Once upon a time, there was a guy from rural Poland. He lived in a one-room log cabin with his wife, his wife’s parents, and his three kids. They had a simple farm with a few acres and a barn with a few animals.
He would work hard in the field all day to grow his crops, but when he came home at night and tried to relax, it was mass chaos. His kids would bicker and fight, would not eat their vegetables, his in-laws would argue, his wife would nag him about the leaking roof, blah, blah, blah.
One day, he had enough. He went to the wise old town elder and explained the situation.
“I can’t take it anymore,” he told him, “can you help me out?”
The old man thought for a minute and asked, “Do you own a goat?”
“Umm, yes. He lives in our barn. But I don’t see what that has to do with anything,” said the farmer.
“I want you to take the goat out of the barn and let it live in your house,” the wise old man told him.
“Are you crazy?”
“The goat lives in your house for one week,” said the elder, “then come back and see me again.”
“Fine,” said the farmer. He could handle one week of living with a goat, even if was a stupid idea. So he went home, unhooked the goat from his spot in the barn, and brought him inside.
Obviously the farmer’s home did not get any calmer with the addition of a goat. But after one week the man went back to the wise man.
“This week has been terrible,” he said, “now what?”
The old man thought for a minute and asked, “Do you own any chickens?”
The farmer hesitated, “Yes.”
“I want you to take the chickens out of the barn and let it live in your house,” the wise old man told him.
“Fine,” said the farmer, “it’s not like things could get any worse.” So he went home and took his three chickens out of the back yard and moved them into his house.
Things got worse. The chickens pecked him while he was trying to sleep, the goat ate his children’s homework. The family fought and argued even more than before.
The next week he returned to the elder. “This better be good,” he told him.
The old man thought for a minute and asked, “Do you own a cow?”
The farmer stared.
“I want you to take the cow out of the barn and let it live in your house,” the wise old man told him.
The farmer stared.
But eventually he went home, untied the cow from his place in the barn, and brought her into his one-room home.
“Are you nuts?” his wife protested.
“One week,” he said, “just one more week.”
Finally, after one of the worst weeks of his life, when everybody in the house at each other’s throats, he slowly walked back to the wise man’s house.
“Now what?” asked the farmer, at the edge of his wits, “you got a woolly mammoth you want me to watch for you?”
“No,” said the wise man, “I want you to go home and take the goat, the chickens, and the cow and move them back out into the barn.”
“That’s it?” the farmer said.
“That’s it,” the wise old man told him.
And so he did.
One week later, he ran back to the wise man’s house. “This past week has been one of the most serene of my life! Everything in my house is quiet, things are so much cleaner, it’s so much calmer now. Thank you so much!”
“You’re welcome,” said the old man.
This story came to mind these past few days after I discovered The Minmalists and their thoughts really made sense to me. You see, most of us live with the cows and the chickens, but don’t realize it.
Over the past week I tried to clear out all of the chickens in my bedroom. It took ten garbage bags and was completely worth it.
Most people wish for a bigger house to keep their shit in (when they got a bigger house though, they would probably buy more and fill that one to the brim as well). The alternative of course is to have less shit.
When I was in second grade, some lady came in and told our class this story. I have no idea who she was or why she was there, but I never forgot it for some reason. That is neat in itself—I have no idea who this person was, why she was in my elementary school gym, or where she is now, but her little story still is impacting my life almost twenty years later. So, never underestimate the potential impact you could have on people, especially kids.
If you want to learn more about minimalism, check out The Minimalists.