SIMPLIFY ME

May 11, 2011

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

One of the underlying themes or principles of this blog that I think we should incorporate into our lives is simplicity. Not simplicity as in living in poverty or getting rid of everything you own. But taking a minimalist approach to how we live to increase the quality of our lives and the quality of what we have.

In the world today the average person is drowning in “mountains of stuff” that has to be managed. Additionally we are barraged with an endless stream of media and information that dulls the senses. Technology is in my view supposed to simplify our lives, but instead it is often the harbinger of stress and complexity.

Is it any wonder we find it hard to think straight?

Long before I had the idea of this blog, I noticed that I had a predisposition towards simplicity and minimalism. Not perfected by any means, but a yearning towards simplicity with style and function. Below is some of what goes through my mind as I come across things during the day:

  • Why do manufacturers have to plaster electronics with stickers detailing all the features that are already listed on the packaging?
  • Can’t the advertisers give us a break? I really don’t want to be advertised to while standing at a urinal in a public restroom or while I am pumping gas.
  • Why won’t hospitals, clinics, and human resources departments utilize computers to fill in forms without requiring the the person filling in the form to give the same information for the same question on three different forms?
  • Don’t get me started about the government and taxes…
  • Its interesting how people who grew up in poverty end up being successful and amass a “mountain of stuff” that they almost never use.
  • Its amazing how much stuff people bring home and never use-  just because it was free.
  • The average computer case is gaudy and ugly. Apple’s hardware is beautiful.
  • We are surrounded by a sea of cheap, plastic trinkets that are continually marketed to the masses. Consumerism is out of control. But we cannot blame the system or the companies really- we are to blame.
  • Cars and trucks should have clean lines.
  • Why do we insist on holding onto something we haven’t used for the last 5 years?
  • Can we outlaw fine print?
  • Convergence in tech is the way to go… when done right.

Those are some of the thoughts that go through my mind. The more I apply simplicity the more I like it, the less encumbered I feel. Simplicity though is not purely a physical manifestation. It has to start “between the temples”. We have to simplify our thinking. De-clutter our minds and shut out the noise. A cluttered mind will create a cluttered environment…. a cluttered life.

Ever sit down to watch a show only to feel dumber than before you watched it? It’s time to remove the senseless garbage from our lives in whatever form it takes.

By a sudden purge or by gradual steps, for the sake of our sanity and pursuit of a good life we must master simplicity.

Look for the clutter and unnecessary complication in your life:

  • Items you never use, books you don’t read, clothes you wont wear, and the Bowflex in the garage collecting dust.
  • Cheap, broken, or free trinkets.
  • What are you looking at and listening to that clutters your mind?
  • The wrong people will add stress and complication to your life and your mind. Liars, thieves, drama queens, drug addicts, and other characters of poor repute who have no intention of improving themselves or helping you have got to go.
  • Bad food definitely complicates your health and corrupts your ability to have a sharp and peaceful mind.
  • Lousy bosses, long hours, and unappreciative clients all add up to insanity. Especially when that stuff follows you home.
  • Debt… it really needs no elaboration. It sucks up your time, your money, your well-being, and sometimes your dignity.

There are so many areas in our personal lives that we can clean up and apply simplicity. A desire for the finer things in life through a balanced minimalist approach is all you need to get started.

The eventual goal is to minimize our egos.

Article by Chris Harris @ Between the Temples. Image credit: Puuikibeach

{ 4 comments }

Barbara Sherman August 30, 2011 at 7:15 AM

Great post, Chris. My daughter, a teacher and social worker tells her students and clients to be “Educated consumers” to think before they buy and to look at advertising with a skeptical if not cynical eye.

Chris Harris August 30, 2011 at 8:35 AM

Educated for sure with a sure grip on impulsive buying. I once new a lady who created all kinds of debt from impulsive buying. She finally had enough of what she was doing and started to pay off her debts and sell the unnecessary stuff she bought.

Whenever she felt the impulse to go shopping, she would go to the store put anything and everything she wanted in the basket until it was full or she was tired of shopping. The she would stare at all the “stuff” for a moment and simply walk away and go home.

She said doing that weaned her off her compulsive/impulsive buying habits and allowed her to pursue more meaningful things.

David September 26, 2011 at 12:25 AM

This post offers some valuable thoughts and ideas that are quite beneficial to me right now. I appreciate your concept of “balanced minimalism.” I’m beginning to find tiresome the constant barrage — indeed, it’s almost another form of advertising — from the “lifestyle blogging community” about the evils of physical possessions and the joys of living with “fewer than XXX-hundred things.” “What are you watching or listening to that clutters your mind?” One of the things I’ve recently purged was the number of “minimalist bloggers” I follow. I grew weary of what seems to have become a competition as to who can live with the fewest items.

