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The Skinny By Elaine Langlois

Complicate Your Life!

For years we've been told to pare our lives down to the essentials. Life is too busy, too complicated: simplify! Like many of us, Jerry and Monica listened. They walked away from their high-pressure jobs, abandoned the kids, tore up the credit cards, threw out everything they hadn't used in the past year, and started making pillows, stock, and bread and preserving their own violet jelly.

But after a few years, the couple came to the realization that life was getting-well, too simple. They were sick of long, lazy afternoons in which practically nothing got done. They were tired of wholesome soups and breads and picking violets. And Monica swore that if she had to make another pillow, she was ready to throw the whole mess out the window.

They'd had the time to get to know themselves. They'd explored their beliefs and values. And frankly, they'd found there wasn't much there. Jerry and Monica began fantasizing about exterior things. Both things you can touch and see, like premium cable service and an Egyptian-themed bathroom, and those lovely intangibles, like the joy of consuming and the sense of self-importance that comes from being impossibly overcommitted. They craved priority lists, car payments, trans fats, and fast food.

One day, Monica took back her job. Jerry quickly followed. Monica got pregnant. With twins. The couple threw out the oat bran and took an axe to the compost bins. Then they started to buy. They bought clothes that had to be dry-cleaned or that took forever to iron. They bought accessories and backup appliances. They bought more food than they would ever eat, impulse items they couldn't dream they'd ever have a use for. Credit card offers flooded their mailbox, and Jerry and Monica felt anew the thrill of running those cards up to the max.

Before long, Jerry and Monica moved to a house with 27 rooms, far from anyplace they needed to go. The couple bought big, gas-guzzling cars and started racking up speeding tickets. They decorated their new home with tile that was impossible to keep clean, light-colored carpets that showed every stain. Each weekend brought another home improvement project.

Soon the two rediscovered multitasking. They became accustomed to doing at least three things at once, and sometimes four or five. Monica's first cell phone-related car accident, like the first annoying salesperson thumbing their reconnected doorbell, was a sign to both she and Jerry that they were being welcomed back into the world.

The couple signed up for TiVo, high-speed Internet, subscriptions to newspapers and magazines they didn't have time to read. They got a phone, call waiting, and e-mail. It took no time at all to drop back into the perpetual mini-dramas of extended family life. The two expanded their retinue of friends and acquaintances they couldn't care less about, people who filled their evenings with expensive outings and their afternoons with long, pointless conversations.

For years, Jerry and Monica had said no to commitments, stockpiling their precious reserves of time. Now they started saying yes. Will you run the school fair? Yes. Will you chair the neighborhood council? Yes. Will you manage your class's 15th reunion? Oh, yes, yes, yes!

Soon the couple hadn't a moment for introspection or even serious conversation. They were fulfilled, engaged, preoccupied. With joy, they found that there was never any time to do the things they really wanted. They had a scrawled-over white board so busy it couldn't be read, a houseful of objects, dysfunctional children, short attention spans, and stress-related illnesses. They picked up everything they'd ever let go of. They took back the things they'd given away.

Has your life become too simple? Could Jerry and Monica's story be yours? These five steps can start you back on the path to a complicated life:

1. Get stuff. Begin by unpacking the boxes of old papers, knick-knacks, children's art projects, and broken appliances that you never could bring yourself to throw away.

2. Stop thinking about what you really want to do. Instead, think about what there is to get done.

3. Start looking for a bigger home you can't afford, somewhere you don't want to live, far from anything you do. School, work, and shopping should all be at least 25 miles away.

4. Stop cooking. Buy convenience foods loaded with sodium, and get fast food at least three times a week.

5. Overcommit. Get pets. Volunteer for school activities. Sign your kids up for sports and classes every night of the week.

We promise you that once you begin to feel that joyful sense of confinement and pressure-you won't want an unconstrained existence ever again!

© Elaine Langlois