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Simplicity is Complicated

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I have a sign that hangs over the the entranceway between my living room and my unused front door hallway. It bears a single word, written in grainy, faux-antique, Shaker-esque capitals:


Written that way, it’s almost a command, and a pervasive one.

Should I volunteer to…?


Do I really need to clean out…?


Should I try to…?


Over the years, well-meaning family members have presented me with knick-knacks of various sorts inscribed with the same word. I appreciate their intention, but am a little bemused at how I’m supposed to reconcile the thought with the object. (I have issues with Real Simple magazine, for the same reason, as well as the craft show mavens burdened with baskets full of handmade curiosities emblazoned with the same word.)

Me, smug? Never. Me with my fairly Spartan furnishings (okay, that’s because I hate to dust.) Me, with my faint scorn for parents who stuff their kids‘ after school time with activity after activity? Never.


At night, when I’m waiting for sleep, thinking about the day, trying to untangle the knots in my thoughts to make straight the path for Morpheus, (as we used to say) – what then? When I do the battle with the mundane anxieties of “Am I?” Am I a good mom? Writer? Friend? Daughter? Wife? Have I been honest today? Acted with integrity? I often end my days as far away from simplicity as I can get.

I have a great love for the song “Simple Gifts.” The tune is well known – the lyrics, not as much so. Believing as I do, that all things are genetic, I like the think that I love it so well because of some latent Shaker bit of DNA, passed down from some hoary ancestor, who lived simply not because they wanted to, but because they had to. My favorite bit is:

“When true simplicity is gained, to bow and to bend, we will not be ashamed.”

I also, of course, hate this part. Because it states so succinctly the hard part of simplicity. The easy part is to say I don’t need that thing, or to bask in feeling good about myself and my house when I donate things to charity. Sure, it unclutters my life. But the lyrics are demanding a little more. They ask that I do the thing that I am really, really terrible at, yet something that’s so important, that even in my mind it bears a capital: Accept.

Accept that giving up happens sometimes.

Accept letting go.

Accept who others are as well as who I am.


Looks like I’ve got my work cut out for me. Better not get rid of that sign just yet.

Written by Jen Szymanski

January 12, 2012 at 11:02 am

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