Real Life Minimalists: Caroline Garnet McGraw

Every Monday I post Real Life Minimalists, a profile of one of my readers in their own words. If you’d like to participate, click here for details. (Note: the schedule is now full until June — but if you don’t mind waiting, feel free to send me your submission!)

Today, we have a truly inspirational story from Caroline Garnet McGraw. She tells us about her experiences living and working in a L’Arche community, and reminds us that it’s people, not things, that make our lives remarkable.

Caroline writes:

Caroline and Jonathan

Caroline and Jonathan

I’m Caroline Garnet McGraw, real-life minimalist writer behind the new blog, A wish come clear.

Minimalism has been central to my thinking and ethos ever since I arrived in Washington, DC nearly 4 years ago. When I moved to DC after graduating from Vassar College, I moved into a place called L’Arche. L’Arche is an international, non-profit organization that creates communities where people with and without intellectual disabilities share daily life together. Moving into a L’Arche home meant that I brought everything I possessed to a single room (not hard for a recent college grad) and gained twelve housemates, none of whom I’d ever met before (much harder for the recent grad!)

But I came to understand something valuable about having less: it meant sharing more. It meant coming downstairs to hang out with everyone in the living room rather than staying by myself. Likewise, moving to a city where I knew two people at the start meant I had the freedom to make new friends. As I’m a natural introvert, this was a blessing – having fewer friends going in to L’Arche meant that I was more open to the potential friendships before me.

At L’Arche, direct-care assistants live in close proximity to one another, and to the people they support. This means long hours, but it also builds camaraderie. We have meaningful, minimalist celebrations of each person’s birthday, where the only agenda items are: 1) verbally affirm the person’s gifts 2) give a small gift and 3) eat dessert together. When my husband and I planned our wedding, our shared experience of community life greatly influenced the choices we made. We chose a simple, intimate ceremony held in the parlor of a historic home, and we limited our guest-list to 36. It wasn’t always easy to stand firm on the smaller-scale wedding, but the rewards are lasting: no debt, and beautiful, unique memories.

Moving to L’Arche after college and remaining there since has helped me develop a minimalist definition of success. The rest of the world may include wealth, power and nice cars in their definition. Mine includes just two things: the company of those I love and the opportunity to do work I value and enjoy.

If hadn’t found contentment in the simple, daily acts of life at L’Arche, I might have missed this insight. Now, I work toward creating a life for myself that is rich and full…and simple. I try to do less, that what I do may have greater meaning. I de-accumulate with the awareness that what is extraneous to me may be essential to someone else. As I live in a small apartment with my husband, Jonathan, we have regular opportunities for re-evaluating all we own. (A studio apartment makes clutter readily apparent!) We are also car-free, as we live in a walk-able neighborhood that is very close to the L’Arche home where Jonathan works. (I commute to work for L’Arche Arlington, but am able to work from home approximately two days per week.) These lifestyle choices mean I have more time and energy left to create, to share the stories of the remarkable people I’ve met in L’Arche.

Thank you for reading, and come visit me over at A wish come clear!

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

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