Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Part II: Thoughts on Simplicity from Amy of Progressive Pioneer
I love stopping by Progressive Pioneer - Amy has created a purposeful, peaceful spot in a blogosphere that often feels fast-paced and noisy. When we planned to do a segment on Simplicity here at Bloom, I knew I wanted to get Amy's insights. Lucky for us, she agreed to an interview! We hope you find her comments as meaningful as we did.
I think sometimes people use convenience and simplicity interchangeably. After following your blog, I realize that your simple life isn't necessarily what most people would consider "convenient." What are your thoughts on this? And what is your advice to others for making a simpler life feel natural and doable?
In order to make the "simple" things part of our life (bread making, growing our own vegetables, sewing simple clothes, raising chickens etc.) we've given up other things. We hardly ever watch TV, just the occasional movie. Our yard isn't perfect looking, but it is productive! We're a one car family for now. I think a lot of the things designed to simplify our lives often end up complicating them more than we realize! Fast food and convenience foods will eventually result in seriously complicated health. And I don't know how many hours I've spent on the phone with our cell and internet providers, leaving me less time for other things. But, everything is a trade-off. I love my cell phone and I love making simple meals from whole foods; it's worth the extra time and effort to me that I could save buying pre-made foods. I think the key to living a simpler life without feeling overwhelmed by having to do more is to simply do less; less TV, less structured time for the kids, more creative free play, less perfect yard, more veggies, less frozen pizza etc. Consider those simple things as a gift to yourself; opt to garden not only because you can feed your family healthier, fresher, more delicious foods, but because the simple act of being out among living, growing things causes you to slow down, reflect and enjoy the moment.
You do a great job of presenting your lifestyle in a way that is kind and non-judgmental. It's obvious that you feel the choices you're making are best for your family, but you never take a condemning stance toward alternate choices. For people making less main-stream choices about diet or media, for example, how do you recommend they deal with friends and family members who may not support their choices? How do you maintain your values without making other people feel judged?
We have the attitude of just letting some things slide. If our goal is to have a simpler, more relaxed life, then packing an organic meal for my son every time we go to someone else's house for dinner, or chasing him around at a party trying to keep cookies out of his mouth defeats the whole purpose. I usually try to look at the big picture when making most choices. For example, "Is limiting all sugar as important as expressing gratitude to friends and family who share their food and homes with us?" Sometimes there's a knee-jerk reaction to think, "Oh, we don't do that!" without looking at the bigger, more important issues of people and relationships. I figure that if we maintain our values 98% of the time and maintain our relationships with friends and family 100% of the time, that 2% is a pretty good trade-off. We also don't try to "educate" other people about our choices, unless they specifically ask. No matter how you phrase it, people often feel judged. Everyone's on their own path, learning and making choices, including us; we have so many areas we'd like to make changes in!
To me, part of the associated connotation of simplicity is "having less" and attaching less value to stuff. But you've got to have a few treasures. What are some of your most treasured possessions? What makes things meaningful to you?
I try to purge our house a couple times a year, getting rid of toys, clothes, even furniture and only keep the things we truly use and enjoy. I find that we really only use a few things; I wear the same clothes over and over despite an overflowing closet. Sam is happy to play with pots and pans or color on scrap paper. One of the things I really have trouble letting go of though, is books! I have boxes and boxes that we don't even have enough shelves for. And I used to have a shoe thing, but I'm getting a lot better about that:) I do try to preserve memories though; I'm a big believer in the importance of chronicling your life both for yourself and for future generations. But I try to keep the memories and keepsakes in the two-dimensional form; letters, pictures and certainly digital files. I tossed my old high school trophies and plaques, but kept the newspaper clippings, photo albums and a few notes and letters. Though I do have a few three dimensional treasures as well; my mom's baby shoes and a quilt her mother made for her; it's delicate and frayed now, some shells from my grandfather's 21 gun salute at his memorial service and some special pieces of pottery that I love.
What are some of the dominant influences that have shaped your life-view and paradigm?
Both my husband and I were raised in mostly rural areas and grew up gardening, keeping chickens and hauling firewood. For that reason, our lifestyle doesn't seem all that radical (except that we live in the middle of a city!). As I got older and had the opportunity to choose a lifestyle similar to the one I was raised in or an entirely different path, while I dabbled in high city living for awhile, I found myself drawn back to my roots. And as I was drawn back I came across many books and people that could put intellectual explanations to my emotional and instinctive choices. Authors like Michael Pollan, Ina May Gaskin and Alice Waters, and magazines like Mothering helped me put words to my ideas and explain them to other people. I've met seed savers, midwives, knitters and organic farmers who have all solidified my feelings that this good, simple life is a good one for me too.
In your description of a Progressive Pioneer, you talk about lifestyle options that are born of media, business tycoons, research centers and laboratories. You go on to say, "In the midst of all these high tech, color coordinated, safety tested, pediatrician recommended options, the most radical choice can be to simply say, “No thanks.” What kinds of things do you find yourself saying, "No thanks" to in order to live the life you desire?
When I was pregnant with Sam, our toddler, I had lists and lists of stuff that I thought we would need (I'm a list maker!). Thankfully, we opted to wait until after he was born to get a lot of it, just in case. I feel like many baby products on the market put more distance between you and your little one who has only ever known nine short months of living extremely close to you! You can go hours and hours without holding your baby by using the car seat/carrier/stroller combo. Our car seat is big and sturdy and never leaves the car. The only carriers we have are those worn on the body (a Moby and Baby Bjorn). We don't have a crib or a playpen. Sam has always slept with us or on a mattress on the floor once he could crawl. We've also never fed him any sort of baby food. I figured he's just a small human, not an entirely different creature, so we just fed him small amounts of mooshed up, mild "human food." We never purchased baby towels (regular ones work great) or baby dishes, or even a monitor. As it turns out, babies don't really need that much stuff!
We also say "no thanks" to processed or prepackaged food. My mom always made food from scratch so it didn't take a big paradigm shift for me to do the same. We don't do TV or much media, though we enjoy our magazines, the radio and the occasional movie out.
But we say yes to a lot of things too! We say yes to quiet nights reading together, to memberships at the local museums and zoos, to frequent trips to the library, to exciting kitchen experiments like making our own vinegar, to wonderful hobbies like building furniture, sewing and making toys, to time spent with family, to slow, toddler-paced walks through the neighborhood, to learning new crafts and to delicious foods!
Thanks so much for giving me the opportunity to reflect on these things and share in your lovely space for a bit.
Amy, thanks so much for being here. Don't be a stranger.