Don’t keep it simple

I’m working my way through my advance copy of Gretchen Rubin’s new book, Happier at Home. I’ll have more to say about it when it’s officially released in early September, but an intriguing theme is fighting the urge to “keep it simple.” Simplicity of a certain style is much in vogue these days (see, oh, Real Simple). And certainly, there’s no point in cluttering one’s life with stuff, or crowding activities onto one’s schedule that don’t make anyone particularly happy.

But sometimes, in our quest for simplicity, we are actually choosing ease over the opportunity for something more meaningful. The tagline for the book is “choose the bigger life.” Sure, you could not have people over for dinner because it’s a lot of work. You could skip the family day trips so everyone can nap in their beds at the exact right time. You can scale down your career ambitions because, while you’ve mastered your current job, the hours are good and the pay is decent, so why rock the boat?

But here’s a different question: what are you saving your energy for? There’s another image in Happier at Home of someone saving her expensive truffle oil for a special occasion, only to see it go bad in the bottle. Children won’t get to repeat a childhood. Someday, sooner than we’d all like, the friends who could come over for dinner will not be available to do so. The years pass by and the somedays become no longer. So spend out now.

I’ve been thinking of this a lot this year. Two months ago, I wrote a post about creating a summer of saying “yes.”  We’ve been trying to err on the side of doing more this summer, seizing our weekends to explore our new(ish) state. This past Sunday we drove out to the Reading, PA fair. This little carnival looked, from a distance, like a scar on a green field, but up close featured all sorts of things perfect for pre-schoolers. For $10 you could ride as many rides as you want, and so we rode little Ferris wheels and miniature trains and in little planes that went up in the air. The kids took in the cows, goats and pigs. Even on weekday nights there is possibility. Last night, the kids probably would have been happy to watch TV but I took them swimming instead, watching the sunset from water that soon became warmer than the air.

Saying yes is tiring. Of course it’s tiring. But doing nothing is tiring, too, when you have little ones. I can be tired in a smaller life or tired in a bigger one. Why not try for the latter?

In other news: I’m working on the second part of the “What the Most Successful People Do...” trilogy. The second ebook will cover weekends. Have you changed up your weekends to get more out of them? If so, I’d love to hear about it! If you’d like a weekend time makeover, I’m hoping to put a few of those in the new ebook as well. Let me know.

I met lots of great people at BlogHer, and I’m looking forward to featuring their blogs and other blogs over the next few months. For instance, there’s Jessica Lahey, a middle school teacher from New Hampshire who also writes about education for the New York Times and elsewhere. Be sure to check out her thoughts at Coming of Age in the Middle.

Photo courtesy flickr user semicolonth

10 thoughts on “Don’t keep it simple

  1. As usual, you capture an idea that has been gnawing at me this summer. You mind reader, you! We didn’t plan a big vacation this year, instead we’ve done little weekends out of town. It’s been fun but I think next year we’ll spring for the long vacation and do cheaper weekend activities. Weekend trips just don’t offer the decompression that a longer trip does. I guess we could stay in town, but we live in Bakersfield where many days are in the 100s.

    However, I know that feeling where everything feels like a hassle. Every date night, dinner party and outing takes planning and coordination between multiple people, but I’m almost always glad we did it. It’s a fine line though, because once in a while we’ll be out, the kids will be melting down, I’ll be exhausted and I know we should have just stayed home.

    1. @Kelly- I think what I’ve discovered about that “fine line” though, is that I have a tendency when things go wrong to think what I didn’t do could have been better. The reality is that there are melt downs at home, too. There are also no prizes for reaching Monday with the refrigerator stocked, the laundry done and the house clean.

      1. I think there is absolutely a prize for reaching Monday with the refrigerator stocked and the laundry done and the house at least not a totally chaotic mess. It’s peace of mind and a feeling of control over your life. I’ve faced too many weeks with all that hanging over my head and when it has happened it’s worn me down and made me irritable and sad.

        1. I think you just need to decide what your minimum level with regards to order and tidiness is rather than beating ourselves up about it.
          I’ve decided to aim for just 3 things at the moment – start the week with a clean tidy kitchen, put laundry away and try the old “don’t put it down, put it away” adage.
          I’m not succeeding on all 3 at the moment, but at least I feel it’s achievable and hopefully will become a habit soon

  2. Laura,

    I feel like often times my excuse is that it will cost us too much money to go and do something. Or like you said I’ll be exhausted in the end. Aren’t all the memories worth it though? The memories that you take from life’s experiences are irreplaceable. Money cannot buy those things, and those summer nights with your children will never be the same.

    1. @Matt – there’s a great quote from Twyla Tharp on money that (paraphrasing) once your basic needs are met, it is there to be used. It pains me to spend money, but after, I’m usually happy to have the experience, and I don’t find myself saying that I wished I had that $100 back. Of course, that’s contingent on not being in debt, being on track with savings goals, etc. Some people are overspenders, or aren’t earning enough for the life they want to live, and that’s a different issue.

  3. I was thinking something along these lines only last week, although no way could I have phrased it as eloquently as you.

    We were due to go swimming and because I wasn’t feeling well it was the last thing I wanted to do. However I reasoned that staying at home with a bored 2 year old would be probably as tiring as going, so we went and had a wonderful time.
    Lunch in the cafe as well meant no need to make lunch and clear up afterwards at home so was an added bonus.

    1. I think that’s the kicker. Staying home with bored little kids is just as exhausting (in a different way) than going out. We try really really hard to get out and do stuff on the weekends because otherwise we are all miserable. I can see it being different when the kids are older & can entertain themselves at home…then I might enjoy a day hanging around the house.

      1. @Ana- exactly. Whenever we say, hey, we’ve been running around a lot, let’s stay home, the day devolves into a massive whine fest. The 2-hour TV limit can be reached before 10 a.m.

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