Jumping Off the Ladder

When we started this journey eight years ago, the idea of living a simpler life was one we knew we had to try. It felt right, felt good, but it was a bit like traveling to a strange, foreign land. Travel brochures made the place look too inviting to resist, but we didn’t speak the language and the food tasted funny.

We didn’t know how to not be conspicuous consumers, materialists, and harried busybodies just like our friends, family members, and neighbors. Initially, we tiptoed, testing the water here, testing the water there, and feeling our way around in the dark like blind mice who can smell the cheese but can’t quite pinpoint which direction to go to find it.

At first, our experiments in simple living were a series of small steps, little things to make our lives less complicated. Periodically decluttering by cleaning out closets or kitchen drawers was as far as we’d gone.

And then, four years ago, we took a leap, jumping headlong into Our Simplicity Project.

For starters, I took a huge pay cut,  and traded my stressful job for one much less stressful. Next we moved out of our 2,400 square foot house in the city, put most of our possessions in storage, and moved into an 800 square foot house in the country.

Almost overnight, we left the rat race behind.

The abrupt changes confused our friends and family members. Most of them weren’t privy to our decision-making processes, primarily because they wouldn’t have understood.

They’re not interested in simple living. They’re interested in convenience, stylish clothes, fashion, shopping, celebrity gossip, professional and collegiate sports, fine wine, fancy restaurants, fad diets, and pop culture.

We wanted to slow down and learn to enjoy life, instead of wearing ourselves out. I left my higher paying job because there are more important things than money. We moved to the country because it’s quieter, the air is cleaner, the stars shine brighter, wildlife is more abundant, and the pace of life is slower.

But stepping out of the bounds of normalcy and into the world of simplicity released a floodgate of negativity from a variety of sources. What are you thinking? Doesn’t that seem weird to you? Shouldn’t you think about your children’s futures?

We endured knowing glances, rolled eyes, and tiny, almost imperceptible verbal jabs from family and friends. There were accusations, manipulations, and pleas, spoken and unspoken. There was guilt, shame, and embarrassment projected by others and emitted from within.

We knew a simpler life was right for us. But overcoming our own and other’s ideas of “reasonableness” felt at times like swimming against the current in a rushing stream. It’s exhausting.

Responsibility, Protestant work-ethic, success… These are known quantities in American society requiring no explanation. Simplicity, on the other hand, in all its forms and multi-faceted nuances, is a vague concept people find hard to grasp and seekers of simple lives find hard to explain. There’s no concrete definition to satisfy each and every one of our family members and friends who view simplicity in different ways.

Some see simplicity as a cop-out, denying materialism because we’re too lazy to work for a living. Some see it as a haven for religious fanatics who reject modernity in favor of spiritual fervor. Some see it as refuge for paranoid conspiracy theorists who believe self-sufficiency will help thwart government encroachments. Some see it as a cover to mask deep-seated insecurities. Some see it as a plot by the environmentalist movement to overthrow democracy.

Some are threatened by those of us wishing to pursue simple lives merely because it goes against the grain and challenges the status quo.

Change can be scary. Accepting change is what most people do after a period of anger, remorse, or whatever. They’re passive bystanders, allowing life to happen to them instead of consciously directing it. For those of us who embrace change, who live purposefully, we cause the change and therefore confront it head-on.

Regardless of what friends and family members believe motivates us to seek simpler lives, even if at first we can’t adequately explain it we have an internal, innate knowing. Having the ability to see beyond perceived notions of what constitutes normalcy allows us to look past objections, follow our own truth, and find our path.

It’s better now. It’s not as hard for us as it was in the beginning because ironically, some who initially objected to Our Simplicity Project are starting to see the value in our lifestyle choices.

And maybe that’s not so ironic. They see how we’ve changed; how much more open-hearted we are now that we don’t have all the stress of the city life bearing down on us; how much more time we have for them and for each other; how happy and healthy and contented we are.

We gave up our big, beautiful house and most of our possessions, and jumped off the Ladder of Success in spite of all the objections. In the process we found out our version of success wasn’t up that ladder after all.

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