It’s funny – I’ve written 36 columns about seeking simplicity over the course of a year and a half, and I have yet to define what simplicity means to me, and why I seek it.
Obviously, the issue has come up indirectly more than once. Just in my last column, I talked about aspects of country living that to me represent simplicity. And many of my other past columns have touched upon the various components of simple living that I strive for: organization, control, peace of mind…but what is the real goal here? How do I define it?
Because obviously—this isn’t the first time I’ve said this—my goal is not to simplify so that I have nothing to do. While that would be a simple life, it would also be an unbearably boring life for someone like me, who has literally thousands of things that I want to do.
I enjoy having a lot of irons in the fire. It’s what I prefer. And I enjoy having a lot of work to do. I don’t know any other way. I’m constantly seeking to take more in, and constantly seeking to put more out, and there’s much about that that is just fine and dandy as far as I’m concerned.
So then what is it that I’m looking for? In this hyper-connected world of pervasively invasive technology, where everything and everyone is moving at an unprecedented pace, just what does an information-saturated workaholic mean when he says he’s seeking simplicity?
Simplicity = Organization
What I really want is control, but I understand that I have to settle for the next best thing, which is organization. “A place for everything, and everything in its place.” (At least until the cat pukes on it.)
That desire for organization is the big driver behind my hopefully-not-endless quest to take out my backlogs, both physical and digital. Having so many things (and ideas) that are unknown, unaccounted for, and hard or impossible to find creates a constant unnerving itch in the back of my mind. And the closer I get to having all that stuff “under control”, the better I feel when I wake up in the morning and go to bed at night.
So there’s no doubt that one goal of simplicity for me would be total organization. I want to know where everything is, and be able to get to it easily. (I may actually reach this goal before year’s end. I know—crazy, right?)
Simplicity = Ease
One half of the “organization imperative” is control; the other half is ease or efficiency. Time is money, as we all know, but a lesser known fact is that it’s also time. And there’s only so much of that to go around. So I want things to be as easy and smooth as they can be.
That’s why I want a handle on all my stuff. It’s also why my mouth waters when I see one of those awesome wrap-around desks. And it’s why I didn’t mind so much living in a one-room cabin, where nothing was more than 5 steps away.
I think it’s everyone’s dream for things to go smoothly and easily. Or maybe I should say it’s everyone’s fantasy. Whether dream or fantasy, count me in.
Simplicity = Getting Things Done
It’s not just random things that I want to go smoothly and easily—it’s my things. I’ve got a list of things to do that’s so big it’s got its own lists, and those lists have grandchildren. (Which are now grown and having children of their own.)
It seems a little strange to say that simplicity means the ability to get thousands of tasks accomplished, and launch a hundred projects, but there it is. Luckily I’ve finally come to accept—not just to know in an academic sense, but really accept in my heart—that I can’t do it alone, and don’t have to.
There can be simplicity in the midst of complexity. Say it with me now: There can be simplicity in the midst of complexity. There can be simplicity in the midst of complexity.
Like any good mantra, that’s just opening a door in the mind, allowing a little truth to sneak in and have a seat on the couch. And that truth is that there can be simplicity in almost any moment, if you manage the moment right.
Believe it. Live it. Wait, am I talking to you, or me now? Anyway, moving on…
Simplicity = Freedom
Mmmm…now we’re getting into the good stuff. The payoff.
“What do I want to get done right now?” POW! Done.
“You know what would be great? If I…” Say no more—DONE.
“I kinda wish I had a little more-“ YOU GOT IT. Right there—boom! Anything else?
Check it out – it’s like The Secret or something! (The Simplicity Secret?)
Far enough down the Road of Simplicity, where things are organized, and easy, and getting done, there’s the Meadow of Freedom, where the Unicorns of Satisf-
OK, let’s ditch that metaphor, but you get the idea. One day all this simplicity is going to mean I can do what I want, when I want to do it. Beyond the To-Do List Forest, if you get my meaning. And no unicorns will be required.
Because at that stage, like, everything will be a unicorn, man. Get it? It’ll all be just groovy gravy. Dig.
Simplicity = Peace of Mind
How do you top that, right? What’s beyond the land of infinite unicorns?
(Yeah, we’re getting deep now.)
Isn’t that true, though? After all the fuss and muster, beyond the smoothing out and getting things done, and after the fun and freedom…then what?
One word: chillin’.
Simplicity = Happiness
This isn’t really a process of climbing a mountain or pyramid of simplicity up to some pinnacle just so me and my oxygen-tank-carrying sherpa can have a peaceful lunch up at the top.
And it’s not about finding a meadow where I get to hang out with unicorns all the time.
It’s not even about getting things done.
Wait—yes it is about getting things done. (My inner nihilist was getting carried away.) My point is that just because these are laid out in an order, doesn’t mean that they’re going to happen in some long sequential arc, with an end point of me just blissing out in a sensory deprivation tank on my private island somewhere.
It means that on my private island, when I’m getting things done, it will be with ease and organization, and guided by freedom. And because of that, peace of mind will never be far away.
In the meantime, my pursuit of simplicity, and my now years-long allegiance to that pursuit, provides me with little samplings of the treasures that await me. A little peace of mind here, a little freedom there, and a slowly increasing sense of organization.
And every now and then, I see a unicorn. So I know they’re out there.