Tag Archives: simplicity

Just Say No To Laundry

It’s Monday night, it’s a little after 10:30, and I am not doing the laundry.

Before you start in with #firstworldproblems, let me explain.  Mondays are my laundry day.  Mondays are also a work day and cello lesson day and Cub Scout night, but it’s one of the only consistent days where I’m home with the kids, due to a really whacky custody schedule.  (It works well, except for minor details like finishing projects around the house and remembering which house I’m in when I wake up in the morning.)  It’s tempting to just do it every other Saturday when I’m home, but we’d run out of clean jeans and underpants.  Also, my son’s dirty socks would probably achieve sentience and take over the neighborhood if I left them alone that long.

So, Mondays it is.  But not this Monday.  I’m just as tired as I am on most Monday nights – VERY tired, since they tend to run for about 18 hours with only a few minutes’ break here and there, with at least one meal a day eaten while I’m working or standing up.  I’m just as busy.  The clothes are just as dirty.  But tonight I am putting my weary bare foot down and saying no to the laundry.

The next five weeks will be [insert bad word here].  I made a quick estimate of the number of lessons, rehearsals and performances I’ll be involved in over the next five weeks, and it’s around 120.  Some are half an hour long, some will approach five hours.  Nearly 100 of those will be in the next 19 days, building up to a hellacious three-day period with two major evening performances and a day-long student competition.  It’s not my favorite part of the year, but it’s a crucial part of making enough money to survive the summer.

I’ve decided to do a few things every day of the next five weeks, in order to keep my sanity.  They’re everyday, obvious things – drink water, sleep, take a walk, spend 15 minutes reading something non-work-related, that kind of thing.  But these are things I will forget to do this month, if I don’t remind myself.

I blush to admit it, but I made a rewards chart.  It has little squares for star stickers.  (I paperclipped the stickers to the chart so I wouldn’t lose them.)  Today I got five stars out of the seven.  The sixth one (quiet meditation on Scripture) I can do right before bed.  The seventh one involves sleep.

And that means going to bed.

Now.

Even if the laundry isn’t sorted.

This shouldn’t feel like an epiphany, but it does.  I am so accustomed to doing one more thing, sorting one more basket, stuffing one more thing into an already too-full day.  I’m trying to make tomorrow easier, but the truth is that tomorrow is going to be a lot like today no matter what I do tonight – I’ll just be groggy from lack of sleep if I try to get too far ahead of myself.  This seems painfully obvious, now that I think about it.

The small, homely epiphanies are the ones that most thoroughly surprise me.

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My Do It!

“The opposite of faith is not doubt; rather, the opposite of faith is believing you are in control.”

– Tom and Liz Gates, quoted in “Plain Living: A Quaker Path to Simplicity”

When my daughter (now 13) was a toddler, she wanted to do everything for herself – put on her socks, feed herself, put on her own seatbelt, and she probably would have plunked her tiny little backside in the driver’s seat if I’d have let her.  Her constant refrain was, “MY do it!”

It’s embarrassingly easy to see myself in her, but as adults we’re encouraged to be self-sufficient, self-reliant, self-motivated, self-centered … whoops, scratch that last one.  Independence is seen as a virtue in our culture, and “My do it” sounds a whole lot like “I did it my way” and “Have it your way” and “Army of One”.

I had never really thought until today about how this independent streak informs my prayers.  I feel like I’m asking God for strength, wisdom, and guidance.  The words sound like I am.  But I wonder how many of my “God, grant me guidance” prayers are actually a thinly-veiled “God, I’m gonna run things now, OK?”

I don’t want to minimize the importance of action and responsibility – I’m not advocating passivity.  I wonder, though, if my faith might be healthier if my prayer was simply,

“Dear God: YOU do it.”

Worship With Marbles

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No, this is not some silly pseudo-religious practice, and I am not planning to bring marbles to church on Sunday.  I’m trying to think outside the religious box I’ve built for myself, but not THAT far outside it.

Today I spent part of the afternoon helping my 10-year-old sort out some of his prized possessions.  Do you remember being 10?  I do.  I remember having a LOT of special things, some of which looked (to the untrained eye) suspiciously like junk.  I knew what it all was, though, and being a 5th-grader didn’t mean I valued my things any less than adults value their prized possessions (which, if we’re honest, sometimes also look suspiciously like junk).

