“If I had my life to live over again . . . I’d like to make more mistakes next time. I’d relax. I would limber up. I would be sillier than I have been this trip. I would take fewer things seriously. I would take more chances. I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers. I would eat more ice cream and less beans. . . . If I had my life to live over, I would start barefoot earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall. I would go to more dances. I would ride more merry-go-rounds. I would pick more daisies.”
This is the sage advice of Nadine Satir, who at the age of 85 summed up what so many of us need to hear: Relax, limber up, kick off your shoes. Life is not complicated. But we have made it complicated.
Nadine is not alone in her slow-down-and savor-life perspective. Henry David Thoreau, in his classic work, Walden, urged, “Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.” The pensive Gandhi reminded us to “live simply so that others may simply live” while Robert Browning so succinctly declared, “Less is more.”
Simplicity has seldom been more needed than it is today. Health requires it. Sanity demands it. Contentment facilitates it. Simplicity is crucial to finding harmony and balance. If we find ourselves overextended in our emotional, financial, and time commitments, simplicity is one of the best ways to reestablish equilibrium.
How do we live simply?
- Living simply is keeping first things first.
Keeping first things first is a matter of focusing time, attention, and energy on the most important tasks. The benefit of keeping first things first is that it gives us a sense of order to what we do. Focusing on what matters most helps us feel more satisfied and fulfilled.
2. Living simply results in a lifestyle adjustment.
Our priorities impact our values. When we establish our priorities then our beliefs and values will be readjusted. All of us—parents, students, business people, police officers—are driven by what we value. Our values reflect our use of time and our expenditure of energy.
A fisherman was sitting lazily beside his boat when a well-dressed businessman came upon him. The businessman was disturbed that the fisherman was idly lying on the bank. He asked why he was not out in the river catching more fish.
“Why would I want to do that?” asked the fisherman.
“You could make more money, buy a bigger boat, go deeper and catch even more fish and pretty soon you would be rich and have a fleet of boats like me,” replied the businessman.
“Then what would I do?” the fisherman asked.
The rich businessman said, “You could sit and enjoy life.”
To which the fisherman replied, “What do you think I am doing now?”
Contentment, as the fisherman knew, comes not from how much we make but from learning to be content with what we have. Value is something internal rather than external.
3. Living simply involves getting rid of clutter.
Clutter is anything that distracts, creates detours in our lives, gets in our way, and makes our lives unnecessarily complicated. Emotionally, we release our worries, we reconcile our friendships, we forgive our enemies, and we begin anew each day. Materially, instead of possession gluttony, we de-accumulate. Like a long-distance runner, we strip away anything that will impede our progress. “The ability to simplify,” according to the painter Hans Hoffman, “means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”
Remember that what we own has a tendency to own us. If we gave things away, or better yet, don’t buy what we don’t need, our lives would not be so complicated. Most of us could get rid of half our possessions without any serious sacrifice.
Think of your stuff this way: We buy stuff we don’t need, to impress people we don’t like, with money we don’t have.
4. Living simply is never simple.
No matter how simple that perfect golf swing or flawless piano concerto looks to the casual observer, it is the result of much careful preparation and execution. The truly great ones make the difficult look effortless because they have practiced. The same is true with living simply. So never equate simple with easy. Simplifying your life will take work.
5. Living simply is freedom.
Richard Foster in his classic book Celebration of Discipline writes, “Simplicity is freedom. Duplicity is bondage. Simplicity brings joy and balance. Duplicity brings anxiety and fear.” A wise man observed that “God made man simple; man’s complex problems are of his own devising.” A simple life is free from anxiety—about our reputations, our possessions, our tomorrows.
Simplicity brings with it the freedom to enjoy life: The freedom to relax, to limber up, and to enjoy life. So go ahead. Be sillier, eat more ice cream, pick more daisies.