Transcendentalist philosopher Henry David Thoreau argued that, for humans, simplicity is the law of nature. We thrive in simplicity: it’s an optimal state free of clutter and without unnecessary weight.
When our lives are simple, it’s easier to see where we stand, come from, and move towards, as the minimal chaos troubles our vision.
Thoreau compared the value of simplicity to a mathematician solving an equation; he “reduces it to its simplest terms.”
Because of today’s many possibilities, people tend to overcomplicate life. Our consumerist culture encourages us to buy unnecessary stuff, instilling in us that our lives are incomplete or inconvenient without them.
Also, being part of a performance-driven and highly competitive society, our lives tend to be busy, and our goals are many.
Modern life is cluttered with stuff, social connections, ideas, and stimuli. Worries and wishes fill our minds, and we’re always restless because we fail to distinguish the forest from the trees.
When immersed in complexity, it’s difficult to see the essentials. “The ability to simplify means eliminating the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak,” stated painter Hans Hofmann.
Studies suggest that there’s a link between simplicity and well-being. For example, a paper published by The Centre of Development Studies from the University of Bath suggests that voluntary simplicity contributes to subjective well-being in several ways.
Voluntary simplifiers report the experience of greater security, autonomy, competence, and the feeling of doing the right thing; the latter relates to ecological and societal concerns.
Aside from such experiential benefits, a minimalist approach to life could lead to us creating more overview and living more cheaply.
This blog explores ways to simplify life to boost overall well-being and how you can simplify your life and live joyfully.
Where You Live Matters
The ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes lived with minimal possessions, living in a barrel on the streets, only having some rags and a drinking cup.
But when he saw a child drinking water using his hands, he threw away his drinking cup, saying: “A child has beaten me in plainness of living.”
Diogenes wasn’t the only one who lived with almost no possessions. Certain hermits and various monastic orders renounce worldly possessions, partly to free themselves of the burdens that come with them.
Dalai Lama stated in an interview, and I quote: If one’s life is simple, contentment has to come. Simplicity is essential for happiness. Having few desires and feeling satisfied with what you have is vital: satisfaction with just enough food, clothing, and shelter to protect yourself from the elements.
Of course, one doesn’t have to be a cynic, Buddhist monk, or hermit to experience the joys of owning less.
A minimalist approach to one’s possessions can make a significant difference in one’s life, as it removes the unnecessary clutter our senses can perceive in our immediate environment.
According to Carl Jung, our living spaces are extensions of ourselves. Thus, keeping those spaces clean has a direct impact on the psyche.
Also, the more stuff you own, the more you need to worry about, take care of, and protect. The fewer worries, the better one feels.
The fewer things to protect, the more time and energy one saves. Also, owning less makes us more agile.
We could ask ourselves what we truly need.
Do we need large houses with six bedrooms and two bathrooms? Or would a smaller place suffice? Do we need an expensive car? How many of the clothes we own do we wear? And how many movies and television series do we watch?
But pursuing stuff is tempting, as our consumerist culture promises happiness due to purchase and ownership.
In one of my videos, “Can Money Buy Happiness,” explained that material possessions aren’t great investments in contentment (as opposed to experiences).
After the purchase, we may experience a period of euphoria which quickly subsides. Roman author and politician Pliny the Younger stated: “An object in possession seldom retains the same charm that it had in pursuit.”
So, if we keep our possessions minimal, we won’t miss out long term satisfaction. Moreover, by not buying so much stuff we don’t need, we don’t waste money on fleeting moments of happiness while burdening ourselves with ever-increasing piles of non-essential rubbish.
From a more artistically minimalist point of view, just owning less stuff is only part of the equation.
A simplified and uncluttered living environment also depends on how we design it.
Change Your Social Life
Even though human beings are social creatures, people’s presence could be a significant burden.
If we’ve surrounded ourselves with too many people, or worse, the wrong people, our social life may cause us more harm than good.
The problem with having many social connections is that we often don’t see which of those connections we enjoy.
For example, we may be part of a large social circle, but within that circle, only a handful of people we genuinely connect with.
At the same time, all those people we don’t connect with expect us to attend their parties and other events.
We may not even enjoy these events and see them as social obligations. With friends, quantity probably isn’t better than quality.
