Living Simple, or Simply Living?

by Erika Kivik

Where I’m from, it’s hip to live simply.

And, as a socially-conscious-urban-type, I usually don’t mind if simplicity is thought to be sexy: “the simple life” is a game I have often played. I have even congratulated myself for doing so—after all, if doing good doesn’t hurt my self-image…so what?

Plus, when I try to live simply, I am sometimes rewarded by even bigger amounts of small—money saved, chemicals reduced, simpler thoughts thunk, and so on.

Yet, moving from a population of 3 million-plus to a town of 140, has thrown me: after several monotonous days of sorting simple things to distribute to a community of people with simple needs (like food, clothes, running water, bicycle tires, and rides to the doctor), I’ve learned something about the simple life: it can be mundane.

I’m ashamed to admit my surprise that “living simple” is different than celebrating simplicity. The latter (that is, what I do in Toronto) usually results in a choice to buy local and organic food; a decision to purchase used furniture, clothing, books and music; and a desire to brew my own tea and coffee, or to ride my bike.

But when there’s no 24-hour grocery store, and—for goodness’ sake—no Tim Ho’s for the days I sleep in (dammit!), I find that I am no longer celebrating simplicity, but living simple.

Here are some examples that I hope will illustrate the difference.

I was sitting in “Karmeli Koguduse” church a few days ago with a headache that had started small but soon began to radiate (the electricity had been out all day and the combination of no caffeine and almost-24-hour sunshine had taken its toll).

As the minutes passed, the two-hour service transformed from an environment in which I was enabled to seek God into one where I didn’t care about anything—that is, except to run to out for a blessed cup of coffee, or even better, to a pharmacy that would sell me relief in pill-form…precisely what I could not do.

I was at the mercy of the environment I was in. I was living simple.

…Also, last week I finally got the chance to visit Rakvere, the biggest “city” around (that’s a population of 14,000, for you urbanites who would challenge my definition of city). I was in heaven, gliding freely through the “crowds,” and waiting in line to use the ATM; while Mati, aged 6 (who is always showing off and doing tricks on his bike at home in Avispea) nervously slipped his hand in mine in innocent, and gut, reaction to “all” the people.

As the day progressed, I began to notice more acutely something that I’ve been seeing since I arrived in Estonia (which is an unusual mix of “first” and “third” world at present—meaning the memory of living simple—the mundane kind—is fresh in everyone’s mind, even those who aren’t, anymore). What I have noticed is an awful lot of people dressed in sleek, hip hop, designer styles. Make no mistake—if you have the means to decide how to to express yourself, in Estonia, you dress to show your status.

Gradually, I found myself frustrated that no one, was appreciating my “I-don’t-care-what-I’m-wearing-je-ne-sais-quoi-urban-student” wardrobe…and suddenly it hit me: Oh snap!…What happened to living simple?

Erika Kivik

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