After a day and night of heavy snow I woke to a beautiful, Hokusai-like view outside my window: a rich layer of soft cream frosted all the wet, dark branches of the trees in a graceful web of winter lace. I was struck by how a snowstorm filters out all color and turns the landscape completely black and white. Staring into my back yard in the early gray daylight, I could see no color – no subtle shades of green or brown, even though I knew they must be there. I rushed to take some photos and they look like old Kodak Tri-X black-and-white film was in the camera rather than digital pixels.
There was such beauty—and simplicity—in this high-contrast world that I thought about how rare it is that other aspects of our life are this simply black or white – especially the choices we are required to make each day.
Take cereal, for example.
Yesterday in the grocery I stopped to try and count the different choices available on the five long shelves in the cereal aisle. The top shelf alone held 41 different cereals. Multiplied by five that meant there were probably 205 separate choices of cold cereal displayed for me, each brightly colored box a jeweled tessera in the mosaic wall of packaged sugar-and-grain breakfast options. (This was not counting the granola, muesli and hot cereals clustered in their own section of the aisle.)
Isn’t that just crazy?
When I started today’s blog entry, what followed the above paragraphs quickly turned into a long rant on the devolution of quality and standards generated by American culture’s obsession with more and more choice and endless societal rewards for incrementally different versions of products in the name of status and capitalistic gains. Thanks to my passion for editing, I will spare you that rant.
But staying briefly with the concept that infinite choice is good, and having more ‘stuff’ is a symbol of success, I must say I long for a less cluttered life and a shorter menu of choices. Yes, I do want the freedom to choose between options that affect the big picture, and I want room in my life for personal preferences. But I also feel that more and more, the ‘stuff’ in my life and the increasing complexity of choosing among a host of marginally different products and services uses up way too much time and brain space.
Over the past half-decade I have been actively working to simplify my life – my lifestyle and my ‘stuff.’ I made a sign for my refrigerator as a reminder that, barring something I can’t imagine needing right now, I have more than enough for a very high quality of life.
I’ve had the opportunity to downsize twice in recent years and it has done me much good. There is room, now, to think, to write a little, to visit with friends. I can start ticking off the books on my reading list. And, quite often now, I can just sit and appreciate how the day breaks through the clouds on the horizon, observe the palimpsest pattern of footprints left by the wild things that walk through my yard, watch the snow lather the trees like cream.