A Shabbas Table: Baby Steps to Simplicity

"Feeling totally overwhelmed and incapable of reaching the goals (of becoming a good homemaker)? Take heart! You might think, 'There is no way I can manage home-cooked meals daily, let alone the inspiring discussions around the dinner table. Who are you kidding?' Here's the hope: One step at a time. One baby step at a time. Set small goals and work toward those, not despairing when you feel the high goals are completely out of reach. Once you meet the small goal, move on to the next one. Step, step, step. Slow and steady. Maybe this week it's just getting up on time. Maybe next week it will be working out a day's menu plan. No one is holding out a timer on your progress, and every tiny step is a victory... Feel like all of this is a fairy tale that can't possibly come true? It's not..."--From the postscript to The New Women’s Movement: We’re Coming Home

I get so awed by some of the writings on simple living out there. Sadly i'm more a beginner. My parents encouraged me to be very academic rather than domestic as well (not too hard since i was/am a real bookworm anyway). In fact, sad but true it wasnt until i was out of school in my twenties that i learned how to even remotely clean a house or cook a pot of soup (and wow how satisfying it was finally!). And then, about ten years ago at age thirty, a rather serious chronic spinal injury was obtained and made me step back from many domestic things once again. It's only been the last couple years honestly that things are finally, slowly, coming together bit by bit, slowly learning skills and finding ergonomic tricks to be able to do more with the physical limits. So i've been slow to share simplicity type stuff since there is so little to offer there. But today, i thought i'd try anyway, some thoughts anyway...becuase i was so inspired by the cool simplicity series happening at High Desert Home. So going to try a little list here, using her "list of ten" idea. This stuff is pathetically basic i'm sure, but who knows, maybe some will be of use to someone : )

1. Making Letting Go Count

The letting go part of simplicity is central it seems, no way around it. But its where to let go that's the thing to discern. We should do our letting go i feel, and our spending less, in the areas where that letting go will actually simplify our lives. Sounds like a no brainer, but its surprising how often this can be overlooked. It just doesnt make sense to me to do something to save money that will complicate my life. What will complicate will vary for each of us. For me, that complication comes from stuff like weekly bargain hunting (leading to mind clutter and less peace), or using artificial food ingredients or chemical cleansers and the like (leading to ill health), or getting a bunch of inexpensive knick knacks rather than a few simple "real" and quality things (knick knacks lead to clutter , which tends to make clutter on the inside too in my experience) . The thing is, i think we are all given an opening somehow, areas in our life where we truly can save but where that letting go there will actually help us live a simpler life, rather than complicating it. The thing is simply to find it.

2. Keeping an Angel in Your Pocket

One of the keys to simple and more sane living i've found is to open to little "touchstones". For example, some time back my Mother gave me this little stone with an angel on it, and it reminds me when i look at it of the goal of becoming more of an "angel in the home". So it resides on my apron pocket. And many times when i get irritable, feel off base, say things i regret, i find my hand reaching for that stone and it kind of reminds me of the deeper goal, the kind of person i truly want to be. These little re-mind-er touchstones can act like a little compass, re-orienting you back in the right direction.

There are lots of touchstones, gifts we are given...words and stories that strike us, things we see, feathers found on a walk, and the like. I think these are important, that we find them for a reason--a co-in-see-dance, God dancing with us-- and that they help us kind of re-center and focus. Now this all may seem an odd thing to talk about in appraoching simplicity, but i have found it central. I truly need these little focuses, these little gifts. It is richness like this that allows me to let go of other things and open to a deeper simplicity.

3. The Motivation of Luxury

Again, i know this one too may sound like an ironic thing here, but here goes. Back in a favorite post by AnnV, it was shared how luxury means "to loosen"... our inner relaxing and loosening, our openness, our joy. I strongly believe that simplicity must be motivated by what heartens and comforts us deep down or it just won't work in the end... and we each have to uncover that that motivation, that "luxury", is.

Personally, saving money in itself just doesnt motivate me enough. Terribly ironic really, since i have very little of it....but there it is. Even buying more for less and the whole weekly bargain shopping appraoch doesnt motivate me enough, it leads to too much brain clutter when what i long for deep down is peace. Thinking of filling up my home with things sure doesnt motivate me. Thinking of getting a bigger home or cutesy decorating doesnt motivate me either. Thinking of having a high social standing doesnt motivate. Even thinking of acquiring wealth for missionary purposes doesnt motivate enough either, that just doesnt seem to be my calling. And the popular simplifying-as-part-of-being-politically-correct doesnt work for me either really (a focus on ecology sure does, but not the politically correct package there). It just seems most of the common motivators don't seem to work in my case.

