When the subject of conversation is simplicity, the views will always be varied. People have their own ideas on what simplicity means in general, and what it would mean for their lives specifically. Many of these discussions end on the idea that simplicity is easy. It's life without the "bells and whistles." Life in the slow lane. Well, that can be debated.

Tasha Tudor is an individual who fascinates me in some ways. She is a well-known illustrator and painter, over 90 years old, who lives in a cottage in Vermont. Her lifestyle reeks of simplicity. She eschews many modern conveniences. She lives alone with a few pets. Her life is simple...or is it? Here is how her web site describes her life:

Her home, though only 30 years old, feels as though it was built in the 1830's, her favorite time period. Seth Tudor, one of Tasha's four children, built her home using hand tools when Tasha moved to Vermont in the 1970's. Tasha Tudor lives among period antiques, using them in her daily life. She is quite adept at 'Heirloom Crafts', though she detests the term, including candle dipping, weaving, soap making, doll making and knitting. She lived without running water until her youngest child was five years old.
From a young age Tasha Tudor has been interested in the home arts. She excels in cooking, canning, cheese-making, ice cream making and many other home skills. As anyone who has eaten at Tasha Tudor's would know, her cooking skills are unsurpassed. She collects eggs from her chickens in the evenings, cooks only with fresh goats milk, and uses only fresh or dried herbs from her garden. Tasha Tudor is renowned for her Afternoon Tea parties. Once summer arrives, Tasha Tudor leaves her art table to spend the season tending her large, beautiful garden which surrounds her home.

Milks her own goats? Cans? Makes cheese? Makes candles, soap, ice cream? This is the simple life? Sounds like hard work to me!

Which is more indicative of the simple life - loading a washing machine and turning it on, or going to a stream and beating clothes against a rock? Loading a dryer and pushing a button, or carrying loads of wet laundry outside and hanging it on the line, then taking it down later?

I don't think a simple life is necessarily easy. In fact, it can be more difficult to attain than a stressful life. So even though "easy" may be a synonym for "simple," I don't buy it.

So when people say they are striving for a life of simplicity, what do they mean? I can't even see where the definition of "less stressful" and "less harried" applies in a general way. I can't imagine a more stressful life than your intake of food being dependent on having healthy chickens (who haven't been killed by predators) laying eggs on a regular basis, which you have to collect on a regular basis. My husband Ed knows the stress of getting wood ready for the fire, as he does the sawing and splitting by hand. Imagine having to have the fire not only to warm the house but to cook the food!

I was thinking about all this now because my sister Joy has spent the week in Mississippi, helping to clean up and demolish houses that Hurricane Katrina destroyed. I haven't spoken to her yet, but through our mother I hear that she has performed some pretty gross and unappealing chores down there. She had been planning to spend her vacation week in the comfort of her home, and instead she felt led to travel to another state and sleep in a tent. I don't think she would consider her week of the "simple life" one of relaxation!

So what is a life of simplicity? I have concluded that it is a life with integrity. A genuine life. A life where you realize that every act you do - whether buying a new outfit or choosing a new car, whether recycling or disposing, whether acquiring or giving away, the use of your time, the use of your gifts, the use of your money, the stand you take on issues of poverty and injustice - affects other people. It's a life that feels right. It is a life of wisdom. A life where you make choices over and over that are based on your own idea of what a life with integrity and simplicity means for you, knowing that what you do will impact the world.

Maybe I'm not one for making my own soap. I can recycle, though. I can buy a car that uses less gasoline. I can give to those less fortunate. I can educate myself and others about quality of life and what it entails.

And, as I have said before, it's a journey without end. Maybe we should drop the word "simplicity" altogether in favor of "integrity." Hurray for Joy...she has complicated her life this week to help others!