“In character, in manner, in style, in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity.”
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
For me, the word simplicity immediately evokes a sense of calm. I picture light, etheral, minimalist décor, a closet full of neutral, quality clothes that I adore, uncomplicated recipes and fragrances that satiate the senses and ordinary moments that are thoroughly enjoyed. Excuse me while I linger in this space…
While simplicity may mean something entirely different to you, Merriam-Webster offers a few formal definitions:
- the quality of being easy to understand or use;
- the state or quality of being plain or not fancy or complicated;
- something that is ordinary but enjoyable; and,
- the state of being uncomplicated or uncompounded
For as long as life has been complicated (think Adam, Eve and the Garden of Eden), I expect there has always been a desire for simplicity. Great minds like Longfellow, da Vinci, Thoreau and countless others have all held simplicity as the ultimate, the ideal.
Simplicity or minimalism, has had a strong influence over many facets of society, notably art, architecture, design, fashion, literature and music. For example, “minimal art” or “literalist art” emerged in the early 1960s, as artists moved toward geometric abstraction and this trend soon bled into architecture and design, where spaces were reduced to their most essential elements.
Historically, simplicity has also held a significant place in literature. Take Henry Thoreau’s 1854 work entitled, Walden, where the transcendentalist offered insight into the alternative way of living, now referred to as ‘voluntary simplicity’ or simple living.
At its core, this living strategy encompasses a number of voluntary practices aimed at simplifying one’s life. It seeks to minimize material needs in order to find enrichment and purpose in non-materialistic sources of meaning and satisfaction. It is important to note that simple living is distinct from those living in forced poverty, as it is a voluntary practice.
Individuals choose simple living for a variety of reasons – spirituality, health, work-life balance, personal taste, frugality and stress reduction – however, simple living can also be a reaction to materialism and capitalist consumption. For more on voluntary simplicity, here are a few resources:
For those of you who have or are in the midst of embracing voluntary simplicity in its true form, bravo! For those of you who are not quite ready to make such a dramatic shift, but are still craving more simplicity in life, you’re in luck! Most areas of your life can be simplified by using these four simple steps:
The first step to simplifying is to prioritize what is important. To simplify your life, you must identify your personal priorities. Perhaps you prioritize quality time with family or, maybe eating well and exercising is paramount. Regardless of where you sit on the Scale of Simplicity (I just made that up and should probably trademark it), I encourage you to grab a pen, notebook and your drink of choice, then sit down and spend some time identifying what is important to you.
While the goal is to keep the list simple (ok, that pun was intended), simplicity is subjective. So, if you feel overwhelmed, you can certainly create a few lists to suit your needs.
For example, you could create three separate lists (top three personal priorities, top three professional priorities, top three familial priorities); or on a more micro scale, perhaps you want to simplify your wardrobe. Then make a list of your top three wardrobe priorities, like quality, comfort and colour.
Identifying priorities is crucial to simplifying your life and will guide the remaining work. I would suggest revisiting your list(s) over the course of a week to ensure it is fairly comprehensive.
Once you have your priorities in place (remember, these are not set in stone), the next step involves evaluation. For example, if one of your priorities is to increase quality time with family, but you cannot seem to find the space in your busy schedule, then you must evaluate how you spend your time (days, weeks, months) in an effort to free up space to support your priority.
When attempting to make space in your schedule, you must consider your commitments. Think of them during a typical week and plot them on a calendar. Then compare how you spend your time against your priories. Are your priorities aligned, misaligned or partially aligned with how you spend your time? Highlight the activities and commitments that align with your priorities so they are clearly identifiable.
The next step (this one can be a tricky) is to identify where you can reduce and/or discard. Reducing and discarding is an essential step in the simplification process. The more we have, be that clothes, kitchen utensils, meetings or appointments, the more complex our existence. In essence, if the item, commitment or behaviour does not contribute to your priority, it should not be kept.
Again, I will use a wardrobe example. Say one of your wardrobe priorities is comfort; however, you avoid wearing half the clothes in your closet because they are not comfortable. If they are not comfortable, they do not support your priority and you should donate or discard them. Then, as finances permit, purposefully build your wardrobe with pieces that support that comfort priority.
While discarding clothing can be difficult, discarding commitments can be far worse. In your evaluation, perhaps you come to find that some of your weekly commitments do not align with your priorities. If that is the case, then consider removing them from your schedule. While it may be difficult at first, it will inevitably leave you with more time to focus on commitments that support your priorities.
Maintenance is the final step in this process. As life changes, so do priorities and in order to keep living a simplified life, one must reprioritize, reevaluate and rediscard (ok, that last one isn’t a word, but I was on a roll) to maintain this lifestyle.
There are many complexities in life that we cannot avoid; however, refining and simplifying where we are able can contribute to a life well-lived. Over the coming months, I plan continue this series, focusing on specific areas like simplifying the home or relationships. If you would like to see more on this subject, drop me a line in the comments below.
Wishing you all a lovely and simple week!