What do we mean by simple as in simple lifestyle or simple living? In fact there are many ways to define simple that attract different audiences. These are the ones that I can think of:
Frugal- not spending money in an ostentatious fashion or buying unnecessary things.
Minimalist- using only a minimal level or goods and services
Utilitarian -satisfying basic needs with basic utilitarian products
Spare- limiting the things that you use in your life.
Uncomplicated- eliminating those things which make life complex.
Efficient- organizing activities and objects efficiently.
- Unattached –limiting human associations.
In all of these definitions, people are attempting to improve the quality of their lives. They select an ideal life model that best matches their goals or ideas. With this model in their mind as a goal, it is easier to make decisions that will make them more like their ideal. They can do this either by addition – adding new activities or resources into their life or by subtraction – eliminating things which conflict with their ideal. They simplify by eliminating (or trying to eliminate) whatever they believe most seriously threatens their ability to live a productive and happy life. In each definition there is an ideal way of living that becomes a lifestyle model and a guide for making daily decisions that move the person closer to the goal.
Some might say that the entire exercise is meaningless. That the search for simplicity has become a cliche. Certainly there is a lot of buzz about simplicity, simplification and the like today and some of it may be trivial. But the act of selecting a model for a better life and then changing yourself to match that model is positive action. Deciding that picking a concept of a better way to live and using it to frame your life decisions is trivial or hopeless is losing control of the process. People who decide that they cannot or will not become better abandon responsibility for their life.
I see the quest for simplicity in life as a positive goal but not an easy one. My first problem is focus. Looking at the several categories above, I can’t just pick one and go all out. I am frugal to a point but I like both quality and aesthetics as well so I won’t buy the cheapest product even if it is adequately functional if it is ugly or badly made. I like things that are uncomplicated and yet it is a difficult task to make the complexities go away. Sometimes I am just not up to the task of organizing or eliminating all the messy issues in my life. I don’t have enough time or energy to make my life efficient and simple and I let it fall in on me. So what I end up doing is constantly course correcting, picking a target here (simplify my email for example), fixing it and then moving in a completely different direction (deciding not to buy extravagances) and do that for a time. I don’t have the discipline to pick one objective and let it dominate. I’m not saying that what I do is right. What I mean is that I have a hard time fixing on very specific goals and models and as a result I may appear inconsistent or unfocused to someone who can focus.
Is this bad? Probably, but it’s the best I can manage and I believe that even small and unfocused efforts to change my behavior and responses makes me better. What it really says to me is that achieving a simple lifestyle is very hard and ,dare I say, complex. It is so hard to change any habit or behavior (Folk legend says that it takes 30 days) and much easier to just drift doing whatever seems right and abandoning any attempt to control how your life is unfolding. Where the pain comes is after relinquishing control for some time you look around and find out that you are in a place that you don’t want to be and have become a person that you don’t even like or respect.
There is a saying that when you make the hard choices, over time life gets easier and when you make the easy choices, it gets harder. Maybe that is the bottom line about making the effort to make your life more simple (whatever it might mean to you). It is hard to do but if you are successful, life gets easier and that is why we want it.
And don’t forget to help me close out this series with your favorite simplification strategies over here.