At the time, I couldn’t tell why staying home filled me with so much fear.
I had two little kids. I homeschooled. Most mornings, about ten am, I started getting jittery, bored, and cranky. Caring for little kids is tiring.
By mid-morning I desperately needed a break. So I took my girls on an outing to the thrift store down the street. I usually bought something simple—baskets, or a new top, or a game the girls wanted—and we walked back.
If I couldn’t do that, I’d feel trapped and anxious.
The Problem with Shopping
The problem? More than a year before, I’d pledged to stop using shopping as a pastime. I liked the idea of moving away from a consumerist lifestyle; the amount of stuff in our culture made me queasy. I longed to choose more simplicity: less stuff, more life.
I don’t even like shopping, so it did not seem like a big deal to give up.
But little by little, I’d started depending on it. I bought stuff to make it through the morning. Sure, I bought second-hand, but I still bought stuff.
After a few weeks of arguing with myself, the disconnect finally got to me. I sat down and journaled about why the thrift store seemed so compelling, and what fear I numbed with shopping.
I felt astonished at the result.
The Fear I Avoided
Buying stuff kept me busy, and my girls busy. And I needed to stay busy because I felt afraid of what would happen if we stayed home.
I felt sure I’d yell. Or worse.
I hated what the fear said about me. About how brittle my parenting was. Also, I wanted to homeschool long term. If I really couldn’t handle an entire morning alone with them, was homeschooling the wisest lifestyle for me?
I used shopping as a kind of crutch. I limped along, afraid of my own life.
Look, I don’t think homeschooling is the only good option for kids. But for me it felt terribly important. I grew up separated from my siblings. Sure, I thought homeschooling would bless my kids, but I very much chose it for myself. Staying with my kids all day felt like the anti-venom to the family separation that grieved me as a child.
I yearned to make it work. And on good days, it felt like exactly what my heart cried out for.
I wanted to grow strong and brave enough to not run away from my kids. So I had to stop running away.
What Happened When I Stayed Home
The very next day, knees a little weak, 10 AM came. My nerves were frayed, my kids whining and at loose ends. But instead of loading them in the stroller, I breathed in and out, and asked myself some kind questions.
Could I try to engage with my kids for a few more minutes?
Could I step back and see if they’d entertain themselves?
Could I suggest an activity we all enjoyed, like reading, play dough, or cooking?
To my surprise, the mid-morning slump only lasted fifteen minutes. If I stayed present and mindful with my kids for just a little longer, the morning went fine, and I got through the slump without trying to escape my own life.
Can I tell you how incredulous I’d felt? I’d faced the noonday demon and found out it was not the behemoth I’d made it out to be. Fifteen minutes of choosing not to numb myself transformed how I approached my days home with my kids.
I’d thought numbing my fear helped me avoid danger. Instead, my coping mechanism mired me in a fearful muck every single day. The little bit of bravery I needed to get through the morning was so much easier, long-term, than the fear I avoided by running to the store.
How Simplicity Makes Us Braver
Simplicity is hard because being mindful and intentional with our everyday lives takes courage. But surprisingly, being intentional with our lives only requires momentary bravery: courage rooted in a particular moment. When we feel fear, will we unthinkingly rush towards the escape hatch? Or will we bear the discomfort in order to understand ourselves, our fear, and our yearning more clearly?
Here’s what I noticed about how choosing a practice of simplicity—avoiding shopping—helped me become braver.
- Choosing simplicity helped me notice my fear. When I chose simplicity, I said no to numbness, which meant I had to pay attention to uncomfortable stuff, like how fear snuck into my mornings. Being willing to feel uncomfortable is brave.
- Living on purpose in small ways makes your courage grow stronger. Facing my fear for fifteen minutes helped me see that even a big fear—my fear of mistreating my kids—could recede if I stood my ground for a little while. The experience made me less worried about confronting other fears. One brave practice made it easier to try another brave practice.
- Intentional practices of simplicity showed me I had choices. I told myself I “had” to get out of the house—but it wasn’t really true. Taking responsibility for my own choices meant I admitted to myself I could choose differently. Even though my choices might make me feel uncomfortable, it’s rare that I don’t have any options for doing things differently. It’s scary to take responsibility for my life, but doing so reminds me of my own power.
- Bravery happens in small things, not in giant acts of will. I felt silly that staying put at ten AM felt so difficult, but in hindsight, my shopping hid a very real fear. That one “silly” act of intention increased my courage as a parent ten-fold.
We make our lives out of our everyday decisions. Shifting course just two degrees can have profound implications long-term.
Want to Live with More Courage?
It doesn’t take a super-hero to start living a life that’s mindful, simple, and brave. Simplifying our lives—choosing how we spend our time, money, and energy—helps us clarify who we are, and what kind of life we actually want to live.
If you wish you could live with courage, if you wish you could live a life with a little bit more beauty in it, find a tiny act of simplicity to start with. De-clutter a closet. Cull your social obligations. Notice your spending patterns. Intentionally engage with how you spend your resources and the courage you’ll unleash will surprise you.