Simple living sounds simple, right? I wish it could be. Our lives have evolved into a hyper-connected world in which everything seems to go a bit fast and complicated. We easily get overwhelmed with life because of the work we have, to earn the money we need, to buy things we don’t need to please the people we don’t like.
In general, simple living is about making ourselves available for what really matters. It’s choosing one handful with peace than two handfuls with stress and anxiety. It’s being content with wherever you are and whatever you have while working towards a better tomorrow.
Read on to get an overview of what simple living looks like. I will also share some thoughts on whether it is okay or not to want a simple life. Please note this is for information purposes only. This article does not intend to give professional advice.
What does Simplicity look like?
Have you ever thought of making your life a little less complicated? We live in a world where we are like robots programmed for a specific role in society. We grew up with our parents urging us to study hard, so we could land a good job; or, better yet, start our own business. Still, we dream of a life society has told us to be: to achieve more, to earn more, to be more.
The faces of simplicity are peace, productivity, and participation. Less stuff means more mental space. Less focus on the mundane means more work done. Fewer outside commitments mean more time for the family. Simplicity, in essence, looks like a pair of scissors you use to prune off the excess.
We want a life that is more than what we can imagine. But by doing so, we will soon find ourselves feeling miserable instead. We will eventually get the dose of reality that we cannot have and be everything we want. Perhaps it is wise to pause and re-evaluate the direction of our lives by asking difficult questions to further assess our values.
How can your life be better with less?Love People. Use Things – The Minimalists
Most people consider simple living to be a handicap. What if we could see life from a better perspective? When less is actually more? What if the life we’ve always wanted could actually be different from what society told us we should be? Let us dive deeper into what simplicity looks like:
- Peace: Less stuff means more mental space.
A few years ago, I entered the rabbit hole of learning the concept of Minimalism — and it greatly affected the way I view my stuff. I grew up with a belief that my self-worth is tied to my possessions. The more things I own, the more valuable I will be. And the more valuable I think I am, the more I feel good about myself.
I’ve always believed, to have enough is to have more. As a result, I tend to buy more than what I really need. I habitually get at least a couple of the same item, “just in case” one gets damaged or lost. One example is my attachment to collecting writing tools such as pens and pencils. I’ve already filled three cases with various writing tools which I never actually used as frequently as I should have. I amassed a ton of pens simply because I am afraid of not being able to write if ever I lose one of them.
Today, I only own one fountain pen alongside a Bullet Journal for me to keep my mind in order. Guess what, I had lost more pens before because in my mind, I know I have always kept a backup. Now, I never lose my pen (not only because it is expensive) but it is because there is only ONE thing I would be concerned about.
Being concerned about too many things costs more mental space than what we can think of. Maybe there is more to living simply than what we used to think.
- Productivity: Less work but more output.
Productivity has been one of the things I have grown to love. I love the idea of getting things done by David Allen, but I fell out of it sooner than expected. I used to spend a lot of time and money learning about different productivity apps, thinking it would really help me manage my life. Yet, the only thing that worked for me is to “just do it”. I fancied the idea of getting productive, but in fact, I was not doing anything at all. I spent more time tinkering around with my shiny new apps, validating the promise of better efficiency at work.
I hate to admit it, but my concept of work before I decided to live a simple life was different. I have always admired people who work their backs through having a lot of overtime. Furthermore, I even glorified the concept of working on a weekend. Now, I have discovered that truly productive people would not go overtime because they make sure they finish their work on or before five o’clock (or whatever time they call it a day).
One thing about living a simple life is “how do I get things done in a short amount of time?” There is this thing called Parkinson’s Law that tells us how “work expands over time.” This means if you decide to finish a task in 2 hours, you have to finish it in two hours. If we don’t limit the time needed in working on a task, it will constantly increase due to our perfectionism.
Working more hours does not guarantee we can accomplish more. Sometimes, it could also mean we have procrastinated in the time allotted for us to deliver our work. Moreover, if we finish our work at an appropriate time, we can now commit our precious time to what truly matters.
- Participation: Fewer commitments, more time with family.
Not only can we be truly productive with our work, but we can now also invest our precious time with our loved ones. Most of the time, I tend to over-commit, especially to pursuing new opportunities. There will always be a ton of opportunities we will encounter in our lives. However, we cannot say yes to every single thing.
When we say yes to something, we are saying no to another. When we say yes to working on weekends, then we are saying no to spending time with our kids. When we say yes to a new opportunity to earn money, we are saying no to other opportunities which might come.
There is this book by Barry Schwartz, called the “Paradox of Choice”, which says elimination of choices is actually better than “looking for more options” to ensure our best choice. Most of the time, our choices are representations of the things we value.
Being a dad, I have always thought of the idea of what if I were given a choice between work and my family? Which will I choose? Most of the time, working parents overlook the idea of time being a non-renewable resource. We can always earn as much as we can, but we can never take back the time we should have invested in our loved ones.
We can always say “yes” to new opportunities for career growth, and perhaps, business opportunities. However, over-committing to something ephemeral may not provide the results we truly want in being able to participate in the lives of our loved ones at home.
Is it okay to want a simple life?
Living a simple life can be one of the best decisions you will ever make in your life. That is if you can afford the trade-offs that come with it. Freedom has a price. There will be people you won’t please, and opportunities you will miss as you tread the path toward simplicity.
- Defying the norms.
In the society we live in today, most people measure a person’s success through their net worth. How much are you earning? What do you do to make a living? How much career growth have you achieved? Basically, choosing to live a simpler life is not easy as people will often find it different from the traditional road most people take.
We are commonly told to study hard, have a high-paying job, start a business, own a house, have a nice car, and then build a family. This sounds like a formula for success, which has worked over the years. However, no one formula fits everyone.
When I started to live a much simpler life, people started noticing how I had become happier compared to before. Every time they asked me about it, I simply shared a few principles of Minimalism that helped me with the path I have selected. However, they find it different because they are following the track of their own formula of success. Finding contentment with who I am is much better than living to society’s standard. I decided to be different.
- Missing out on opportunities.
When I chose to live a simpler life, I — at the same time — narrowed down my roles to only a maximum of five. These are my boundaries concerning my relationship with work. There are times when people ask me to join their venture, so I can earn an “extra income” through a side-hustle.
Yet, I opt not to because I don’t want to overcomplicate my life with more engagements. Knowing how to do something doesn’t mean you have to do the thing. It is a lesson I learned the hard way. One example is when a friend of mine asked me to join her growing team since I have above-average financial knowledge. I declined because I am already working as a full-time instructor with a counseling job on the side. Not to mention, I was also a new father during that time.
I know a good deal about marketing due to my corporate work before I became a professor. It was an opportunity I would like to say yes to. But in hindsight, I know I can compromise some things on the back end. I am aware I only have twenty-four hours a day, and it would be difficult to add another job. I’m sure, with divided attention, I will mess up on some of my current responsibilities.
Choosing which opportunities you will grab is vital. It is similar to choosing what you want to do, or who you want to be. I have seen a ton of opportunities I would like to get myself into, but I can only commit to a few things.
Ironically, living a simple life is not as simple as it sounds. Making a decision to live a simple life is more than just a choice, it is an action to take. Offloading stuff from our heads is a good first step. When we become mindful of the things we truly value, we will not be afraid of missing out on everything else. We will always find our joy wherever we are, whatever we have. Living simply is achieved through making a consistent decision to pursue a better life with less.