A couple of years ago my aunt gave me a book called L’Art de Simplicité (The Art of Simplicity) that promised to declutter my life. After the first five pages, I felt like a failure. My bedroom is nothing like a room at a Zen monastery, my kitchen resembles a spice aisle at Kalustyan’s, and my living room with its overspilling bookshelves is more reminiscent of a public library during children’s hour than a space where two adults live.
After reading much sensible advice on paring down and retaining only the essentials, I put L’Art de Simplicité down in my ziggurat of other books and haven’t picked it up since. You know what? I like having a bit of chaos in my life. It doesn’t stress me out that my perfume samples aren’t sorted alphabetically or that I have far too many bottles of flavored vinegar. What are the essentials anyway? What if I want to make salad with blackcurrant and rose vinegar today and try grilled chicken marinated in the juniper variety. I also can’t decide whether I want to wear a cologne or a voluptuous rose, so all options are around.
On the other hand, I love the idea of simplicity and budgeting. Spending time in Ukraine is helpful in this regard, because after a couple of weeks I begin to think in terms of the local economy. A bottle of Frédéric Malle Une Rose ($345) is more than my grandmother’s monthly pension. A tube of my beloved Sisley Flower Gel Mask ($140) can put 7 students through our state art school for a whole year. I would be lying if I didn’t acknowledge feeling a pang of guilt over the cost of my beauty kit. Most other women around here make do with much less, and you should see the gorgeously turned out beauties strolling down the streets of our small town.
So while I’m reflecting on my state of affairs, I’m picking up plenty of great tips. It’s hard to generalize about a country of 45 million, but Ukrainians are fabulously chatty. A word exchanged with a perfect stranger on the bus, and you’re hearing their whole life story and their thoughts on world events. The other day I sat next to a woman, who upon observing my bouquet of lily of the valley mentioned that her grandmother used flowers as potpourri. “She kept them in all enclosed spaces like armoires and closets. Just make sure they are not getting crushed and have space to dry properly, and you will have naturally scented sheets and clothes,” she said. “As a kid, I loved sliding open the doors of my grandmother’s cupboards to get a whiff of lily of the valley. She kept flowers for the whole year and replaced them with fresh ones each spring.”
I thanked her and shared a few stems from my bouquet, and we parted pleased with each other. At home, I did exactly as the lady recommended. I separated my bouquet in small bundles and arranged them in glasses in our cupboards. A week later, the aroma is strong, and the dry flowers look like ivory carvings. I already have fantasies of trying this homemade potpourri with roses, sage, verbena and other scented plants. The art of simplicity indeed!
Photography by Bois de Jasmin