Interestingly enough, research conducted by evolutionary psychologists suggests that having fewer friends is a sign of intelligence.
This research shows that more social interaction correlates with greater happiness. However, these correlations are diminished or reversed for intellectuals, meaning that many social interactions make them less happy.
Depending on what kind of person you are, these outcomes may be another reason to simplify your social life.
The term ‘social minimalism’ points to minimizing one’s social interactions, limiting them to what’s essential for one’s satisfaction.
Social minimalism doesn’t have to mean cutting out friends or becoming a hermit, as the amount and nature of social interaction one prefers is personal.
Simplifying our social lives isn’t necessarily limiting the number of friends; it could also be limiting the number of social interactions with these friends and being selective about what kind of social interactions we engage in.
We may avoid needless, repetitive chit-chat at specific social gatherings while embracing one-on-one conversations during forest walks.
Feeling overwhelmed by our busy lives is a common complaint in modern times, which goes hand in hand with anxiety and stress.
But, in many cases, it’s not just because life demands too much of us; it’s also because there’s too much noise: mainly because of digital technology.
Life is full of distractions. Especially after the arrival of modern technology, the amount of stimuli the average human experiences is unprecedented.
At any time of the day, text messages, emails, phone calls, and notifications of our countless social media pages come in.
There are numerous television channels to choose from on top of an increasing number of streaming services, and our phones grant us unlimited online information.
Unsurprisingly, we experience a nagging feeling that there’s always something to be done and that we’re missing out.
‘Digital minimalism’ is a form of limiting one’s time using technology. Author Cal Newport wrote that our sociability is “too complex to be outsourced to a social network or reduced to instant messages and emojis.”
His book ‘Digital Minimalism’ offers ways to declutter digitally without throwing away the baby with the bathwater.
After all, technology can be very beneficial. He describes digital minimalism as follows. He quoted:
“A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value and then happily miss out on everything else.”
By cutting down our online time, we experience much fewer unnecessary distractions and stimuli, which (considering how widespread digital technology is) significantly reduces clutter.
Set Goals And Ambitions
Indecisiveness and procrastination are illnesses of our time: an era with countless possibilities and myriad choices.
For many, it’s challenging to set priorities, as there are so many ways to go, so they want too much and focus too little.
Unfortunately, if you want everything, you’ll eventually have nothing. The schedule of the average modern-day Western individual is cramped.
This mentality of “always needing to be doing something” reflects how many of today’s parents raise their children.
Aside from school and the occasional house chores, these kids do not ordinarily attend two or more different sports and several other activities weekly.
On Saturday, it’s soccer practice; on Sunday, it’s boy scouts; on Tuesday, it’s tennis practice; on Wednesday, it’s piano lessons; and on Thursday, it’s horse riding.
We see that young adults continue this trend, stuffing their schedules with many undertakings. Swiss philosopher Henri-Frédéric Amiel stated, and I quote:
“A man must be able to cut a knot, for everything cannot be untied; he must know how to disengage what is essential from the detail in which it is enwrapped, for everything cannot be equally considered; in a word, he must be able to simplify his duties, his business, and his life.”
A minimalist approach to our schedules creates oversight and may help us concentrate on what’s essential in our lives.
In doing so, we need to be able to say ‘no’ to certain things and be willing to walk in a different direction than our peers in exchange for more time and space in our agendas.
Mind: A Powerful Tool
We can declutter our environments as much as we want; if our minds are full of rubbish, then we’ll likely complicate our lives despite our simplified surroundings.
Overthinking, worrying, and ruminating make uncomplicated things complicated. Also, it often makes problems much more significant than they are.
In fact: problems originate in the mind, not in the outside world. Living a simple life while burdened by racing, complex thoughts seems pretty contradictory. Our living rooms may be minimalistic and clean; our heads may be full of worries about work.
Our agendas may be spacious; our brains may ruminate about past events.
If obsessive thinking haunts us every waking minute, despite our simplified surroundings, how futile have been our efforts to simplify our external lives for well-being?
Without a doubt, an uncluttered living environment may contribute to mental clarity. But simplicity is best served with the coolness of a tranquil mind. Thank you for watching.