“Pare down to the essence, but don’t remove the poetry.” – Leonard Koren
So I’ll be brutally honest ladies, I was not too excited sit down and write this post. At first. I was overwhelmed and didn’t know where to start. My usual response to such feelings is to procrastinate and dawdle until the slice of time I have to complete said task is so gossamer thin, that I have no choice but to barrel through, fueled of course, by equal parts adrenaline and coffee. While I am drinking coffee as I type this at my desk in our bedroom, not atypical for a Monday morning, my focus has changed.
You see, the topic of simplicity is so expansive and just about everywhere you look these days, so it felt like a tumultuous task to undertake for one post. People write whole books on this stuff! But thank God for my husband Andrew who helped me refocus and write this. He sat down with me Sunday morning while the kids tore apart the living room and we wrote this together. I am beyond grateful for his insight, his stories, and his nudge of confidence to share how we can best lead lifestyles void of unnecessary clutter and excess, and full of what matters most. After a few minutes of chatting with him, the doorway of this topic busted right open when he started with one of his favorite lines, words that will drive the conversation we are about to have:
“Simple doesn’t mean easy.”
As a financial planner he shares these words with clients rather often with regard to money management and planning for the future. So many of us see others simplifying and paring down to the essentials to live minimally with a more abundant life, and because of the beauty and allure of the refined end result, they naturally assume it was easy to get there. Through justification, the process can gets overlooked while the product gets glorified. I think before getting into simplifying matters of the heart and home, something you can surely find PDF’s for all. over. Pinterest., one should know the how’s and the why’s before examining the what’s involved. It’s important for us to dig a little deeper before turning up the music and emptying every drawer in the kitchen! So I asked Andrew this morning to elaborate on what he means by “simple doesn’t mean easy” and this is what he said (I quickly typed and pretended the kids weren’t dumping every basket of toys we own into one big unorganized pile – hello irony):
“Simplifying is an art, and it’s not easy. Making things simple is more gratifying, but often times, it’s more difficult to do than to let things get cluttered up. In a world of constant raining down of information it takes work to analyze and compartmentalize that information, and more work to then eliminate the excess or what isn’t essential.” He went on to say, “Naturally, our minds want to complicate things more than they need to be for whatever reason (sometimes to satisfy the status quo), and people tend to over complicate matters to overcompensate for their own insecurities.
An example of this is how sometimes when people see a simply kept and tidy home on Instagram they assume that person is either:
A). lying and putting on a façade
B.) is in possession of some magic elixir that cleans and tidies each morning.
…few people entertain a third, likely more accurate option
C.) which is that person worked hard to get that space to look and feel that way because they value simplicity and tidiness.
We all do this to some degree because we are human and we judge by nature. But this is why turning up the volume on our own insecurities to give them a louder voice than they deserve is dangerous. This way of thinking feeds our ego and keeps us from growing in a positive way. There are of course, people who put on shows to garner likes and gain attention, but I think it’s pretty clear who shares authentically vs. who doesn’t on the Internet if you take a moment to see what it is they’re sharing. If you have been taking part in this retreat, perhaps it’s because you value your time and your authentic self over peering into the lives of others who may or may not be accurately portraying their time and authentic selves. Ring a bell?
Andrew and I continued to talk and he said something that really resonated with me, “The fact is,” he said, “simplifying is simple by nature, but it’s not easy to do or sustain. Choosing to sustain a simpler lifestyle takes a combination of diligence and emotional intelligence. To know what is essential, you first need to know your values and what matters most, and then you need to work to support those values by constantly evaluating and weeding out the nonessential. It takes a lot of energy to do this continually, but the end result is much more gratifying because you are doing work that reflects what matters most to you.”
I agree with him wholeheartedly. To create and then sustain a simpler lifestyle (not merely landing on a quick fix or one week detox) means one must make space to look inward and observe oneself with mindfulness. For example, our family values slow time together on the weekends, so we rarely plan to do much outside of the occasional meal out or church on Sunday. We keep time open for togetherness, and understand that over-scheduling on our family days is not something that we want in this season of our lives. Once we feel that is out of balance, we revisit how we are choosing to spend our time and if that choice aligns with our values. Below are some steps Andrew and I wrote up for creating and sustaining a simpler more wholesome lifestyle. They are practices he applies in the financial industry as well, naturally with different jargon.
