Things You Will & Will Not Find in Our Home
4 April, 2013 § Leave a comment
I like to think about simplicity a lot. Since we incorporated a practical commitment to valuing people over possessions into our wedding vows, it’s probably not surprising that the topic of perceived need versus actual need comes up on an almost daily basis between my husband and I. It doesn’t matter if we’re discussing birthday gifts, weekly budgeting, future travel plans, home-making, child raising, community investment, food choices, outlets of relaxation or everything in between — one or both of us almost always includes the now infamous s-word in our conversation. Maybe it stems from the fact that, as Zach (only half) jokingly likes to point out, I’m a slightly obsessive compulsive declutterer. Maybe it’s a semi-selfish legacy that lingers from growing up with 5 siblings and realizing that the less we owned, the more corners of space we as individuals could occupy and claim as our own (a rare sense of ownership in a life otherwise characterized by complete and utter sharing). Maybe my interest in the practice is directly correlated with a stubborn romantic streak within me that finds beauty and satisfaction in natural, open, hands on, non-technologically-dependent ways of doing life. Who knows.
The truth, though, is that there is no one, unanimously agreed upon definition of simplicity and there is a certain irony that must be acknowledged in the fact that the people who generally like to talk the most loudly about simplicity often have the most access to privilege and resources. After all, if you’re raising a family on less than $2 a day (as many do in Haitian, Brazilian or Kenyan neighborhoods), simplicity isn’t a choice, a passion or an enthralling topic of dinner conversation with like-minded friends in community — it’s a way of life.
It’s also tempting, for a multitude of reasons, to create a binary privileging poverty and vilifying wealth. Wealth = excess, consumerism, material possessions & narcissism: BAD. Poverty = simplicity, resourcefulness, spiritual giants & thrift: GOOD. As with most things in life, however, reality is rarely that easily definable or concrete — particularly when people and all of their complexities, spontaneities and quiet giftings are involved. I’ve experienced first hand how many of my neighbors within the different inner city communities I’ve lived in for the past 3 years can simultaneously be some of the most materially “under-resourced” populations I’ve encountered to date and yet practice some of the least “simple” ways of doing life I’ve witnessed. I’ve met “poor” people who spend all of what little money they do earn, whether that’s through panhandling, Social Security or temporary labor, on cheap beer and crack addiction as well as “poor” people whose porches, homes and backyards are so crowded with broken pieces of furniture, cheap plastic, roadside treasures, dirty clothing, old appliances and magazines that you can barely wind your way through the towering stacks. I’ve also met “poor” people who work 18 hour jobs, don’t always know where the food is going to come from to feed their own children the next day and never hesitate to share what little they do have with neighbors, relatives and even complete strangers. I’ve met “rich” people who are some of the strongest, bravest, peace-giving, family-oriented practitioners of solitude, contemplative prayer, mentorship and creativity I’ve ever known, whose generosity, business acumen and family connections enable others to offer art therapy classes to those in transitional living, provide vocational training, trauma care and a holistic education to victims of human trafficking and hold emergency optical, dental and medical clinics in garbage dumps. I’ve also met “rich” people who don’t think twice about plunking down more money on one meal out than it would take to feed an entire family of 6 for a week, complain about high how their iPhone 5/TEVO/multi-million dollar mortage payments are, throw out barely used toys when they become boring and drive a different vehicle every day of the week.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that formulas are satisfying, at least for a period of time, and help mask our keen awareness of just how truly out of control we are in the face of all the vast unknowns. I think especially for those of us who are driven by values and ideals, who sense the potential of all that could be in the midst of all that is, tangible methods or decisions or habits are comforting — if I sense the injustice in a disparity of wealth in my society, for example, it gives me purpose to think that maybe I’m actively contributing to a better world if I create a counter-system of generosity, limited spending and intentional poverty. I’m quantifying, I’m choosing and I’m controlling.
The problem with formulas, though, is that they inevitably fall apart before too long. When the fulfillment of a formula becomes the end goal, conviction can all too easily become guilt and pride almost always replaces compassion. People, the decisions we make, the circumstances we encounter and the realities we perpetuate as we participate in the ongoing creation of life on a regular basis are never as static or predictable or black & white as we like to think.
At the end of the day, I still like simplicity. I like to read about it, discuss it, explore it, fail at it, celebrate it and wonder over it. I want to be honest about spaces within my interior life, including my time management, relational commitments, vocational pursuits and faith growth, as well as in my exterior life such as the creation of our home environment, spending habits, entertainment choices and schedule that bear healthy witness to the valuing of simplicity. And, let’s be fair, I also need to be honest about the many ways in which I often fall short of truly understanding, living into or embracing the practice. I mean, yes, I only have 2 pairs of jeans in our (one and only) (shared) clothing storage, and yes, I feel pretty good about the fact that I’ve never owned a TV, a car or a curling iron in my adult life — but let’s not forget about the stacks of books that litter our living room, dining room, music/library/guest room, bed room and even bathroom as well as the pile of 200+ china plates leftover from our wedding on the porch, the iPhone I so love to take pictures on, the boxes of handwritten letters and cards dating back to high school I just can’t seem to throw out, the easy and single-handed consumption of several pounds of coffee I enjoy a month and the innumerable amount of times I’ve double, even triple, booked myself with multiple and entirely conflicting phone/meal/Skype/date commitments.
Luckily for me, I think processes trump formulas any day.
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Anyways, on to my original intent in writing today. As I was running around my kitchen this morning, throwing lunch together in my classically last minute habit (CSA salad greens in a recycled container? check; saran wrap replacing missing lid? not so much), I was struck with the idea that it would be kind of fun, if for no one else than for myself, to share at least some of the things that you will and will not find in our home. Obviously I am not wanting to counteract one of the main points I just made above which emphasizes that simplicity is found in much more than the ownership (or lack thereof) of physical possessions… but. Still. I’m amused so — bear with me. Hopefully it will a) provide a more accurate, less filtered perspective than is sometimes available with self-disclosed sharing in public spaces such as a blog, Facebook or Instagram, b) shed light on how easy it is to operate with a double standard and c) make you laugh. I mean, more than 11 blankets for only 2 people and in Houston, Texas, of all places? Good grief, self.
Will Not Find List:
A coffee maker.
Any curtains at all.
Internet that we pay for.
A movie collection.
A curling iron.
A hair dryer.
Cupboards with doors on them.
A successful compost pile.
An espresso machine.
Any hard liquor.
A bed frame.
A salad rinser.
A shoe rack.
A lawn mower.
Will Find List:
A French press.
More than 15 jars of spices.
6 drinking glasses, 8 wine glasses & countless ceramic mugs.
2 bike locks.
7 half-empty paint cans.
A (never before used) ironing board.
3 school backpacks, 1 hiking backpack & 5 suitcases.
An upright piano.
An electric keyboard.
2 acoustic guitars.
An electric guitar.
More than 600 books.
6 pairs of men’s shoes, 9 pairs of women’s shoes (in our defense, all except 2 pairs were given or handed down to us. Still.)
A washing machine.
A drying machine.
A gas stove.
A queen-sized mattress.
A lot of Christmas lights.
3 stoneware cookie sheets.
2 sets of teaspoon & tablespoon measures.
4 bath towels.
2 sets of loose & fitted bedsheets.
2 writing desks.
A 3-foot high stack of unhung artwork.
More than 11 blankets.