Beginning Simplicity: What Is Simplicity?

Wednesdays are simplicity days at SimpleProductivity blog.

Photo by Kalpurush

The message of “Simplify!” is all over the place. I see it on magazine covers, the message of entire books and websites, and hear it from people I meet.

Simplification in our complex world seems like a good goal. So why don’t more people do it?

Because simplifying isn’t simple.

Defining Simplicity

As Albert Einstein said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

It’s true; everything should be pared down as much as possible to fit our lives, but not beyond that point, or we have actually crossed the line into complication.

That leaves a lot of wiggle room. So where do we go to find out how to simplify?

The Problem With Simplification Publications

There are a lot of books, websites, magazines and other media out there that claim to help us simplify. I know, because I’ve read many, many books and articles on the subject.

I know that in order to sell these books, it has to be pitched as the solution to the problem. “Here’s your answer, just follow it!” the books are telling us. And if we fail to achieve what the author has achieved, we are left believing that we are the problem.

The problem with these publications is that this is the system that worked for the author. It may or may not work for you, with a different lifestyle, family configuration, job, etc.

How Far Is Too Far?

I remember being intrigued by the book “The 100 Thing Challenge”. In it, the author claimed to pare his possessions down to 100 things and reveled in the freedom and simplicity of it.

I have two major problems with this particular approach:

  1. As the author clearly stated, there were certain things that got lumped together as one item: underwear and socks, for example. Also, the author didn’t count things in his house that his family used like kitchen equipment and furniture.
  2. The author recommended paring down to levels I would find unsupportable. I cannot be bothered with carrying a pen with me everywhere; it is much simpler for me to put a pen in the places I write than to remember to carry one around.

Other books on simplification also offer advice on what they did, such as launder sheets less often (ewww….I live where it’s hot!) and start eating soup and muffins all the time because it’s simpler (I like varied food!)

So what can one learn from these books?

The Lessons

The lessons learned is that there is no one-size-fits-all method of simplifying lives. Each person must consider each aspect of his or her life and decide what is simple as possible…but no simpler.

In other words, take what you like and leave the rest. And leave any nagging suspicion that you’re not simplifying “right” or “fully” behind as well.

Over the next few months, I will be injecting articles on how I simplify my life, and what I consider to be the factors in the decisions I make. Hopefully you will be able to take these lessons and figure out what a good level of simplification is for you as well.

Photo by Kalpurush



  1. says

    While I think dropping your possessions down to 100 is a bit extreme, I do believe most people can go a lot lower than they currently are at and would be surprised at how much it does liberate them.

    Make a habit of giving one item of yours away per week. Each week you’ll make someone happy and you’ll slowly declutter your life for the better.

    • LJ Earnest says

      That is a great rate to do the declutter! I tend to go in spurts. During my daily 15 minute cleaning sessions, I have the option of cleaning or clearing. Right now I am clearing 2-3 days and cleaning the other two. It does help.