Thinning Your Life

July 13, 2007

I just planted some lettuce seeds a few weeks ago and now it’s that time Lettuceagain—the dreaded moment of thinning. I’ve never been the neat and tidy type. I don’t fold my socks, my shirts face both ways on hangers and apples end up in the crisper on a regular basis. So it’ll come as no surprise that my lettuce bed looks more like shag carpet than rows of ruffled heads.

For many years I just assumed that I suffered some soil deficiency and contented myself with miniature sprigs until I was in a friend’s garden and saw five of the most perfect heads of lettuce I’d ever laid eyes on. Unable to take my eyes off the pristine beauties, I asked her how she did it. With a “well silly” expression she looked at me said, “I just thinned them back.”

The experience reverberated with me and when I got back to my own jumble of greens I realized why. They resembled my life. Like my lettuce, I had too many things vying for the essentials for any of them to truly flourish. The dozens of stunted heads seemed to nod agreement in the breeze; I was choking out the opportunity to be fruitful in one or two carefully chosen areas by devoting my time and energy to a dozen different projects at any given time.

But I have gotten better.

Here are three tips that I’ve gleaned from my garden on how to thin my life and bear more beautiful fruit:

1. Know it’s for the best – The hardest thing about thinning, for me, is that most of the little green sprouts that get plucked are not, by definition, “bad.” They stand just as much chance of growing into gorgeous heads of Lola Rosa as the next seedling that gets to stay. But that’s life. There are only a finite amount of resources—nutrients, water, light; time, energy, money—and when there’s too much competition, all suffer. The only way for a few to reach their full potential is to remove others, allowing the ‘chosen’ to enjoy the resources they need to grow up big and strong.

2. Choose wisely – I always spend time looking for the healthiest seedlings of the bunch—the least amount of bug damage, the lushest leaves, the one who is standing straightest—and keep it. It may not seem right to always side with the best, but thinning is a sort of Darwinism. It’s taught me to look closely at the areas of my life that are competing for resources—my time, energy, money—and take note of which ones seem most deeply rooted in my heart and soul and which ones leave me feeling empty and drained. I’ve learned that if left to stay, the latter will suck the life out of the former, but if the drainers are plucked out, the former will blossom into something beautiful.

3. Act quickly – You know how the most agonizing part of pulling off a band-aid is thinking about it? The same holds true for thinning—your garden or your life. I find it goes much easier if, once I’ve decided what needs to go, I take decisive action right away.

Thinning may be one of my least favorite tasks in the garden, but I always reward myself by enjoying the little leaves in a “thinning salad” at the end of the day, knowing that in my life too each area I choose to say no to will leave me with a morsel of experience I’ll savor for a long time to come.

{ Thinning Salad  }

1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground pepper

3–4 cups baby greens
1 tablespoon snipped chives and/or chive blossoms
1/4 cup zucchini blossoms, sliced into a chiffonade

Whisk together garlic through pepper (or shake together in a glass jar). Toss together greens, chives and zucchini blossoms and drizzle with vinaigrette. Toss gently and serve.

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4 Responses to “Thinning Your Life”

  1. foodette Says:

    A beautiful post. Amazing how much a garden can teach us.

  2. lia Says:

    Thank you foodette. I agree about gardens having so much to teach us . . . I feel like I learn something new each time I dig in the dirt.


  3. […] 22nd, 2007 I think I planted too many romano beans this year. I’ve already confessed to how terrible I am at thinning, and that definitely came into play with these guys. The seedlings kept sprouting up and looking so […]


  4. […] 23rd, 2007 I think I planted too many romano beans this year. I’ve already confessed to how terrible I am at thinning, and that definitely came into play with these guys. The seedlings kept sprouting up and looking so […]


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