What does motivate me though is the area of holy poverty, or biblical simplicity. Been kind of praying on this awhile, and letting more be uncovered there. Since that area is a big one, will be posting seperately on that when the time is right. But the point is, i think we all need to uncover what it is that motivates us, what "loosens" and opens our spirit.

4. Finding Some Building Blocks

Simplicity needs motivation, but it also needs concrete and simple building blocks too. And those blocks may be different for everyone. For me part of this is an image of having a "pallete". With food for example, i find it helps so much to get rid of labels and such and transfer things into to clear bags or jars insead, i just really like the feeling of things feeling direct and basic and "real", and not cluttered with lots of labels and colors and words. And to have very few things and ingredients to begin with...just some simple, basic wholesome "real" stuff (milk, eggs, flour, spices, and the like). Its part of having an highly sensitive nervous system maybe (some folks just do, get very easily overloaded with stimuli, even too many colors or ingredients).

So i'm not into brands or special products really, much less the desire to spend time hunting them down in bargains. What makes me happy is to (aspiring anyway!) keep ingredients and meals so simple that you don't need to shop at certain stores for the most part, and don't need to shop for sales all the time either, that the things you buy are things that are typically inexpensive and found anywhere.... and most of all, are simple and "real". This is the sort of appraoch that makes me feel not only nourished but free... not tied to a particular store or even a particular part of the country, and not dependent upon sales either. I just really need that for some reason. And these basic simple things then become building blocks....in this case, a "palette". And this building block or palette approach, i have found it helps a great deal with simple living.

Kind of hard to explain. Hunkering down to make a bunch of different distinct recipes for example, something feels off there for me....i just need more of a simple "palette" to create from instead. It's back to the brain clutter thing...if i'm thinking in terms of what i'll need on hand for a bunch of different recipes then i get all cluttery inside. But if im thinking of having a basic palatte handy instead to work with, something relaxes and opens up (back to the "to loosen" again), and it makes me really feel like creating then. This will be expanded on more in a future post on "palette cooking". For now, the point is just how finding one's own simple building blocks somehow is so vital to simplicity.

5. Embracing "Sacred Need"

This is something explored in an old post, so won't go into it too much here. But the gist is this: I truly believe our needs are an incredible gift, a guide to the lives we are meant to lead. And that definitely makes them openings to living a simple life. The trick is this: seperating our wants from our needs. Our wants, they can be influenced by commercials, by envy, by greed, by so many things, and so they can bounce all over the place. Ah but our actual needs, these are sacred. Because our needs, these are a true part of us, given to us by our Creator. Just imagine some things here if you might. The most basic, archetypal things in the world are the things we actually need....the air we breath to be clean, the water pure, nourishing food, a loving home, kindness, etc. And these things have a depth to them, a certain feeling...one can feel deep down that these are sacred and precious things. A want may be for something quite nice, but it doesnt have that same "feeling" as the things we need. And our needs do vary of course. There are needs common to all, such as the more basic ones listed, but there are also needs that God gives to a particular person. Someone may have a true need, a true drive, for example, to create a certain thing or to lead a nation, or fill in the blank. For that person, this is sacred, an actual need. For another, it would be merely a want. And we do our best i feel, when following our needs rather than focusing on our wants...for our needs are given to us by God, so we can trust them.

What's more, there is something just so freeing about realizing something is a mere want, admitting its not a need. I dont have the post link at the moment, but what showed this so well was an experience of Maggie's (her blog is Frugal Abundance she's a real queen of simplicity, smile). In this post she was sharing what had happened to her one day in a dollar store looking at some pretty little notebooks. She was sitting there drooling over them when it dawned on her that she didnt actually need them, she only wanted them. She had been fantasizing there in that aisle about how buying one would change things for her, make her more organized....when she suddenly realized she was not dependent on buying some new thing to make that happen. It was like a weight fell off my own shoulders just reading that, becuase i know just what that feels like when it happens, and long for it. There is something just so incredibly freeing when a want loses its hold over you becuase you realize it is simply that... rather than a need.

One thing to mention though (and it is gone into more in the previous post mentioned) is that needs are not just about what is "practical" only. I think things like beauty, and calm, and the like can be true needs. Sacred needs. And it is in uncovering our needs, and letting go of mere wants, that we can embrace simple living i feel. Our needs are intertwined too with our motivation, its all part of the same thing really....the motivations and needs given to each person by Our Creator.

