Practicing Simplicity In Middle Age

plant-1842299_1280There is a “family and lifestyle” blog called Practicing Simplicity, by Jodi Wilson. It offers its readers a stunning vista of photographs and tales of motherhood with affiliated yoga, cooking and lifestyle tips. I love the name: Practicing Simplicity. Scrolling through the site, there is an aura of calm that bounces off each photo captured of wild flowers, toddlers innocently at play and simple, wholesome living.

 

The idea of “practicing simplicity” is a discipline that I’ve tried to incorporate into my own lifestyle for a while now. This is not some innovative new trend I’ve discovered, you only need look around you at the wealth of organic food cafes, the current trend in home decor for clean Scandinavian lines and simplicity, or the yoga havens, but it does seem that the more I clean up my lifestyle, in terms of what I put in my mouth, how I plan my day, and most importantly, how I plan my relaxation time, the more I get out of my life. When I remember to approach everything with a calmer, more rational approach, rather than my scatty, “me first”, impulsive alter ego, everything turns out so much better.

 

I settled a client into her new home last week. With three young boys, she was telling me about how guilty she felt for not letting them do a certain sport at the weekend because it clashed with another, and was simply too hard to coordinate with her husband who is often away.

 

‘Anyway,’ she said, ‘I want them to make the most of the beach while we’re here.’

 

Like many of my generation of Xers, I imagine, I don’t remember doing any extra-curricular activities as a child, except for Brownies and Sunday School. Forgive me for showing my age by harking back to the simple pleasures of riding our bikes in the street, playing with the neighbours kids and learning through exploration, because I do wonder how much value our kids get today from being shunted through busy traffic from one activity to the next, after a full day of interaction at school. I’m not shaming, because I did the same with my own kids, and as I admitted to this mum, if I could turn the clock back I would do things differently now – especially with a kid with ADHD. Children need time to relax and reflect on the day, to be given the chance to talk, ask questions and cement close relationships.

 

I wish I’d been brave enough to hone down the list of activities we forced our kids to do to “keep up with the Jones’”. Such over-commitment left me running ragged; a headless chicken who was often bad-tempered and resentful when I collected them from school after my own hard day at work. I blame the old man’s hair loss on those weekends when NC had soccer one day and Kurt the next, after a 45hr week at work. I don’t think that those frantic, wasted hours on the weekend spent in search of that lost soccer boot or leotard, learning lines and cutting up orange segments, contributed much to our children’s education, unless they’ve since learned how to say ‘no.’

 

Sure, they made more friends, but I’m sure that their mates from school and the neighbours would have sufficed. How many times did I choose to ignore the ‘I’m tired’ whine from the back seat because I had over-committed, or because we’d paid the term’s fee or I was worried about letting the team down? How many evenings did I waste sitting in a dark car park, waiting for them to finish?

 

Kurt never did become that league soccer player and looks back on that whole team sport period with horror; NC recoils with similar distaste every time I remind her about “dance”.

 

I’m not under that pressure these days and I understand that it is a difficult one to protest against. My pressure is that blurred line between recognising when I have enough on my plate and over-commitment – although, self-imposed isolation is equally dangerous for over-thinkers such as myself, when your crazy brain errs on the side of feeling unwanted and useless.

 

If you didn’t know, finding the balance is key.

 

Life is busy enough with work, family, friends, hobbies and exercise, and these days I take far more pleasure from simple activities like reading a book, trying out a new recipe, taking a long walk or sitting people-watching on the beach, than I do from organised events where I have to reinvent myself again.

 

I’m getting older. 

 

Practicing simplicity for me is about forcing myself to relax. I’m never going to be stretched out on the floor for long periods of the day in the Downward Dog position, but forcing myself to do things on my own that have no stress attached, counter-balances the triggers of anxiety. After the last turbulent few years of life with teenagers, “me time” is about lowering my heart rate and not having to be somewhere at a given time to find my inner peace.

Happiness In Middle Age, Escapism and Searching For The Simple Life

Middle Age Happiness, Escapism And Searching For the Simple Life
Old Surfer Dude by Gary Wilson, found on Flickr.com

Kurt has been away on his sabbatical for five days now and we have magnanimously told him that if he does decide that the simple life away from the city suits him better, we won’t stand in his way if he decides to stay longer.

It crossed my mind when I accompanied him up to Byron that a short escape into anonymity would do me good, too. I’m sure we can all identify points in our lives where we’ve wanted to drop everything, escape and do some serious soul-searching. Not to Byron, necessarily – albeit a wonderful enclave to lose yourself to introspection and gain a better insight into what really matters in your life – just somewhere where I could re-invent myself for a short while.

I can see myself shacked up with some crusty, middle-aged surfer in a crumbling beach house, with peeling paint, shells for ornaments and a fine layer of sand coating its distressed floorboards. He would get up at dawn to be at one with the ocean, he’d have chickens in the backyard, a preference for shagging on his surfboard and earn a secondary living growing crops in the hinterland. I can see myself turning my hand to organic fart food, making dream catchers for a living to sell at market at the weekend and living off love alone.

And from a physical perspective, my body could really work a kaftan now.

Middle Age Happiness, Escapism And Searching For the Simple Life
Turquoise Blue Long Sleeved Kaftan Maxi Dress by Honeymcouture on flicker.com

Sometimes, when I allow myself to forget about the superficial, material stuff I depend on so much for my happiness these days, the simple life is truly appealing. A different way of living has become more appealing as the wisdom of middle-age has evolved and taught me the irony of my long-held belief that money holds all the answers; Now that I actually have money in my purse, I’ve realised that health, happiness and strong relationships are the key to happiness. But most of us now know the health benefits of putting time aside in our busy schedules for a healthier lifestyle, yet realistically, those changes don’t come easily, not without compromise and cutting our cloth accordingly.

So, perhaps the best way to start is by redefining what the ‘luxuries’ in our life have become now. Because mine have changed over time; and most of what I see as ‘luxuries’ these days don’t cost very much.

‘Stress’ has the most negative impact on my health and happiness, so my ‘luxuries’ are anything that combats that. Having the time for exercise, being able to buy healthy food, affording the time to lose myself in relaxation or spend time with friends and family top my list now.

The old man and I have cropped some of the luxuries from our lives over the past few years. We’ve worked out what our priorities for happiness are, and fortunately we agree (mostly) on what they are. So his golf club membership doesn’t really fit the idealism of our new simpler life, but frankly those precious few hours he’s on the course increase the levels of my happiness tanks enough to make it worth it; and I never said we were perfect. But we have moved from the big house and downsized to an apartment and the old man has cleared out the belongings that he felt were superfluous to our needs *sob* and watches even more closely what we spend *sigh*.

We’re don’t have the right to feel smug just yet – nothing makes me feel better than an impulsive therapy session at the mall when I’m feeling low – but we’re easing closer to the goal.

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Obviously, I couldn’t possibly take the old man to Byron with me, though. As bald as a coot, he wouldn’t be able to grow dreadlocks for starters, has always looked very silly in beanies and his beard is an embarrassing shade of Antique White when he grows it out; so he tends to look more salty sailor than sexy surfer.

And he’s just not chill enough. He would moan about where the meat was in my bean stews, question what the fuck Chia was, would grieve for Foxtel, has always steadfastly refused to commit to yoga and certainly wouldn’t see the point in walking along the beach at twilight. Unfortunately, his idea of relaxation still encompasses watching back-to-back golf championships on television and getting pizza delivered by our local pizza restaurant, even though it is only 200m away.

But Rome wasn’t built in a day…