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UNCOMMON COMMON SENSE
By Bill Frayer
A Simple Life
One of the reasons we, and I imagine many others, decided to leave the US or Canada and settle in Mexico is because we wanted to simplify our lives. Certainly, contemporary life, particularly in Western culture, is busy, complicated and stressful. Many of us balanced work, family, and other activities for many years. The thought of being able to live a more simple life is very appealing.
Although we may believe that simplifying our lives would be good, what does this really mean? After all, life itself isn’t simple. What do we want to do when we say this? Live in a cabin and grow beans like Thoreau? Eschew all material pleasures like Gandhi? I suspect that most of us would like to have time to live as we like, doing those things we enjoy and avoiding that which make us feel stressful. We want to live in nice surroundings, but we don’t want to have to worry about lots of problems.
I think living simply has two primary components: not having too many material possessions and not being too busy to enjoy your life. We Americans tend to have too much stuff. When we own a large house, perhaps even an extra house, nice cars, many clothes, toys, and other things, we can become what Philip Slater called, “a janitor to our possessions.” Even owning a home, the American Dream, certainly complicates one’s life. You need to maintain it, tend to the yard, and worry about its resale value. So, the more things you own, the more worries you assume.
The second component of achieving a simple life is to avoid becoming too busy. Easier said than done. Certainly we all want to be busy doing things we enjoy, with people we enjoy, but it’s easy to find ourselves so busy we don’t have time to enjoy our moments mindfully. Do we have time to sit and watch a sunset? To pause and chat when you run into friends around town? To read a good book and have time for a regular siesta? We can control our time and our commitments more easily in retirement, but do we take advantage of that opportunity? Life is just a series of present moments. Are we too busy to enjoy those unplanned moments?
Ironically, living a simple life is not a simple process. There are many online resources and books available on how to simplify. The “voluntary simplicity” movement has been popular for a long time. It requires us to make conscious choices about our life. These include deciding how we choose to spend our time, deciding how much money we actually need to live to a comfortable, but reasonable standard, and avoiding unnecessary financial commitments.
Basically, living simply is using our time and money to live as we choose, doing what makes us happy. This presupposes that we know what will make us happy. We need to learn to say “no” to time or financial commitments we cannot afford to make possible those things we need to be happy.
We can decide to live in a way that puts a priority on what is important to us. Sounds simple. But it takes planning and regular attention. Buy what we need, not more. Do what we enjoy; avoid activities and people we do not enjoy. Don’t let others dictate our priorities. Easy, no; important, yes!
—Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.
T. S. Eliot