Essay: Living the Simple Life

Simplicity

“The greatest step toward a life of simplicity is to learn to let go.”—Steve Maraboli

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”—Confucius

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” —Leonardo Da Vinci

Dave Hood

To live simply, we must make a conscious choice to embrace “voluntary simplicity.” Essentially, we are free to choose how to simplify our lives. Some things we must consider include developing a work-life balance, embracing the good life, living mindfully, savoring the moment, spending quality time, and slowing down. Whatever we choose, the decisions ought to result in improving our well-being and peace of mind.

Why should we consider living the simple life?We will live a life of peace and not chaos, a life of essentials and not complication. We will slow down and stop living the frazzled life, a lifestyle of stress. We will learn to relax with private time and solitude. We will live the good life of pleasure, flow, meaning and purpose. Though everything in life is impermanent, though everything changes, we will focus our time, energy, and financial resources on what is important, and not wait for a crisis. We will eliminate clutter, which distracts us from the important things in life. We will be able to live within our means and avoid the burden of a mountain of debt. We will live mindfully, in the present moment, and not ruminate with worry of the future or regrets of the past. We will live a balanced life— have time for work, love, family, leisure pursuits, fitness, and spirituality. We will have freedom from those conditions, commitments, responsibilities, and people who prevent us from living the good life. We will have the freedom to live as we desire—authentically.

How can we simplify our lives?Simplicity requires that we create a work-life balance. We must make time for work, time for family, time for a lover, time for friends, time for leisure pursuits, and time for spirituality. Studies in the area of positive psychology have taught us how to improve our well-being. We must journey down three paths: First, we must have some pleasure in our lives, such as taking a trip, having sex, or dancing with an attractive woman. Focus on getting of the “hedonic treadmill.” Pleasure is fleeting, and so we must find a more permanent form of happiness.

We must also learn to live the “engaged life” by working in an enjoyable and rewarding job, by immersing one’s self in leisure activities that provide a sense of flow, by developing meaningful friendships, by spending quality time with a lover, and by achieving what is important to us.

Finally, a work- life balance requires that we add meaning and purpose to our lives. We can do this by volunteering, developing our spirituality, embracing religion. We must find meaning beyond our own ordinary lives. It is about transcending the “self.”

We can simplify our lives by giving up multitasking. Multitasking is complicated and undermines our productivity. Multitasking stretches our attention and is stressful. Before undertaking a second task, We can focus on completing the first task.Instead, we must develop the habit of carrying out one task at a time. By completing one task at a time we will improve our productivity. For instance, read a book in a quiet space, without the distractions of the television and telephone. By completing one task at a time, you will make your life less complicated, as you will only need to focus your time and attention of one task, and not two or three or four. Multitasking is like six different people giving you orders at the same time.

We can simplify our lives by decluttering. There are many things you can do, such as organizing your books, musical CDs, magazines. Selling or giving away clothes that you are not wearing. Canceling subscriptions you don’t need. Tossing away the newspaper after you’ve read it, instead of building a pile. Clearing off counters and tables. Cleaning out your crawl space and closets and drawers. Hanging your keys on a hook, instead of dropping them in a place where you’ll forget where they are. Tidying and cleaning your car, so you’ll feel organized. If you’re not using some appliance or tool or piece of furniture, and don’t intend to, sell it or give it away, instead of allowing these possessions to clutter your living space.

We can simplify our lives by managing our finances and material possessions. Pay for wants with cash, and if you must use credit card, pay off the balance at the end of the month. Setup a budget and follow it. Save for an unforeseen expense or calamity or rainy day. For instance, if you save just $1 per day, you will save $365 in a year. Look for ways to cut needless expenses-such as the subscription to the newspaper that no one is reading or the premium cable channels that no one is watching. Read the flyers before grocery shopping and purchase foods when it is on sale. If you purchase a particular brand of cookies each week, buy an extra box when they are on sale. Focus on purchasing what you need and delaying the purchase of wants. Avoid buying things that are just “extravagant.” Do you need that extra pair of shoes, when you already own 20 pair? Focus on having “just enough.” Cut material purchases to “essentials.”

We can simplify our lives by disconnecting the digital gadgets, including the smartphone, tablet, and Internet. Digital technologies are complicated to use and require you to focus your attention, which often results in distraction. When driving, don’t text on the smartphone. When you walk along the street, observe the world with your senses, without talking or texting on the smartphone. When your at home, disconnect from the portable music player. When watching television, turn off the tablet. When you are talking to a friend, don’t reach for your smartphone when it rings. In the evening, after work, turn the smartphone off and relax. Instead of staying plugged in 24/7, spend some private time in peace and quiet.

We can live simply by slowing down. This means that we must make time to relax. We can spend an hour a day in solitude. We can read, listen to music, meditate. We can begin a regular fitness program, such as scheduling a power walk or doing yoga each day. We can find employment that doesn’t require us to work long hours during the week and on weekends. We can make time to do nothing–and just contemplate or reminisce. Instead of always having to be doing, we can choose to just “be.”

There are two important bits of wisdom that are part of my philosophy of living simply. The first is living in moderation. In other words, I avoid the extremes. You won`t see me climbing the side of a mountain or parachuting out of a plane. You won’t see me swimming alone in the lake or gambling away my life savings. I’ve learned that if I drink too much, I get a hangover. If I smoke cigarettes, I run the risk of developing lung cancer or emphysema. If if I fill my plate with an avalanche of food, and make it a habit, I gain excess weight, run the risk of developing health problems. If I speed on the highway, the probabilities increase of being stopped by a cop and given a speeding ticket. I have learned that taking the journey of extremes increases my risk of crisis. Crisis makes life complicated. Crisis often results in hardship.

The second bit of wisdom that I have embraced is to always do what is important, instead of waiting until it becomes urgent. Urgent matters often become a crisis. They generate stress and make life complicated, resulting in feeling pressured and overwhelmed. I discovered this principle in the 1980s, reading Stephen Covey’s splendid book, The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. There are countless situations or circumstances that require us to do what is important–and not wait until it becomes a crisis. For instance, before the battery of the smoke detector runs out of juice, change the battery. Don`t wait until the house is on fire to realize you forgot. Take your automobile in for a regular tuneup. Don`t wait until it conks out on a deserted road. Before you experience an unbearable toothache, have a regular checkup at the dentist.

No one forces us to simplify our lives. Living simply is a personal choice. Most people who make it part of their philosophy of life discover that their lives become less stressful, more predictable. Most people also discover that life becomes less complicated. There are fewer distractions, fewer responsibilities, fewer burdens, fewer commitments–which stretch our time, deplete our energy, distract our attention away from what is important to living a life of meaning and purpose, a life of happiness. I have learned that living simply improves well-being, happiness, and life satisfaction. Henry David Thoreau said it best: “Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify. Simplify. Simplify.”

Additional Reading

  • Walden by Henry David Thoreau
  • Simplify Your Life: 100 Ways to Slow Down and Enjoy the Things that Really Matter by Elaine St. James
  • The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People by Stephen Covey
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About Dave Hood

Lover of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction. Professional photographer and writer. Without the arts, life would be rather mundane, like a walk down the same old path on a dull day.
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