I’m not a fan of specific days or months being allocated to observe something, I like to think people are capable of caring about issues they believe in every day of their lives. However, perhaps declaring Black History Month or one day to celebrate Earth brings an awareness over time that helps raise people’s consciousness. Analogous to Earth Day, I have been thinking about simplifying my lifestyle. I feel a strong and exciting calling to leave my suburban existence behind and to design a new lifestyle based on what I have learned is really important to me.
In my twenties when I lived in the city, my belief was that it was a sin to live in San Francisco without a view; therefore that was my number one lifestyle criterion. My other criteria was to be in a neighborhood among friendly people, enjoy great food and drink, and I could walk or take a $5 cab ride to anywhere I wanted to go. My 1930 railroad flat on Telegraph Hill may not have had great plumbing but my ‘hood was North Beach. Every morning I walked down the hill to Washington Square to catch the bus to my job near the Golden Gate Bridge. If I missed a day, the old Italian men who visited each morning on the park bench would check up on me. With old country accents, they’d simply ask, “Hey, where were you?” Getting off the bus in the evening, I’d stop at Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store and enjoy a Focaccia sandwich and glass of Chianti at the five-seat bar. Like every bar and restaurant in my neighborhood, the owners would watch out for me and ensure that I could enjoy myself unmolested by people they didn’t know.
In 1993, my once peaceful neighborhood park started to be overrun with unwashed, drunk, drugged-out or mentally ill men who accosted young women like myself or openly pee’d in front of families. That year, I met my husband, Bobby, through a series of events having to do with a wedding and a white water rafting trip. Bobby lived across the bridge in a place called Marin County. After a year of dating “long distance”, I left my compact San Francisco urban lifestyle and joined him in his ranch house on a quarter acre lot next to an open space preserve. His wide circle of friends shared their love for outdoor recreation, restaurants, bars and hot tubbing at his place. While I loved Bobby, I was less enamored by suburban living; I thought I’d fallen into the abyss where no one would be able to find me. However, I consider myself a good sport and I was willing to give it a try, so I threw myself into decorating, gardening and exploring outdoor recreation. The former went better than the latter, as my nickname quickly became “Bruiser.”
I distinctly remember discovering suburban shopping. I had never been to a Target and had never heard of the discount clothing and home store, Marshalls. I thought Marshall’s was pretty neat and I enjoyed bringing home new tablecloths, cloth napkins, napkin rings, candles, candle holders, vases, and various knickknacks. Eventually I bought clear bins that I stored in the laundry room for “extra stuff” and seasonal tchotchkes. My kitchen cupboards became crammed with lovely serving pieces in various colors and patterns that I would bring out for themed dinner parties and backyard BBQs. Of course, the same pattern was happening in the bedroom and I soon had a hall closet full of sheet sets, decorative pillows and comforters for every season.
Like many people before me, my interests have changed and I find myself eager to design a lifestyle that better fits what’s important to me presently. I’m glad for the experience of living the suburban lifestyle, now I won’t ever feel like I’ve missed out, but I find myself returning to my old criteria. I want to live in an uncluttered, simple home with things I love that includes a library that equates to peace and quiet. I want to live in a place of natural beauty yet it is not isolated so I can walk to cafés and restaurants. I want to live where I can meet interesting people who I share some commonality with yet I can discover new things through knowing them.
I bet my experience, and my criteria is not that different than many people of my generation. Interestingly, if we all act upon the urge to declutter and simplify, we will be positively contributing to helping Mother Earth.