Mastering the Complexity of Simplicity

by Shannon Ables
Portland writer

The Simply Luxurious Life

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex and more violent.  It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.” –E. F. Schumacher

Even as a young girl I desired simplicity. Less stuff, being free from clutter and able to move freely and use my imagination. It seemed so elementary to me that if one had less to take care of, less to worry about, fewer unnecessary problems to deal with, that there would be more time to do exactly as one wished. And as I’ve grown up, the lesson and this simplistic approach to living has become even more permanently cemented as I go about my everyday life (thus the motivation behind “simply” in my creation of The Simply Luxurious Life mission statement).


So how is it that the world and daily living in our modern world have become so complicated? Could it be that as Douglas Horton states, “The art of simplicity is a puzzle of complexity”?


In short, yes.


Choosing to live a life of simplicity (not as a simpleton) takes conscious effort while the opposing lifestyle is actually something that occurs without thought, happens easily and tends to be an effect of not knowing where one wants to take their life.


Let’s take a look at the elements one must include in their day to day living to ensure they can live a life of simplicity which results in the ultimate goal of living a life of true contentment.


1. Discipline


”Unnecessary possessions are unnecessary burdens. If you have them, you have to take care of them! There is great freedom in simplicity of living. It is those who have enough but not too much who are the happiest.
Peace Pilgrim

Having self-discipline, the ability to say no when something doesn’t fit into your life plan, your value system or would take away time from your priorities, is the key to ridding out the unnecessary and freeing up your schedule for exactly what it is you do want to focus on.


There may not be a tremendous amount of support in certain scenarios when you say no, especially when you are the only one; in such instances, you must find the courage within yourself to trust that the life you want is more important than peer approval (hint – it usually always is).


2. Patience


If something is easy, it usually isn’t worth having, as most people will take the route of least resistance and because it came so easily most likely won’t appreciate it. Patience is required to allow the true quality of any relationship, work of art, experience, or valiant effort produce its fruit. Just as we wait for the tomato to ripen on the vine, we too must have the patience to wait for the rewards of our labors to produce themselves.


Raising mature, independent children, writing a book worth reading, cultivating a plan for educating our youth – these things along with so many other worthwhile goals take time, and we must not rush them or give up before they’ve had a chance to mature into their greatness.


Too many times, we become impatient and create problems and drama where there need not be. Perhaps by saying too much, by buying too much, or eating too much before our bodies have time to tell us they are full.  Do the necessary work, then take a step back and take a breath. The results will appear in due time, which is not always on our schedule.


3. A Clear Direction and Purpose


If you don’t know where you are going, you‘ll end up someplace else.” –Yogi Berra


The only way to know what to say no to and be discriminating so as not to complicate your life, is to know where you want to go. Once you understand the life you are attempting to create for yourself, self-discipline becomes significantly easier to practice.


It is the uncertainty that complicates life and prevents us from living simply.


4. Understanding the Difference Between Society’s Desires and Your Own


“Bringing simplicity into our lives requires that we discover the ways in which our consumption either supports or entangles our existence.”  -Duane Elgin



A large part of the unnecessary stress people bring into their lives is that they trust that what society wants for them is what they should want for themselves. And while a free market enterprise is a wonderful thing, it requires of the consumer to be savvy, knowledgeable and clear about what they want and need.


There is a reason advertising agencies are hired by businesses. Businesses want to know the best way to convince you to buy their product, and once you understand the rhetoric behind their approach, you can unwrap the mask of their presentation and look at the actual product. Once you see the product, the next question should be, do I need this and does it contribute to my life goals and priorities?


Regardless of the celebrity that is endorsing it, the statistics that they present or the sappy music they are playing, always answer these two questions first. By doing so, you will end up with fewer unnecessary items, more money in your bank account and less unnecessary stress.


5. Civility


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


Behaving in a civilized manner is to live respectful of others, the community you live and wish to cultivate, and to choose to do so even if no laws were there to provide consequences if you didn’t.


As the first quote of this post states, being more violent is not in tune with doing something simply because it is not hard to be violent as it reveals an inability to control emotions, anger and aggression.


In fact, to act or perpetuate violence is an act of regression to animalistic behaviors acted upon when one’s survival feels threatened. But because we are human, we are gifted with the ability to behave in a civil manner – to communicate our frustrations in a manner that is not violent, and in doing so solve problems using compassion, compromise and love.


6. Maturity


”Simplicity in character, in manners, in style; in all things the supreme excellence is simplicity.” –Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


To live a life of simplicity is to live life consciously. To be aware of your direction, to be respectful of others, yet strong enough to go your own direction. It requires a knowledge of oneself and the courage to step out on one’s own to understand who that self is capable of becoming.


And when things don’t work out as planned, it is the mature person who takes the lesson and moves forward, rather than remain pouting on the floor where they tumbled. Simplicity requires you to not induce extra harm by blaming or whining, while doing so would complicate one’s life unnecessarily.


Lawrence Kohlberg’s theory of moral development is a six tiered ladder of motivations as to how we live our lives. When we choose to do so for the betterment of society and the respect of others, we are revealing our level of moral development, thus our maturity. It is a choice to become mature, as simply being of an adult age doesn’t mean you are mature. Behaving in a mature manner requires great self-discipline, self-examination and a desire to understand the world. Yet more evidence that living simply is indeed complex.


So, yes indeed, a life of simplicity is not easy to cultivate, but once it is cultivated and continues to be tended, it can produce a life that fosters time and energy for the growth of your most wildest dreams. Had you complicated your life with extras and the unnecessary, the flowers (dreams) in your garden (life) would have been strangled by the weeds.


“Simplicity is the most difficult thing to secure in this world; it is the last limit of experience and the last effort of genius.” -George Sand


Join the discussion. How have you incorporated more simplicity into your life? Share in the comments below or on Facebook.

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