Simplicity: Building a Life that COVID-19 Doesn’t Disrupt
When starting a consulting call these days, the first thing everyone discusses is how COVID-19 and its self-quarantine impacts our lives. But, aside from now working from home, the COVID-19 quarantine doesn’t disrupt my life all that much.
Why? I live a calm lifestyle, constructed from simple, repeating patterns. With work and home, parenting and hobbies, my life alternates work and rest. It’s a life to be lived consistently for decades. The kind from which you don’t need a vacation. It’s a calm life: valuing simplicity over complexity, time over speed, limits over stimuli.
Many of the people I talk to have had significant disruptions. Professionals who used to be on the road for months of the year are grounded. Enjoyable conferences have been cancelled; trade show marketers are being laid off. Even if you can work remotely, working from home has its own set of hassles. From kids being home when they’d normally be away for 12 hours a day to college students returning home to early-career professionals leaving cities and returning to their parents in the suburbs, by being at home, family life has been disrupted.
While a lot of this is to be regretted, I think there’s another underlying trend the stay-at-home orders have exposed: people live overly-complex, too-busy lives. Having to be at home is disruptive to current patterns of life. And those patterns weren’t sustainable in the first place. After all, isn’t home a place to be?
Maybe it’s time to rethink the go-everywhere and do-everything lifestyle. Maybe it’s time to slow down, choose to be calm, and practice living simply.
Why hasn’t staying at home been that disruptive for me? We practice living simply.
My spouse and I chose, years ago, to live a value of simplicity. This value recognizes that we have limits, we need rest, in contrast to the over-complication and over-stimulation of our world. For those of you who know me, yes, there is a religious component to this. Richard Foster, in his marvelous book Simplicity, wrote “Simplicity is an inward reality that results in an outward lifestyle.” The outward lifestyle, in my mind, can be characterized by the word calm. Let’s take calm to mean peaceful and limited. (We have four kids, calm can’t mean quiet.) We emphasize work and rest. The things we choose not to do yield an incredible dividend. A rightly ordered life frees us to do the highest good. Peace comes from respecting our limits.
You might be asking, OK, that sounds good, but what do you actually not do? To name a few:
- We don’t spend a significant amount of time or money at restaurants.
- Our kids don’t go to school (the older ones are homeschooled) and they don’t have many structured or scheduled activities
- My spouse doesn’t have a full time job (she is a full time parent).
We embrace and live out the importance of rest. Sleeping at night, spending Sunday or a weekend at home, Relaxing and pursuing our hobbies at home is important to us: so we prioritize doing that, and don’t head off in other directions. These priorities mean saying no to a lot of good stuff. But that’s what priorities should do: they should give you a reason to say no to something.
Thus, in terms of COVID-19, aside from my commute becoming 4 feet instead of 40 minutes, even my weekdays are about the same. In fact, without running to make the morning train, this quarantine may have made things calmer. We’ve chosen to be people who are comfortable being at home.
Being forced to live a calm lifestyle could be frustrating; choosing to live simply is freeing.
It’s more often the case that we don’t load up the minivan and drive somewhere. Our family doesn’t depend on external activities to structure our weeks. We don’t make spending money an essential part of our enjoying life. (We embrace frugality.) Our kids spend the afternoon freely playing outside. Their imaginations and curiosity guide their play and exploration of our corner of the world. My spouse and I spend most evenings at home, reading (free) books or watching (free) TV. On the weekend we play with the toys we already have, or garden in the edges of our small yard. The most enjoyable things we do keep us local, cost minimal cash, create minimal carbon, and thus are only mildly impacted by COVID-19’s stay-at-home orders.
Honestly, the biggest COVID-19 limitation we’ve seen is in the absurd decision to close public parks, nature trails, and our city’s beaches; our biggest loss has been the people we’d normally see, some friends, people at church, and my family, who aren’t close enough to walk to.
On the other hand, not traveling, even locally, has meant our garden is looking about as good as it ever has at the beginning of May. It’s got a spiffy new fence, a new raised bed, and some delicate green shoots emerging from the soil. Simple pleasures, sure, but ‘tis a gift.
If your life has been disrupted by being forced to stay home, this could be an opportunity to make something new. The trends of cooking at home and baking bread are promising in this regard: here are people investing in slower patterns. It’s calming to create your own food. It makes you slow down. That’s a good thing.
Here are a few areas to think through that may help you embrace a calm lifestyle:
- ENVIRONMENT: value what’s local. Where do we want to live? How can we live most of life near that place? What kind of commute is sustainable?
- TIME: value presence. With whom do we spend time? How much extra time do our commitments cost? What could we insource? What kind of job allows the time we need elsewhere? Are we on devices too much, and if so, would a digital disconnect help?
- MONEY: value generosity. How can we make our resources available to others? How can we keep spending low? Which investments now will pay off later? Does spending reflect our overall priorities?
- PARENTING: value slow growth. What’s the right amount of unstructured time for our kids? How can we keep commitments light to preserve the calm they need for open-ended exploring and curious learning? Where does technology distract from what’s good?
- ARTS: value mastery. What tasks completely immerse us (where do we experience flow)? Outside of work, what could we produce? Do our leisures reflect our values? Where do we achieve quality?
While there aren’t “right” answers to those questions, there are certainly wrong ones. The answers need to support your values; your commitments need to enact those values. As with any forced prioritization, the stuff you say no to may be the most indicative. The energy comes from answering these kinds of questions overtly, rather than by assumption.
And, I don’t think you ever get it “right.” Since being at home, for example, I’ve discovered how much junk media I’ve been consuming on that train commute. I prioritized keeping up with the latest over mulling over the important. Peeling back a few layers of habits these last few weeks has been incredibly beneficial. My mind feels freer.
Optimizing life for simplicity and being calm may not be typical, but embracing limits can be incredibly freeing. It’s a life that even stay-at-home orders won’t disrupt.