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Simple Living 101

Let me relate to you a little bit of juicy gossip.

My brother has a friend whose mother passed away. Very sad, to be sure. But … “Talk about a dysfunctional family,” emailed a friend who knows the family. “The mother [the woman who died] met a salesman and started having an affair with him. She and her husband have a very mentally handicapped daughter. The mother would have the father take care of their daughter so she could go sleep with her boyfriend. Eventually she divorced her husband and married the boyfriend. He [the boyfriend] couldn’t hold down a job. When she met him, he was having an affair with someone else and had been kicked out by his wife. His family is furious at him and refuses to see him. …”

Are you confused yet? I know I am. Compared to this woman’s shenanigans, my marriage of 21 years seems boringly wholesome. I wrote back to my friend, “My life is so simple.”

Now consider the following advice borrowed from a “simplicity” book that shall remain nameless. This advice is under the heading “Get rid of your anger.”

Granted, getting rid of your anger could indeed simplify your life. But how does this author recommend doing so? Well, every morning (every morning!) you’re supposed to go into your bedroom, pile your pillows at one end of the bed, and “bow gently to your inner self and to the universe.” Then you’re supposed to beat the holy tar out of your pillows as a “spiritual exercise.” When you’re finished, catch your breath, “come back to your center,” then kneel once more to bow to yourself and to the universe. Voilà.

I, for one, find this to be incredibly stupid. Maybe it’s because I don’t harbor that kind of anger. Maybe it’s because pillows are expensive and I don’t want to destroy mine. Maybe it’s because my kids would think their mother was a lunatic if I did this. Maybe it’s because I think the idea of “bowing to your inner self and to the universe” is nothing but ridiculous New Age mumbo-jumbo.

Sadly, the Simplicity movement has been hijacked by people recommending nothing more than green living and New Age malarkey. But a simple life isn’t any of these things.

Simplicity is doing things like marrying a good person and keeping your marriage together. It’s staying out of debt and living within your means. It’s about dealing with the challenges of life, like having a handicapped child, in a manner that is mature and stable.

In other words, simple living can be summed up in three simple words. Got a pencil? Here they are:

Make. Good. Choices.

That’s it.

Learn how to achieve a simple lifestyle without “going green” or joining a monastery. Read Patrice Lewis’ helpful new book, “The Simplicity Primer: 365 Ideas for Making Life more Livable”

If this twit – may she rest in peace – had resisted the temptation to have an affair (a choice) and instead had poured her energy into her marriage, perhaps she could have passed into the next life without a great deal of explaining to do at the pearly gates … not to mention having acquaintances indulge in gossip about her shortcomings rather than remembering her with admiration.

So consider this: Is your life simple because you therapeutically and prophylactically punch your pillow after bowing to your “inner self,” or is it simple because you have no debt and live modestly and within your means? Is your life simple because you eat organic tofu, or because you resisted having an affair and instead kept your family intact?

By now you may be snorting with derision at my, well, simplified notions. “How can I live simply in a worsening economy? How can I get out of debt if I can’t find a job? How can I work on my marriage if my spouse is the one having an affair?”

You’re right – some things are beyond your control. So here’s a concept: Seize and simplify the things that ARE in your control, and work to make good choices within those spheres. If your spouse is the one who had the affair and broke up your marriage, then what decisions can you make from now on that will simplify rather than “complexify” your life?

See my point? Not everything is fixable. You may have suffered a horrible trauma in your past or been buffeted by the winds of fate and economic forces in the present. You might have picked a bad spouse or refused to take your kids out of public school even when they started hanging with the wrong crowd. But nothing prevents you from making good choices about your future. That’s in your hands, and you can blame no one but yourself if you keep making stupid decisions.

I feel passionate about this topic because stupidity is rampant in our society. It’s even encouraged and rewarded. For example, a vast majority of people who are poor are poor because of their lifestyle choices. These include things like having babies out of wedlock (a choice), dropping out of school (a choice), doing drugs (a choice), marrying a bad person (a choice), etc.

Lots of people are temporarily down on their luck due to circumstances beyond their control (medical bills, lost job, etc.), but these are usually people who will get back on their feet in time. And outside of their present difficulties, their lives may be admirably simple.

It’s the people who make bad choices again and again who have the most complicated lives. These are people who marry multiple times, father children out of wedlock, abuse a variety of substances and then wonder why my husband and I are so “lucky” to have a simple life.

Look, we all hit speed bumps in the road of life. We all make mistakes. Everyone is a sinner. No one is perfect. We all make bad decisions. It’s how you handle the big and small choices and decisions from now on that will determine how simple or complex your life will turn out.

The good news is Simplicity is within virtually everyone’s grasp. A few attitude adjustments and changes in behavior can go a long way toward making your complicated life a lot simpler.

And in the hard times to come, who needs more complications?