What was it about that lanky weed? I had seen it last weekend at the garden shop and I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I know it spreads, sowing its seed wild, and stretches its roots wide. But I couldn’t be put off.

Maybe it’s the way the tiny florets circled together like knotted embroidery thread on a vintage blouse. It reminded me of old times, simpler times when the family yard was more like a domesticated meadow.

When we walked the grounds of an outdoor history museum a few weeks ago, my mom pointed to the clover laid out all over the lawn like scraps of fabric sewn into a quilt. When she was growing up, all the yards in the neighborhood looked that way. Simplicity allows room for natural growth, welcomes a bit of wild. Now, many of us douse our grass with newfangled chemicals, always another to-do on the list if we want to keep the lawn presentable.

I see this specimen, the Gold Yarrow, on a vintage botanical print…all the stages of its cycle, the segments of its form, its tough stems, ferny leaves, clustered flowers, all drawn out and labeled. In another era, its silvery foliage was crushed into a salve for healing wounds, or a tea to ward off colds or melancholy. It’s no wonder, the way this peculiar plant makes my dimples show.

I’ve been thinking on the shape of a happy life this week, pondering Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s advice that we should think hard before we add something new to our schedule or home. She speaks of a shell, the channelled whelk, that she will carry back from the beach to remind her of “the ideal of the simplified life.” And she vows “To ask how little, not how much, can I get along with. To say–is it necessary?–when I am tempted to add one more accumulation to my life, when I am pulled toward one more centrifugal activity.”

Many of us need to clear out our schedules and homes and start from the basics, a practice something like dividing the overzealous plants that have taken over the garden. Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s question is certainly helpful. But I fear we may deprive ourselves of much beauty if we only ask, “Is it necessary?”

Another idea came to mind this week when I couldn’t get that yarny yarrow out of my mind. Was it necessary that I head all the way back to the garden shop, with the kids in tow, to find again that vintage delight of a plant? No. Yet the endeavor felt simple, somehow. Why? Because it brought me joy. It wasn’t drudgery or another to-do to make me sigh. I was fueled by delight. These two ideas are companion plants in the garden of simplicity: Is it necessary? Does it bring me joy?

Back home, I set the newbies in full sun. The flowery herbs stretched tall, leaned toward light, a thousand little yellow sponges soaking it all in. The simple life makes room for joy.

{How about you? What questions do you ask yourself when deciding what to allow into/around your home and schedule? Share your ideas in the comments section.}

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