On Longing For Simpler Times

If I had a dollar for every time that I heard someone say (or thought to myself, if I’m being honest) that they wish they could live in a “simpler time” I might have enough money to just unplug and go do it myself. This concept really has me thinking about what people are actually envisioning “simple” as.

I think for most people, it’s not having to sit in traffic, spend several hours each day commuting to and from work, working for a faceless corporation that they might not like, being plugged in all the time to technology, and things like that. Surely people don’t want to give up their internet access and indoor plumbing. I know I don’t.

So what is it really, then? Do we all just want to be on vacation all the time? Lounging in a Victorian bed and breakfast, touring gardens and spending days on end at the beach? Maybe a little puttering in the garden and plenty of time to play with the kids and simple breakfasts of baguettes and hot coffee, with fresh fruit. No worries about electronic bill pay, grocery shopping for heat and serve dinners, remembering to the get the oil changed in the car or to purchase a new transit card before the current one expires.

I don’t think that’s it either. Even vacation can be exhausting. Too much leisure can be a bad thing, surprisingly. I think what people mean when they say they’d like to go back to a simpler time is that they long for a time when they weren’t entirely removed from the physicality of their lives.

Now that’s a concept. Let me try to explain. For the most part, the great majority of us do not need to physically labor to meet our daily needs. We don’t have to chop a year’s supply of firewood to heat our homes through the cold months. We don’t have to grow all the food we need, or preserve it to eat in the off season. We don’t have to make our own clothes. We very much live an a la carte lifestyle, where we can pick what we need, quite literally, off of the shelf. Or even just make a few clicks on the keyboard and order it, delivered straight to our front door. No effort required. If we do chop wood, garden, can, sew and the like, we do so as a hobby and not as a matter of course. And we tend to find those types of hobbies quite gratifying, because otherwise why we would we spend our precious little free time engaged in them?

It feels good to have the sun beating down on our backs for half a Saturday in the garden, methodically pulling weeds so we can harvest utterly perfect, beautiful heirloom tomatoes that literally taste sun-kissed. The exhaustion of physical work does wonders on the body and mind, and dare I say, the spirit. It’s invigorating, in a “feel-the-burn!” work out kind of way, only even better, since you get something for your efforts. It’s a very different kind of tired from the office drone tired we so often feel – maybe it’s extreme to phrase it this way, but being parked in front on a computer staring at an Excel spreadsheet and being on office autopilot is exhausting in a way that leaves you completely depleted – weary, is maybe a better way to say it.

So on the weekends, we cook like mad, fire up the shop tools, dig in the dirt and Get Things Done. We embark upon camping trips where we trek through the woods and cook over actual fire. We collapse into bed on a Saturday night, complaining about how our arms ache and we’re so tired we can’t see straight. But we’re smiling.

I guess this is all to say that I really want to put more of that feeling into my own life. And I think it might be good if others tried to do so as well. All of this really has me thinking about big picture things, like human-scale economies, self-sufficiency, community connections and the like. I don’t have any big solutions or grand ideas on what all of this means, but I guess I just wanted to share that I have been thinking about it. And I think others should be thinking of things like this too. Just a little something to mull over on a Monday morning while you’re plugged into your 9-5.

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  1. Pingback: What does it mean to live a simple life or long for simpler times?

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