I am the mother of five children. I tell myself this every so often and still experience a small jolt of shock. “How did this happen?” I ask myself. Well, the short answer is that I married a great guy with three children whose mother had run off, and then we had two more. So in a matter of three years I was the mother of five. Yikes–shocked again. But the reality of it–in all its chaotic snuzzling hungry glory–is still a surprise. I look over my shoulder at the person I was seven years ago and she seems a meandering pale creature compared to the woman that I am now. So, shock or no, it’s been quite the challenge, and a rugged gateway to a more colorful life.
Raising children has really forced me to define my values, and since my values run counter to the culture in which we are immersed, there’s a lot of conflict, both within myself and amongst other members of our family. It is far easier to talk simplicity than to actually live it–but it’s something to which we’re committed. Stumble on this path we might, but I feel a dire need to live with the awareness that every choice I make has an effect on the whole. I like buying Christmas gifts from Ten Thousand Villages and gulping fair traded organic coffee in the morning because I know that my dollar has a power that can directly touch others in a positive way. On the flip side, there’s the American consumer and her possessions. I once saw a book titled “Material World” that contained photos of families from around the world–the catch was that the family portrait was taken outside the home along with ALL their material possessions. These images have stayed in my mind, as have other experiences I’ve had that clearly point to the poison of having too much stuff. And guess what. We’re stumbling on our simple path. We’ve got too much stuff.
There’s a light at the end of this particular dark bend in our path, though, because our beloved preschool is having a rummage sale at the end of February. For weeks I’ve been going through our one closet and assorted cupboards and cluttered corners with ruthless determination, and I’ve still got plenty of time to load my closet with bags and boxes of things to let go. If it’s not needed, well-used, or of exceedingly high sentimental value, then it’s going. There’s art of mine in the stack, and toys that I played with as a child that my own children don’t need, since their grandparents buy them new toys. Lots of those are going too. I spend so much time picking up socks, jackets, and action figures that I’m thinking that those families whose portraits were small and smiling, uncluttered and spare were onto something, whether unwittingly or not. How much can I pass along? How much empty space can I make in my home, in my life? Will I be trading it in with the Universe for something else, something finer and precious, something that lives within instead of dwelling under the couch? This is my hope.