Yearning for Simplicity

We live in a consumer culture where
value is measured in how much we own and do. 
Often however, it feels like our possessions own us. 
There has to be a different, better way to live!



Every time I hear the word "simplicity," my soul has a moment of awakening. I hear music, maybe Aaron Copeland's version of the haunting Shaker melody, "'Tis a gift to be simple, 'Tis a gift to be free..." Then reality takes over and I turn in disappointment to my real life.

I think my soul knows a truth my lifestyle denies. It knows that simplicity is the gateway into freedom, real freedom. When I listen to this yearning for simplicity, I can imagine a life with enough time for important relationships and enough rest. I can almost see a life unencumbered by excess commitments, debts, and strain. I can begin to imagine a life lived on purpose, with enough time to keep relationships and body healthy, the freedom to pursue real passions and make a contribution, rested instead of strained and stressed. But I think my real life knows another reality: simplicity is not for my life, not now. At least that is what my real life screams.

Perhaps the issues is not that simplicity is not suited for my life. Perhaps the real issue is my life is not yet suited for simplicity.

But I have been re-thinking simplicity and so-called "real life." Perhaps the issues is not that simplicity is not suited for my life. Perhaps the real issue is my life is not yet suited for simplicity. If the latter is true, and I think it is, then there's hope for me yet, because I can change my real life so that it is more and more suited for a life of simplicity.

So, how can I live a simpler life? 

First, get to the heart of simplicity. Simplicity is not an artificial list of lifestyle rules:

  • You must live the rest of your life with no more than 100 things
  • You can't have a career, own a home or a car, and have cable television
  • You have to live entirely off the grid in some hard-to-pronounce place
  • You have to be a privileged white male in order to afford a simpler life
  • You have to start a blog

What is simplicity? In one word, it is freedom from excess. It is freedom from excess debt, commitment and strain. It is freedom to focus on what is important, on what gives life, on what makes your heart sing, on passions and purpose. 

Second, ask a simplicity-giving question: "why." Take any area of your life--your stuff, your commitments, your debt--and ask "why?" I met a woman in Spain last summer who launched an entirely different life by walking into her closet, looking at the floor-to-ceiling collection of shoes and purses, and asked, "Why?" That one question gave her courage to choose a different lifestyle and to conquer some demons that were trapping her in excess.

Third, reject anything that owns you. You can live a life of simplicity and own things; when things own you, you have surrendered the freedom simplicity gives.

Fourth, practice giving things away. Start with something that owns you. Grab it firmly, look it in squarely in the eye, and say, "You have to go." The freedom you will start to feel will astonish you and you'll wonder why you did not do this sooner.

Fifth, practice simplicity in short bursts. Last summer, when my wife and I trekked across Spain, we carried 82 items collectively on our backs. For three months we lived with 82 things. We're back home with a garage-full and a closet-full of things. But that three-month experiment convinced us that many of the things we thought were necessary are unimportant and unessential for our happiness. 

Perhaps you'll find what I'm starting to understand: simplicity is a compass. When you life starts to veer into complexity and unnecessary excess, simplicity directs you back to a life that is free-er, simpler, saner, healthier.