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Striving for the simple life

January 15, 2006|By JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

What is the simple life? And how can we get it?

"The world has been getting busier and busier and more complicated for many years now," says Amanda Potters, senior public relations manager for Real Simple, part of Time Inc.

The goal at Real Simple magazine is to make life easier or better with mostly short articles about food, home, clothing, gift-giving and more, she says.

The magazine has grown increasingly popular since its launch in April 2000, Potters says, and recently began a television show on PBS and "Real Simple Solutions" on the XM Satellite Radio women's network, Take Five.

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The simple life used to mean getting rid of a lot of stuff, Potters says.

"It's not about doing without, (but) more about choosing what you want around you, the activities you want to be doing," she says.

Cascade resident Richard Dougan, 42, chose to cut back on the meetings and activities he was involved with as an active member of four veterans organizations.

"You've only got so many hours in the day," he says.

Many of those hours are spent working and attending classes.

Dougan gets up at 2 a.m. to get to work at 6 a.m. as an electrician in Washington, D.C. After work, he attends evening night classes to earn an electrical engineering degree.

The classes should make his life easier when the physical aspect of electrical work becomes too demanding. Then he can do less strenuous planning and designing of electrical systems.

While some people might think eating out simplifies life, Dougan has the opposite view.

"I try to do more cooking at home. I don't go out as much as I used to. I'm getting back to cooking as my parents did," he says.

Hagerstown resident Cathy Divel prepares two dinners each weekday, an earlier meal for her husband who works a late shift at Mack Trucks and a later meal for her and the children.

Divel says her family tries to live a simple life, but it's difficult.

They're not as organized as they'd like to be, but they try to set priorities.

"We just try to remember what the priorities are," she says.

The main priority is spending time with family. Her brother-in-law, Maryland National Guard Sgt. Randy Divel, was seriously injured recently in Iraq. About 40 percent of his body was burned after a bomb exploded near his vehicle on Christmas Eve.

"That's really put things in perspective," Cathy Divel says.

As the working parents of a 17-month-old girl, Boonsboro resident Brandi Neal says she and her boyfriend, Scott Palmer, "try to find the simplest things we can do."

They set priorities, which include setting aside nest eggs for their retirement and their daughter's future.

But living a simple life is a lot about attitude.

"Be cool, laid back and don't be uptight and don't be impatient," Neal says. That's a philosophy she hopes to pass on to her daughter, Kaylee Palmer.

"She's already laid back. I just want her to keep that when she gets older."

"Nowadays people tell you what to do. We just want her to do what she wants to do," Neal says.

Lowell McDonald, 35, of Martinsburg, W.Va., pursues simplicity by avoiding being materialistic.

"I do have a simple life," McDonald says "Pretty much by just living for one purpose: to glorify the Lord. I don't chase after too many things."

Recently, he was considering buying a car, but a friend with a similar life perspective gave him one, McDonald says.

"I've got four kids so it's kind of hard to stay simple," he says. "I think it comes down to perspective and priorities. So many people chase so many things because they don't know what's important."

Hagerstown resident Betty Harris also uses prioritizing to simplify her life.

"Make your priorities and don't make your expectations too high. Keep your expectations low. Get as many errands done on one trip as you can," says Harris, 45.

Get everything done, go home and relax, she says.

Like Harris, Michael Sigl, 38, equates the simple life with relaxing.

He's already made a move in that direction, finding Hagerstown more relaxing than his previous home, Jacksonville, Fla.

Getting to know the area by going to the various parks also relaxes him and helps him become more familiar with the region, Sigl says.

He's not much of a procrastinator either.

"Try to nip it in the bud. I find that saves me a lot of time and trouble," Sigl says.

"The motto of my life is ''Tis a gift to be simple,'" says Donna Berard, 65, of Chambersburg, Pa.

"I was very busy and crazy when I was young," Berard says. Now the kids are grown and she's retired from being a sales representative, so living the simple life is easier.

Being organized and methodical also has helped.

"When you're organized, tasks - daily tasks - become easier," Berard says.

Instead of going to bed with a sink full of dirty dishes, "If you wake up to a kitchen that is in order, it makes your day go easier," she says.

And junk mail? "I throw it away. I don't have any piles of anything," says Berard, who has been married for 45 years to her husband, Rene.

"There's so many gadgets, the cell phones and the Blackberries, that people are never really alone anymore," Berard says.

Life might be simpler if we could all return to the basics of life, go back to the days of the horse and buggy, says Joyce Chaney, 42, of Hagerstown.

"It might have been a harder life, but it was still simple," she says.

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