Close. Simple. Free.
Those were the words that my husband Jay and I were drawn to three years ago while we assessed and reassessed the comfortable life we were living in the suburbs of Atlanta.
We had a decent household income, four kids, a big house, and a neighborhood with great schools. It didn’t get much closer to the American Dream for either of us. Except…
Except it wasn’t enough somehow. I had dutifully followed the next logical step from high school, through college, on into jobs and graduate school, marriage and children. When a negative professional experience finally forced me to raise my head and look around, I thought, “I don’t really want to be here, do I?”
It feels so ungrateful to even admit that. My “here” was really, really good. I grew up with a lot of uncertainty and circumstances, including physical and mental illnesses, that made dreaming more of a back-burner sort of thought for me. As a teenager, while other kids hoped for a car or just couldn’t wait to move out, I dreamed of stable household finances and well parents.
As an adult I have those things. I am more grateful than I can adequately express that this is so–but I am also hyper aware that it might not always be the case. I think perhaps that is why I am also somewhat restless.
I fear complacency more than I fear disaster.
Frankly, my childhood taught me to more or less expect blindsides from life. The fact that my adulthood has been so comparatively lovely makes me nervous.
When Jay and I were first dating we went on an “adventure” at the Atlanta airport while driving to Athens, Georgia (home of the University of Georgia) from a trip we’d been on to Florida. It wasn’t a real adventure because we didn’t have any money to actually go anywhere. Like, we couldn’t scrounge up the 6 dollars it was going to cost us to get into The Little White House earlier in the same day. That kind of no money.
I should also say that “dating” was about as accurate a term as “adventure” is in this story. We had one awkward conversation about how we liked each other while holding hands during this EXACT SAME CAR RIDE. So, at the time, our entire dating life consisted of walking around Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL) and an unsuccessful attempt to learn more about FDR. Man, we are dorky.
This was before 9/11 and you could walk up to the gates and see where the planes were going. We went from gate to gate dreaming that we had the money to buy a ticket and hop on a 747 to Paris, to London, to Rome. Or maybe we’d like a jaunt to the Caribbean for the weekend? Obviously, we weren’t really going anywhere (see: couldn’t find 6 bucks). The whole activity was about dreaming.
We didn’t know it at the time, but we were practicing. Practicing making decisions together. Practicing for a successful marriage. Practicing learning to dream with another person for a lifetime.
Fast forward 17 years and I was looking at the beautiful life we’d made together thinking that terrible thought: “I don’t want to be here.” We hadn’t stopped dreaming, exactly, but we’d fallen into the trap that our lives had to look a certain way because that’s what everyone else’s lives looked like. We’d put walls around our dreams that didn’t need to be there.
That first terrible thought led to “well, where do I want to be,” which led to “how can I get there,” which led to “I don’t know, exactly, but I do know this: I want to live more closely, more simply, and more freely.”
Because I have the unbelievable gift of a partner who dreams with me, I knew that whatever I wanted to change didn’t involve my marital status. Also, I’m pretty committed to keeping the children. And I am a devout follower of my God. But everything else in my life I put on the table: career, home, money, school, schedule, volunteering, food, travel, sports, friendships.
I asked: which of these things bring me closer to those I value, draw me to a simpler life of focus, and leave me free to dream to my heart’s content?
Since that fall, I have learned a lot about what those words mean, both practically and philosophically. I have realized that any one without the others doesn’t do all that much good. I have realized that together, they are transformative.
Living a life of close, simple, and free means living a life of meaning. Of purpose. It means giving focus to the concerns that truly matter the most without failing to pay bills and raise decent humans. Working together, close, simple, and free can point you in a direction you actually want to be going. Individually, you might wind up in a really clean, but empty, house.
It is absolutely a journey…we don’t always know what we’re doing and we don’t always get it right. And I am absolutely sure that I will never really be finished with these goals. They are more a touch point–a direction to lean when I get a little lost and confused. Up to this point they have been hard, but they’ve also been worth it.
Because I deeply love action items (give me a list to check off and I will bring the color coded markers with which to check), I’ve made a little mini-course in close, simple, and free. Each idea gets a month’s focus and (I’m so excited about this) a free printable calendar to encourage/force your friends and family to play along. Close will be first, with 31 things to do in the month of October to draw closer to those you love. Look for those posts coming soon. The Close calendar will be posted this week.