Ah, simplicity. It's complicated...

Half a floor, gutted walls - ah, simply perfect.

As I was indulging in post-prandial high-speed internet browsing on my private island, I... whoa, that doesn't sound right.

Yes, I am on a private island, which I own. It's a luxury alright, in the sense of being something a lot of people can't afford - a second, seasonal home. But in the universe of people who own a cottage, my island is pretty normal. Well, OK. It's not normal - it's awesome. What I'm trying to say is, it wasn't more expensive to acquire than a regular cottage in this here area. I guess that makes it relatively normal, in its idiosyncratic awesomeness.

I was enjoying reading this blog post, wearing the World's Ugliest Pants (and sweater to match), some very old and very beat-up L.L. Bean clogs and my hair a glorious mess:

How do I stay thankful? By going without from time to time. 

I’m more grateful for what I'm coming to take for granted when I take a holiday from using it. For example, I take a holiday from:

  • My favourite shampoo by using a cheaper or no name brand

  • My bathtub by taking showers instead

  • Our car by walking, biking or taking public transportation

  • Heating or cooling by using less of these or by turning them off completely and experiencing the changing daily/nightly temperatures

  • A glass of wine in the evening, going for tea instead 

  • My computer & smartphone, by picking up a book instead

…and yes, even swapping out fancy toilet paper for the cheapest stuff available as a reminder that my grandmother used to use pages from the Sears catalogue or old newspapers when she visited the outhouse as a young girl.

These holidays from 21st century luxuries keep me grounded, reminding me that I’d be fine without them and to be grateful that I have access to them when and if I so choose.

What a fine display of Stoicism. I approve. In fact the older I get the more I find myself in need of experiencing withdrawal on a semi-regular basis, because it reminds me that I'm alive, well, and reasonably content with my lot. (Though if someone has a few hours of spare time hanging around doing nothing, I'd like them very much, thanks.)

With very few exceptions (like Starbucks latte, which I'm trying to cure, and Belgian dark chocolate, which I'm not), I'm really not at all into luxury. I do not spend much money on my hair, which is always messy after working out or sweaty during same (or a mix of both at the lake). Buns do the job for me. I don't believe I've ever had a manicure. I had a facial, once, and that was nice. I don't go for massages - basically I don't like to be handled, poked, prodded, kneaded, or otherwise polished.

I like me raw. But as with everything else, simplicity has its limits. Privations are the road to enlightenment. But we don’t need to shoot for sainthood.

For me, going without fancy restaurant meals is not an ordeal. I financed my law degree working in fine restaurants and pubs and after seeing those kitchens my taste for expensive meals went into sharp decline. A wheel of brie, some pine nuts, and fresh greens is enough to make me happy. When I want a treat I get a beer with fries and mayonnaise. I'm one of the cheapest dates around. Not that I go on dates. You get my point.

Some things I'm not willing to go without - at least, not without a fight. I need my sleep. I also need my space, and a goodish amount of peace and quiet. I don't socialize very much, which I'm sure costs me business opportunities. But my time alone is more precious to me than more money in the bank, so choice made. I don't have cable, or expensive hobbies except for competitive karate, which - while not free - is a hell of a lot cheaper than dressage or even hockey.

The reason I was able to afford this private island is that it needed a lot of work. My budget was enough to buy it, but not enough to have the work done by contractors. So I do it myself - painfully slowly. Landscaping this thing is an extreme sport and I have the scars to prove it. The building, too, was in dire need of TLC. Half of it is now half-finished, and the other one's stuck somewhere between demolition and renaissance. It's mostly "furnished" with cast-off mismatched stuff. The fridge is almost as old as I am. But I have a flush toilet, a shower, and an old washing machine donated by a friend's in-laws. Which to me is the height of luxury. The value of this place is the peace, quiet, and the opportunity it gave my kids to grow up in real nature, and so I happily put up with 3.7 different kinds of floors and disemboweled indoor walls.

The point is not that we should all reacquaint ourselves with the Sears catalogue in the old outhouse. It's that we should be grateful for what we have and not take things for granted too much. If, for you, that means washing your hair with the El Cheapo brand, great! Maybe it means cutting the cord and letting go of HBO (we call this "poetry").

This isn't a contest. What counts as a privation for me may be silly affection to you, and vice versa. The point of the exercise is to remember to be grateful and count your blessings. So go ahead, find things you have that you enjoy very mightily, try living without them for a little bit, then get them back again and appreciate them more.

That should keep your quest for simplicity, er, simpler.

North Carolina pier