Simplify After Sixty

BY JEAN MARIE JOHNSON

I doubt that I will ever be a minimalist given the extreme delight I take in visual discovery and variety. And yet, as the decades have accumulated, so have my “things” – all ripe with something that matters – memory, whimsy, style, elegance – some quality that speaks to my being.  I love to traipse through my rooms, my drawers, my closet. Doing so brings me a certain joy.

At the same time, I am aware of an inner restlessness, a feeling that enough is enough, or too much, and that my attention is being called elsewhere. I am listening to this inner shift and have slowly heeded its call. People say, “That’s what happens when you get older. You just want to simplify.” I don’t put a lot of stock in “what people say,” but this time, they nailed it. I’ve learned five things – a combination of lessons and strategies – about the process of simplifying.

Learn to let go

It can be really hard to let go of my old familiars. Hard to let go of a full rack of designer stilettos. Hard to let go of stacks of books, old friends from my corporate life. Hard to let go of hundreds of cards, letters, and trinkets from people who have enriched my life and made me feel loved or appreciated. All of these meaningful things fit my life in a different time and place. Now, they take up a lot of room, and maybe, just maybe, pull me back to the past a tad too much? Little by little, I am releasing them and learning that it gets easier to do so.

Remember this principle: “To add on is to take on”

Every single thing in my life, whether it’s a relationship, a new outfit, or a garden, is something that needs to be cared for. Everything. When I add on, I take on responsibility for that care. Consider gardening. When I first moved here, I was hell-bent on transforming an area of my yard into a visually vibrant, bird-attracting garden. I am a mediocre gardener at best, but “no pain, no gain” was my thinking. At about year three, the care outweighed the comfort, and I scaled it back, replacing finicky plants with hardy shrubs and indestructible bulbs, and that feels simple enough.

Practice the “one only” rule for sentimental items

So many photos and doodads! Every one worthy of reflection. I needed some way to decide which would be the keepers when all had sentimental meaning. I landed on the “one only” rule of thumb: one photo of me with my siblings, one souvenir from that trip to India, and so on. While I haven’t been 100% compliant with my new rule, I have made great progress. Now when I look around, I can truly pause and relish these few special things.

Reel in the one-offs and the outliers

This strategy thrills me! It’s about identifying the things that don’t really fit with everything else that I have. Here’s an example: that exotic spice I bought for a recipe I made only once is long past its expiration date and I’ll never use it again. Or how about those brown leather pants that don’t go with anything? Instead of going out and buying things to make them work, I can bypass the stress and the expense by sending them on their merry way via consignment or donation. These days, I pretty much stick with a black/white/cream color scheme that welcomes vibrant accessories. It’s so much less stressful. As for meal planning, I google my favorite ingredients, the ones I almost always have on hand, and discover new ways to use them. Then, it’s a simple matter of practicing meals on rotation.

Here’s the last and most important lesson:

Simplifying creates new space which allows me to spend my time, attention, and resources on what matters right now.  Like bird watching….

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