July 12 actually is celebrated for several reasons aside from the contentious Glorious 12th in Northern Ireland, including, would you believe, National Different Coloured Eyes Day and National Pecan Pie Day. But National Simplicity Day seems like something really worth celebrating (although I admit, Pecan Pie Day does have a certain allure as well).
The idea of National Simplicity Day, according to one of its websites, is:
In our fast, ever-increasingly busy lifestyles, the observance encourages stepping back and looking at ways to simplify our lives. It’s an opportunity to declutter and eliminate the unnecessary burdens that weigh us down. Even taking a few moments to tune into nature helps us to refocus and find balance.
As much as I like this message, two things initially held me back from promoting this concept to potential readers. First of all, July 12 was chosen as the date for this special day because it’s Henry David Thoreau’s birthday. Thoreau, as any of you who were forced to read Walden in high school will know, spent two years living in a cabin in the woods at Walden Pond in Massachusetts to demonstrate that we could live simple lives, but ones filled with purpose and reward. I read this in high school a full 60 years ago; he didn’t convince me then and he doesn’t convince me now. For years (decades) my Thoreau-phobia was just based on his patronizing tone; I only learned recently that his mother lived nearby and brought his food and his sister came and cleaned! Talk about cheating. He was able to spend two years happily thinking and writing with no other responsibilities. Not a bad gig.
As well as the very long lingering (and possibly unfair) impact of Walden on my psyche, I do wonder if it’s too simplistic to suggest that people try simplifying their life when the world is just so darn complicated and frenetic. But surely it’s worth a try. I really do like the notion of more of us trying to live more simply. Not by living in a cabin, although living in a cabin by a lake for a few years and having someone bringing you your food and cleaning for you has a certain appeal, but by things like minimizing impulse buying and thinking first before doing what really doesn’t need doing. Some thoughts from one of the National Simplicity Day websites:
Seek a leisurely pace that doesn’t include the accumulation of things.
Living simply doesn’t mean living without. It means living with only what we need.
When our lives are simpler, our stress decreases. We no longer feel the pressure to acquire more things. We have time to pursue adventures and spend time with people we enjoy.
These sentiments, which definitely resonate for me, are related to the concerns behind two work-related articles I came across recently, the Guardian’s Even the best job will never love you back, so where do we find our life’s purpose? and the New York Times’ Why do we work so damn much?. Neither article provides answers, but the questions posed are important ones. Post World War II, the expectation had been that work weeks would continue to shrink and leisure time would continue to grow, decade by decade. This had happened for a few decades prior to the introduction of computers and then the Internet into business. When I was a kid, fathers worked Saturdays. Then just Saturday mornings, then suddenly the whole weekend was theirs to relax and pursue their non-work lives with their families. A 40-hour work week became the norm. Or even a little less. In most countries, holiday time was extended. (This remains a work in progress in the U.S.)
Then the Internet age took over and slowly but surely the office was always available to its employees. Closing your office door and leaving for home was no longer meaningful. For too many people, work has become ever-present. It never stops. It seems to me that working at simplifying our lives has to include finding a way to turn off work for defined periods every day, every week, and every year. I do understand how difficult this is, really I do. Yes, I’m retired now, but until the day I stopped working – and actually for a few months afterwards – I was hardwired to answering every email regardless of time of day or night, and spending most waking hours thinking about work challenges and opportunities. And I did love my job. But, the reality is that, as the title of that Guardian article mentioned above says: even the best job won’t love you back.
So on this day of Simplicity awareness, spend a little time thinking about what a somewhat simplified life might look like for you. How might taking a few steps toward simplification help you spend more time doing what gives you the most pleasure away from work? And doing what gives you the least stress?! You can think of it as practice for what your life might look like in retirement!! 🙂
Images source: https://www.becomingminimalist.com/minimalist-images/