimalism.
If you get rid of all of your stuff and have only a few pieces of clothing or a picture perfect Ikea living room, you will attain a simple life. This is bullshit. Getting rid of all your clothes and having only a monotone wardrobe is not going to make life simple. Sure, it will be easier to get dressed in the morning which, hey, if this solves your problem power to you, but it will not cure your complicated woes. Some people like the minimalist style – clean lines and lack of clutter but not everyone is like this. I feel most comfortable and at peace with plants that take over my living room, plush upholstery and being surrounded by memories, photographs, tacky pieces of my children’s artwork and books everywhere.
Myth #2: Simplicity is in a clear calendar.
A clear calendar – I can’t even imagine. I suppose in this case you wouldn’t even need a calendar to mark down dinner with friends, play dates, field trips to the zoo or violin lessons. I don’t know what your calendar looks like, but on ours, every box is filled and overflowing. We don’t allow are kids to do as much as some – they each have one sport and music lessons and even that is a lot for us but I wouldn’t give them up. I believe music lessons are a critical part of a child’s education and quite frankly they aren’t getting the same quality of music education in school. Sports, I believe are equally critical to a child’s development – not only to promote an active lifestyle but also to build self-esteem and to learn to be a part of a team.
Myth #3: Simplicity is in no commitments.
This goes hand in hand with the clear calendar myth. You’re right. I could commit to nothing like I did in Cambridge and while I do believe there is a season for Sabbath, I also believe in being an active part of community, not to mention committing to a job so I can make money to shelter, feed and clothe my family. “No commitments” is not an option.
So, is the simplified life an unattainable myth?
Perhaps we need to rethink what a “Simplified Life” actually is. We’ve talked about what it is not. I would argue that a simplified life is simply a life in which core values and priorities govern our calendars, our wardrobes and our commitments. Complications occur when there is a clash of values. My husband and I unapologetically value experience over security so using the equity in our home to go to Cambridge was an easy decision. We value hospitality, therefore having a bunch of people over for a BBQ on a Friday night to show our appreciation for them is a simple task, (even though it might seem labour intensive to invite them, buy the food and cook it). Where things do get complicated however, is when our values clash with each other or with the values of those around us. My priorities may butt heads with my husband’s priorities or, now that my son is old enough to articulate his values, my value of self-discipline (which manifests itself in music practice) might clash with the value he places on his relationships with his friends. Do you see what I mean?
a simplified life is simply a life in which core values and priorities govern our calendars, our wardrobes and our commitments
Simple does not need to mean empty, straightforward, minimalistic or routine, although some people feel that these attributes align with or help maintain their values. One person’s simple is not going to look like another’s and that is okay. One person that commented on Facebook said that they have a Family Manifesto or a Family Mission Statement and this guides all of their decisions. What do you want your life to look like? What kind of family life do you want to have? That being said, I think the key word here is “guide” because as we all know, things rarely turn out as planned and our lives often don’t look like the postcard we imagined when we were younger. But the tone we carry with us, is that which endures. Do I want my kids to remember how they had all the latest gaming systems and best hockey equipment? No, I want them to remember how we were there, as a family supporting each other and cheering one another on. Do I want them to remember how Mom and Dad were always worried about money? No, I want them to remember the time we spent together at the park or at the beach.
What does a simplified life mean to you? What do you want your life to look like? Finally, what do you need to get rid of to make some space for that life? Leave a comment and share what this means to you.