No wiser words were ever spoken than these from the author, philosopher, and naturalist Henry David Thoreau. Several years back, I began feeling a strong desire to simplify my life. At the time, I had been using retail therapy to help fill the void in my life while simultaneously feeling emptier and emptier. I realize now that the more stressful moments of my life are also the times when my life is artificially full with activities, people, and things that don’t add meaningfulness or value. It is when my life is going well that I also am practicing simplicity. This is not to say that my life needs to be uneventful, boring, or lacking in order for me to be happy, but rather that I fill it with the right kind of activities, priorities, and goals.
For example, many people feel pressure to get married and have children because that is often the message sent out by society, in the forms of television shows, advertisements, job benefits, tax credits, would-be grandparents, etc. Children can be a blessing, but they also require a lot of time, money, and exasperation. Thus, the decision to procreate should not be taken lightly. Likewise, some feel the need to amass certain items or reach certain goals they feel they need in order to “make it”. These could be a new car, home-ownership, or a certain amount of savings in the bank by 30 years old. The problem isn’t the things themselves or having goals. It’s the fact that they come from an inner uncertainty about ourselves and whether we are good enough, in-and-of ourselves.
A simple life isn’t about lack. Instead, it’s about removing the undesirable noise and chaos, regardless if others tolerate the noise and chaos in their own lives. It’s about realizing how precious time and options are and putting thought into decisions (especially large ones like parenthood) before making a decision based on societal expectations. It’s about understanding that every decision for something is by default a decision against something else.
I think about my own problems and those of people in my life, and I can’t help but find most of them are self-inflicted. Many are as a result of not just one bad decision, but a sequence of them. With exceptions such as a debilitating genetic disease or being born in a war-torn country, we have a lot of power over the way our lives will go. And slowing down and figuring out what is vitally important to us will also make crystal clear what doesn’t actually matter at all. I am still figuring out what is important to me and what is not. I have a lot of it figured out already, but still struggle to hear my own voice over those of others telling me what I should do, believe, think, buy, and spend my time on. I just know for most of us life doesn’t have to be hard if we don’t make it hard. “Simplify, simplify, simplify!”