Thursday, July 17, 2008

Simple Beauty at Home...

"One cannot collect all the beautiful shells on the beach. One can collect only a few, and they are more beautiful if they are few." ~Anne Morrow Lindbergh in Gift From the Sea

I want my home to have a sense of space and peace and the beauty of fewer things. But I am not aiming for the kind of sterile cleanliness that shows up on a Real Simple magazine cover. Have you ever been in a house that was so very spare, clean, and perfect that you couldn't relax, you couldn't imagine ever feeling at home there? Indeed, maybe there was no evidence at all in the surroundings to give clues to who lived in that place and what they were like. There may have been a sort of prettiness to it, but where was the life? That doesn't seem like home to me, and I think it misses the whole point of being simple.

A home, no matter how simple, should be warm and inviting. There should be life and energy, laughter and fun, creativity and joy there. While there should be that peace that comes from order, it is dispiriting to think we need to maintain perfect order. My aim is to live simply enough that disorder or caring for too many things won't tyrannize my peace of mind or pleasant rhythms or steal the hours away from my relationships.

In streamlining one's life and possessions, beauty and style are not being rejected. Rather, the "beauty of the few," as Anne Morrow Lindbergh described it, is being embraced. She also wrote that an object is beautiful when it is framed in space, and I do think that there's a good amount of truth to that. In your mind, picture what is, to you, a peaceful room. Is it cluttered and messy? Most people would probably say no, but maybe some people do like that sort of space. Maybe they feel more creative and happy and cosy with lots of cheerful piles and creative tools about. I'm not about to say there's anything wrong with that.

Actually, I think that a bit of "disorder" (so to speak) mixed with order makes for relaxed living. We can't keep things up perfectly, and it would be exhausting to try. I certainly don't want my entire day to be ruled by cleaning and striving for perpetual, perfect order. Nature is orderly, but it's also beautifully wild. Creative, thriving human beings make messes, but there's a difference between a light, happy mess and a mess that is out of control and oppressive. When life is simple and scaled back to what is truly needed and useful and beautiful, then the messes stay happy messes. Order can be restored easily. In a home like this, peace and order are snugly wrapped in coziness.

In any case, beauty matters. In Living More With Less, where the purpose of the book is to encourage people to greatly simplify their lives, beauty is stressed as being important. The title of the book says alot, really. We can focus on the "living more" and recognize that the aim of simplifying is abundance instead of focusing negatively on the "with less" part and think of a simple life as austere.

In fact, the author of Living More With Less, Doris Longacre, wrote in her forward (quoting from her earlier book, The More With Less Cookbook): "Put dismal thoughts aside... because this book is not about cutting back. This book is about living joyfully, richly, and creatively." And that is the aim of many of us who strive for simplicity.

We would not want our homes to be seen in the way that Edith Schaeffer described in The Hidden Art of Homemaking: "There were some Africans who were with us a couple of years ago, who sat in our bedroom talking to my husband before they left. Each of them had been in some sort of mission school and now were in European universities on scholarships. Each of them had observed various things during their boyhood. They each made a similar comment which impressed me deeply. Each of them said that the thing which had turned them away from Christianity was the lack of beauty in the missionaries' homes-- and they were speaking of physical beauty."

"Is it Pretty?" is one of the guiding questions asked in the chapter on "Homekeeping" in Living More With Less. The author writes, "An attractive home buoys my spirits... Everywhere in the world, people arrange for some beauty, some expression of the ability to invent interesting subjects for their eyes and fingertips. Cooks across Asia encourage their charcoal fires with attractively woven fans. People in Belgium spend 2 percent of the national income on fresh flowers." Beauty is important to the human spirit.

And there's no one way to describe what is a beautiful home. A home with a modern design can be beautiful. A Victorian farmhouse can be beautiful. A spacious vintage bungalow can beautiful. So can a basic, rustic cabin. Or a hut in an African village. Or anywhere, really. We can create beauty and an atmosphere of loveliness in the most impoverished, drab, or uninspiring places with a bit of creativity and mindfulness. To veer from the point a bit, real beauty is found when a person fills his home with a light, joyful, contented, welcoming spirit.

If you read my posts about simplifying and decluttering my home, don't imagine me making my place spare in the way of a hospital waiting room or some other drab, drearily quiet place. That's not what I want at all. I simply want fewer towels crammed into the small linen cupboard, fewer dishes stacked crazily in my cupboards, fewer objects to dust or repair, fewer things stored in boxes, fewer unnecessary things that require care and maintenance and time.

In many areas of my life and home, I've already found this space, but I've got a ways to go in other areas. I want way less stuff across the board because that "beauty of the few" appeals greatly to me! How much do I really need?

Photo at top courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.