Now that I’m in the business of “keeping it simple”, I hear the phrase everywhere. It's part of having a guiding value. You ruminate on the concept and notice it more.
Often “simplicity” is used in questionable ways too. It’s held up on a pedestal like a grand achievement. We strive towards it but it’s outside our reach. We start out with the best of intentions yet end up making life more complicated.
Have you ever said, “if XYZ were better/bigger/nicer my life would be much simpler!” Like it’s around the corner – nearby, out of sight.
Simplicity isn’t a state of being. It’s not something you own, like a prize, and then you’re finished.
Simplicity is a practice. It’s something we must work towards every day. It’s the sum of all the little decisions we make. If left unchecked, complexity creeps in. We must be vigilant because we humans have a natural tendency to over-complicate.
So how do we practice simplicity? After musing over the topic I’ve come up with some core principles to follow. Below are lists of what simplicity is and is not.
Let’s begin by describing what simplicity is not. For many common concepts, like the qualities of a good manager, it is easier to describe what it isn’t than what it is. For example, a good manager doesn’t berate you in front of your peers.
Simplicity is not…
1. The easiest route.
2. A quick fix.
3. The first solution to come to mind.
4. An excuse to cut corners.
Use this list with a grain of salt. There will be times when you will break one of those definitions because it is the simplest, best choice. Nonetheless, I recommend you consider the points below.
Now, let’s discuss what practicing simplicity looks like.
1. Doing what is important to you. Your values are the foundation on which you will build simplistic habits. If the issue doesn’t align with your values, it adds complexity to your life. You should limit it as much as possible.
2. Considering an issue from all angles. To make the best decision, you must consider the needs and potential outcomes.
3. Being realistic about how an issue fits in with your current life. For example, if you have little personal time, focus on healthy eating instead of working out. That way you don't have excess weight to lose.
4. Doing your research. Remember the adage, “an ounce of preparation is worth a pound of cure.” You may need to consult Google.
5. Discipline to follow through on the practices. Decision fatigue is real. Save your energy for decisions that matter, not for little things like what to have for breakfast.
6. Looking for the y be hard, but it pays off in the long run. For example, when I get vegetables, I prep them all at one time. It takes extra time on the first day, but for the rest of the week I can make dinner much faster!
7. Creating efficiencies. For example, syncing your bank to QuickBooks Online means you don’t have to key in transactions one by one.
Sometimes creating simplicity will mean you take the longer, harder route. In the end, it’s the best decision because it is in line with your values and goals.
For example, say you value a tidy home and want to KonMari your house. The premise is simple: only keep the things that spark joy. Sounds easy enough, but the process is not easy.
On Marie Kondo’s Netflix show, you see her clients sifting through massive amounts of stuff. Their house is a disaster while they go through every item to determine if it sparks joy. To get simplified, it takes a lot of work! Going forward you must question every new item you bring home to make sure it sparks joy. Otherwise you can end up with a cluttered house again.
The benefits of having only what you need and makes you happy are priceless. The open physical space leads to lower stress and more creativity. Our brains love having blank spaces to play with. When Marie Kondo checks back in with the family later, they say the process was worth it.
The myth we need to dispel is that simplicity is the easiest, quickest option. It is a choice that takes concerted effort and time. We must choose and protect our simple practices to reap their benefits.
Now it’s time to go forth and create your own simplicity. Tackle it one issue at a time, and you will get to everything in due time. Remember it’s a practice. It’s a lifestyle choice. Simplicity compounds and you’ll find into spilling into other areas of life.
As the poet Paulo Coelho wrote, “it’s the simple things in life that are the most extraordinary.”