There was a summer about 10 years ago when Mike started reading Thoreau. He soon became obsessed with the idea of simplicity.
He was 17 the year he wore the exact same pair of jeans every day for 365 days. He didn’t do it as a challenge or a bet, but because he “liked that pair of jeans.”
This was also the year he exclusively wore clothes that were second hand, only shopping at Goodwill and regularly wearing an old campaign t-shirt that read “Clinton for the People.”
This gets funnier with time.
Mike was the high school athlete that didn’t own a letter jacket or a cell phone, didn’t pay for senior pictures or a class ring, and didn’t own a car. He walked to school every day without being embarrassed.
In 2003, Mike was also the 4th fastest hurdler in the country. He was recruited by Stanford, Cornell, Princeton, and others, but you would never know it. He spent most of his time barefoot, playing ultimate Frisbee at the park or going camping by himself.
Our first date occurred when he spontaneously stopped by my house and asked if I liked kung fu movies.
So we started dating.
Now, 10 years later, simplicity is the life-phase that never passed.
Mike doesn’t have Facebook, Instagram, or any other social media. He uses a $12 cell phone from Walmart that barely sends text messages and he rides his bike to work every day.
When I decided to pursue writing full-time for a season, it took months of campaigning and pleading to convince him that I could use a laptop of my own. The issue wasn’t that we didn’t have the money. It was that Mike believed no family should own two computers at the same time.
Most of the time, Mike is neither embarrassed nor impressed by material things. The exceptions mostly apply to items purchased at REI or vehicles that are exceptionally fuel efficient.
All of this matters now because we are entering a phase of expansion. There’s a baby coming, and we hear he/she comes with stuff. Simplicity gets complicated fast.
In light of my husband’s Thoreau-tendencies, I started researching the bare essentials of baby sustenance. In other words, if we were raising a baby on deserted island, what are the five things we would need? The general consensus was:
Car seat. Stroller and/or carrier. Bassinet/sleeping contraption. Changing pad. Diapers.
So began my baby simplicity crusade. I started looking around our apartment and getting a little crazy with space-efficient ideas.
I thought we could put a changing pad on the wine rack and use that as a multi-tasking changing station. I thought we could hang on to the guest room and only buy a teeny bassinet for the corner of our bedroom. I thought we could store baby clothes in plastic drawers underneath the guest bed.
I assumed we could get by with changing almost nothing about this worn-in life we have. For some reason, I thought that was the goal.
So it was with great enthusiasm that I presented these simplicity-ideas to Mike, the man that balks at paying for cable television and thinks 3D movies should be replaced “by going outside.”
In my simplicity baby-pitch, I got as far as suggesting the changing table on the wine rack.
Then Mike stopped me.
“No!” he said, “It’s important to make a space for this baby. I don’t mind making space.”
He was right. My man of simplicity was the first to recognize the value of making room.
Because it is important to make space, to grow and expand, even if this tiny person won’t take up much space at all. Maybe the act of nesting is preparing the invitation, welcoming a little complication into our worn-in lives, clearing out a space to say “There is room for you, little one. We have room for you here, specifically.”
For so many years, I have known what it means to be hospitable to friends and family and strangers: to change sheets over and over again, to wash and re-fold towels, to stockpile extra food, to keep extra toothbrushes and body wash, to invite dinner guests around our increasingly rickety table.
Hospitality is all about creating an atmosphere that is so strategically orchestrated that guests resonate with your home. They seamlessly fill the space you prepared for them.
So how do you show hospitality to someone who is coming to your house to make it home for good? How do you welcome a baby?
I guess you make room.
You don’t put a changing pad on the wine rack (unless you have to).
You wash the sheets, change the bedding, and buy a crib— because a comfy place to sleep is the first invitation for a long-term guest.
You make space at the dinner table— even if that table is homemade and a little bit rickety— you still make space.
You spend a little bit of money—maybe on groceries or decorations or comfier chairs. Celebration and hospitality always cost us something.
Because the guest is worth it.
This little one is worth it.
So this expansion season is a careful dance between simplicity and celebration. It is learning when to practice the self control of simplicity and when to invest in the joyful extravagance of celebration.
Mike was the first one to look at baby gear. A few weeks ago, he sent me a link to a crib, a beautiful white baby crib. In the e-mail he said, “I like this crib, but it’s from Walmart. Can we buy things for our kid from Walmart? Is that allowed? Is that what we’re supposed to do?”
The dance between simplicity and celebration rages on. We’ve never done this before, so we are learning how.
Even still, we are making room beyond the wine rack.
We are preparing the invitation to come home.