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simplicity isn't

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about simplicity.  Simplicity of mind.  Simplicity of heart.  Simplicity of nature.  How do you diffuse a life or a consciousness down to its simplest, most enduring form? I have found this a difficult task because the public concept of simplicity…it’s a ruse. 

“Simplicity” as it is displayed on the pages of a magazine is too often just another word for material wealth.  Simplicity is not a spread on the center fold of an interior decorating magazine.  Simplicity isn’t a pillow from a decorating store placed in a perfect, filtered snapshot.  It isn’t shades of beige in a glorious dream house none of us can ever hope to attain. The people and families behind those photos could very well be, but simplicity...it's not a picture.  It's not a decorating scheme.

It isn’t fair to make simplicity exclusive or expensive or complicated.  When I see that unfolding in the world, I think of my mother.  She calls those people humble braggarts.  They feign humility in order to brag.  Do I do that?  Gosh, I hope not.  Like all things we don’t see in ourselves, I fear I may miss it in the mirror, but have very little patience for it in the world. 

Neither is simplicity the bottom of the barrel.  Choosing to have a small mind isn’t simplicity.  Decorating your car or your mind with, as I call them, “bumper sticker thoughts”…where you sum up an incredibly complex issue with some mean little tagline.  That isn’t simplicity.  That’s simple-mindedness, and it isn’t anything to be proud of.  Nobody wants to stitch that on a pillow.

I have rolled this—the concept of simplicity—around and around in my mind these past months.  And when I figured it out, I imagined I would apply it to my life.    But what is it?  This “simplicity” we all seem to want.  Simplicity.  It’s ethereal.  Elusive.  Like time, it is impossible to grasp.  Do you choose a simple life?  Or do you turn around at the end and feel like you have lived one?  Maybe it’s different for everyone.  Maybe simplicity itself is different for everyone.

Maybe it’s worth remembering that your idea of simplicity may not be someone else’s.  Knowing yourself in your way doesn’t give you the right to make them more important than the needs of folks who know themselves in a different way.  It’s like any way of life or belief system, really. One size doesn’t fit all.  So while my journey has not given me particular clarity on what simplicity is, I have managed to figure out what I think it isn’t.    

Simplicity isn’t being so focused on knowing my own needs that I start to make them superior to the needs of others.  This is usually the first stop we observe on the train to simplicity: a superiority of thought, a flurry of vaguely judgemental memes on Instagram, as uncomfortable to the receiver as they are unflattering to the poster.  But, still.  Like learning to ride a bike, we have to applaud the bravery in the attempt and try not to cringe at our introductory crash landings. 

Simplicity isn't the unattainably great ideal that supports we should spend all of our time doing the things that we love.  Lather, rinse, repeat and all that.  I call it a great ideal because it is a great ideal—but it’s not a great idea for obvious reasons.  Life?  It is filled with things we don’t want to do.  And the best I can say is that hopefully you don’t hate it. 

Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life, they say.  To that I say good luck.  Godspeed, my good friend because I’ve got news for you--I love making Winter House products—but it sure does feel like work.  Good work, yes.  But it is work.  And, newsflash?  There are parts of it I don’t love.  It’s just not practical to imagine you will “never work a day in your life.”  That’s not simplicity.  That’s just silliness. 

I look around me and I see so many children lost in their phones—my own daughter included.  And I think to myself—so much energy spent on getting the world’s attention?  That’s not simple. 

So much time spent in the pursuit of distraction.  What is the world so afraid of?  That’s not simple. 

My thoughts on the subject have led me on a merry chase, and one that’s exhausting.  I laugh to myself and think: Exhausting…the exact opposite of simple.  And it is in this moment that the answer begins to unfold.

Maybe simplicity is energy-based.  Perhaps it can be found in the middle of an incredibly complicated life, in the center of an incredible and complex mind. 

I love the reality of “flowtime”.  Flowtime is defined as the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one's sense of space and time.

Fully immersed.  Complete absorption.  Energized focus.  Enjoyment in the process. 

Flow time is different than meditation in that you are absorbed in an activity, but similar in that you are so completely absorbed that you lose your conscious connection to the world around you.  I think many achieve this through art.  It is when the mind releases thought and is simply allowed to unfurl rather than process.  The world need not be quiet to enter flow time.  The world will never be quiet—but in flow time the energy is quiet. 

I frequently go on walks and it is physically relaxing in its way.  It’s nice to get the kinks out, but I would never consider that a flow time exercise because I am thinking hard the whole time.  Turning things over in my mind, making decisions, reviewing conversations. Did I say that right?  Did I hurt anyone’s feelings?  Did I hurt my own feelings by not being true to myself?  These daily walks are such a release to me—but make no mistake—they are not flow time.  I’m thinking too hard for them to be genuine flow time.   My mind is active, my energy is not quiet.

