START WITH WHY
You'd be forgiven for believing that my progression from complicated and hectic to simplified and content unfolded in a neat, orderly fashion. That the catalyst for change was reading Leo Babauta's Zen Habits, and once I'd devoured his archives and decided I needed to simplify my home, it all happened in a rational way. No self-doubt and no backsliding. But the truth is, I value your time, and frankly, I value mine, so the retelling of my story is both heavily abridged and appears far more rational than what happened in reality.
If I were to tell the story in its entirety, it would be long, drawn out, ugly, messy, and frustrating, and you'd likely be convinced the protagonist was an idiot. You would have to endure long descriptions of her wandering mindlessly, stumbling often, walking in circles, trying to find the vague outline of the path she glimpsed earlier. Two steps forward, eleven back. Suffer burnout, slowly recuperate, find her feet, overcommit, become overwhelmed, burnout again. Rinse. Repeat. I was the slow-living equivalent of the character in a horror movie who you really want to survive but who does herself no favors by repeatedly making the same mistakes. Not checking behind the door. Thinking the villain is dead when he's obviously faking. Believing she's safe once she finally reaches the car...Come on, girl. You know better than that, but here we go again.
I wasn't an idiot—not really—but my story certainly isn't the neat, linear version. It is a messy, frustrating story of someone who takes her time learning lessons and is willing to take imperfect action anyway.
With the benefit of hindsight, I can now see that in those first couple of years of trying to simplify my life, most of my early meandering stemmed from the fact that I didn't know why I was trying to make the changes. Sure, I could whine, "Ugh. Life is hard. I need to slow down," but as for my reasons, my specific Why, I had no idea what was driving the change.
Truth be told, it had been a very long time since I'd thought deeply about much at all. It had been so long since I'd actually thought about the life I was living and the choices I was making that I didn't know what I thought anymore. I didn't have an opinion on things. I didn't have a personal philosophy or even a set of values on which to frame and build my life. I was simply existing.
I didn't know what I thought, and I didn't know what I stood for. And without those two things, it proved really difficult to make changes in my life and make them stick. I needed to find my Why, but I didn't know how.
Had you asked me what I held most dear in my life, what my highest priorities were, I would have unequivocally told you it was my husband and kids. Of course it was them. They were everything to me, so they were firmly planted at the center of my life.
I certainly wouldn't have said Facebook—or comparing myself endlessly and brutally to others—was a priority. I wouldn't have told you it was the acquisition of more stuff or the deep desire to appear successful. Because those obviously weren't my highest priorities. Except they actually were. Those were the things on which I spent my time and my energy. That's where my efforts went, and no matter how unconsciously it was happening, the uncomfortable truth remains that this was the life I was living. I'd completely lost sight of my priorities.
Will Durant said, "We are what we repeatedly do," and I was repeatedly comparing and acquiring. Hating myself for coming up short and failing to see the amazing things right in front of me. I was repeatedly and mindlessly wishing my days away and lamenting all that I didn't have.
There was an enormous disconnect between the things I valued most and my everyday actions. Even back then, in my haze of depression, anxiety, and numbness, I knew what the most important things to me were, but I didn't live as though I did.
CONSIDER YOUR LEGACY
One year, I spent Christmas and New Year in the Canadian Rockies with my family. We had saved for years to get there, and it was an experience we will never forget. Aside from beautiful memories of snowball fights and watching our kids learn to ski, that trip holds a very special place in my heart, because it was a delineation point, after which nothing was ever the same again.
Banff is a beautiful mountain town, set in the Rocky Mountains of southern Alberta. A little busy and a little touristy maybe, but beautiful. We were staying in the slower-paced town of nearby Canmore but had come to Banff to soak up the white Christmas festivities (like true Southern Hemispherians).
As we wandered through a bookshop, I picked up a squat little book called 642 Tiny Things to Write About, hoping to use our holiday downtime to rekindle my old creative writing habit. When we got back to our apartment, I flicked through the book of writing prompts and opened to a random page.
"Write your eulogy in three sentences," it instructed me.
The book may have promised 642 Tiny Things to Write About, but what it was asking me to do was actually huge.