I never expected my dog to teach me about living simply.
A few months before I started simplifying my life, I got a dog. I clearly remember the day we picked him up from the local animal shelter. Bailey and I walked up to a an outdoor pen full of shepherd-ish mutts. Bailey, who was eleven at the time was immediately surrounded by little whimpering black and tan puppies. One pup immediately jumped up and gave Bailey a big hug. He actually threw his front paws around her neck. That’s how we knew he was ours. We didn’t care about his manners or breeding or anything else really.
If you’ve been here for a while, you may remember me writing about Guinness. I wrote about him on the blog, on Instagram and in a chapter of Soulful Simplicity called You Are Written All Over My Heart. He wasn’t with us long enough.
Here’s an excerpt from that chapter (with a little more at the end).
One afternoon, we noticed Guinness was limping. He was an active dog, prone to getting into trouble, so we weren’t that worried. Bailey and I took him to the vet, expecting a pulled muscle, a prescription for an anti-inflammatory, and doctor’s orders for rest. But it was worse than that—worse, in fact, than we could have imagined.
Guinness was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, an aggressive form of bone cancer in dogs. The prognosis was grim. Ninety-five percent of dogs don’t live past the six-month mark, but more immediate was the painful tumor in his leg. It had eaten away most of the bone, so it was only a matter of time before his leg would break. In the meantime, it meant terrible pain for our boy … and for all of us. He was just eight years old. We weren’t ready. This was Guinness, my friend my baby, my healer. We weren’t ready. I wasn’t ready.
7 Lessons My Dog Taught Me About Living Simply
It took a while before I stopped missing him so much and started to remember all of the lessons but here they are.
1. Your favorite things are enough.
There were no shortage of dog toys in the house, but there was always a favorite while the rest were ignored. Sometimes we’d hide all but one or two and they were always more than enough. That usually goes for my stuff too. From my closet to my kitchen, I use the same things over and over again. If you want to enjoy your favorite things, only own your favorite things. I need less than I think to be happy. Living simply is not a sacrifice.
2. It’s always a good idea to go outside.
Guinness had to go outside several times a day which meant that I went outside several times a day. Whenever I’d ask him, “Want to go out?” his reaction was always full of joy. I can’t think of one time when I asked and he declined. Going outside was good for me too. Whether we walked around the block, played in the yard or went on a big hike, I always came home feeling more relaxed and happy than when we started. Remembering that simplifies my decisions daily. It’s always a good idea to go outside.
3. Just be there.
Even when Guinness was wild with puppy energy, he knew when I needed him to just be there. Sometimes, when I was recovering after an MS treatment, I’d nap and he would lie down with me most of the day. Knowing he was there always made me feel better. I remember those moments when someone needs me to simply be there. I don’t have to solve any problems or give advice. I just need to be there.
4. Appreciate a small space.
We downsized from a big house to an apartment half the size when Guinness was seven years old. I worried that it might be too small for him. The opposite was true. He loved having more time with his people. Instead of being spread out in a big house, we were all often in the same room. Because I didn’t have as much responsibility and we didn’t have a yard, we went outside even more which we’ve established is always a good idea. He even loved hanging out on the balcony because our neighbor would throw him a treat when she was on her balcony. I wrote this after we downsized and even though our living situation has changed, I still appreciate living in a small space.
5. The next thing doesn’t matter.
I noticed how fully present Guinness was no matter what we were doing. He was never worried about what came next, what was on tomorrow’s schedule or how much time we had. He inspired me to be present too and that simplified my life, added joy and made me curious about slowing down even more. Maybe the only thing that matters is the thing that’s happening right now.
6. Forget what happened yesterday.
If I was grouchy one day, or we didn’t go on enough walks, or I didn’t share as many treats as usual, Guinness didn’t hold it against me the next day. Instead he was just as excited when I asked him if he wanted a treat, or wanted to go outside or about any invitation at all. Every day was a new one. I’m still working on this one, but it really simplifies my life when I can let go quickly.
7. Be gentle.
Guinness wasn’t the best behaved good boy but we taught him one thing he always remembered. Before he took a treat from our hands, or a bite off our plate, we told him to “be gentle” and he would be gentle. It’s a lesson that has helped me simplify my life and make lots of habit changes. It’s helped me to be gentle in my relationships, with my health and in my work. The image of my 80-pound dog with a very big mouth gently take the tiniest piece of cheese and then gently chewing it up often runs through my mind when I think to myself … slow down, enjoy the moment, be gentle. I hope one day I’ll be as good at being gentle as he was.
Living simply means quieting your life
To me, living simply means quieting your life enough to show up, be present and be intentional about what stays and what goes. At first, when things are more chaotic, that might mean starting with five minutes a day. That’s how I started.
It may have been easier to simplify life without pets, or MS or other things that seemed to stand in the way. The funny thing is I learned something about living simply from all of those things.
When we were making the final arrangements for Guinness, the vet clinic asked if we wanted a commemorative paw print, and through my tears, I smiled I declined to add another object to our life of simplicity. I thought about the paw prints that are all over our my life—on furniture, my shoes, and everywhere else. No matter how much I clean, I’ll find those paw prints for months to come. And when they fade or wash away, they will remain written all over my heart.