I’ve talked about minimalism a number of times here on the blog and embrace a number of minimalistic tendencies. That said – I still have plenty of excess “stuff” and certainly couldn’t fit all my possessions in a carry-on suitcase. Perhaps Joshua Becker (a prominent “minimalist”) clarifies my view of minimalism best when he defines the pursuit as: “the intentional promotion of things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from them.”
A few weeks ago I went for a walk. Just a walk. No headphones. No companion. Just a walk with my thoughts. Usually, my mind darts off in a dozen different directions and I spend the whole walk untangling them. But this time I ended up with a singular focus – the concept of simplicity.
While in other seasons I might have been (perhaps subconsciously) aiming for adventure or challenge or achievement, right now, I realized, I’m craving simplicity.
I looked up a definition of simple (remember dictionaries?) and here are some of Google’s suggestions (I remember dictionaries, but don’t actually own one):
- plain, basic, or uncomplicated in form, nature, or design
- without much decoration or ornamentation
- easily understood or done; presenting no difficulty
- free of secondary complications; not limited or restricted
Life isn’t always going to be uncomplicated or easy (Twer that it was so simple; Hail, Caesar! anyone?). People I love will get sick. Tragic things will happen. Life will be hard and heartbreaking and frustrating and confusing. But for now – and hopefully in the middle of future challenges – I can try to approach life with a mind for simplicity.
I have done without electricity, and tend the fireplace and stove myself. Evenings, I light the old lamps. There is no running water, I pump the water from the well. I chop the wood and cook the food. These simple acts make man simple; and how difficult it is to be simple.Carl Jung
Sometimes complications and states of busyness are out of our hands. But, much of the time, our to-do’s and limitations are, at least in part, self-imposed.
I have a relative who fills virtually every minute of their life with something (including some very intensive hobbies) but is constantly bemoaning how busy they are. This person has purposefully built a life with no margin, but then complains about having a life with no margin.
Counterintuitively, achieving “simple” – be it for a wedding cake or in our weekly calendar – can take a lot of hard work and intention. It is difficult to be simple. Why? Perhaps because it doesn’t leave us anywhere to hide?
When we strip away the excess, are we happy with what is left?
I’m also coming to realize that if I want margin, I’m going to have to pursue it. I have a way of filling in all that white space with messy scribbles of things I could/should/have to do and that margin I want and need…poof…vanishes.
Margin is the space between our load and our limits. Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating.Richard A. Swenson
As I went through a brief Thoreau kick last year, I realized he has a lot to say about these subjects.
I did not read books the first summer; I hoed beans. Nay, I often did better than this. There were times when I could not afford to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work, whether of the head or hands. I love a broad margin to my life.Henry David Thoreau
Why does it feel shameful to admit I love a broad margin to my life? To say with confidence I need
some a lot of white space around my to-dos and calendar reminders.
Why do I feel bad admitting I enjoy nothing more on a Saturday morning than to spend it…puttering?
Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life? We are determined to be starved before we are hungry. Men say that a stitch in time saves nine, and so they take a thousand stitches to–day to save nine to–morrow.Thoreau
Finding the right balance between a full and contented life and an overfull life can be hard. And I also know it’s going to change – likely dramatically – as our family dynamics shift. Simple will almost certainly look and feel different from year to year.
To the relative I mentioned, my preferred margin would likely be far too liberal; for others, my margin would be too small.
But, overall, regardless of the margin we want or the level of simplicity we’re pursuing, I think the following thought is a good place to start:
Less but better.Greg McKeown
Your turn. Are you in a season of adding responsibilities and hobbies and adventures or, like me, are you craving simplicity and a broad margin to life? It can be surprisingly difficult to define – and achieve – the idea of “simple”. Thoughts?