Simplicity is a concept that most agree is worth integrating in our lives.

I’ve never heard someone say, “I’d really like to complicate my life more.”  But, I’ve heard plenty say, “It’d sure be nice to simplify things.”

Simplicity seems to be a healthy approach for lifestyle and how we manage our personal finances.

The question becomes: how do we define simplicity?

For all of us, our only reference point is where we are in the moment – meaning, what is our family life, profession, zip code, life experience, genetics – simplicity will look different for everyone.

Living a simple life often is just associated with frugality and living under the radar.  But, this can’t be exclusively true.

Are CEOs of the world’s most profitable companies doing something wrong?  Jam packed calendars, unreachable by most, never not working.  They’re likely doing work that we all benefit from.  The best ones are leading employees, impacting culture, envisioning products and services that alter the trajectory of humanity.  They also likely have families of their own.

Suddenly abandoning that world for a vow of poverty and celibacy in the Himalayas would actually be very complicated.  Leaving their current situation does not create simplicity –  that sort of transition creates saddened employees, angry shareholders, a bewildered family, not to mention personal angst.  Nothing about that is simple.

Famously, Marcus Aurelius dreaded becoming Roman Emperor.  Not the responsibility as much as his humility and reverence posing tension with the often egoic notions needed to lead at that capacity.  He answered the call, and his life is a beautiful case study. However, this seems far from simple.

As long as simplicity is thought of as a ‘timeout’, some sort of deprivation, abstinence, a very binary refrain, or only a subtraction we’re likely on the wrong track when calibrating simplicity.  That version will always be unsustainable.  Thus, not an act of simplicity – but rather, an act of complication not standing the test of time.

By my estimation, simplicity will largely be felt by peace of mind.  For some, that will involve renunciation of all things, others a dramatic pursuit of career goals and leadership, and for most others somewhere in between.  A very good reason not to count other people’s money.

Regardless, I think all places on the spectrum share a few common practices of simplicity:

  • Solitude
  • Intentionality
  • Efforts in slowing down

A couple of quick notes of elaboration:

First, nearly every joyous person that I’ve studied (whether living in a monastery or a wildly public arena) practices some form of solitude.  Time carved out for silence, journaling, meditation/contemplation/or prayer.  Pick your word.  This helps them separate from negative (and surely) temporary emotions.  You might say closer to honesty.

Second, intentionality seems to particularly include the ability to take inventory.  Everything we have or want – how does it serve us?  To be clear, I can manufacture a purpose for just about anything – the mind can be deceitful.  Routinely, I’m surprised by the level of candor necessary (for this: see solitude).

Lastly, I’ve met very few people moving through life simply, and also, find themselves hurried. There is clearly an effort to slow down. Firefighters and EMTs are one of my favorite examples.  Likely, one of the few groups of people that could justify rushing around like someone’s life depended on their watch.  Yet, one of the first phases of training is scene arrival: establishing a sense of calm and careful assessment.  I always marvel at the pace in which they walk into a house or building.

These are practices of simplicity.  Acts that point towards freedom of worry, greed, and fear.  And, applicable no matter how many pages your tax return.

A word of caution: it’s nearly impossible to measure, especially in advance.  Simplicity is one of those ‘leap of faith’ things – which is precisely why we trend towards complication.  It’s much easier to complicate life.

Most important is that we even ask ourselves, “what would my simple life look like?”  Here I am with my family, my career, my talents, my place of residence, my peer group’s expectations, my own nice-to-haves.  What does that life look like if lived simply?

Likely, the best place to start is recognizing that simplicity isn’t necessarily about giving up something or decreasing quality of life.  This isn’t just self-talk about frugality (although it may be for you).  It’s far more than that.  Rather, simplicity grapples with unfound freedom of worry, greed, and fear. The practices mentioned above contend with that – at least a little. 

What a twist to the story: simplicity is about what we stand to gain vs what we must give up.

Thanks for reading.


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