The simple life

A friend of mine is on the cusp of separating from his wife, and is looking for a place to live. On his own. I shared with him the freedom and joy I felt myself when, many years ago, I left a long-term partner and moved into a quiet little attic suite. The tra3 Tulipsnquillity of it! It was weeks before I was even tempted to invite a friend over for a cuppa.

Those memories led me to reflect on my own life now. I believe in simplicity. Know what you want and walk toward it; tell the truth; speak your mind; don’t let your imagination carry you away. Choose the least complicated solution.

So how did it come to pass that I chose to co-house with not one but five other people? Why, when I retired, a stage at which most people are decluttering their lives, did I choose to fill mine with people? What had me abandon the possibility of a simple life?

– Because, believe me, this path is anything but simple. Let me provide you with some examples of the day-to-day world of the Shedders.

Let’s start with the television. We have a fine big TV room in our co-op house. We chose to have it in the lower part of the house, down with the garden shed and the garages, because we didn’t want the noise intruding into the open spaces of our lounge room.

We’ve found we use it quite a lot. Most evenings, as we’re clearing up after dinner, someone will say, “What’ll we watch tonight?”

There are distinct advantages. For example, last May we all began watching a TV series called Borgen, and Rick and I continued on while we were in Canada these last few months. We both loved it and enjoyed debating the subtleties of each episode – but it wasn’t quite the same without the repartee of rest of the group; without Eve’s observant questions, Daniel’s dry comments, Judy’s heartfelt gasps of dismay. The experience reinforced for me that it’s more fun watching something together.

But let me paint a picture of the challenges.

Individual taste is a surprisingly minor issue for us. We tend to appreciate the same movies and the same TV series (we’re big on the latter; Daniel researches Metacritic and finds ones that are well-regarded). But of course, not always. Judy doesn’t like violence (there goes Breaking Bad and Boardwalk Empire). Rick’s not fond of sub-titles (although he’s happily survived Borgen, Prisoners of War and The Bridge). Eve’s not into science fiction. Daniel gets bored with syrupy. Michael likes his dramas a little obscure. I need to have characters I can cheer for.

Now combine the individual taste issues with the challenge of scheduling. Here’s where it gets wild. If we would content ourselves with watching movies (a two hour investment), it might not be so bad, but we tend to get obsessed with TV series (which can get up to a hundred hours). And the old days of “It’s on Wednesdays at 8:00, be there or miss out” are over. Nowadays one watches a series from Episode 1 and proceeds methodically from there.

The problem is, although we are a household of six, it’s surprising how seldom all of us are around. For example, Rick and I are just back from our ritual three months overseas. Michael and Judy have been in Sydney for the last few days visiting grandchildren and medicos. And this weekend Eve and Daniel are away staying with friends in Dungog.

So when someone says at dinner time, “What shall we watch tonight?” – it can start a logistical nightmare. Somebody’s got behind one episode, somebody sneaked ahead, somebody wants to try a new series, somebody’d rather watch a movie. That means there’s often somebody who gets overruled or ignored, who has to sit through viewing half-heartedly or goes off to read a book. It’s a miracle, really, that we watch anything together.

To further drive home the point about the complexity of the co-household life:

  • The Shedders have all joined the Wingham choir, a half hour’s drive away. If we’re all in situ, the trip requires two cars. So: who will drive? Who drove last time? Who will go with whom? Do we all feeling like staying afterward for dinner with the other songbirds?
  • And then there’s eating together. I’ve written before about the joys of shared meals. But as one heads off to cook the meal, there are things to consider. It might be one of Rick’s near-fast days. Or perhaps Daniel’s on a protein diet for a few weeks. Or you find out that Eve’s bought fish for tomorrow night and guess what you have in the fridge intended for tonight’s supper?
  • Let’s not omit the challenges of guests and guestrooms. I just got an email from good friends in Sydney saying they’d like to come up for the long weekend. Gone are the days of firing an email back saying, “Of course; bring a couple of reds and we’ll have dinner ready when you get here.” Rather, there’s checking with the housemates to make sure that nobody else is in the middle of inviting guests in that slot. There’s working out who’s cooking and what’s fair in terms of meal preparation, and what to include guests in and what not. Gets complicated.

In summary, here’s the formula:

One person household = do what you want, when you want

Two person household = minor negotiation

Six person household = exponential complexity

At this point you may be groaning, “I knew this kind of life wasn’t for me.” Fair enough. It surely can’t be for everyone.

But (as a regular reader of this blog) you’re more likely saying, “Aha, I see – but I can also see that under the complexity lurks an incredible abundance and variety with spicy challenges that must enrich your lives exponentially as well.”

Well-spotted. In my view, unless you’re a monk, you’d want what we have. Granted that, as with my friend who is amidst a distraught wife, meetings with lawyers and endless advice from friends, there are times when you need a quiet place to heal your wounds. But the rest of the time, let’s dive in and mix it up.

Simplicity has its place, but I say let’s mostly opt for a rollicking, swashbuckling time.

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