The opposite of simplicity, it seems to me, is not complexity, but laziness. Or maybe there is a spectrum that has at both ends a definition of simplicity, far removed from the chaotic middle, but also far removed from each other.
At one end of the spectrum is a form of simplicity that is a cover for convenience. The pre-made supermarket quiche; a dinner of expensive cheeses, soup, and bread; a consolidated debts repayment plan. These are all marketed as ‘simple’.
At the other end is a simplicity that is quite hard work. Baking bread, growing vegetables, making clothes, creating gifts.
And then there’s the simplification that is associated with spending less money, or earning less. That can just be a false cover for being restrained.
The simplicity I used to enjoy resembled number one. Shop bought fresh pasta, sauce, and pre- shaved parmesan for dinner parties; use of a same-day laundry service; mobile internet from a dongle so I could check email from my houseboat; to-the-door delivery of eco-logs for the wood burning stove and, on Wednesdays, an organic veg box. All these luxuries, that enabled a truly comfortable crusty lifestyle, were really much simpler (and not that much more expensive) than the alternative. In which synonyms for ‘simple’ might be ‘less time consuming’, or ‘more convenient’.
These days we are striving for a simplicity that has components of the latter two definitions. We’re not earning: so we’re trying to spend less. We have time: so we can use it to create what might otherwise be bought. In all ways my experience so far is that this form of simplicity is more time consuming, and much less convenient, than life otherwise.
So. We are striving to lead a more simple life. This means, for instance, that we will handwash instead of using a coin laundry (note use of future tense). Another recent change aboard Zephyrus involves a fridge, or rather a 50L coolbox, large enough to hold a two sizeable ice- blocks plus whatever things we want to keep cold. I initially questioned the simplicity of this new luxury: cold beer, cold white wine, cold butter, cold milk on muesli… all definitely feel like luxuries. But it can be justified by the Simplify Mandate: many fewer trips to the shops, much less food going off, less overheated excursions in search of ice-cream, cold drinks, and beer on tap. More time away from the hubub of people-centres.
So simplify, thankfully, does not mean suffer. On reflection it might even be reducing a lot of the (pretty minor) suffering associated, for me at least, with supermarkets and general money evaporation.
I return from a trip to the beach this morning and question Andy: if we’re simplifying does that mean we can’t get a dinghy anchor? (I hate dragging the dinghy on my own and on one occasion put my back out quite seriously in a bid for independence.) No: simplify does not need to mean endure pain. But it does mean we might use a pre-existing weight and chain for an anchor rather than buying a shiny new thing with prongs. Ok, so simplify might mean that functional wins over shiny. Guess I won’t be getting the latest MacBook Air anytime soon.
The zip on my backpack is bust. As a result I can’t use my equivalent of a handbag. It’s a good brand, Salomon…. don’t they have warranties on these things? they should. Really, I just want it to be replaced. Second place would be a new bag. Third place might be paying someone to mend it. Fourth, fixing it myself. While paralyzed by this dilemma, it remains unfixed. Perhaps fifth is going bag-less.
So, simplification might mean doing work instead of paying someone, or something, to do it for you. But why is that such a chore when you have time for such things? Why would I so much prefer to have a job that replaces my time with money so that I can now buy a washing machine, replace my bag, and eat in a restaurant, all while juggling numerous responsibilities and engagements? Is that so much preferable to the relatively stress-free alternative life?
I stayed with friends recently who live on a boat with their four children. Yes, you read right: four. The incredibly relaxed, welcoming, and easy-going atmosphere on board is not a façade for, but rather a result of, a strict regime of discipline that underpins every day. The kids do their school work, the parents do their chores, everyone knows what needs doing, and the most efficient way of doing those things, to then enable the maximum amount of time for fun and play. Which is when we get invited round.
Andy and I had apparrantly been the subject of a recent discussion so they asked me upon arrival – how is it you two are so hard core? What kind of childhood did you have? (I nearly spat out my tea.)
Hard-core? I am mystified. This is the family with four children. On a boat. I repeat: four children. And they only just fitted their first washing machine. Now that’s hard-core.
They were referring to our lack of shower, hot running water (or any running water), fridge, water maker…. um, I don’t really know what they were referring to. I think it was mostly the shower facilities (a bucket in the cockpit- not best in a crowded anchorage). Hard-core? I laughed, no, I love cold drinks and hot showers and would happily enjoy them both every day. Boat life isn’t some kind of pennance. We don’t deliberately go without them, we just haven’t yet figured out how to have them. And so it was, within two days, that we got a cool box on board.
We’re living a very sweet life these days. We’re at anchor in a quiet spot in the Bay of Islands. Andy just caught a fish, a blue maumau, and is cooking up some rice to accompany it for lunch. This morning, after a stretch on the beach, I worked my way through a mountain of washing up and cleaned out a sticky kitchen cupboard. We have both been polishing our c.v.’s and looking for work opportunities… but what work might we ever be able to find that doesn’t ruin this idyll?
Lunch was the kind no money could buy. Fresh fish (straight off the spear), fluffy rice (steamed in our pressure cooker), a delicious salad (not wilted, thanks to the coolbox), and two glasses of crisp local white wine, chilled to perfection.
If this is simplicity, I’ll keep trying.
[Afterword: two days later we returned to a marina where I spent NZ$18 on two loads of laundry at the self-service facilities, bought a new bag, and had a delicious dinner of fish and chips at the yacht club. A simple life, it seems, is also much easier to do when the alternative isn’t so readily available.]