Chacos: My action planner for simplicity (column)
A small, manila envelope recently toppled out of my mailbox. This was not from Amazon Prime nor any other large retailer and didn’t shake like a 250-piece Lego set. I was momentarily mystified and eager to open the contents inside.
Rarely does mail arrive labeled with a pen by a human being. Notwithstanding the annual pledges from a handful of local nonprofits, I can’t remember the last personalized package mailed to me without a Hallmark holiday on the horizon.
My children gathered around the table because they think anything from the mailbox is considered a gift worthy of celebration. A lame magazine in their name carries the same weight as a first edition comic book.
A two-sentence note written on thick, linen cardstock attached itself to a beautiful journal labeled, “Womankind World Domination Action Planner.” The tongue-in-cheek notebook would have carried me in simple joy and gratitude for weeks, but the words on the card were the exclamation point I treasured.
Capitalizing on an opportunity to praise the power of an unexpected gift to my young, captive audience, I proceeded with a short lecture. I read the card to my children, had them feel the thickness of the paper, and then passed around the journal. They laughed as I became teary-eyed explaining my appreciativeness for this simple, heartfelt gesture. I desperately wanted them to pay attention to the little things, but as they eagerly ran outside to play, I knew I’d have to model this lesson a bit better myself.
The next morning, I committed to a few new behaviors that I hoped would lead me toward “the art of simplicity.” I would start with public transport and decided to ride the bus to and from work more frequently. Truthfully, I wasn’t looking forward to sitting squished next to a stranger who ate onions for breakfast, but I wanted my kids to see that I now had time to read a book and make their dad happy by reducing our weekly gas bill. Sealing my pledge, I planned to say “good morning” and “thank you” to every bus driver, every time.
Next, I decided to start answering my phone again. Over the past few years, I’ve been proud of my voicemail alerting incoming callers that I most likely wouldn’t be listening to their voice message. “Send a text instead,” I’d blurt. My mom frequently noted that I sounded lazy and also pointed out that I didn’t bother answering most of my text messages either.
Speaking over the phone in the bathroom or racing through the produce aisle instead of sending a quick text still didn’t seem like a very good idea, but I wanted to be more present and engaged with those I care about. I vowed to bring things back to basics without otherwise explaining myself through a simple emoji while simultaneously vacuuming the living room. I promised to give it a try.
And since I usually found myself scrambling at the end of the day to cobble together a family dinner, I vowed to try harder in this arena, too. Racing through the grocery store grabbing the nearest bagged chicken was not going to serve as my scapegoat any longer, because my family knew the difference between the sweet aromatic flavor of a homemade roasted chicken and its feeble imposter. I was efficient in my efforts but fooling no one.
I wanted to guide myself, and ultimately my children, toward a routine where the small gestures yielded grand satisfaction. So, one day I dutifully pointed out to my kids that when their dad scraped off all the snow from my car early one morning, that meant he was paying attention to the little things that ultimately carry a lot of weight. Doing weekly chores as a kid does the trick, too, I pointed out.
Becoming observant to all this little stuff is a colossal effort for me and has required lots of practice and even more patience. Since I’m not filled with an abundance of either, I’ve obviously been looking for a shortcut. There doesn’t seem to be a way around gratitude and I’ve had no choice but to slow down, simplify, and start focusing on the little stuff that truly matters.
I may not always be the best guide and teacher to the ones I love, but there are some great ones around me. Some send meaningful packages or leave wordy voice messages instead of sending me a text. One, in particular, brings me coffee in bed. That’s the small stuff I can happily get behind.
Andrea Chacos lives in Carbondale, balancing work and happily raising three children with her husband. She strives to dodge curveballs life likes to throw with a bit of passion, humor and some flair.
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