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Basics & Essentials are two different things

I’ve always had a rather ambivalent view of the word Lifestyle—at least how we use it in this culture. To many, it seems to conjure up images that focus more on pop culture relevance or burgeoning aesthetic trends and fads. Usually there’s far greater emphasis on “Style”, rather than “Life”. Yet, it’s the “life” part that drives (or should propel) the “style” part, which is why it’s first.

We tend to think of lifestyle as an elite asperational social barometer and not as the individual expression that it should be. By doing so, we often opt ourselves out of the equation based on some pre-ordered criteria or standard of living, which we don’t think we can achieve or can even be part of.

Once, in an age where conformity ruled, that was somewhat understandable. However today, in a world of “personal branding” where many of the past norms have been cast aside, one would think that we’d be a bit more daring in how we represent ourselves. Surprisingly were not.

We often don’t see a defined, well-curated lifestyle as an essential. It’s probably because we connect it directly to social status and income. We get trapped into thinking “lifestyle” is all about money and based on where we are in the pecking order of the “Haves and the Have-nots. Like, “Someday I’ll have a lifestyle when I can afford it. Right now I’m just trying to put food on the table.”

Ironically the truest most accurate definition of lifestyle is: “one’s daily existence.” That means for many, waiting for greater wealth accumulation to catapult them into the status they desire; all they’re really doing is postponing their very quality of life right now.

Lifestyle and the quality of it is in the accumulative little details; in the tiny personal self-indulgences we provide ourselves—the rituals we create and the ceremonial pleasures that turn mundanely into magic. These are things one cannot buy. Trust me, I know many wealthy folks who’ve tried and are miserable. Many have bought the things they thought befitting to their station. They have all the toys, yet live a joyless existence because they never curated an individual lifestyle for them selves--only emulated one. So nothing tells their story accurately nor gives the intimate, soulful pleasure that comes with careful curation.

For years I’d lived a very well curated life. I never owned much, but everything I did posses had great meaning to me if not in form than in function. I lived a life based on “instead of” rather than “in addition to.”

As I chronicled in other blogs; then came the Christopher Lowell years where I had abundance from which to choose. Either for inclusion on my show or simply for bragging rights, people were constantly shoving amazing swag in my face ---and often for free! Suddenly the house had to be bigger and then a storage facility was needed and while the style of the life took a huge leap forward, the life part itself was slowly being choked out. Nothing made me sadder or lonelier than walking through rooms I didn’t need, filled with “treasures” that never got used. It was like living in a museum or being the only guest in a five-start hotel. HATED IT!

Soon as I decided to end my show and leave LA, I got rid of most of it. When I moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico I was so proud of the purge until the 18-wheel moving truck arrived. It took a while to rethink my essentials based on the life I really lived verses the one I thought I wanted. Still I was retrofitting and I knew it. I needed to really observe how I lived now. ---What I really used and what I was still stashing out if indecision. I finally told myself the truth. Like, I loved to cook, but discovered I wasn’t so keen on the actual entertaining anymore. If I wasn’t entertaining anymore than why did my living room still need to comfortably seat twelve people? If I rarely had visitors why were there two guest bedrooms? Well…you get the drift.

What I finally discovered is that I was actually ready for a completely new life altogether. So when I finally did leave Santa Fe it was only with what I could fit in the back of my SUV. Everything else went to a consignment shop. I was free again to make new choices…decide what this next phase of my life would look like first, unencumbered with stuff.

This time I’d start with the truths I’d learned about myself first…the honest evaluation of the real life I wanted. Only then would I choose the essentials that enhanced only the quality of THAT life.

I had to re-learned that a well-curated lifestyle is one where nothing is taken for granted and where the concept of “the basics” does not even exist in one’s vocabulary much less ever get confused with “The Essentials.”

With time, finally I took pride is the quality of life once again. I put gratitude back and front and center.

Today, I clean my house but not as a chore, this time I do it lovingly, each time taking inventory of what have, what I needed and what I didn’t. I’m continually asking:

“Does this still please me or is it a placeholder?”

“Is this where it’s supposed to be, where I actually use it?”

“How many of these cloths actually fit my new lifestyle now that I’ve been here awhile?”

“If I’m still jamming stuff it the dresser, is it time to purge again?”

With careful and intentional thought I’ve once again become thankful for what I have. Since I now live in every square inch of my home, time is more manageable so cleaning and weekly inventory is a ceremonial ritual I embrace and look forward too.

Oh and if you’re wondering—yes, I also still work full time. But how I work changed too. This time, I made sure that the job I took allowed me flexibility in time verses money. It was essential that I could dig in the garden before work, write when something moves me, go shopping at the grocery store at non-peak hours and actually enjoy it. Prepare a meal with pleasure instead of crashing through my life burdened and against the clock where it feels like a treadmill. Yes, I make far less than what I’m worth according to my past accomplishments but now, living with only my true essential, life is far cheaper so I just created a new math putting the same emphasis and value on time as I’d once put on cold hard cash.

On the weekends I hit the thrift and consignment shops versus the mall. I’m not fighting the crowds to have the same stuff everyone else has. The things I find there are mostly one-of-a-kind and made with better quality at a fourth of the price and imprinted with a sense of history. The people are more interesting and I get into amazing conversations while also enjoying the field trip through various hamlets I’d otherwise never see from the highway.

I’m still searching for the next lifestyle truth because life is fluid and a well-curated lifestyle should always be evolving with the person living it. Some things give me less joy than I thought. And having purges back to almost nothing, I have no fear of loss. If it doesn’t tell my story accurately anymore then back to the donation pile it goes because hording creates apathy and as I’ve discovered, is totally fear-based and besides, after all is said and done you can’t take it with you anyway.


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