I love my Mother dearly. Let’s start off with that so there’s no confusion. But when I think about the beginnings of my journey towards a more simple life, I must begin with her. My Mom grew up in the Ilocos Norte province of the Philippines. To say that she lived a modest life is certainly putting it mildly. With her sense of adventure and ambition she ended up in Canada when she was just 21 years old, completely on her own. Eventually she met my Dad (who moved to Canada from Denmark when he was just 21 – also completely on his own!). They worked hard, saved up some money, had two kids and bought a house together. Eventually my Dad’s business started to prosper and for the first time in both of their lives they started to live comfortably. Comfortable enough to go on yearly vacations, and to buy stuff. And then more stuff.
It wasn’t that my Mom hoarded things, but she certainly liked to shop (and still does to this day). I can’t blame her for liking things. Things she never dreamed of having when she grew up.
But we are so different. While things give my Mom comfort, they stress me out. To put it more accurately, too many things stress me out. I don’t know why this is, but I have felt this way probably since I was a teenager. And then there was the Arctic. When I was 22 years old I was given the experience of a lifetime to do archaeological work on a remote Arctic island (Somerset Island if you’re interested). A twin otter plane set us down on a hard shale beach (no landing strips) on what was to be our home for the next 2 months. There was no sign of modern civilization anywhere. Just 100% nature. If you wanted to bathe, there’s the pond (with caribou dung in it). If you wanted to drink, there’s the pond (with caribou dung in it). I could write a book on that experience, and the following year’s when I returned, but for the sake of this blog post, I will say that it was a profound experience to live submersed in nature like that. The only sound, and I mean only, was the sound of our voices and the battery operated cassette player. Every now and then a twin otter plane would fly above, and the sound was jarring.
I lived life with only the belongings I could carry in my backpack. Our supervisor provided the food and supplies needed for the excavation, as well as the kitchen and living tents. I had books with me that I cherished, as they were my only extraneous belongings. I became mesmerized with them, curled up in my sleeping bag at night while the sun shone (24 hour sunlight in the Arctic during the Summer months). I was the happiest I had ever been in my entire life.
When we returned home, I was a changed person. I stopped showering everyday because the idea now seemed preposterous (and wasteful). I became overwhelmed by all the sound – the cars, televisions, crowds of people – it was all so noticeable. Most importantly, I realized I didn’t need a lot of stuff to be truly happy. Having only those 6 books in the Arctic made me treasure them so much more. What if I culled all the stuff in my life that I didn’t really need and focussed on those things I really valued but had been ignoring because there’s just too much other crap getting in the way? I haven’t read Marie Kondo’s book because I could have written that book decades ago! And I wish I had!
The years have passed. I spent the rest of my twenties continuing my research into the prehistoric hunter-gatherers of the Arctic and sub-Artic regions. In my thirties I became a software developer and Mom. And now I’m in my 40s. I wish I could tell you that we have no tv, but we do. In fact we have three of them. But, I’m still striving towards simplicity. I treasure the items that we have in our house – they were carefully selected by me. I focus on quality and not quantity. I cull and donate regularly. I believe that nature is healing. And I still don’t shower everyday (it’s still preposterous and wasteful). My experiences with my Mom and the Arctic have given me an awareness that I carry with me every single day, and to say that I’m grateful for them is certainly putting it mildly.