Yesterday, I watched my daughter Helen have her friend teach her how to
crochet. Sitting on a bench at a local park, the two girls were rapt with
concentration as my daughter’s fingers slowly but surely figured out how to
loop and pull. Her movements were clumsy, her results loose and ill-formed.
I cringed at her frustration, reminded painfully of myself, of my childhood.
“I’m just not good at this!” she announced, starting to walk away. I drew
her onto my lap and we tried again, two sets of not-so-deft hands moving
together. Finally, a chain started to form, and her face lit up like the
sun. “I did it!” she cried. I hugged her tight, relieved, as she continued
to bend that spool of blue yarn to her will.
I have spent years denying or belittling my own creative spirit. “I’m not
artistic” and “I’m just not the crafty type” are phrases I’ve used since the
dawn of time. And yet, today, when I asked Helen what her favorite part of
her day was, her response was, “You mean, besides learning to crochet?” That
shaky chain of yarn, that frustration – it was the most rewarding thing she
did all day.
Creativity is so much more than doing arts and crafts. Every time I cook a
meal, I am a creator. Every time you plant a seed, darn a sock, fix your own
appliances, tell a story, do a little dance, or write a blog post – you are
engaging in an act of creative influence. Creativity is your heart giving
birth to its own vision of the world through the medium of your body. So why
are we so quick to deny ourselves our creativity? Why are we so focused on
I have always felt drawn to voluntary simplicity. Years ago,
I read the book Your Money or Your Life and it put me on a wild, winding
path of self-discovery and, ultimately, a radical change in my thinking.
However, while simple living has made me happy in ways too profound to
articulate, I’ve always had trouble with the reasoning that consumption in
and of itself is inherently evil. I was turned off by prideful austerity,
and by summary judgments of those not on this path.
I truly believe that consumption itself is not the problem. Consumption out
of balance with creation is the problem. We all have the need to consume,
and we all have the need to create. As children, we naturally do both. The
problem is that in our society, we’ve learned to value consumption and
Consumption is a necessary part of life – be it buying goods we need,
getting lost in a good book or movie, or going out to eat. It’s just when we
use consumption to fill the void caused by lack of creative energy in our
lives that things go bad. We mistake the outer symbols of success
(consumption) with the inner needs of the soul (creativity). We feel this
emptiness – and then we shop, read, watch, and eat our way into a coma in an
attempt to fill the void. What is the void? I’m not sure exactly, but I know
it’s something that can only be filled by creating. But unlike consumption,
creativity isn’t so closely tied to our economy, or our social status, or
what our neighbor thinks of us. And so we get out of balance. Consumption
becomes the measuring stick by which we gauge our status and, therefore, our
Creativity isn’t just something to do. It is something we need, deeply with
our whole souls. That’s why consumption makes us feel so empty, so wrong.
It’s not the act of consuming itself, it’s what we’re using it for. We’re
using it to fill the void of our creative needs – a hole that can never be
filled by buying or watching or eating.
For me, it’s time to reframe the concept of radical simplicity, of the idea
that as a society we need to reskill and turn back to simple ways of living.
We don’t need to do it (just) because of peak oil, or because consumer
culture is evil, or because it’s immoral to want stuff. Wanting stuff is
fine. But wanting needs to be balanced with making. Making the lives we want
– with our hearts and our hands. Being creators. A simple life is not just
self-sufficient. It’s the creative energy of our souls, made manifest
through our hands. It fills the void and gives voice to that which is
For me, creativity involves finding ways to express myself without shame or
self-criticism. It’s getting from “I’m not artistic” to “I’m a creator.”
Bringing something from inside my heart out into the world in a tangible
way. Sharing who I am, what I love, and how I feel. It’s a way of connecting
with others…of molding my environment, taking a piece of what I have
imagined and putting it in the world. Of having choice. Of feeling power. Of
In our house, creativity takes on a multitude of forms both big and small.
We get creative with our food by gardening, cooking, and sharing meals with
family. We build traditions around creativity with holiday crafts, homemade
gifts and decorations, and the delicious fun of inventing our own rituals
and traditions. We paint rocks at the dinner table. Once in a blue moon, we
do the mamba in the living room. Even more mundane life is filled with
opportunities to exercise creativity – whether it’s fixing and repairing
stuff, writing a blog, or telling family stories to little ones.
I think that a great majority of us are out of balance – we’re riding along
in the passenger seat of mindless consumption, using that wild ride to fill
an emptiness we can’t define. And for those of us who have wiggled our way
out of that mentality, we’re still left with emptiness, or anger, or
confusion as to why the world is what it is. Why do we live in this consumer
culture, and why can’t I seem to opt out of it? Why can’t my kids?
Consciously bringing creativity into my life shifts that, puts it in context
— it gives our family’s choices meaning, and the world our gift of joyful
That shaky chain of yarn? It’s Helen’s gift to herself, and to the world.