The Simple Life
Intentional Living for the Chronically Ill
Posted March 18, 2011
Simple living can seem elusive. In a world focused on achieving and accumulating more and bumper stickers that read, “He who dies with the most toys wins,” the reality of simple living seems like some pie-in-the sky ambition, a trend. Despite the proliferation of products, books, magazines, classes, and organizational systems guaranteed to simplify our lives, most of us continue to hurry through life, pursuing activities and making purchases that ultimately add to life’s clutter. There has to be a better way.
As my rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune diseases have worsened over the years, my desire for simple living has grown. It has become a quality of life issue for me; and if you live with chronic illness, it is one for you as well. Ask yourself, Do I really want to spend my limited physical and emotional energy dusting rooms full of things I never use? How much physical, emotional, and spiritual space could I free up if I removed the clutter from my life?
But how do you define simple living? What’s simple for me might not be simple for you.
I have looked for a satisfying definition for years, but could never seem to find one that fit. Until now. My thanks to author Tsh Oxenreider, who wrote Organized Simplicity: The Clutter Free Approach to Intentional Living, for her definition, which I have adopted for my life as well. She says this: “It applies to everybody; it’s timeless, and it’s not bound by cultural trends or norms. It can be your definition for the rest of your life.” Her definition of simple living is this: living holistically with your life’s purpose. And I would add: life purpose is always directed toward others.
Holistic living means the different parts of your life all line up in the same direction—toward your life’s purpose. “All the independent things in your life—the items you own, how you spend your time, the relationships you cultivate, and the books you read—ultimately benefit your life’s purpose,” writes Oxenreider. “There is no clutter. The hours and days and weeks reflect your priorities, and so does the space in which you live.”
So simple, yet so profound.
Removing the Clutter
Personally, I’ve made several significant changes to my life over the past year, all of which fall under the category of moving toward a more simple, meaningful life that supports my life purpose and gives me the time and energy I need to focus of what I value most. I have not yet arrived, but I am headed in the right direction.
Here are two significant changes I’ve made over the past year, along with the benefits these changes brought:
Home as Sanctuary
For most of my life, I viewed my home as a quick place to refuel rather than a sanctuary. Cluttered with things acquired over more than thirty years of marriage, I had my space (my office and bookcases) and my husband had his (the basement and garage). The basement contained his lazy-boy leather recliners while my office featured artwork, books, and pops of color. And never the twain shall meet.
As my health declined, I began spending more time at home. The cry of my soul was for a sanctuary and a space that would reflect not only me but us as a couple. And so I created one.
My husband and I sold our beaten-up, clunky furniture, along with the tschotchkes we had scattered throughout the house that survived our son’s growing up years, two dogs, and two rabbits in a garage sale. We replaced our old things with simple, inexpensive furniture with clean lines. We painted the walls, cleared the clutter, and created the home of our dreams—all while staying on a budget. Our home now reflects us as individuals and as a couple. It brings together two very different personalities as one, a reflection of the marital relationship and union.
Just as we retain our individuality in marriage, so, too, we’ve made for individual expression in our home. As a writer and coach, I spend many hours in my office, so I needed a warm, inviting, and inspiring space where I could spend hours at a time. I painted the walls a spicy red with orange undertones, aptly named “Salsa Dancing,” and filled the room with books, artwork, and family photos. My husband is creating a media room in the basement, filled with leather recliners and football paraphernalia.
My home is a sanctuary, a place of refuge that nourishes my soul and feeds my spirit. It is a place where I worship God by honoring the person he created me to be—a wife, a friend, a writer, a coach.
But it’s more than that.
What I failed to realize was the impact it would have on my relationships. More stuff usually means less time for relationships. I resisted friends just “dropping by” before, because the house was cluttered, and I could never clean the whole house at once with my limited mobility. With less to clean, I now have more time to cultivate meaningful relationships; and I love when friends drop by for coffee or conversation.
My home also gives me “soul space…room to breathe and freedom to dream,” as my friend, Jerome Daley, describes in his book, Soul Space. In it, he says, “Only a few things are necessary. The rest is clutter.”
With the clutter gone, all that surrounds me supports my life purpose—to foster spiritual and personal transformation in the lives of others through writing, coaching, speaking, and teaching.
I had no idea how significant a few simple changes could be.
Depth in Relationships and Life
Of course, no discussion of simple living would be complete without addressing relationships. Relationships matter. A lot.
I met with my friend Robbie for lunch this week, and the issue of relationships came up. He made an observation that captivated me. He said many of us go through life like skipping stones.
Do you remember skipping stones as a child? The pastime involves throwing a stone with a flattened surface across a lake or other body of water in such a way that it bounces off the surface of the water. Robbie describes it this way: “Many of us are skipping rocks in our relationship with God and one another. We rush through life at such a pace that we hit the surface of interaction…and we bounce to the next person or the next big thing.” He points out that in the process, we miss the depth and richness of relationships. “If we slowed down long enough, we would sink to the depth of relationship that God has in mind.”
This past year, I have been intentional about going deeper in life and relationships. I am opening myself up to others in a new way, without pretense or apology. I share the good, the bad, and the ugly. My friends know me and love me despite my self-centeredness, my half-baked ideas, and the way that I sometimes try to make myself out to be something that I am not.
They have taught me not only love but also grace, a kindness I don’t deserve. What I receive from them and others, I seek to freely give to all those who come across my path. The woman at the cash register who rung up my purchase wrong twice, while I was standing there in pain. Grace. The neighbor whose dog did his business in my front yard. Grace. The friend who showed up a half hour late for lunch. Grace.
I am learning to look beyond the surface and into the hearts and lives of the people around me. It’s changing me. And I think it’s changing them, too.
My relationship with God has deepened, too. I have moved from religion and fabricated rules to deepening spirituality and real freedom. I worship not only in church but with the whole of my life and relationships.
Yes, my health is deteriorating. What I did a year ago, I can no longer do. But as I funnel my limited strength and energy through the filter of my life’s purpose and reach out with love and grace to others, I am learning that I can live with far less than I think. To live a significant, meaningful life, I need very little. And what I need is not found in achieving or acquiring more.
This past year as I have began to remove more and more clutter from my life, I found what I’ve been missing in the busyness of life. For the first time in years, my external world—my home, my relationships, how I spend my time—line up with my internal compass as I live out my life’s purpose. Most days, I have a deep, abiding sense of peace and purpose.
How about you?
Mary Yerkes is an author, speaker, and chronic illness coach who fosters spiritual and personal transformation in people's lives, especially those living with chronic pain and disease. Like many of her clients, she lives with multiple chronic illnesses, including rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, and psoriatic arthritis. She is the Chronic Illness Expert for the National Association of Baby Boomer Women. Visit Mary online at MaryYerkes.com.