Stock Up On Simplicity

Leave it to late capitalism to turn simplicity into an industry. Seriously. You can purchase a subscription to Real Simple magazine whose tagline is “Life Made Easier.” Now, what you’ll find in Real Simple is two hundred pages of advertisements for things like a simple cocktail dress for your annual holiday parties available from Bloomingdales for $360. Or, they recommend a minimalist organizing solution for the kids’ playroom for $470. Basically, it’s a catalog of stuff for you to buy to simplify your life. All of it offered up without a hint of irony. I suggest a new tagline: “How To Do Less With More.” Perhaps, the finest point that can be put on this was given to us by Tyler Durden in Fight Club when he said, “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.” This, friends, is not simplicity. Not by a damn sight.

The Minimalists have come closer to true simplicity. Josh Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus run what amounts to The Minimalists media empire. I encourage everyone to check them out at http://theminimalists.com for one reason. They speak a lot to the importance of value in deciding how and where to simplify your life. Living simply isn’t choosing to live a monastic life bereft of material possessions. Simplicity has much to do with assessing what value your material possessions have. And, inversely, one should assess the things we assign greatest value. What do you need to be happy?

I need books. Lots of books. Do I have an unhealthy attachment to my books? Definitely. But I value them. More than books, I value my relationships. Friends and family are the most valuable things to me. Clothing and other status markers mean very little to me. I didn’t get here overnight. I have resented my children and my wife for cutting into my discretionary income. I have beat myself up for not being able to cut it in vocations that pay well. I have had to evaluate whether material wealth and prestige of position were worth the sacrifices I would have to make to obtain them. Turns out, I’m cool without a lot of stuff. A couple of suggestions for helping you to embrace simplicity:

1. Be Poor.

No, it’s not enough to be “poor in spirit”. Be poor in wallet. Spend time working at something that gives you pleasure and pays shit. I am a hospital chaplain and adjunct college professor. I love both jobs. And with my wife’s paycheck from the local public library, we squeak just above the poverty line for a family of five. Does it cause stress? Most definitely, but it is the stress over circumstances that you can’t control that forces you to figure out what is important. Just spend some time being poor. You’ll thank me. Well, probably not immediately. But some day you’ll thank me.

2. Move.

There is nothing like moving from one home to another to streamline the purging process. If you’re smart you won’t drag crap from one place to another unless you plan on using it. But there is nothing like it for helping you assess what is of value to you.

3. Downsize.

This goes with the moving thing. Make at least one move in your life to a smaller home. You can downsize and keep your junk but you’ll have to decide if it is worth paying a hundred bucks per month to store it someplace.

If you do any of these three things, I can promise you that you will hate it. I can also promise you that you will not rest easy in the process. But the payoff comes down the road when you look around you and see only a handful of things you worry about losing. That, my friends, is freedom.

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