A simple life doesn't have to mean a boring life.
I grew up poor.
Not POOR-poor. But poor enough. I brought my lunch money to school in plastic baggies with a hundred pennies inside. I never owned any name brand clothing. We ate a lot of fishsticks and peas, and second helpings of anything were highly sought-after rewards for scarfing down your first helping faster than any of your siblings. We never went without but sometimes we barely had enough.
I was poor enough again when I lived in NYC in my early twenties. We made it on cereal and leftovers from my ex's Puerto Rican mother. Some days I could barely scrape up enough for my Metro card and there were a few times I went to bed with the tiny fingers of hunger tickling in my belly.
I did go without then, and there were many times we barely had enough, but you know what? I wouldn't trade either of those experiences for the world, because what they taught me, and how I lived, is what made me who I am today.
Something happened when it was imprinted onto my tiny developing brain that love doesn't depend on material possessions and lasting happiness can't be bought. I grew up knowing that while less wasn't necessarily more, more wasn't necessarily everything.
The older I got, the more content I was with what I had at any given moment. I had time to learn about things that interested me, read books purely for the love of the story, create things even if I wasn't very good at it, and sleep in on the weekends.
I dropped out of college, worked in a bar, moved to the Bronx knowing exactly one person in the entire state of New York, and with $100 cash in my pocket. I worked at countless minimum wage jobs before getting married and having kids, and even then, I took on work that allowed for a lot of down time and flexibility.
What mattered more than a new car or a family vacation was having time to spend together where we weren't worried about work, weren't tied to our phones and email accounts, and were able to really clock out and be present.
We needed our paychecks to cover rent and then a mortgage, food, the necessities. And mostly it did. There were some lean weeks and months. There still are. We might not have new cars. We wear our clothes out before buying new ones. We keep our electronics until they go bust (we didn't have a flat screen TV until three years ago!). Most of the time, I don't buy organic anything.
But we aren't working fifty- or sixty-hour work weeks to afford our lifestyle. We aren't glued to our work phones, unable to relax for even the thirty minutes it takes to get through dinner. We don't get called in on our days off or have to cancel plans at the last minute because one of us has to work to cover somebody or because an emergency has come up.
These are conscious choices we've made because we both grew up with very little, and we both know the value of that.
I think somewhere, society in general has lost sight of the beauty of simplicity. A simple life doesn't have to mean a boring life or a life that should be pitied. We live simply by choice. We honestly believe that hard work can't be maintained 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for years on end.
There has to be time for love, and play, and exploration, and adventure. There has to be time to stay up late and sleep in. A lazy Sunday every once in a while feeds the soul. A pajama day can renew your spirit. Calling in sick and reading on a blanket in the park, or checking your kids out of school and taking them to a midday matinee, can reset your mind and relax your body. Who doesn't need that every once in a while?
Think about all humankind has accomplished. We are so much more than our paychecks. We weren't born so that we could pay bills until we die. We were born to live, really live, with our eyes and ears and hearts wide open.
We were born to dream under summer night skies and feel alive as the first hint of frost is breathed out into the winter air. We were born to find purpose and freedom with our hands and our bodies. We were born to know feasts and famine. We were born from star stuff — and if you ever doubt that, look down at the galaxies that swirl inside each fingertip.
We were born to grand, magnificent things and tiny insignificant things. Most of all, we were born under a countdown clock, an ever-present reminder to make each day, each minute, count.
Money matters. But it doesn't always matter the most. On the days when you have food and shelter and a safe place to sleep, make room for creating, and dancing, and swimming, and laying in a hammock with a lemonade.
Sometimes just sitting and breathing are the best things we can do.