I think there’s a switch that gets flipped when we approach middle age. For some people, it’s all about more—more money, more toys, more thrills before youth slips away. For others, the switch flips the other way and there is a burning desire for less—less stuff, fewer demands on our time. I’m definitely in the latter camp and, like many people closer to forty than thirty, I’ve found myself looking for ways to make life simpler.
Whether clearing away excess clutter or ridding my closet of clothes I’ll never wear, part of this desire is tied to having less stuff. Another part is about authenticity, which is partly about stuff, but also about focusing on people and relationships that are meaningful and resonate with who and how I want to be. And, last but not least, it’s about deciding how to spend the most valuable resource of all—time.
Which all sounds a little hokey, I know. But hear me out.
A little over a year ago, my partner and I bought a little farmhouse out in the country. We decided to trade our downtown existence for fifteen acres and no neighbors within a thousand feet. We cancelled our cable; we started talking about chickens and goats. One of us (me), became enamored with the idea of keeping bees. Sure, we’d have to keep our day jobs, but life was going to be simple and we were going to love it.
The irony of moving out the country is that it requires a lot of equipment. You can’t really tend fifteen acres without a tractor. It’s alarmingly easy to spend five hundred dollars on dirt. Canning is fun, but definitely not child’s play. Don’t even get me started on how much attention farm animals require. And while I definitely have fewer tchotchkes than I used to, I now have more power tools.
So, I’m not sure we’ve mastered the art of simplicity, but we are a lot happier. I like the exhaustion of a day tilling the garden. Tomatoes you pick an hour before you eat taste a thousand times better. And I don’t think I’ve ever been more relaxed as I am sitting around a fire, drinking wine and looking up at the stars.
I think the moral of the story is that simplicity isn’t always simple. Sometimes it’s more about mindset that minimalism. It’s about figuring out what’s important and focusing on it. It’s resisting the allure of things that seem shiny but will suck your energy and leave you feeling unsatisfied. It’s understanding those things aren’t the same for everyone and accepting there are a thousand ways to be happy. And, perhaps most importantly, it’s learning that finding the love of your life isn’t about finding someone just like you, but finding someone whose version of simple (or complicated or happy or satisfied) fits with yours.
Which brings me to Olivia and Joss, the protagonists of Built to Last. Over the course of the novel, the characters embark on a similar journey. Olivia buys a farmhouse in an effort to break away from the artifice of her upbringing and family, but quickly realizes she got a lot more than she bargained for. She navigates the world of DIY with relative ease, taking pride in her work and doing things her way. In the end, though, she has to learn that making a home is about a lot more than paint chips and finding the perfect stove.
Joss, on the other hand, believes she’s mastered the art of simple goals and straightforward priorities—family and work, in that order. She’s convinced she has it all figured out, until Olivia shows up and drives her to distraction. She has to confront her own notions of what it means to be family, and whether happily ever after counts if it comes in a package you don’t expect.