My journey to "slowandsimpleliving" began in my twenties. Living in five different places over the course of a year in Belgium lugging my stuff from one residence to another convinced me I could get by with a whole lot less. Six months on a mountain bike through remote Argentina with all my provisions in tow solidified this conviction. Cycling 4300 miles from sea level to 16000 ft on roads that make Wisconsin's feel brand new quickly revealed what I could live without! It sounds glamorous but visualize constipation, roadside pit stops, gas station camping (adjacent to a very loud generator), lama dung cooking and trying to convince the locals we weren't actually martians in our cycling gear. There were a ridiculous number of highlights as well, the greatest of which were the landscapes, the lore and the locals. I repeatedly witnessed those with less having so much more to give. I resumed being a carnivore because I couldn't bear the thought of declining a carne asado offering when the giver could barely afford a new light bulb! These experiences made me decide I wanted to live a life of voluntary simplicity. Upon my return I told myself I would own only what I could comfortably fit into my VW Cabriolet. I knew that the stuff I owned wasn’t the point of my life. I wanted something more. I wanted to experience the kind of life I felt I could live only when stuff wasn’t in the way.
Within a year of my return from Argentina, I crossed paths with a Christian mystical order. Since the heart of Christ’s life was about a type of voluntary simplicity, I found the practices of the order extremely appealing and helpful in reducing a lot of external and internal clutter. For a time, it served its purpose well. I learned to be still and quiet. I learned to tune out the external distractions. I learned to focus and concentrate. I learned to put my attention on what mattered most in my life at the time. I learned to make the person sitting across from me my priority. It continued to serve its purpose until I got married and had children.
Marriage and children made the practices and lifestyle of the order feel all but slow and simple. I found myself accumulating far more than I ever thought I would. I found myself rushing to slow down and repressing to put on an air of peacefulness. I felt deceptive to my community and to myself. I began to bury shame and guilt because I couldn’t maintain the internal experience I felt I needed in order to live in integrity with my role as a minister-priest. The directors of the order split and the organization went through a major metamorphosis. I knew my marriage and my parenting were suffering as a result of my participation. Staying to birth a new order required far more energy than I had left in my tank.
My husband and I decided to move our family to the Pacific Northwest for some much desired moist fresh air and connection with our love for the outdoors. Our goal was to homestead on a rural farm – specific destination unknown. We contemplated getting rid of everything to simplify our move, but in the end consigned, sold or gave away only half our belongings. We sold our Denver home and packed up the moving van with 8,000 lbs of God-only-knows-what and shipped everything off to storage. I set off ahead of my husband with our most precious cargo, our daughters, along with a few bags of clothing, a pack-n-play and plenty of road snacks for a small army.
The move preparation and the immediate period following was cathartic. We lived in temporary housing over the next 10 months with just our luggage and a few laundry baskets full of household necessities acquired from a local thrift store. My husband and I found what we could only have envisioned in our dreams, a very simple renovated cattle milking house adjacent to a huge barn and grain silo surrounded by 150 acres of idyllic farmland with Mt. Baker as a back drop.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the sinking feeling of dread I would experience when the moving van arrived and our old stuff began filling the space of our new home. Yuk! I couldn’t explain the feeling other than I experienced each item to be a heavy weight, a tie to an old life we were trying to leave behind. We hired a Feng Shui consultant to come in and give us some pointers. I secretly hoped she would give us permission to get rid of everything…to make the space totally different than it was. She didn’t.
Consequently, we spent the next phase of our journey surrounded by stuff that served as a daily reminder of a life we were trying to leave behind. Her advice was to keep many of the things in place the way they were as it gave the home a feeling of being lived in. What she couldn’t know about us was the energy that many of these things held for us. In hindsight, she advised correctly. We couldn’t have parted with these things because spiritually we weren’t ready. They were a part of our life for a while longer to support us in a process of peaceful letting go.
Our love for rural farm life and Tim's growing passion for rustic Italian cuisine nudged us to buy a a property of our own. Family connections, property values and a desire to embrace our Midwestern roots led us back to Wisconsin and to our new home. Preparations for this move forced us to face the remainder of our belongings and the emotional baggage packed around all that we owned. Practicality prevented me from from giving something away I would need to replace only a short while later.
The process of simplifying is indeed a process. I believe it is as unique as we are as humans but essential to our forward movement. I would find it hard to advise you on what you should keep and what you should let go of. Marie Kondo's recommended practice of holding each one of our possessions in hand and discerning what burdens vs. what brings joy revealed a lot...not just about our stuff but about the kinds of things we value in life and where we want to invest our time and energy. I highly recommend it for all of that it reveals and for its effectiveness in lightening your load.
Should you care to share, I would love to hear your story. Wishing you all the best in simplifying, letting go and creating space for what matters most to you!
I'm Kelly Isabelle.
Full-time workin' mama & spouse aspiring to live a slowly paced, sustainably minded, creatively expressed, clutter-free life shared with kindred folk.