Simple living isn’t necessarily simple. It tends to create a unique stress of its own kind. A weedy garden, canning that needs to be done, stormy weather, sick animals, etc., etc.
“Simple living stress syndrome” is a phenomenon I discovered shortly after our transition into a simple life. The more I talk with other homesteaders, the more I find it to be true.
I found that unnecessary noise is one of the triggers for this stress. I’m not talking about the noise of a tractor, or a rooster crowing in the morning. I define “unnecessary noise” as anything that fills my head or personal space with thoughts, attitudes, or belongings that don't add value to my life, to the present moment, or to my long term goals. This type of noise can come anywhere from unproductive time spent on Facebook, to the numerous catalogs I receive in the mail.
Recently I've focused on finding and eliminating the things in my life creating this unnecessary noise. I canceled an endless amount of catalog subscriptions — but that was the easy part. The difficult task has been getting rid of those thoughts and attitudes that don't ground me to the present or help me reach my goals for the future.
I have found that most noise reduction comes in the form of “letting go” and bringing myself to a place where I am content with our little acreage, where I'm flexible to all the ups and downs of country life, where the trivialities are relegated to the back burner where they belong.
In doing so, I have narrowed my homestead down to three basic zones: the garden, the kitchen, and the home. In these three zones I looked for ways that I can let go — and therefore reduce the noise. Here is a peek at what I am working on:
In the Garden
I've quit trying to achieve perfection.
I originally imagined our homestead as a vast stretch of perfect garden beds — flourishing plants, shapely edging, and no weeds. My mind's picture wasn't too different from professionally-designed and staffed botanical gardens. Then we moved, and reality hit. It is impossible for a staff of one — one who is also responsible for many other things beside the garden, to achieve perfect, or even semi-perfect gardening on this scale.
I soon became frustrated and disheartened. My husband has helped me adjust my goals and desires. A garden is beautiful not because it is perfect, but because it provides us with food. Tomatoes will grow whether or not your garden path runs in a straight line.
I've learned to accept the weeds and maybe even live with a few.
…and those weeds have been difficult for me to accept. I still have my perfect garden beds in my mind’s eye. I still long for immaculate, weed-free rows. While it is important that plants have space to grow, daily weeding a large garden simply isn't possible for me. I am learning to give myself an allotted time per week for weeding, and to prioritize the areas that need it most. It has also been helpful to learn that weeds can be beneficial both by providing food and ground cover.
I'm learning to be content with keeping it simple.
All those beautifully-colored heirloom plants are so tempting. But, do I really need to grow seven different varieties of basil every single year? I am a seed junkie. I love lettuces in every shape and color imaginable. I love the way it creates a patchwork quilt image in my garden bed. I've also found that often we've had more than we could eat or even take care of. Some seasons I don’t have the time to devote to numerous varieties of a single crop. I have learned that that is okay. We grow what we like best, what we can eat throughout the season, and what we can comfortably store.
In the Kitchen
I've learned how to fill the sink with soapy water and walk away.
The kitchen is the heart of our home. It is also located at the very center of our house. Because it is one of those areas that is seen immediately upon entering, it is important to me that it be kept immaculate — not just tidy. This level of cleanliness often cannot be achieved simply because I have other tasks to do. My messy kitchen creates tension and stress every time I walk by.
I've learned to compromise by filling the sink with hot, soapy water and load the dirty dishes to soak. I then walk away and come back to take care of them when I can. This way, the kitchen looks tidy even if I can’t get to the dishes immediately.
Simple meals are best…
I love to cook! Menu planning is one of my favorite household chores. I love to pore over glossy food magazines and prepare amazing meals every night of the week. This worked fine when we had a smaller home to manage. Now, not so much. I rarely have time to fuss and pull out all the stops to prepare a five star meal. I'm making my peace with eating simply during the week (last night it was spaghetti squash and a salad). I save the fancy menus for date nights or special occasions.
…and leftovers are okay!
I used to feel that I hadn’t planned adequately if we had to resort to leftovers for a meal, but leftovers are just fine, sometimes even tasting better the next day. I’ve even changed my cooking routine to preparing just a few big meals per week, cooking once and eating twice.
In the House
I'm learning to prioritize.
A spotless house is ideal, but with chickens, pets, and mud constantly being tracked in from the garden, trying to keep it that way just creates endless frustration. When I only have fifteen minutes free, I ask myself, “What needs to be done right now?”. Usually, instead of the mud in the back hall, it's the laundry that should've been done yesterday.
As with the kitchen, I'm learning to keep it simple.
In my opinion, “stuff” that we rarely use and add clutter creates the most unnecessary noise. Recently I took stock of my closet and discovered that I only wore about half of what was in it. I have stacks of gardening and food magazines I rarely have time to look at. I love seasonal décor but most of those knick-knacks could be narrowed down to a bare minimum. I am working to make it a part of my regular routine to gather up items not being used and either sell them or give them away.
I'm learning to delegate.
I think there is a part of all of us that wants to be superwoman/man. We want to feel that we can do it all. But humility is realizing that we can’t give everything 110%. If someone is willing or available to help, I'm learning to let them do it.
Comparison is the thief of joy. For me, Pinterest and occasionally Facebook create too much temptation to compare what I have with the seemingly perfect pictures in front of me. I'm trying to limit my time spent on social media.
Cultivating quiet. I have made it my goal to have at least one day per week where I go 24 hours (if possible) without turning on my laptop or checking my phone. I try to do this on Saturday/Sunday so my quiet time can set the tone for the upcoming week.
Be comfortable with stillness and empty silence. I've begun to leave my earbuds behind when I take my afternoon walk. More and more, I will drive without the car radio. I've found that this tranquility creates an attitude of peace that I am able to carry over into my other tasks.
What about you? What are some ways that you are learning to let go? Where are some areas you've tried to bring peace to your homestead, and how are you working to accomplish this?
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