Less Is More

A few years ago, women who had embraced Simple Abundance raced to buy Sarah Ban Breathnach’s Something More. I hit the bookstore with the same toothy smile of anticipation as the twenty women in line ahead of me. As I worked my way through the book, I waited in vain for my body to pebble with the gooseflesh that announces one of my epiphanies. Breathnach’s premise that I excavate my past like a highly organized archeologist lacked appeal. I figured I’d uncover a noxious landfill with no value other than excessive gas. I have learned that being my best self does not require digging more up, but tossing more into the landfill instead.

Over the years, I have been steadily letting go. At age 25 I finally let go of the need to be manipulated by my mother, by taking a shaky stand over the phone.  When I hung up freedom felt like nausea. Guilt was the first garbage I threw out … or up. Over the next ten years the garbage containers in the house filled with my throw-a-ways. I tossed the need to say “yes” to everyone and everything, the hunger to be liked by all; my need to take responsibility for everyone plus their dog and their cat.  I gave up the idea that what I did had to be perfect; the idea that what I did mattered to anyone but me.  A pile grew in the back yard as I emptied this trash from my life. My streamlined persona became noticeable and others tagged me with labels like rebel, introvert, anti social and made noises that indicated I was bucking the system.

I hid from their disapproval in Crohn’s Disease for a half a decade.  In the process I let go of most of my intestines, all of my modesty, my idea that I always had to give more than I took. I dumped any thought that I was indispensable – the kids still grew up and the cats found another lap to lie on.

I eliminated the compulsion to host trés eleganté dinner parties that left me standing on swollen feet washing delicate china till 2:00 a.m. When my children begged me to make Christmas simpler so they could enjoy it, I threw out the social paradigm that it had to start in October and end with a bout of stress induced flu in January. From 30 to 40 years old I discarded so many of society’s upside down beliefs, I became a junk collector’s dream.

As forty slammed into fifty my refuse pile became a neighborhood eyesore.  It was time to move. I heaped on the bustle of city life, the constant round of people, places, interruptions and noise. I eliminated a big house, abandoned, with relief, ornaments and furniture that sat for six years in storage. I gave away my obsession with time, and let go of expectations of people and myself, and refused to take ownership of their expectations of me. The crash of my short-term memory helped me to minimize multi tasking. Burnout forced me to walk away from duty to the church, begrudging contribution to the community and empty my life of people who had moved on while I insisted on hanging on. I left city life and returned to my roots, where I found the confidence to be still, to sit in silence, to quiet my mind.

A year later I eliminated a second home, the long drive between two provinces and the numb bottom that came with it. I’m one woman in one house with loads of time I won’t give away. But I will lend it – to meditation, quiet walks, writing and domesticity, a good talk with friends, a helping hand to family.

The bulldozer came and lifted the junk out of my virtual backyard into a garbage truck that trundled it away.  I hope there is no one at the dump picking through the accumulation of misguided thinking I discarded, in hopes of taking something home. I lived too many years among the toxic waste of what society said was right or wrong. I am free, having tossed the belief that there is a right and wrong and replaced it with the knowledge that there are just different ways of doing and being. I am who I want to be not by digging down into the bones of my past but by paring my life down to the bone.


  1. Laurie Hutchinson
    Feb 10, 2014

    Selecting what your life will be is a blessing — stopping and taking time for what is important is a decision. Seeing life differently eliminates comparisons and offers a message to others about the uniqueness of living a life with meaning. Thank you for you thoughts Madelon.

    • Madelon
      Feb 10, 2014

      Laurie, it is good to share ideas, your input around living fully, triggers more of mine. Editing one’s life is an evolutionary process. In the end all we need is our spiritual energy.

      • BLT
        Mar 3, 2014

        Your description of your journey through Crohne’s and how you learned to remove self imposed stressers from your life in order to heal and be more ‘whole’ is proving very helpful to me.
        I thought I had done a lot of that work and yet when Crohne’s attacked me later in life it clearly showed me that you can declutter and when your back is turned your life can fill back up with self imposed demands. It is time for me to do early spring cleaning.

        • Madelon
          Mar 4, 2014

          Thanks for your comment, I’m sure it will help others dealing with overload. I find de-stressing moves in a constant circle. I allow things into my life till I’m loaded like a pack mule, then find I can’t carry the weight. Exhausted from my inability to handle the amount I’ve taken on, I come to a standstill (bed, the doctor’s). Kicking till I dump my load, I rest. Then the cycle starts again. But balance plays a huge part in keeping my coping abilities high, and my stressors low. Stress is a constant, so we do need to deal with it, in a healthy way. I balance my load by limiting what I take on to priorities. By leaving empty space in my schedule for the unexpected, like accidents, a friend asking for help, an urgent meeting, I can factor them in without creating the overload problem. It doesn’t always work, sometimes things fly at me from every direction, but it’s a plan, and it helps. And matching high pressure times with scheduled downtimes, helps me keep my Crohn’s under control.

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