Putting the Simple Back In

Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.
– Charles Mingus

One of the biggest challenges I have in my life is balancing the simple and the complex. I tend to oscillate back and forth between the two.

What usually happens is that I’ll have a period that’s simple for a while. I’ll have ample free time, even after spending a significant amount of time with my children. My finances are in good shape. Everything is good.

Because everything is flowing along so well, I get a desire to seek out new challenges. I’ll take on a few new things in my life – committee responsiblities, a work-related project, a new book, an increased social calendar, and so on.

And then things get more difficult.

I’ll start finding that I have less and less time to enjoy the things that most matter to me in life. I’ll be worn out in the evenings and have much less initiative to take care of things that need to be done. I’m less focused on my day to day choices and I become a lot more prone to spending extra money that I don’t need to spend. I feel more stress and less happiness.

My response is to start tossing stuff. I’ll schedule fewer social activities. I’ll not renew my commitment to a civic project that I’ve worked on for a while. I’ll put that partially finished manuscript somewhere else for a while (yes, I have two partially completed books that are just sitting there waiting to be finished). I’ll get back in control of my finances and revitalize my commitment to keeping organized.

Then, suddenly, I feel better again.

Here’s the amazing part: I would not do it any other way.

Why? My life improves when it is simple, but without adding complexity to it sometimes, I can’t discover new things in life and I can’t really keep in touch with what’s most important to me.

To me, a truly great simple life keeps you constantly in touch with what’s most important to you without drowning you in the things that are less important to you. The catch, of course, is that if you don’t expose yourself to new complexities sometimes, your life becomes a boring routine.

This “boring routine” is one of the things many people criticize and complain about when it comes to living simple or living cheap. They strip their lives of a lot of relatively unimportant things (a good move), but they don’t bother to continue to grow from there.

A simple life does not have to be a boring life.

A truly engaging and life-affirming simple life is one that constantly takes on new challenges and activities, but doesn’t object to tossing out some along the way, even things that have been with us for a long time but reflect a phase in our life that’s past.

A truly great simple life doesn’t try to “have it all,” but tries to have as much as we want of the things that really matter to us, above all else.

A simple life doesn’t waste time, money, energy, or resources on less important things when more important things are neglected and unused.

In the end, a simple life is one in which a person has spent a lot of time reflecting on what genuinely matters in that person’s life and what does not, and then doesn’t waste that life on the things that don’t matter.

And, with that, I’m going to go put on an old cowboy hat and a poncho and play “Jedi knights” with my son and daughter with lightsabers we made ourselves out of rolled-up newspaper. It might not be important and meaningful to anyone else in the world, but it’s important and meaningful to me (and probably to them, too). Why don’t you go do something that truly means something to you, too – and toss some of that less important stuff out on the curb while you’re at it?

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