On Simplifying

When you come into our house you are likely to notice two things right away: the first is that there are WAY too many pairs of footwear for the mere three people who live there (especially now that no one is actually going anywhere) and the second (if you can draw your eyes upward away from the jumble of shoes and boots in the hallway) might just be the wooden sign that hangs over the entrance to the main part of our home. Painted black it reads, simply, Simplify. I spotted it in a stationery store in Westdale about twelve or so years ago and it really resonated. At the time, our kids were 8 and 11, and it seemed as though our lives were anything but simple. There were so many things to navigate with school, extra-curriculars, the boys’ social lives, our own lives and hobbies, our ageing parents and their health concerns, etc. etc. etc. If you have lived that sort of life or are living it now, you likely know just what I’m talking about. It’s often chaotic trying to juggle it all without things smashing to the ground around you and every day where all the balls manage to stay in the air is a successful one, worthy of high-fives for all involved and celebratory dessert.

And so this sign in all its simplistic splendour really spoke to me as something that was, if not completely attainable at the time, at least something to strive toward. Simplify, it said. OK! I said. Let’s give it a shot.

I didn’t buy it that day but it did turn up under the Christmas tree later in the year, a gift – more like a challenge, probably – from my mother, the queen of simplification, the woman who hated clutter, who disapproved of “stuff” for stuff’s sake; who had all the boxes in her attic labelled so when we eventually had to clear out the house to sell it after she died, we knew precisely what was in each box. It took us just 30 minutes to clear out the entire attic. Unreal.

The Simplify sign spoke to me less about clutter and stuff (although yes, that was definitely part of it) but I also looked to it for a reminder that life doesn’t have to be as complicated as we often make it. Some parts are complex by default, of course, but some can be controlled. Was I overcommitting myself? Double-booking myself? Burning the candle at both ends as a result? Absolutely I was. Was I spending time with and energy on toxic people? Unfortunately, yes to that as well. Did I stop doing any of those things once the whimsical wooden sign came into my life? Not entirely. But it did, daily, remind me that there are things I can control, things that that I could say no in order to make my world a little less complicated, and in time I would start to make some of those changes to do just that.

Just over 10 years ago when we were clearing out my mother’s extremely well-organized home, there were certain things I couldn’t get rid of. Ok, there were a lot of things I couldn’t get rid of. In cars and vans of family and friends we brought these things to our home and stored them in the attic. Chairs. Tables. Clothes. Photo albums and framed photos. To be clear, we did donate or give away a lot, but there were some items I couldn’t bear to see gone. And even as I was making my 97th trip to the attic with some knickknack or other I could hear my mother’s voice “Elizabeth, why on earth are you keeping this?!” but it’s what I had to do at the time. “I’ll sort it out eventually,” I said to her voice.

My cousin brought a chair in from her car and nodded up at the black wooden sign hanging over the doorway and laughed, “Funny how that says Simplify, and here we are with…all this. The opposite of simplify!” I ignored her and pointed, “That goes in the living room. Please.”

Ten years later much of the stuff I brought home has been used by us or rehomed or donated, but a lot still remains. In the other areas of simplification I have been much more successful, and I am quite proud of this. I do find my life less chaotic overall (global pandemic notwithstanding) and I’m no longer willing to do much too much. I call that ageing out of FOMO, the fear of missing out and embracing JOMO, the joy of missing out.

Just last week we began tackling (sometimes literally!) the things in the attic and while it is going to be a very long process to eliminate many years of overaccumulation of stuff, progress is definitely being made and I finally feel as though I can look up at that pretty little sign without guilt.

Simplify. Yes, I tell it. We are. We’re trying. We’re getting there.

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