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Simply Perfect: Learning How to Dial Life Down

October 30, 2015 Barbara Ballinger & Margaret Crane

With all the talk about Marie Kondo’s runaway bestseller, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” (Ten Speed Press, 2014), we’ve both spent more time reassessing the real value of our own cluttered lives. As we age, do we really need more clothing, furniture, books, collections, t’chokes? Answer: Simply put–no. That’s why now we’re on a kick to free ourselves of stuff and spend our time with people we care about, our money on what matters and to do the things we love.

Minimalism really feels right, even perfect.

We actually consider ourselves a bit ahead of the curve. Having recently moved from too large family homes, we did pretty well when it came to shedding space-gobbling possessions we didn’t need clogging our closets and rooms. Exceptions may be our respective attic and storage lockers, which still bulge, but are filled mostly with things our grown children have left behind. “Some day,” they say, pleading with us to be the keepers for just a bit longer. But that’s another blog post about when to announce the statute of limitations!

Our shared desire for fewer furnishings aka Mies van der Rohe who philosophized that “less is more” means windows without curtains, fewer rooms that serve multiple functions, no wall-to-wall carpeting when we’ve got gleaming wood floors to show off, fewer room-filled groupings–along with that great Aero Saarinen round marble-topped table, sleek sofa with simplified arms and legs, just one or two comfy chairs, and one coffee table sans a stack of designer arranged books and magazines.

As Barbara’s almost 96-year-old mother keeps reminding her, “There are no shrouds in pockets,” meaning you can’t take anything with you, even though we know that ancient Egyptian royalty might have disagreed. This may seem a morose discussion to some, but it’s actually good advice for scaling back all aspects of our lives to make them simply perfect. Here’s what we’re feeling, which may work for you, too:

  • Food. Each of us has found we want simpler foods whether we’re eating out or cooking at home. No more of those dishes where there are so many ingredients that they become muddled in taste, and which require a restaurant wait staff person to check a crib sheet to be sure he or she remembers that the cod has a crust of crushed pistachios, is sautéed in a pool of sesame oil and soy sauce, has a smidge of salt and pepper, and is topped with a dollop of pesto. We’d love to say, just serve it fresh, cooked through, and PLAIN. And more and more, many of us are requesting, “Please put the sauce on the side!” It’s not that we don’t appreciate creativity, but let’s keep it simple. The same goes for the meals we’re cooking for ourselves and a few others. No more of these competitive food marathons that reveal we’ve watched hours of Food Network cooking shows. We may, but that doesn’t mean we want to duplicate the recipes when we prefer a simple fresh salad, main course with no more than three ingredients, equally simple side dishes, and a dessert that lies low rather than resembles a tower, plus a good vin de table or single grape red or white, one under $15 and not from some fancy vineyard that’s combined too many different grape varieties.
  • Friends. We’re still ready to welcome new friends into our lives, who pique our interest with meaty conversations about politics, travel, art, and offer us uncomplicated camaraderie and good cheer. We have to be a bit more judicious in whom we add to our friends’ list, however. A cup of coffee or a glass of wine for sure to see if we click is fine, but we can’t promise that we can be super attentive at this juncture to lengthy discussions on the phone, through email and definitely in person. Yet, we also know that a much deeper, bigger tendency is occurring within each of us as we age—and we hate to say it—even some people–are less central to our lives. We’ve started to declutter negative friendships. These are the needy people who enjoy playing the “why me? cards that have a toxic effect on our moods. We have too many pressures in our busy lives—with grown kids, aging moms, and deadlines for work that we have little time or patience to walk on eggshells with our friends and second guess every word.
  • Travel. We both love to travel but right now it seems a huge inconvenience to get our work into shape to get away, decide where to go, make the arrangements, study up on all the sights and sounds we should partake of once there, book restaurants we read about on Yelp or other sites, and then really be gone without being plugged in to hear from family or editors. So, rather than head to some exotic place halfway around the globe that will set us back big bucks, it’s become easier and more relaxing to find a place that’s a quick jaunt away, the equivalent of a long weekend, even during the week. Baltimore for Barbara where her young grandson lives has become just the right break; and for Margaret a long weekend in Montreal and Quebec or a few days in Los Angeles where her daughter lives were both the perfect antidote for the need to escape. For a complete change of scenery to clear the mind, there’s always camping like Margaret’s brother and sister-in-law love to do. It’s raw living—just a backpack and feeling free, going to sleep in a tent for a week with few possessions–just food, basic shelter and rugged clothing. No distractions, news, cell phone, connection with the outside world. Time to look around and really smell the roses.
  • Buying. We both were never big spenders but we’re even more frugal these days. We’re no longer interested in finding artworks to collect, fancy clothing and purses to show off, or certainly any more jewelry since we rarely wear what we own. For Barbara, more snow globes for her collection from places she’s not yet been make her smile as much as a great piece of folk art used to, and a great new shade of lipstick for a new season or new perfume both make her feel she’s had a small makeover. For Margaret, some inexpensive but stylish boots recently gave her great delight, as does downloading new books on her Kindle app.
  • Makeup. While we could be piling on a cleanser, moisturizer, anti-aging mask, neck lift cream, then foundation, concealer, blush, mascara, eye shadows, lipstick, and lip liner and more to make us look ravishing and hide those age marks and emerging wrinkles, we’ve decided to tone it down a bit here, too. Sure, we want to look as young as we can without yet going under the knife, but we also know who’s kidding whom? We look pretty decent for our ages—we’ve moved past the 65 mark, and doing without so much stuff on our faces daily is refreshing and freeing. And it saves time for sure.
  • Shelter. Barbara fantasizes about downscaling to one big loft style, prefab home with kitchen, table, seating group and TV in one space, plus maybe two bedrooms. Margaret now lives in a condo after selling her family home and is extremely content, particularly on its screened porch. Why do we need more rooms…only spaces to care for, clean, and spend time in when one big modern-ish space is divine!

Simplifying our lives means more time for us to think outside ourselves, to volunteer, go to a great movie even during the day, enjoy a wonderful live symphony or ballet, spend time in a bricks-and-mortar bookstore, take a walk in a nearby park now that the air is crisper, hit the library, or just stay home and watch a good and memorable program on TV such as the recent CNN documentary of singer Glen Campbell’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, “I’ll be Me.” As we pare down our lives, at least we still have our wonderful memories intact, and, yes, Marie Kondo, purging our lives to focus on what’s most important can be quite magical.




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