Four Steps to Creating & Sustaining A Simpler More Wholesome Lifestyle:
- Observe: Know values forwards, backwards, frontwards. Ask yourself, what is it that matters most to me? Is it family time? Honesty? Creativity? Presence? Wisdom? First you must see what it is that you value before you can evaluate those inner values against external measures.
- Ask: Constantly ask yourself, does this align with my values? Continual self-evaluation must occur so you can stay true and disciplined to your values and not allow external factors to overcomplicate what you know to be true or important.
- Act: After you’ve asked those hard questions and looked inward, you now go through life with those values on the forefront – leading you and the choices you make. Does an excess of screen time go against the values I’ve chosen to live by? If it does, then you need to make changes. If not, then you act accordingly.
- Repeat: No one ever talks about sustaining a simpler lifestyle but it’s perhaps the most important part of this whole process. And you guessed it, while simple, it’s not easy. To sustain this lifestyle you must continue to observe, ask, and act over and over again. Sure, you could do a 30-day minimalism challenge or go buy books showing you what to do to simplify, but really, the significant part of this conversation is understanding that it takes persistence to keep this up. However, if simplicity is a value you truly believe in and want to live by, you will want to put in the work to sustain because you will be delighted with process and will end up savoring the result.
Andrew and I continued our conversation, me typing away as he spoke. He went on to share a few examples to illustrate this point even more, the first one connecting back to when we were in high school together. Did you know we are high school sweethearts? We started dating freshman year if you can believe that, and the rest was history, or for another much, much longer post. He recalled in English class, or most class where we were assigned to write essays on given topics, the best but most difficult teachers were the ones who put a page and/or word limit on our work. They told us to get rid of the unnecessary information; to share only was most true and essential. It was hard. It always involved lots and lots of drafts. It was messy. It was revealing. But in the end, what we were all left with was an essay that was rich with carefully chosen words. It didn’t include redundant or flowery language, nor did it go off on unnecessary tangents. It was to the point and concise in a thoughtful way. These teachers knew what was up. They were aware that this challenge would produce a great piece of writing, or at least a better one without limits. This is exactly what it is like to simplify matters of the heart and home. Imagine you only have room or time for so much, like that limit on an essay, and let the rest fall away. What you will be left with will be more intentional and rewarding.
Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. – William Morris
Okay, one more example he shared that I loved. It’s called the Elephant Theory, or something like that. Have you ever stood up close to an elephant? Like right up there with your face about an inch away from it’s thick, leathery skin? Yeah, me either. But imagine if you did, okay? What would you see if you were only an inch away from that beautiful, gigantic creature? You’d see thick, leathery skin and that’s about it, right? Sometimes when we are too close to something we are not able to see the whole picture, and our perspective has no option but to be narrowed based on restraints of our distance.
Example: I was too close to social media, and because of that, my perspectives on it were out of balance and all wacky. I was looking at it so close up that I was failing to see that it’s a tool in my life, not a force guiding my life. It’s easy to let this happen by the way. We get so wrapped up in superficial things because it feels good at the time, or we would rather not see the whole picture because that requires us to move. If we want to move against inertia, and if we want to back up to see the whole damn elephant and not just its thick, leathery skin, we must step back. We must move. We must take long, large steps away from that creature to see it in its entirety…to view the whole animal, and not just one part of its complex structure. Right now you guys, we are standing away from the elephant. We have made the choice to move and step back from a narrowing perspective that was no longer life-giving or healthy. That is a really beautiful thing, and I think you should be proud of yourself!
What does this have to do with simplicity? Well I think if you are feeling overwhelmed by this week’s content and call to action, perhaps you need to step back a bit more. Perhaps you need to move against inertia in a way that, while uncomfortable, will help you stretch and grow. It’s the only way we can make real changes here, and that’s what I am after. I think pretty PDF’s with going minimal and embracing simplicity icons and all that jazz are nice, but I think being brave enough to move back from the elephant (in the room) and then choosing to sustain that newfound growth is pretty AWEsome.
