I was in one of our local supermarkets buying peanut butter and jelly for some good purpose, a long ferry ride possibly, or a slog through some prickly woods at search practice, or a rainy day in a hotel room typing like a madman, I don’t know — and this highly attractive and somehow desirable-looking magazine caught my eye. The pages were thick and luxurious, exemplifying good taste. “Simplify your life!” it promised. “Make everything clean and orderly! Shiny floors! Fresh flowers! New paint! Simplify your home and peace will follow!”



It cost $14.



I thought magazines were usually, I don’t know, two bucks fifty. Clearly I am out of touch. I considered myself unable to indulge at that time.



Leafing through the expensive pages as my sandwich-building supplies waited patiently, I was beginning to grasp the appeal of “simplifying.” One’s own house is generally so full of stuff, necessary and otherwise, that one can take real pleasure in browsing through photos of other lovely places (read: wealthier people’s homes, where they hire somebody to dust, or at least newly built places with no cracks in the plaster). In the Simpler Life there is no household disorder, no paperwork, there are no parts lying around on the kitchen counter. Yeah, parts. This is Maine. There are usually parts. The pages of the fat and pricey journal were a bit of an escape. A small vacation. Elbow room. Hospital corners on a bed made up with brand-new sheets just off a real clothesline, redolent with the fragrance of a morning zephyr through the pines. A breath of fresh air, or at least, fresh paint. And no parts.



It’s imaginary.



Upon further examination it seemed that most of the pages in said gold-plated publication were advertisements for storage devices — bins, shelving units and such. (Buy more stuff, but of course, don’t buy more stuff. Stuff is the problem. Except our stuff, the stuff we sell, will help you with your stuff. That’ll be $89, please.) It’s sort of like those magazines at the checkout counter that shout at you to “Lose 20 pounds by next week!” and simultaneously to “Make this over-the-top three-layer chocolate-covered Kahlua cheesecake!”



Also, for some reason, I am getting quite a few unsolicited online ads suggesting that I am dangerously close to running out of time to join or subscribe to one or another online service that will help me simplify my life. Now, I can think of several ways to simplify my actual life, but most of them involve avoidance tactics probably bad for business and generally considered poor manners. I could try hiding in the bushes when somebody wants to register to vote, or wishes to order a birthday cake, or wants some plywood on the next truck. Life would indeed be simpler, but I think not. Alternatively, I could pay $14, redecorate, and buy a lot of new bins to sort into.



As for signing up for online tutorials in bin-sorting and stuff-simplifying, I worry about internet overlap. It is already true that every time my husband over there across the room on his computer orders up some obscure propane fitting, or gazes lovingly at some antique steam locomotive, I get sidebar ads for obscure propane fittings and model railroad layout water towers and stuff equally inexplicable. The magazine recommends avoiding such impulse shopping.



Everybody knows that residents of remote areas like, oh, say, rural Siberia, and Pitcairn Island, and Matinicus tend to be hoarders of a sort, because they cannot drive over to Home Depot every Saturday. If we need a Presta-to-Schrader valve adapter, or a piece of flexible but stiff wire to make a hook to fish a hairball out of the vacuum cleaner, or a particular sort of small wood screw, we’d better have one rolling around in a kitchen drawer somewhere, or in a peanut butter jar on the windowsill, because otherwise all we can do is rather helplessly put it on The List, and whatever we wanted it for must wait. Any hoped-for immediate gratification (or a timely repair job) requires the item be on hand. Advice, even sound advice, on how to simplify seems less than useful in such cases.



Anyway, getting back to this wonderful fantasy magazine and its fairyland images of a simpler life (or at least one with more expensive furniture) as I stood in the supermarket aisle attracting, I fear, the attention of the staff (“Another freeloading bum in aisle nine who won’t buy the danged magazine”), I noticed that in the world of high-priced lifestyle simplification it is typically springtime. The beds have been made. The maid has been in. The sheetrock guy has been in too. And, the living spaces pictured don’t seem to have any spare small wood screws lying around.