Around The Rim Country

Rim country: The place with less stuff

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I've never been big on New Year's resolutions. But now that the last bowl game has been played and the holiday decorations packed away, I'm left with the nagging thought that it's all become too complicated to enjoy. There's nothing quite like the holidays for emphasizing how harried our lives have become.

The good news is there's a new magazine on the market to help us achieve a simpler existence. Called "Real Simple," it is published, ironically, by the people who bring you "People" magazine, which is a division of that mega-monster company Time, Inc.

"Real Simple" is, according to a recent article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, "a magazine that is supposed to cut through the clutter of our lives and show us the path to better living through having and wanting less stuff."

The bad news is that now we have to find a way to fit reading "Real Simple" into a life that is already so hectic and harried we barely have time to read the newspaper. Is it just me, or is there something fundamentally wrong with the notion that in order to make life simpler, you first have to make it more complex?

Besides, the Star-Telegram reports, with articles on simplifying one's wardrobe, furnishings, household responsibilities, cooking and finances, "Real Simple" is really little more than Martha Stewart Lite.

And if you think simpler means cheaper, forget it. The magazine touts $365 wool T-shirts as the "new basic."

Do you sense what I sense? That simplifying life is the latest fad for those who have more money than they know what to do with.

Up here in the Rim country we have an irony of our own the fact that while many of us moved here specifically to lead a simpler, more peaceful existence, we have, in the process, seriously complicated the lives of those who were already here. But hopefully in our small-town atmosphere, we are all managing to live lives that are at least a little less congested, less polluted and less intense than our big-city brethren.

One problem in maintaining our lifestyle is that the information age we live in makes it increasingly difficult to isolate ourselves from the siren songs tempting us to want more and more. Whenever we tune to KTVK Channel 3, for example, we are relentlessly told there is virtue in "more stuff."

Besides TV, there is the Internet, a wondrous tool that makes us all part of this new entity they have misnamed the global village. Even our new six-screen cineplex has, for both better and worse, made Hollywood a presence in the Rim country.

But then those of us who moved here from more worldly areas are also guilty to a degree, lugging with us baggage accumulated elsewhere. It's a little like getting on an airplane and trying to avoid the germs of your fellow travelers.

And speaking of airplanes, one of the many temptations we face today is a restlessness to always be trying something new somewhere else an updated version of "the grass is always greener." One of my favorite columnists, Ellen Goodman, recently wrote about this phenomenon, and in the process, provided some guidelines for and insight into achieving a simpler lifestyle.

Goodman explained that people chide her because she spends summer after summer in the same home on an island off the coast of Maine, rather than jetting around the world to take in its many and diverse wonders. "Don't you ever want to go someplace new?" a friend asked.

Granted a summer home on an island off the coast of Maine seems like a pretty nice place to stay in one place. But the way Goodman explains her passion for the familiar and the routine is a message that stands in stark contrast to the siren song of "more stuff."

While she admits there is a certain lure to exotic places, she compares the experience to the rush of excitement that comes with having a crush on someone. "But," she cautions, "a crush is not a marriage..." and "we can't know too many places in our allotted time. Not really know them."

Goodman believes "there are two ways to live wide or deep," and that sooner or later we have to choose the ... place we call home." No matter where we decide that is, life can be as new and exhilarating as we let it be.

She talks of the pleasure in seeing a small magenta wildflower she had never seen before, of discovering that rare purple finches have become a common sight at her bird feeder, of finding unplanted phlox growing in her garden. In today's world of over-abundance and endless diversion, Goodman says "we have to choose what we want to learn."

Henry David Thoreau, author of "Walden," put it about as well as anybody ever has. In that book, which describes his two-year experiment living by himself at Walden Pond, he says, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."

Writing 150 years ago, in an era when train travel was still a novelty, Thoreau said, "Our life is frittered away by detail." Imagine how he would view the frenzied frittering that goes on today.

I don't know about you, but I'm not quite ready to go live by myself in the woods under Spartan conditions for two years. But it's good, every once in a while, to be reminded of what really matters.

Thoreau captured it in one word, and then repeated that word again and yet again in hopes of imprinting it in our minds: "Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!"

You can't dance to it, and it's not as catchy as "the place with more stuff," but maybe if we all repeat it like a mantra, we can keep the Rim country from becoming such a place.

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