6. Accepting Limits

Just like our needs are given to us for a reason, i feel our true limits are as well. It would be insane for example for me to pretend i wasnt physically limited in what i can do since i aquired this chronic spinal injury. Its a true limit. And just as i feel we can trust our needs, so too we can trust our true limits. Our limits are not some kind of sin to judge, but rather they were given to us by Our Lord i feel, for whatever good reason. Finding out what we really can do with those limits is important (in my case i had to learn some real ergonomic tricks in the kitchen and the like but that will be another post). But what we can't do, we need to accept. And help that is needed, we need to accept that too. Simplicity to me is not about being tough and stand alone, but about being realistic about both what you need and what you can on the other hand share with others. Limits, like needs, are sacred things really.

And its not just obvious physical limits but more subtle inner ones too. In my life some of those inner limits are time and stimulus for example. A busy schedule or chaotic envoronment is truly not something i can live with, and so it definitely means saying no to a great many things. And it is a true limit... ive tried both busyness and living with noise and clutter etc and my health and peace of mind just plummet at the speed of light when i do, its a very strong thing. So i trust that i was given those limits for whatever good reason by Him. And we all it seems have limits like this whatever they may be. Limits that are gifts He gives i feel, to lead us on the path He wants us on.

7. Living Brother Lawrence's "Thank You" Prayer

Then there are "life limits"...realizing that even these too can be a gift, part of our doors to simple living if we'll let them be. Brother Lawrence lived this. The crux of his spritual life was a simple and profound prayer..."thank you, Father". He prayed this not only for the pleasing things of life but for whatever happened, no matter how limiting or painful. As he prayed this it affirmed to His heart that God truly does love us and gives us what He does for a healing reason....even when we can't yet see it. Sure seems best to have faith in that and say "Thank You, Father" for even what we don't understand yet.

It's not that what happens to us exists in some sort of vacuum i don't think. Sometimes a trying time comes exactly becuase we are supposed to be helped through it perhaps, giving someone a needed opportunity to be "God's hands" there. And its not, i don't , think, that we shouldn't try to improve things or help one another improve (and forgive when we fall...see Jeanne's wonderful series on the healing balance between striving for perfection and forgiving). Its just that all the steps, all the everything, are given for a reason somehow. A reason to say "thank you, Father". How much simpler, to say the least, is life when we realize this!

8. Following Natural Rhythms

There is such great comfort, and true simplicity, in knowing we are not here to reinvent the wheel. We are meant to praise, to love, to beautify and embellish it seems...but i doubt very much that we are here to reinvent. Instead, we are gifted with nature to follow. Day and night, seasons, Sabbaths, feastdays, and the like....all here for us for a reason. In fighting that we complicate our lives i think, but in embracing that we....simplify. Naturally. And big time.

9. Going Beyond Green

This may sound ironic, but going green, at least the way its popularized, doesnt really seem to make life any simpler really. More the opposite. To explain....

I'm strongly for ecology, but the label of "green" can be very decieving. It was hitting me when i was touring various popular green homes one summer, something just felt so "off" there. Things tended to be very angular, techno designed looking, unreal feeling...despite being called green. To me there is nothing natural about that. Then i found out part of why this is....in green building, special products are often artificially (even if nontoxically) created to build with rather than using things from nature. This is for the sake of sparing natural resources, but the result is still not a good feeling one.

Now i'm all for nontoxicness. Even if i put the good stewardship/ecology ethics part (which i strongly believe in) aside, it still happens i have a condition called environmental illness/chemical sensitivity where one gets pretty serious physical reactions to all the "normal" (ha!) toxic products lining our store aisles. But the answer there i feel is to use natural ingredients instead...not to invent fake stuff to use, even if that fake stuff is nontoxic.

And its more than this too. I surely long to be as natural as possible. But "being green" as the approach there has sadly become more and more about politics, pride and pocketbooks... rather than truly about healing and ethics. I'd say more here, but there are folks who say it far better. See for example Maggie's wonderful article (here) from Frugal Abundance, and Chris' well thought out article (here) from 9G Health Foods.

10. Redefining Neccesities and Extras

Funny how the most important things are the most basic ones. And funny how those things are exactly what are so challenged today. Natural rhythms, peace and quiet, enough time, clean air water and food, women able to be home based, men providing and protecting, integrity, devotion, faith, hope, trust (and pixie dust, smile) ....exactly the sorts of things that are the most basic and sacred and "simple" things we need the most. These are the true necessities i think, not just optional extras as we are told. Likewise, what we are told are necessities (big house, cars, convenience food, two partner incomes, chemical cleansers, hairsprays etc, fashion etc) arent really necessities at all.

Nuts and Bolts Type Stuff

To be explored in upcoming posts sometime...one on shopping simply, one on making things (cleansers, journals etc) from scratch, one on "palette cooking" recipes, one on ergonomic tricks in cooking and cleaning, maybe a few others.

But for now....

Good Shabbas Everyone,
And a Very Blessed Sabbath : )

(Image is by Selena Fenech, from here)

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