Simplicity gets simpler without family ties

November 07, 1999|By Susan Reimer

I DON'T KNOW ABOUT you, but I need to simplify my life.

I have too many to-do lists, too many piles of paperwork. I have too many errands to run, too many calls to return and too many bills to pay. My day timer is more important to me than my marriage.

Elaine St. James needed to simplify her life, too. After she did, she wrote a book about the process of giving things up and throwing things away, doing less and making do with less.

The book was called "Simplify Your Life," and it was a big success. But I don't think that success simplified her life because someone talked her into writing two more books: "Inner Simplicity" and "Living the Simple Life."

But she seems to be back on track, because now she has simply combined the books into one, 858-page doorstop called "The Simplicity Reader."

Now you might find something ironic, or just plain silly, about 858 pages of instructions on simplifying your life. But when you are hooked on crossing things off a list, you'll listen to anyone who might help you kick the habit.

I greedily thumbed through this tome for any hint that might help me tame the chaos in my life. I soon realized that implementing any of St. James' suggestions would require that I take an important first step: Get rid of the husband and kids.

Otherwise, I'd have to discard her every suggestion. Each one would be met with resistance from the very people who make my life so complicated.

For example: "Reduce the Clutter in Your Life." Translation: "Throw out everybody else's stuff." My kids can't seem to get their Kleenex into a wastebasket, so how am I going to persuade them to throw out anything else?

"Get Rid of Your Lawn." Hah. My husband would rather fuss with his grass than sleep, and he does plenty of that.

"Move to a Smaller House." Sure, but you will probably be living there by yourself. By the time your kids are old enough to arrange their own play dates, they are so wedded to their friends that you couldn't get them to move if it were to an arcade.

"Reduce Your Go-Go Entertainment." St. James suggests that we give up movies, plays, theater, opera, concerts, cabarets and nightclubs. Not a problem in my house. How about yours?

"If you don't like the holidays, bow out." Sure, tell your children you are canceling Christmas because it's too complicated. Then you will be living in that smaller house by yourself, for sure.

"Do what you really want to do." Another suggestion that working mothers of school-age children will find ridiculous.

Overall, St. James' suggestions are sensible, and they certainly will simplify one's life: "Just say no." "Just do nothing."

But women don't live just one life. We live the lives of everyone in the household, especially our children's, and simplifying ours can only mean reducing theirs to the point where they are playing with pots and pans on the kitchen floor.

That runs counter to our instinct to offer our children endless activities and stimulations to enrich their lives and capture their passionate devotion. We can't help ourselves. Everything sounds like a good idea to us, and that's where things go from simple to complicated.

In the end, "The Simplicity Reader" did help me simplify. I realized I could reduce its 858 pages to a simple sentence:

"When the kids leave home, things will be simpler."

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