Simplicity is found in what’s real, not in another magazine subscription

I first resolved to simplify my life in 1994. As a full-time student working a full-time job and living life amid a keen social scene, things were getting unmanageably com­plicated. I began the task of simpli­fying by making a list (which ended up several pages long) of every single thing my life included. And then I started crossing things off, re­arranging priorities, focusing. The result?

I bought a treadmill. Exercise was a priority on my life’s list and I was determined to keep it there. As a runner with a busy schedule, a personal treadmill seemed the opti­mal, simple solution.

Crafted in oak and wrought iron to match the furnishings of my then-Southwestern studio apart­ment, the NordicTrack WalkFit al­lowed me to focus on a priority while escaping the dangers of run­ning on campus alone at night, and it kept me from collapsing in the August Arizona heat. (“Oh, but it’s a dry heat.” Yeah. So is your oven.) It was convenient.

It was also very difficult. Liter­ally. See, NordicTrack makes a living by selling people the kind of workout they’d expect from, say, a cross-country skiing date with a lean, blue-eyed Swede. The ma­chine is powered by the efforts of the body on it, and the incline at its lowest is still steeper than Mt. Fuji. I am a runner, not a hiker, not a skier, not a walker. I’m a summer ­lover, not a ski bum. A sales rep tossed me the “but this is better” line and I, not truly knowing what “better” meant for me, bit — hook, line and sinker.

I paid good money for that NordicTrack and I was going to use it. Walking has many optimal benefits, I reasoned. I pushed aside the nagging voice reminding me that walking does not afford runners the coveted endorphin high, and it takes twice as long. But I used it up until three weeks before the birth of my first child when I was too big to take another step and then, after a C-section and a newborn to recover from, too busy to take the time.

Sound familiar? How many treadmills in American homes see little more activity than the shifting of clothes that hang from their electric consoles?

Fast forward six years to the fall of 2000, the second time I resolved to simplify my life. True to the chaos any military wife-slash-mother of two-under-two can verify, things were unmanageably complicated enough without throw­ing in an overseas relocation to a place called “Tacoma.” Once again, I sat down and listed? the things in my life, intending to cross off, rear­range priorities, focus. The result? I bought a treadmill.

Exercise remained a priority on my life’s list, but my expectation of a successful compromise was not realistic. This time, I bought what I’d been sneaking off to gyms to se­cretly use behind my NordicTrack’s back: an electric ProForm treadmill.
Appropriately enough, as I was thumbjng through the owner’s manual to my new ProForm and plotting how I’d get around the “as­sembly requires two people” in bold print (the only other people in my household either wear diapers or are deployed), I received a letter from a start-up magazine looking for subscribers. The saids pitch for the publication, titled Real Simple, seemed to have been written just for me in my second undertaking of simplifying: how to get an orga­nized life incorporating all the essential elements and designed to make me happier.

It was just too tempting. I affixed the “send me one free issue” sticker to the enclosed reply card. The magazine appeals to me. Its articles are succinct, its photos are unclut­tered, its layout and design is effort­lessly sleek. And I think to myself, “Wow, did they write this for me?”

Now with all the wisdom of my 30 years, two successful simplifica­tions of my list of life and one issue of Real Simple behind me, I can state with experience and certainty that getting things simple is a com­plicated endeavor. Simple involves subscribing to far fewer magazines, not more; simple is sorting closets into “things worn in the last two years” and “things to give to char­ity;” simple is putting all the “but I just caaaaaan’t get rid of this” items into a plastic container, labeling it, and stacking it neatly with the holi­day decorations in a reachable spot of the basement. Simple is packing up one’s toiletries and cosmetics in a single bag as if leaving for vaca­tion — and then disposing of all the other left-behind accumulations of potions, lotions and other beauty-­slash-health products, choosing only to purchase in order to replace from here on out. Simple is a resolve not to be tempted to purchase a miniskirt when you’ve never known yourself to wear one, no matter how stylish it appears on the rack and how fabulous your girl­friend swears it would look on you. Simple is not a miniskirt never cho­sen for wear taking up a hanger and a place in an already-too-packed, impossibly-small, old-home-North­Tacoma closet — or perhaps tossed over a dusty piece of athletic equip­ment.

Simple is the ability to say “no” without launching into a guilt in­duced apology. Simple is knowing one’s own list of life’s needs, wants, whims and having fun by adding, deleting or prioritizing them.

Real Simple, then, must be knowing when to swap a perfectly good treadmill with one that will actually meet the demands and ex­pectations of a resolution — without succumbing to the unrealistic ex­pectation of needing yet another magazine subscription.

Some people have simple minds. Others have simple lives. In antici­pation of her first Pacific Northwest winter, Christine Gacharna has a fabulous pair of plain, brown, leather slip-on boots made by a company called “Simple.”
[Originally published in The Tacoma Weekly, 2000]