“Our life is frittered away by detail…Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let our affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand…Simplify, simplify!” – Thoreau
Does moving away from the elephant mean you need to throw all your crap away and go live in a tiny home down by the river? Nope. Does it mean you need a new, radical lifestyle that only embodies sustainable practices? Nope. Does it mean you must covert anything and everything to a digital platform to reduce your carbon footprint? Nope. Does it mean…blah blah blah you get the point. What it does mean is that you will gain insight and awareness with this distance, giving you room to feel your truth. Space between you and that elephant will give your truth more room to breathe, and consequently, more room for you to breathe as well. What that means for you, I don’t know. I do know that we all have truths unique to each of us, and giving them attention and tending to them with care is probably one of the best things we could ever do in life.
As I mentioned before, this topic is a big one, so I am not going to get into the nitty-gritty details of how to simplify everything because I can’t. Instead, I think it will be valuable for you and I to back away from the elephant and choose six areas of our lives that need simplifying. As a general rule of thumb, you first take everything out and look at it. Make three piles: 1). keep 2). toss 3). give. Items you keep are items that are useful or bring you joy. Bonus points if they are beautiful! Items you toss could be recycled material you no longer use or enjoy, or items that are broken and no longer provide utility. Items you give are things that can be donated or used/enjoyed by someone else.
Simplifying Step One: Choose three areas in your home that are overwhelming to you and need help. These are areas that add negative energy to your day, and ones that are dominated with an excess of stuff. My three are the kitchen cabinets and drawers, our craft area in the loft, and my email situation. I worked on my closet and organizing all our essential oils this past week so that’s they only reason they didn’t make my list. These three areas are messy, unorganized, and cluttered right now. I am going to spend this week simplifying them down to the basics and what I find to be both useful and beautiful.
Simplifying Step Two: Choose three areas in your heart that are overwhelming to you and need help. These could range from over-scheduled days to your cluttered communication with friends to you not having enough time for self-care. Whatever these areas are, they are affecting your heart by infusing disorder and negativity into your days. My three are picking only one play date a week because I know I cannot handle more, finding time to meet with my girlfriends more regularly, and making more time to connect with family who live in other states. These three areas are messy, unorganized, and cluttered right now. I am going to spend this week simplifying these areas down in ways to better reflect my values so my close relationships are more of a priority in my life.
“As parents we also define ourselves by what we bring our attention and presence to. This is easy to forget when daily life feels more like triage. By eliminating some of the clutter in our lives we can concentrate on what we really value, not just what we’re buried under, or deluged with.” – Kim John Payne from Simplicity Parenting
I have decided to keep the material for this week at bay because we will be doing a lot of simplification practices instead. These journal questions I’ve come up with are completely voluntary, as is everything I offer you throughout this retreat. That being said, I have started to answer them myself and have enjoyed reflecting on this further.
Questions To JOURNAL:
- What does your home feel like these days? And if you had to choose three words to represent the energy you desire in your home, what would they be?
- What areas of your home are too full and simulating?
- What areas of your home are the most peaceful and life-giving?
- What three areas of your home need the most cleaning, simplifying, decluttering, and organizing right now? Where do you feel like you’ve crammed in too much and are constantly feeling the negative energy pulling at you in those spaces?
- What would an outside observer think of the energy in your home? What would they think is most important to you?
- What does the flow of your day feel like most days? And if you had to choose three words to represent the energy you desire in your days, what would they be?
- What areas of your days and week are too full and simulating?
- What areas of your day and week are the most peaceful and life-giving?
- What three areas of your day and week need the most simplifying right now? Where do you feel like you’ve crammed in too much and are constantly feeling the negative energy pulling at you in those moments?
- What would an outside observer think of the energy and flow of your day? What would they think is most important to you?
And lastly, it’s hard to believe we are already halfway through out journey together. Can you believe it!? I am interesting in hearing whether or not are you ready for this retreat to be over so you can resume social media, or are you presently scheming up a way to never get back on it again? I admit, I am somewhere smack dab in the middle. I do not know what that means for me once January is over, and I am okay with not knowing right now. And if you have any advice, reading material or anything else that pertains to this week’s content, share away! Below are two of my favorite books on the topic of simplicity, and each of them is ear-marked and underlined through and through! What are some of your favorites?
- Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne
- The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo