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 rightsizing one’s life, finding harmony and balance, restoring one’s life. If we find ourselves overextended in our emotional, financial, and time commitments, simplicity is one of the best ways to reestablish equilibrium.
Here are five ways to simplify your life.
Keep first things first.
Keeping first things first is a matter of focusing time, attention, and energy on the most important tasks. When we keep first things first we do not lose sight of our priorities. 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. The downside to this approach is that because many people haven’t thought through their priorities, they find it hard to figure out what is the most important thing to do first.
For believers who have said a magnificent “yes” to God’s reign and rule in their lives then they will have the courage to say “no” when simplicity requires it.
Make 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, gang members, police officers, burglars—are driven by what we value. Our values reflect what we give our lives to. Our use of time and our expenditure of energy reflect what is important to us.
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 fish.
The fisherman said, “I’ve caught enough fish for today.”
The businessman said, “Why don’t you catch more fish than you need?”
“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?”
The fisherman’s values were reflected in how he used his time. He knew he was successful, even though it was not apparent to other people. He knew that his success was not measured by how much he owned or how much money he had in the bank but his sense of inner contentment. 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.
We are not likely to relax, limber up, and enjoy a simpler life unless we have found inner peace, which eliminates the constant struggle to possess more.
Get rid of clutter.
Clutter is anything that distracts, creates detours in our lives, gets in our way, and makes our lives unnecessarily complicated. Clutter could be too many possessions, unreal expectations, over commitment, controlling people, or emotional baggage. It has the potential to leave us feeling out of control and victimized.
A president of a large publishing company sought out a world-renowned Zen Master. After unloading the tremendous business of his life onto the Master without provoking much response, he decided to be quiet for a moment. The Zen Master began to pour tea into a beautiful Oriental teacup until it overflowed the cup and spread across the grass mat toward the executive. Bewildered, he asked the Zen Master what he was doing. The Zen Master replied: “Your life is like a teacup, flowing over. There’s no room for anything new. You need to pour out, not take more in.”
Simplicity seeks to unclutter our lives. 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 practice de-accumulation. 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. So de-accumulate. Give things away. Or better yet, don’t buy what you don’t need. Masses of things that are not needed complicate life. They must be sorted and stored and dusted and repaired and serviced and resorted ad nauseam. Most of us could get rid of half our possessions without any serious sacrifice.
We buy stuff we don’t need, to impress people we don’t like, with money we don’t have. Get rid of the clutter and you’ll be able to relax, limber up, and enjoy life a lot more.
Learn to say no.
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. It doesn’t just happen that some people have lives that appear as easy. Things that are worthwhile are worth working for and sacrificing for.
So never equate simple with easy. Simplifying your life will take work.
The work of saying “No” to a society that wants us to buy now and pay later. The work of being disciplined in our spending and time use habits. The work of being focused in keeping our eyes on Christ and his kingdom rule.
Find your 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.”
One of the principle advantages of living simply is the life of freedom that accompanies it. A simple life is free from anxiety—about our reputations, our possessions, our tomorrows. It is being controlled by that which is life-giving and refusing to be controlled by that which is destructive.
Simplicity brings with it the freedom to enjoy life. The freedom to be all that God created us to be. The freedom to relax. The freedom to limber up. The freedom to enjoy life.
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