I woke up this morning to cold again, after several days of warmer, rainy temperatures. It’s almost 2019. Almost time to make resolutions and take down the tree, but not quite. I can sit and enjoy the Christmas lights before anyone awakens and take nothing but pleasure from it – there’s nothing left to wrap or do for this year, now the lights and decorations exist purely for my enjoyment for a few more days.
The first pot of turkey broth for soup is in the crock pot – our Christmas turkey, at 23 pounds, will make a lot of soup, so I took the carcass apart, froze some, and started broth from the rest. Homemade turkey soup, like my chicken soup, is simple and easy – the turkey parts, skin and all, go into a crock pot with bay leaves, herbs de provence, tarragon, and a generous dollop of cider vinegar, and cook for the better part of a day. Yes, you can do this in an instant pot in just a few minutes, but I prefer mine to have the added benefits of being set to ‘ignore’ for hours at a time combined with the scent of it wafting through the house.
Last night Eli and I celebrated our anniversary with an evening out in Boston, a rarity for us, seeing Ivan Amodei’s Secrets and Illusions – the last magic show either of us had seen up close was in childhood and I admit, it was initially not my first choice of shows, but it was a lot of fun and worth every penny, followed by dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant nearby. If you haven’t tried Ethiopian food, I highly recommend it. The base of everything is served on a pancake called Injera, made with Teff flour, and it is both base, utensil and a big component of dinner all in one. I have’t tried to make Ethiopian at home, but it is on my 2019 list of to-dos.
New Year’s day is the day my family makes their list of ‘things we want to do in the new year’. Our first year here at Sithean, the list included such things as ‘meet the neighbors’ an ‘go to a water park’. We all contribute, and check back to the list periodically to make sure that we are still thinking about our goals as we go about our lives. This year my contributions to the list will involve, despite several trips planned and the fact that I travel regularly for work, a lot more time at home, decluttering, cooking in, and generally simplifying our lives.
Voluntary Simplicity is a thing. It basically involves downscaling your life so that you do, have and buy less. I lived a fairly simple life, marching towards mortgage freedom and early retirement, until my divorce several years ago. To say things went haywire is an understatement. I dropped 25 pounds in a short time, requiring an entire reboot of my wardrobe (ok, I kind of enjoyed that part) while having to completely refurnish my new living quarters, down to the forks and plates.
Then I moved to Sithean, and in the first year alone had huge outlays for appliances – all of which died within the first 2 months, gasping their last in rapid succession, except the washing machine, which stubbornly hangs on – and major repairs, including the infamous 50-foot pine tree that fell on the roof. Add to that some large medical bills, and it took me a while to swim back to my comfort zone.
Then I stopped working for 7 months. While that was in part my choice, it was also expensive. I’m grateful in retrospect though – 7 months of being a full time Mom was one of the best experiences I have ever had.
But needless to say, it’s been an eventful, and expensive, several years. That isn’t to say that some of those expenses haven’t been pleasurable – we take our relatively inexpensive trip to New Hampshire every year, no matter what, and the makings of the new 40×18′ potager garden was all for me. Adding Eli to the household requires a second family-sized car, and our choosing to have a small wedding next summer isn’t without cost. And so on. But all things considered, 2019 is the year we start to get back to basics – and simplicity is one of those things.
Simplicity needs to happen in increments to make it sustainable. Try to do everything at once, and like most lifestyle changes, it won’t stick. Even for me, as part of my natural state, phasing is important. So I started with defining 4 things I could do almost immediately to start us down the right path.
The first step towards simplicity here at Sithean revolves around making a menu. While a menu can be veered from – and should, if there are leftovers to be eaten up – it’s a guide and a help. I find if I know what I’m going to eat for dinner, my desire to go out drops down significantly. I tend to plan about a week out, revising as I go. Over the coming week turkey soup, made from leftover Christmas turkey features heavily, as does our homemade Asian feast planned for New Year’s Eve.
While I do have a bit of grocery shopping that must be done – milk, eggs, snacks for the kids lunches – the second component of January simplicity is starting to eat down the pantry. I view a stuffed pantry and freezer as an emergency fund you can eat. But every year or two, it’s time to eat it down and restock, using creativity to ensure that we have healthy, tasty meals. For a month or two, the grocery bill drastically drops, and then of course, it typically goes up again, but I am careful not to try to restock everything at once. And I know we’re done when there is literally nothing that any of us want to eat any longer. Eating the pantry down can be work, but it can also be an all-family challenge. Involve the kids to get ideas. True, you might end up eating spaghetti tacos, but you also might find yourself with a new family favorite.
Thing three is finding cheap cool stuff to do around you for the next few months. There is always, always free stuff to do, be it a trip to the library or your local all-volunteer winter nature hike.
And that fourth? It’s the decluttering part – and the first step is the room that will be Eli’s studio, which requires us to declutter other parts of the house as we move things around to make space. While decluttering can seem overwhelming, the result is always pleasurable, with clean open space as a result.
A key thing I have learned about simplicity is that it isn’t necessarily simple. Menu planning takes time. If you are intent on ensuring that you don’t have to shop for lots of ingredients while you eat down the pantry, it takes creativity as well. And the thing that creativity requires most is time and space to think, to consider your options and alternatives you might not have considered. So the critical item to start down the road of voluntary simplicity is to give yourself some breathing room to mull over how you want to handle things.
As we pare down our lives over the coming year, I look forward to sharing how it’s going.
What are your plans for 2019?