My husband and I made a decision to move to Wisconsin back in January...with plans to begin a small homestead, farm-to-table, slow living sort of adventure. Initially I felt eager for everything to happen at once. I think it was my way of wanting to get the hard parts over quickly so I wouldn't have to deal with the discomfort. The universe has not conspired in my favor on that one. What should have taken 3 months tops has taken much longer just to get my license to practice occupational therapy in the state of Wisconsin. This has slowed the whole process down and forced me to be very patient. During this time I have developed a growing interest in "clutter-free living" and "minimalism" and have read many books on the subject matter (recommended reading coming in a future post). As a result I have used this time to methodically go through each and every single one of our possessions. Per the recommendation of various experts on the matter, I have compiled all like-items and held each one in my hand to determine if it brings me joy or serves a highly practical function in my life. I have felt a lovely cathartic release with each purge and found myself easily letting go of things I once thought I might hold onto forever. Mind you, I have never been a pack-rat or anything even close...but there are always those things that lurke in the back of drawers and closets that get pulled out once in a blue moon just long enough to get shoved back. My husband and I have both had to be very honest with ourselves and each other. The process of clearing out has raised many an eyebrow and a few vocal cords...but ultimately has drawn us closer. I have felt a new harmony arise in our home simply from knowing that each thing we have is something we both find beauty or value in. At moments I have wanted to just get rid of everything but then reason won over my rashness. This weekend it finally came time to begin boxing everything up. To my pleasant surprise it was amazingly easy. Since everything had already been purged all we had to do was pick up, wrap up, put in and tape shut. I have a very small pile of things to take to the consignment shop and thrift store. I have 3 huge boxes of memorabelia ready for a bonfire accompanied by a glass of my favorite Prosecco. As I pack each item I feel joyful anticipation at the thought of receiving each treasure on the other end of this move. I can see it in its new place and feel the purpose it might serve. I feel that each item will support us in moving forward into our new adventure vs. dragging and holding us back. I am grateful for the exercise in patience and reminded that my own timeline and agenda may not always have my best interest in mind. I am grateful that there is always a bigger energy than myself at play and I can trust its movement through my life. Now that I have formally expressed my gratitude about the opportunity to learn patience, maybe tomorrow will be the day I hear back from the Wisconsin OT Board about my license!
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 dedicate "slowandsimpleliving" to my daughters...and to every parent yearning to slow the clock and linger in the moments that seem to pass by all too quickly. I strive daily to reduce the complication and live my life in a slower and simpler way. My daughters and spouse inspire me to understand what both of these words mean and how to embrace them as a way of living and being in the world. I feel as if I am constantly on the go and I make things out to be way more complicated than they need to be. I desire to live at a pace that allows me to fully experience my in and out breath...to breathe deeply with those I care about most, to tap into the pulsation of life that gives me my very next breath. I am in no way and expert on this subject matter but I desire to explore it fully and deeply. I invite you to do this with me. My hope is that through the course of these posts, I find a way to slow down and fully engage in each moment with whatever is in front of me. I desire to clear away the "clutter" from all aspects of my life in order to embrace that which matters most. I pray that my posts inspire you, my readers, to do the same. We live in a fast world and it appears to be getting faster each moment. But we each have access to this moment now, to our next breath, to the choices we make. My prayer for all of us is to live each moment mindfully, to breathe consciously and deeply and to choose wisely knowing that each choice sends a ripple into the universe that affects every living thing around us.
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.