Kelsie Gray, Blogger, Tells Her Story

The Art of Living Intentionally

I almost wrote “living simply” instead of “living intentionally.” I wanted to write it. It's a phrase people use so often when they speak of growing food or making their own beauty products or learning a craft such as sewing or soap making.

But it's misleading.

To most people, the word “simple” means “easy.” And “easy” means something that can be accomplished quickly and with little thought or care.

So what is easy? Running to the supermarket and buying a bag of imported apples or a dozen eggs for $3 is easy. Throwing away a ripped skirt and using one-click, online ordering to have a new one shipped to your doorstep is easy. Speeding through the drive-thru and feeding yourself from the Value Menu when you're grumpy and exhausted from a long day at work is easy.

But when people think of “the simple life,” they picture apple trees laden with ripe fruits. They picture hens pecking contentedly around a yard. They picture homespun clothes and family meals where everyone is talking, laughing, and piling their plates with made-from-scratch biscuits and homegrown corn.

But achieving any one of those things is not simple. It's not easy. It's not expedient or carefree or clean.

And as much as people may say they crave “the simple life”, what they really seem to want is the Norman Rockwell version of that exact moment when the result of a lot of very hard work finally reaches fruition. They want the apple in all its gleaming, crisp sweetness, and they want it to be organic and local. But they don't want the three or four years of waiting for the tree to produce its first, small harvest. They don't want the fire blight and the coddling moths and the pruning. They don't want the anxiety of whether the tree will survive an ice storm. They don't want the yellow jackets that swarm the overripe fruit.

I don't want most of those things, either. But I will embrace them anyway, because they're part of the journey I've chosen for myself. From raising chickens to keeping bees to cooking from scratch almost every night, the things I do are not simple. But they are so, so rewarding. That is why I have chosen to live intentionally.

So what does it mean to live intentionally?

Living intentionally means doing things on purpose, for a purpose. It means learning to value experiences over stuff. It means redefining “wealth” not as how much money you have or how many possessions you own, but rather how content and happy you feel during each step of the journey that takes you from a tiny seed planted in February to a pot of tomato sauce simmering over a low flame in October.

To me, there is nothing more exciting than poring over seed catalogs in the dead of winter—until my newly ordered seed packets arrive in the mail. Then, there is nothing more exciting than poking those miniscule seeds into warm soil and setting them under grow lights in my basement. After that, there is nothing more exciting than watching the first leaves of the first baby tomato push its way out of the dirt. Come April, when the plants are literally bursting out of their little peat pots, I celebrate as I place each tomato start out in the freshly turned earth of the garden. Then comes the joy of the first flowers, the thrill of the first green fruits, and the joy of seeing that faint, pinkish blush appear. Then, suddenly, all of your tomatoes start ripening at once, and you're spending your Sunday afternoons chopping, roasting, pureeing, and freezing them, and that makes you happy, too.

It would be so incredibly easy to just drive to the store and buy a pound of tomatoes from Mexico for a few bucks. The fruits might even sort of taste like a tomato, if only faintly. But I'll take the hornworms and the blossom end rot and the endless weeding any old day for just one bite of a dusky, earthy, perfectly ripe Cherokee Purple tomato. I'll take the flies and the poop and the tragic attacks by predators for just one taste of a rich, sun-colored yolk from one of my laying hens. I'll take some blindingly painful stings to the face if it means I can have a small sample of golden honey from my own hive.

I live intentionally for many reasons: because I want to know where my food comes from; because I want to be a maker and grower and creator;  and because our systems of industry are doing so much wrong to our world and all its creatures (including each other). I want to opt out of those systems every chance I get.

Will a homegrown tomato save the world? Probably not. Not really. But it won't bring further harm to the world, either. If everyone grew a tomato plant or two, and ate only the tomatoes they could harvest from that plant, then immigrant farm workers in Florida wouldn't earn $5 a day picking tomatoes while getting doused in pesticides and herbicides. We will not die without ketchup. But actual human beings will die because we feel entitled to ketchup.

It's a heavy way to think, but that's what intentionality is—thinking before you buy, eat, or drink something. Thinking before you throw something away. Thinking about what you're putting in and on your body; about what you're sending down the drain; about what you're filling your mind with every night before bed.

Obviously, no one can live on this earth without leaving footprints. I would be pretty sad without butter, pasta, or avocados, and since I don't have a cow, the ability to grow wheat, or the kind of climate that keeps an avocado tree alive, I'm going to continue buying those things from the grocery store. I can't make all my own clothes (yet), but I patch or repair what I can, and buy gently used items rather than brand new ones. Is sewing a rip in a shirt the most fun I've ever had? No, but there's something almost meditative about spending half an hour with a needle, some thread, and some good music. The same goes for the strange pleasure I derive from hanging my clothes out on a line to dry or cleaning my house with some white vinegar, hot water, and a few drops of lemon oil. All any of us can do is make the best choices we can possibly make within our own means. Hint: the best choice is rarely the easiest or most thoughtless choice.

Intentionality is about making connections—connections with the earth, with the seasons, with animals, with insects, with tiny microorganisms in the soil and behemoth thousand-year-old trees, and with people, of course. If you can't make something yourself, at least learn about where it came from. And if the story of its origin makes you sad or angry, then choose to support a product or service that came from a place or idea that fills you with joy or peace. And if that option isn't available to you, either, then learn to do without, and find your contentment in the absence of that thing.

I'm not encouraging you to deprive yourself of pleasure or forgo the things you want. Living intentionally is about finding delight not just in the reward, but in the work and sweat and pit-stops it took to get there. It's about biting into the apple and laughing about the worm. It's about tasting the honey and wearing that bee sting like a badge of honor. It's about marveling at the tenacity of the weeds and the fragility of the carefully cultivated flowers. It's about the blisters, yes. But it's also about the bliss.

To connect with Kelsie, please visit her blog at: iNestShe can also be found on Instagram at: Kelsie.D.Gray

This is Week 26 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks, we are half way through the year already! My goodness, how time flies when you're in the flow. Thank you for reading and sharing Kelsie's story today.