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The Myth of Simple Living

You've heard the phrase before, "simple living." For me it brings to mind a bucolic back-to-the-land life on a beautiful homestead where days are spent picking flowers for wild arrangements, knitting fashionable shawls, and baking bread. Others might envision a debt-free hyper minimalist existence where television is a non starter and meditation is a must.

On blogs and in magazines simple living has been hailed and promoted as the way to the good life. And in many ways, I agree. But I find it supremely dishonest to claim that such practices are simple. Simple implies easy or at the very least uncomplicated. I've learned that attempting to live "simply" in this modern age is anything but easy and uncomplicated.

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I grow my own food, raise chickens, sew and knit clothes for my family, use cloth diapers, and make most of our food from scratch. We live in a very small house that I am constantly purging. We are on a tight budget, not out of design, but out of necessity. I am by all accounts attempting to live the simple life. And while I usually enjoy these things, they are not simple.

Planting and tending a garden is fulfilling, but it's also a whole lot of work and sometimes even the best efforts yield a disappointing crop. Depending on only the food I grow to feed my family would be extremely stressful and unrealistic. I care about the health of my family and enjoy cooking, but it's not easier to make a meal from scratch than it is to hit the drive-thru.

To live simply, especially as it's portrayed in the media, requires a certain amount of affluence.

Sewing and knitting clothes is fun hobby but it's time consuming and can be quite expensive. While ripping out a failed attempt at sewing a zipper last week, I would have told you that a trip to Old Navy is simpler indeed. Disposal diapers work well and make life easier, but I use cloth because I care about the environment and my family's bottom line, not because I find simple pleasure in hanging extra laundry on the line.

To be fair, there are nights when the cupboards are bare and instead of going to the store I can find everything I need for a hearty frittata right in my backyard. And when you care deeply about the environment, the source and quality of your food and clothes, making can be the simplest option.

But it's also a privileged way of life.

Think of the many people who bike instead of drive. Some of them do it on fancy bikes while their car sits in the garage or Uber lies available on their smartphone. Others do it because it is their only option. I've never heard a struggling person claim they're living the simple life. It is a luxury to have land on which to grow food and the time to prepare it. To live simply, especially as it's portrayed in the media, requires a certain amount of affluence.

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I know that when people say simple they often mean basic, but that word, while more accurate, isn't nearly as sexy. The "simple" life is about focusing time and energy on fewer things, on the things that have sustained us for hundreds of years. On basic human needs, instead of flashy commercialized ones. And filtering out those flashy commercials is ever harder. Few of us can truly go back to the land and must instead attempt to balance modern living — with all of it's convenience and distraction — with an attempt to find something deeper and more meaningful.

I am not proposing that we don't try just because it's difficult and complicated, I just think it's time we found a more honest word to describe this way of life.

Photograph by: Twenty20/merethesvarstadeeg

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