I have to laugh a bit at your characterization of Apple products. I agree, I truly appreciate the simple design of most Apple products, and am an Apple user. I have friends, however, who belittle the “Apple snobs” for falling for slick designs and slicker marketing, claiming (this argument is SO old) that PC-based products perform the same function at a lower cost. I disagree, having a PC in the house as well. The “clutter” of the PC operating system is a major hassle, and indeed a stressor. With my Apple products, I turn them on and they go. The PC, however, seems to require some kind of update every time I turn it on, and the simplest of functions requires multiple keystrokes and endless searching for hidden menus. Thus, the beauty of Apple hardware goes beyond mere appearances to include function as well as form.

The problem is, the “simplicity” of Apple products is seductive; there’s always a temptation to add one more shiny thing to the collection!

I slightly disagree with your view on “convergence in tech,” although that depends on the definition of “done right.” Personally, I can’t abide so-called “smart phones.” I don’t want a data plan, I don’t want a phone that does ten-thousand goofy things that are more efficiently done on a desktop or laptop computer. I want a phone that makes phone calls, and okay, I appreciate text messaging. But beyond that, I prefer dedicated devices that perform other functions, like web surfing or photo taking, more easily and with better quality. I realize I’m in the minority in this regard, but for me, adding too many features to mobile phones is simply another form of clutter, making what was once a simple, elegant, and truly amazing device (if you remember the days of being tethered to a land-line phone, you’ll understand just how amazing cell phones are) into a fussy, fidgety mess.

“By a sudden purge or gradual steps….” Again, as with your “balanced minimalism” statement, I appreciate the realistic approach you suggest. The “sudden purge,” while dramatic and sometimes appropriate, isn’t the best approach for everyone. I’ve done “sudden purges” before, and some things I parted with during those purges I still regret… and sadly, I’ve cluttered up my life with more junk, true junk, partly in response to grief over parting with something “nice” that I shouldn’t have. From personal experience I have learned that a more gradual approach is better for me… with the occasional surge of higher-order stuff-dumping!

I love your story in the comments about the acquaintance who loads up her shopping cart, then looks at the pile of “crap” and walks away! That sounds like an excellent strategy for tapering off the consumption addiction. Sadly, there’s no effective way to apply the same method to online shopping. Those items sitting in the virtual check-out cart don’t look quite as “junky” as they would heaped together in an actual, physical pile.

Useful thoughts here. Thanks for posting!

Chris Harris September 26, 2011 at 10:28 AM

Hello David,

I think you take first place for the most in depth and thoughtful posted to this blog yet- thank you!

Your thoughts about a lot of minimalists today is how I feel- its not for me. I think minimalism has its place, but not at the extreme scale that you are referring to. If it works for them- that’s great. For the average person… not so. I don’t know how much you got to bounce around on the blog, but I do address extreme minimalism here and I just posted a new page about balanced minimalism specifically.

My fascination with Apple is the minimalist design, and its so clean. I also appreciate what seems to be good, solid hardware. I have an iMac that I use with Windows 7 installed bare-metal. It’s ironic that Windows runs so much better on Apple hardware- it just works.

The slick designs and marketing does create the allure and seduction to buy more of Apple’s things- I feel it. For me the iMac has been the most solid computer I have used at home. The iPhone has been the most reliable phone I have ever carried. And that is all I have bought. I did try to like the iPad. I even tried to evaluate the iPad as a laptop replacement since I like the form factor so much… but it does not work the way I do on a laptop. Apple isn’t sucking me in on everything ;)

I appreciate where you are coming from on convergence. The reason I appreciate convergence in hardware goes back several years to when the Palm Pilots were popular. I carried a Palm Pilot for contact and calender, basic cell phone for communication, and an MP3 player for music. I would try to juggle these things and wonder why a phone couldn’t do all of this. This is the beauty of smart phones and computers in my eyes. One platform that can do many functions via software. But there is credence to what you say about all the extra software and functions being another form of clutter. As an IT professional I see how a lot of people create their own computer problems by virtue of installing every piece of software they find or that is offered. Your point is well taken.

Your thoughts about taking a realistic approach with minimalism is what I wanted people to pick up on- I am glad you did. I think we all could use it, but there is no way people are going to the route so many of the other minimalist have. As I mentioned in my newest post- there is a place for material possessions of all kinds. What we need to do is consider how we perceive and thnk about our material possessions. Further- I don’t think the person who drives a Prius or chooses not to have a car should look down on the person who prefers a BMW and vice versa.

If we are going to own things, make it about quality not quantity. Make it about using possessions more as a tool to add enrichment or utility to your life and work.

David you made great comments all the way around. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your thoughts. I hope you will keep coming around.

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