Buddy is no exception.  His room abounds with the usual flotsam typical of boys his age – matchbox cars, plastic spiders, random coins lost from his weekly allowance, and pencil drawings of machines and many-eyed monsters wodged into every possible corner of his bookshelf.  However, like many kids with Asperger’s Syndrome, his highly focused interests are evident in his room as well.  The reptile phase is represented by a menagerie of toy snakes, lizards, dragons, and a creepily jointed wooden alligator that gives me the heebie-jeebies every time I have to touch it. The interest in shipwrecks is evident in the wooden ships and an ancient key that actually came from a REAL shipwreck (and thus led to a collection of keys).  The “metal collection” is dozens of little bits of scrap metal and pop tabs from soda cans.  The gem and mineral phases are both still going strong.  His collection includes everything from playground gravel to an actual diamond, so tiny it’s practically invisible, in a little plastic case.

OK, now take all those things, put them in an average-sized bedroom with an impressive book collection and several dirty socks, and shake the whole thing really hard, and you’ll have some idea of what Buddy and I were facing.

I finally realized that “put your lizard away” has no meaning if every possible surface is already  covered with lizards.  For everything to be put in its place, everything needs to have a place.  So Buddy and I are spending fifteen minutes a day (sometimes 45, but don’t tell him that) working on his room.  We’re taking it slow – one shelf, one drawer, one corner at a time.

This afternoon’s labors resulted in a small cupboard reorganized, its three shelves emptied and wiped clean of fool’s gold dust, stray paper clips, and I kinda don’t want to know what was in that one corner.  We set it back up with homes for the rock collection, the metal collection (now safely in a cardboard box where it can’t accidentally stab anybody), and the Transformers, who now live in peaceful plastic harmony behind a cupboard door that actually shuts.

I also had the bright idea of using a bamboo silverware organizer (fifteen bucks, renewable resource, yay!) to keep all the little odds and ends in their right places.  It now holds the keys, the pencils, the string, the logic puzzles, a small family of plastic snakes, and the marbles.  It was at this point that the project started looking oddly like worship.

I’ve heard it said that God is a God of order, usually when Person A is trying to guilt Smaller Person B into cleaning their room.  I think it’s true, though.  Say what you will about chaos theory and the Second Law of Thermodynamics (and I think God lives there too, which is  another conversation for another day), but I believe God does value order.  This is perhaps why there is an innate satisfaction in having finished a project, cleared some space, Cleaned All The Things.

I’m still getting a handle on this whole concept of every day and every action having the potential to be holy – sacramental living, I think it’s called.  But if putting marbles in their little bamboo box makes me think of God and star systems and the periodic table of elements, then I suspect I’m on the right track.Image

Simplicity Is Confusing

plain

Word Origin and History:  c.1300, “flat, smooth,” from O.Fr. plain, from L. planus “flat, even, level” (see plane (1)). Sense of “evident” is from, c.1300; meaning “simple, sincere, ordinary” is recorded from late 14c. In reference to the dress and speech of Quakers, it is recorded from 1827; of Amish

Thank you, dictionary.com.  But what that means in everyday life for a person seeking a Plain lifestyle, the simplicity that is a discipline of its own, turns out to be surprisingly complicated.  Some women consider themselves “plain”, as evidenced by low-maintenance hairstyles, unadorned clothing, and minimal jewelry or makeup.  Other women take plenty of time with their hair, wear makeup, and LOVE them a pair of cute shoes – and still are wholeheartedly living their version of a “plain” lifestyle.

As seen through the lens of my conservative Baptist upbringing, this is disconcerting to say the least.  My childhood was less rulebound than many of my peers in our denomination – I wasn’t allowed go to school dances, get my ears double-pierced, or say “darn” or “gosh”.  But I knew girls who weren’t allowed to wear pants EVER, get their ears pierced until they were eighteen, or have their hair cut short.  Rules were part of life, and they provided a certain structure, even though we (like every other kid our age) pushed against them.  There is still a part of me that wants to know, “What are the rules?  Where’s the checklist?  Can I read your theological statement?”

But now, I find that this “testimony of simplicity” is freeing in its lack of definition.  Maybe for the Quaker woman with the red lipstick and the blonde highlights, simplicity means homemade food and an ordered morning routine. Maybe for the lady with the tied-back hair and the practical shoes, simplicity has everything to do with how she attires herself and nothing to do with the fact that she owns every Katharine Hepburn movie ever made.

Maybe for every person who finds peace in a floor-to-ceiling bookcase full of well-loved books, there is another who puts their entire library onto their Kindle and breathes a sigh of contentment at the blissfully empty walls.

I have no idea what plain living will look like for me.  I can’t wait to find out.