Thursday, May 13, 2010

I heart simplicity

I told my husband I decided to become a minimalist.  This was shortly after we moved into our new condo and realized just how little storage this place has.  There’s no basement, no attic, no pantry, and just two closets. 

My husband just nodded and said “Okay” with raised eyebrows.  This was also right after we had ordered some new furniture.

But I DO aspire towards minimalism and simplicity.  I can’t stand clutter.  Clutter in my visible space makes my mind feel cluttered and fuzzy.  Clutter and messiness stress me out—which is telling since there is ALWAYS clutter in our home.  It’s unavoidable really.  We work so much that there’s just not enough time to keep the house spotless.  (And, truth be told, we don’t clean up after ourselves very promptly.)   

So, I’ve learned to live with it.  If I’m going to get to any of the other priorities in my life, like spending time with my daughter and my husband, writing, sleeping a few hours, then I’ve just got to overlook the pile of papers over there.  And there, and there.  I’ve got to try not to think about the clean laundry in the basket over there, and the dirty laundry in the other basket.  And the little pile next to that basket.  And the shoes by the door, and the toys on the floor.

Shoot, I’m starting to stress out again. 

And, of course, it’s late (again), which doesn’t help.  It’s a bit of a hamster wheel I find myself in….

Yet, calls for simplicity are all around, and I plan to start listening.  Have you noticed how, in the midst of this hectic, crazy-busy, buy-buy-buy culture, some people are drawing the line?  The magazine Real Simple, launched in 2000, is apparently still quite successful, speaking as it does to so many women seeking simpler lives.  (I used to subscribe to Real Simple and a few other magazines.  You should’ve seen the stacks I accumulated….)

Part of the reason for this simplicity movement comes from increased environmental awareness.  More and more people care enough about the planet to decrease their carbon footprints and consciously reduce the amount of waste they generate. (“Reduce” is the first of the three “R’s” for a reason.)  If you’d like a little motivation in this area, check out this cool, educational little video, “The Story of Stuff.”

As I was saying, I’m seeing invitations to the (truly) simple life all around.  Just today, I turned the page on my “Think Green” perpetual desk calendar and read the quote of the day:  “Simplicity is the peak of civilization.”  -Jessie Sampter.

Not knowing who Jessie Sampter was, I googled her and found out she was an influential Zionist educator and a poet who cared about pacifism and social justice.  Somehow, in my googling, I happened to come across a website called Zen Habits.  As it says, Zen Habits is an ad-free blog about finding simplicity in the daily chaos of our lives.

And it’s awesome!  Tons of inspiration here.  I plan to check it out often.

Because, what I’m trying and trying to remember, is that simplicity is about more than a clean house.  It’s also about being present and aware of what’s most important.  It's about the choices we make, which ultimately reflect our values and express who we are.

And it may just be the key to inner peace.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Dreams Really Do Come True – Part 2

In my last post, I wrote about Disney’s Cinderella, that lovely, passive dreamer from the 1950 film.  Nearly fifty years later, in 1997, there was another version of Cinderella in a made-for-TV special.  It was an all-star cast:  Brandy was Cinderella; Whitney Houston was the fairy godmother; and Jason Alexander was—somebody in the Royal Court, I think.  I halfway watched it, or at least parts, even though there were no kids in my household then. 

The movie was so-so, actually.  But there was this nice song that Brandy and Whitney sang together, called “Impossible; It’s Possible.”  The main lines kind of stick with you:  “Impossible… It’s possible… Impossible things are happening, every day.”

That song was going through my head one afternoon in New Paltz, New York, as I sat at the computer playing spider solitaire.  There were other thoughts going through my head at the same time:  Could it be?  I’m several days late... But this has happened before.  I do have this symptom and that symptom… but those can mean other things... Four years plus… Not to mention the small matter of a recent infertility diagnosis...

Yet the song kept playing:  “It’s possible, it’s possible.”

Part of me knew right then, even before the pregnancy stick confirmed-- it was not only possible, but positive.  Nine months, and seven years, later, I’m still amazed and in awe of the little girl who is somehow, blessedly, my daughter.

Dreams so, totally, do come true.  Sometimes.  With some action, some effort, and a good measure of patience.

I’ve experienced other dreams-come-true in my life.  I’ve set goals, written them down, achieved some.  Revised others.  I’ve imagined possibilities and accepted alternatives.  I keep running to-do lists.

In many ways, my greatest dreams are fulfilled:  I’ve got my beloved husband, my wonderful child, a nice home, a good job.  And I am deeply grateful for these.  Grateful, but not complacent.

What next?

I guess I’m at one of those restless points when it feels like I should start dreaming again.

Over the years, I’ve been drawn to the idea that we can set our own course and create our own best lives.  I’ve got this framed poster that I’ve had since—well, since I used to hang posters on my walls.  (It was a gift from my future husband, who has always known me so well.)  It still hangs where I can see it every day, a peaceful moonlit ocean scene, above the message:  “Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice.”

At work, a few years ago, I actually taped a fortune from a fortune cookie onto my tape dispenser.  (I never usually keep those silly slips of paper!)  This one says:  “Any idea seriously entertained tends to bring about the realization of itself.”

And not long ago, I bought three pretty little canvas signs to hang up at home.  (Those folks at Target DO have a few nice things, don’t they?)  The pictures say:  “Love,” “Happiness:  the time to be happy is now,” and “Intention:  create your best life—live with intent.”

There seems to be a theme here.  Apparently I feel the need to constantly remind myself to take responsibility for my life—to make things happen, rather than letting them happen to me.

Actually, these reminders are necessary.   It’s so easy to get sidetracked, caught up in the day-to-day grind:  work, rush, do, eat, sleep, work.  It’s easy to get into a rut and forget to dream at all.

But dreaming is essential. 

Not that you should stake your happiness on the always-elusive future and end up wishing your life away.  Of course not.

I think you should just imagine the most exciting and beautiful possibilities, and turn in that direction.

“If we don’t set goals, we are just surviving, not really living, not to the degree we could if we took charge of our lives.”  So wrote Hyrum Smith in The 10 Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management:  Proven Strategies for Increased Productivity and Inner Peace

Catchy title, eh?  Yeah.  Anyway, the book sort of read like an infomercial when I read it last year, but I sure appreciated the author’s point about the importance of defining and setting goals. Smith’s advice was to identify your values first, and then to set your goals around those values.

Martha Beck has even better advice.  (I just LOVE Martha Beck, the original life coach/north star guide.)  She says to think of the thing that makes your heart soar, the thrilling dream that “lies right on the border between possibility and impossibility.”  With some faith and some focus, these “wildly improbable goals” can really come true.

Perhaps the most famous and stirring dream known to America is the one proclaimed by Martin Luther King in 1963.  In the midst of sanctioned racism and violence, he shared a profound vision of equality and brotherhood that continues to inspire.  Then and now, and all the years in between, millions have been moved by his call to peaceful action.

Note to self:  Don’t forget to keep dreaming.  Dream; do something; and watch your dreams come to fruition.

It is possible.