Watching television is not flow time.  A game on your phone? Not flow time.  Yes you lose track of time, perhaps—but you are not in the flow of anything.  Taking in media is stagnant energy, not quiet energy.  It’s the difference between being asleep and being quiet.  They may both sound the same if you were listening to both activities, but they are not the same thing.   

For me, flow time most frequently comes when I am making lotion.  The materials, the textures, the heat of the oven, the chime of the timer, the scent, the healthy ache of muscles from stirring the mixture as it cools and thickens.  It is a process that cannot be rushed.  The time it takes is the time it takes.  Period. 

And for me?  I am lost in the flow if that time.  I may have music playing, but usually not.  The sun falls in layers on the kitchen table, the curtains ripple in the breeze.  Many days I can hear the wind chime’s lazy roll in the garden.  I may hear the steady drum of construction equipment, traffic, the pulse of life.  I am not ignoring the world, no.  I am only inhabiting my little part of it, simply. 

Simplicity.

When I was younger and all the way through my senior year of high school, we never answered the phone during dinner.  My stepdad used to say,  “The phone is for your convenience, not the caller’s,”  and I think the concept of simplicity has to be a little bit like that.  I say a little bit because life just contains so many beautiful things we do out of practicality, or love or duty.  There is too much community in life to delude ourselves into thinking that our personal convenience will ever be a huge factor in the bulk of our time. 

Simplicity for me, therefore, can only hope to exist when I find some flow time in the thin, bright vein I have left to call my own.  When I do have time to spare, do I escape?  Or simply retreat. 

Do I plan and solve? Or do I release? 

Do I exhaust myself?  Or do I free myself?

The minute I have a free moment, do I hold a phone? 

Or do I hold garden dirt?  A piece of raw Shea butter?  A book?

I once had a therapist who desperately (my words) wanted me to learn to meditate.  And, like the cast iron skillet and greek yogurt, I just never really got on the train.  I told her, of course, that I don’t have time and she said, “You don’t have 20 minutes in a day for yourself?”  I said no, and she said, “That’s a problem.”

I said, “I know, I’m very busy.”

She said, “Oh, no.  I guarantee you have 20 minutes somewhere.  The problem is that you work so hard to not spend it with yourself.”

The things is…you have to balance it out.  The world is filled with people, too.  Expectations.  Needs.  I used to tell my son when he was younger, “Dude.  You legitimately have anxiety—but you don’t wear that diagnosis on your forehead.  You still need to figure out how to split the difference and be out in the world with manners.  Anxiety isn’t a free pass to not care about anybody else's needs but your own.”   And neither is simplicity.  

...but, see?  Now I’m in the weeds of my thought process.  We started with simplicity and that is where we shall end. 

The thing is?  These are only the questions.  The wanderings of my mind in the search for simplicity.  But you and I are not the same, and the answers to your simplicity questions will not be the same as mine. 

If you choose to never present yourself the question of simplicity, I will never know.  And in a world where we increasingly search externally for our value, you need to know I will not sit in judgment on you.  Sometimes life and coping are just too hard to look too closely just yet.  Girl, I have been where you are and it is okay.  Some times in life require escape. 

Your journey exists separately from mine and, though I do hope our paths cross one day, your journey will still be your own.  But I do encourage you to find your own flow time, your own moments of simplicity, for your own sake.  If you never present yourself with these questions, this concept, it won’t alter me.  But take it from the person who has been where you are—if you do choose to, it just may alter you. 

As for me, as I set out on a mini-journey to define simplicity, I was surprised by all the pockets in which I had lost simplicity.  On this sun-kissed, gravel road to our home that is The Winter House, we have sacrificed much and gained more.  But the one thing we do need back is time.  Time to create.  Time to recapture our roots and flow time to spread our wings. 

To create that for ourselves (and, by extension, for you) I have made the executive decision that all transactions will take place in person at the Lake St. Louis Farmers and Artists Market, where we are full-time vendors all season, or directly and only through the website.  

For those who have been so kind to be a part of this journey from its inception: who endured the changes in labels (remember the hand drawn ones?!) and the evolution of recipies; to those who picked up orders on the front porch and shopped in a little corner spot of our basement; to those who bought on faith and friendship, I cannot express my gratitude enough.  Without you we would not be where we are today.  It is because of you and your faith in us that I have made sure everyone who places an order over $25 gets free shipping.  Thank you for your loyalty and friendship.

This blog entry and this new redefined website will echo the beginnings of the Winter House’s return to simplicity—the simplicity we need in the home in order to grow in the world.  Thank you all for being the wind under the wings for us.  Now grab a hand and come with us as we take flight. 

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{Pssst}:  Thanks for reading the blog until the very end.  I’ll know you by the way you follow directions as we roll this out.  I’ll also know you because you will know to use this code for an additional 10% off at your online checkout today and through the month of April.  One use per customer.  

Checkoutcode: BLOGREADER18


2 comments

  • I loved be it! And I got the discount!

    Connie
  • 😘

    Becky Kroupa

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