Natural Life Magazine

The Gifts of Creativity and Simple Living
by Liz Snyder

A simple life is not just self-sufficient. It’s the creative energy of our souls, made manifest through our hands.

The Gifts of Creativity

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 the outcome?

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 devalue creation.

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 happiness.

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 uniquely you.

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 creating.

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 creation.

That shaky chain of yarn? It’s Helen’s gift to herself, and to the world.

Liz Snyder is a writer, food activist, farm-starter, and mama to the fabulous Helen. Liz and Helen learn together, at home and out in the world. They live in California.


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