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Peterson: Pure and simple, life can be complicated

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For the past 12 years, I have been consciously looking for ways to simplify my life because, as I discovered after 40-some years, life can become complicated.

Complicated isn’t easy. Neither is simplification.

The morning routine is a complicated dance of waking up to a new day. There are decisions to make about the snooze alarm, turning on the coffee-maker, brushing your teeth, taking a shower, getting dressed, retrieving the newspaper, eating breakfast, talking to your loved ones and remembering what it was you weren’t going to forget today.

The list goes on. Just for the morning.

My hair used to be longer, and there’s nothing simple about that. But I vowed to myself when I was 13 years old that I would never go to a barber again, not after what small-town Donnellson barber Clippie Dick did to me.

I was new to town. My hair was long and it needed to be trimmed. My dad and my two brothers and I had been getting our haircuts for a number of years at the Barber College in St. Paul, Minn. The cutters were learning the trade, but they were good. The Barber College replaced my dad’s clippers, which he used to cut our hair to the length of stubble.

Eldest brother Dave was the first to revolt. These were the 1960s, and he was not going to subject himself to the clippers anymore. A battle was waged, and he won. He could grow his hair out. The other two of us fell in line, and soon we were driving to St. Paul to have our hair cut. It worked out just fine.

Then we moved to Iowa – brother Dave was left behind to live with Grandma Jahner – and there was no Barber College to be found. So, eventually, I had to sit in Clippie Dick’s chair. I don’t remember the specifics of the haircut, but I cannot forget the razzing I faced that first Monday back to school.

Burr head. Or burr. That’s what I was called. And it was true. My hair was unacceptably short. And I did not need reason to give others cause to tease me. My Minnesota accent was enough in the southeast corner of Iowa, where twang reigns.

After that haircut, I went to see the lady who cut my sisters’ hair about getting my hair cut. She did a good job, and “burr” became a memory.

Fast forward to 2005 and three weeks before my wedding, when I went to get my hair cut at a new salon in Harvard. Something got lost in translation between the computer record and the chair, and my hair was cut like it was when my dad handled the clippers. It was boot-camp short. “Burr,” I thought.

The good thing about hair – and it can be a bad thing, too – is that it grows back. But after a weekend, I liked this new look. No combing, no hat-hair, no conditioner, no gel. Shower, dry and go.

My life had been simplified, and I wasn’t even trying.

One of my more outstanding moves toward simplification happened 12 years ago when I decided my clothing had become too complicated. Too many colors, too much matching. Too much for mornings.

So I decided to make things simple. One color for pants – tan. Two colors for shirts – light blue and white, all long-sleeved. That would be my work uniform. I wouldn’t have to worry about matching because everything matched. And it was like wearing office camouflage; I blended in with the cubicles. It made my mornings oh-so-much easier.

But my blue shirts – white was eliminated because of spots – have started to wear out. And that got me to thinking about the word drab, and that I might want to avoid it. I have replaced my shirts with five different colors, one for each day of the workweek. Today, I am wearing a red shirt, a color I would never have picked a year ago. I have shirts that are gray, purple, blue and blue pinstripes. And I have a white one for special occasions where I am unlikely to spill.

I am not quite sure what to think. The red makes me feel a bit like a stop sign. The other colors are muted and still blend in. I haven’t changed the color of my pants. That would be too much too soon.

Things have not become more complicated in the mornings, much to my surprise. I’ve been tempted to let my hair grow long, but I don’t see that happening. The benefits of short outweigh long. And I’m not sure I want to see the gray that is gaining.

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate, a freelance writer and former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at

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