“Don’t buy anything — go for a hike!” I texted to a friend who takes an inordinate amount of pleasure in finding a deal. Wisely, she didn’t engage. I put my phone on a bookshelf and set off for the day’s adventure.
I jumped back from the road, my boots squishing into the tender ground as a driver zipped past leaving a dirty mist to settle over me. This place wasn’t built for humans on feet. Despite this being a residential area of suburban eastern West Virginia, there isn’t a sidewalk to be seen. No parks — only “No Trespassing” signs hanging from slanting fences or nailed to trees.
Still, it’s lovely. For my Midwestern eyes, even the gentle Blue Ridge Mountains — more reminiscent of dollops of ice cream than the craggy peaks of the West — transfix me. They’re beautiful when sun-drenched beneath an endless blue sky, and they were arresting veiled by a gentle rain.
Yet, in the midst of all this beauty, all I mustered was a grumble at the motorist, and I heartily congratulated myself on getting outside for a walk while others spew noxious fumes into the atmosphere or vegetate in front of a screen.
I hiked up to Maryland Heights. Our group got there through a challenging circuitous route that included the summit before dipping back down the rock face. Sun broke through a low, gray sky casting rays over the undulating fields, red barns, waterways, and patches of forest below.
It was cold. Just above freezing. But the climb proved to be just what my body needed after Thanksgiving’s indulgence. I gulped in chilly, clean air. When I came to the rocks of Maryland Heights overlooking Harpers Ferry and the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah, I sat on a granite slab and breathed.
The rivers were high, both roaring towards the Atlantic — cold and murky with runoff from some November snows. That’s how I spent Black Friday.
I was smug on that mountain.
In those moments, I thought myself so superior to the barbarian hoards rushing to stores for the sake of getting a new TV or a robot vacuum or some other thing.
And yet — the whole purpose behind a conscious choice for minimalism is to allow more space for what brings joy. I hadn’t created space for love or understanding or even just for a fun activity. Lately, I’d only freed up space to be a jerk.
While every day can’t involve a trek on the Appalachian Trail, there’s beauty everywhere — even in the squishy mud caked on my boots after my unceremonious banishment from the road. I know this on an intellectual level, but I don’t always see or appreciate it. Sometimes I have a particularly hard time finding it through the noise — more able to see it in a mud puddle in a gently-falling rain than a Netflix show playing in another room when I’d rather just read in peace. Yet it’s there — beauty in the human ingenuity that brings us our wired world. Beauty in the minds that create quality content for us all to enjoy.
I always have to be mindful not to universalize my preferences and then label them “good” and their opposites “bad.” If simplicity and minimalism are espoused by a curmudgeon, some might dismiss them as tenets that are life-sapping rather than the opposite.
I’ll have grown as a human when I can let go of my judgments and live intentionally, lightly, simply, and with love and encourage others, not with shame and a scold, but with joy.
Then I won’t have just simplified my wardrobe or my workflow or the distractions in my life or any of the other things that top 8, 10, 20 lists of how to be simpler.
I will have introduced my ego to minimalism and made space for loved ones around me to find their joy.