Column: Give Me The Simple Life

But don't you dare take my TV
Jo Mathis

Jo Mathis

You wouldn’t know it by looking in my closet or my basement or any other part of my house for that matter. But I am a minimalist at heart.

Yes, just give me the simple life.

That’s why I found myself nodding to this list of 21 things Americans are learning to live without by Rick Newman of U.S. News and World.

A good little mantra: Who needs it?

When he was 80, French poet Paul Claudel wrote: “No eyes left, no ears, no teeth, no legs, no wind. And how astonishingly well one does without them.” I’m keeping all the body parts I can, thank you very much. But as for superfluous stuff: Buh-bye.

Purging is suddenly more thrilling than accumulating. In fact, whenever anyone comes to the house now, I feel bad if they don’t leave with a parting gift: A popcorn maker. A box of sweaters. A couch.

A little deprivation can be a good thing.

I let my rec center membership lapse partly to save money, partly because I was so grossed out by sweaty people dripping all over the equipment, and partly because I hated that nagging, daily dilemma of whether or not to go to the rec center.

Now when I drive by and see the tops of those heads bouncing up and down, I’m so happy not to be among them, I could weep. I lift weights at home and get out and walk fast in the fresh air. For me, for now, this works.

In a bad economy, you become more creative. And in the process, you discover low-cost or free substitutes that at the very least are more memorable.

We recently needed a place to stay overnight in west Michigan, so I booked a spot in a lovely place with a waterside view. It was quiet and spacious and $24.

It was a campsite in the woods.

And it was perfect. We got there after dark, pitched the tent, slept fine, got up the next morning, took down the tent, and took off. No bed bugs for us, thank you very much.

A hotel room is one thing. But I still can’t join those who’ve killed their TV.

Too sorely would I miss:

1. Michigan football

I admit it. I have a big ol’ crush on quarterback Denard Robinson. Not only is he an outstanding athlete who is thrilling to watch, but who’s not smitten by that smile? Here’s hoping he has a late growth spurt so he goes to the pros and we can follow his career for years where – fingers crossed – he never loses that certain sumpin.

2. Bravo’s The Rachel Zoe Project

I die for Rachel Zoe, the scrawny, hyperactive celebrity stylist who totters around in seven-inch heels worrying about what little number Demi should wear on the red carpet.

She is precisely the type of woman I can’t stand. And yet I love her so much, I can’t quit.

I do a fine Rachel Zoe impression, but I’d need an ensemble to compete with this one.

3. Oprah Winfrey when she gets a smack-down

Even Oprah must have felt like a peon when Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced a $100,000,000 donation to Newark public schools.

After all, when Oprah basks in the glory of her own so-called gifts, she doesn’t even pick up the tab. Oh, she loved telling her 300-member audience that they were GOING TO AUSTRALIA! You! And you! And you! And you!

What she failed to say was that those trips are being paid by the Australian Tourist Board, which means those taxpayers down under will end up with the $2.3 million bill.

For 25 years, Oprah – who earns $315 million a year from her talk show alone – has been informative, entertaining, good for water fountain fodder. I just wish she’d stop trying to come off as benevolent, too.

4. Dancing with the Stars* (*AKA: Who?)

This one wasn’t on my watch list til now. After all, if I wanted to watch people dancing, I’d just watch the incredible Glee, where they also sing and act and make me wonder how they can create such an amazing show in one week when it took many months to make, say, Gigli.

Then Bristol Palin joined the show, and doggone it, I had to tune in. Now I’m hooked. It’s not just a dance show. It’s high-stepping drama.


  • Michael Bolton may think that his poor dancing skills – and Bruno-the-bully’s score of “Three!” – got him kicked off the show. Wrong. That was America’s payback for that long hideous mullet all those years.
  • David Hasselhoff got the boot just for being David Hasselhoff.
  • How can there not be a single dance pro of color? (For that matter, why are two of three judges on America’s Got Talent British?)
  • Female dancers in heels should be paid twice as much as males in flats. Besides, when the women are dressed like that, nobody’s even looking at the guys.
  • How can you not think of Ann Arbor when the announcer keeps asking for a score from Carrie Ann Inaba?

5. The Office

This show makes me very happy.

The season opener made me giddy.

I used to think the best job in the world belonged to Kelly Ripa, who makes a ton of money for sitting next to Regis and being cute and funny for an hour every weekday morning. But now I think the best job belongs to Phyllis Smith, who plays Phyllis on The Office.

Not only does she get to hang out all day with comic geniuses, but she looks like 30% of middle-aged American women, so she can still shop at Target without being bothered.

By the way: Once upon a time, Phyllis Smith was a professional ballet dancer and St. Louis Cardinal cheerleader.

About the author: Jo Mathis is an Ann Arbor-based writer. Her columns appear monthly in The Chronicle.


  1. October 9, 2010 at 12:50 am | permalink

    Good article! I will never get rid of my TV, personally (or my car for that matter!)

    I took a voluntary simplicity class about 7 years ago & started on the road to a simpler life. I’m delighted that more folks are doing likewise but of course sad that it took a crappy economy to make them do so. When the economy rebounds, will people go back to their old ways?

  2. By Just Ken
    October 9, 2010 at 8:27 am | permalink

    You had me nodding in agreement with all of your choices Jo until you got to the part about keeping your TV. Whatsisname back in the 60′s called TV a vast wasteland. Sad to say he is still right. I like to tell people who ask about my viewing habits that I don’t have a TV. I have a life.

  3. By Flo Burke
    October 9, 2010 at 3:16 pm | permalink

    As usual you always write it like we live it. Thanks! Now I don’t feel quite as guilty re blowing off my son when he called to have a long chat with me from Tokyo on the season opener of Grey’s Anatomy. To tell the truth I don’t enjoy a lot of programs but that one I really missed until the season started up again.

    Flo Burke