While on sabbatical, one of the disciplines I’ve been practicing is simplicity.
By nature of taking a hiatus from work, I am more conscious than ever of the complexities and clutter that have filled my life. With some intentional choices, I’ve been ruthlessly eliminating some of the excess stuff. It also helps that we are spending our sabbatical in a completely different place, and had to carefully decide what to pack and bring with us on our trip from California to Hawaii.
Here are a few ways I have simplified in the last few weeks:
Less stuff. We tried to pack as little as possible for our trip. It is amazing how one must simplify when packing everything into a suitcase and carry on. Aside from basic clothes, we brought a few toys for Aaron, some baby things for when Alexandra arrives, several books, and our computer. We also intentionally decided to rent a smaller apartment in Hawaii, assuming that if we had less space, we wouldn’t accumulate as much.
More borrowing. Once we arrived in Hawaii, we borrowed as much as we could. Even though we are renting a place that was fully furnished, we still needed various items, such as kitchen utensils, some fans for the hot summer days, and trash cans. These we borrowed from generous family members. We also were able to snag all kinds of kid/baby items like car seats, a portable crib, and a stroller from friends.
Reading books. In this age of high-tech gadgets and electronic stimulus, reading a book is a way that I regularly practice simple living. On my first trip to the local library, I stocked up on Hawaiian culinary books and a few international bestsellers (including the beautiful Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress). Reading during the quiet evenings has been a refreshing activity.
Less television, internet & other media. Back in LA, we enjoyed our high-definition TV, Dish Network, and DVR. Now we have a less-than-amazing TV and basic cable. Steve and I have both whittled away at online clutter; we put vacation modes on our regular email addresses, severely limited our Facebook privacy settings, and unsubscribed to a majority of email lists. With less TV and internet activity, we frequently find other activities to do in the evenings, like work on a 1000-piece puzzle. Or go to bed earlier to match the sleep rhythms of our up-at-six-in-the-morning child.
Single-tasking, not multi-tasking. I am usually doing several things at once, like simultaneously checking Facebook or email on my iPhone, cooking dinner, and cleaning a path amidst Aaron’s toys. During sabbatical, however, I am making a conscious effort to do one thing at a time. As I do this, I feel less frenetic, and have the ability to more fully enjoy simple things like cooking a meal, doing the laundry, or walking around the neighborhood.
Focused time with people. As a family, we are enjoying more time together, without distractions. We also have regular times with extended family and church community here, allowing us to have unhurried, leisurely time with others. If I’m playing with Aaron, I try to do just that – enjoy spending uninterrupted time with him. Maybe this is simple for others, but for me, sometimes it is an act of discipline. Playtime with a young kid often feels unproductive and even boring (especially when I am asked to read the same I Spy book for the fifth time in a row). My mind tends to wander, and I soon find myself wanting to do other things. But as I choose to focus solely on spending time with him, I soak in the moment of simply being with my son, and living in the present with him.
As I simplify the external clutter around me, my internal reality is becoming freed from clutter as well. Hurry, busyness, and anxiety have begun to dissipate, and are gradually being replaced by more joy and peace. It is a slow, steady process, but a process that I welcome.