Photo by Hannes Caspar
Guest Post By Tom Atkins
“The simplest things are often the truest.”
Several years ago I went through an unwanted divorce. I felt I was losing so much that was important to me – my marriage, the daily presence of my children, my friends in that former couples-oriented world.
I moved from the large 1700’s farm house I had been restoring for the past 15 years into a very small apartment. More than half the possessions I had accumulated during my life wouldn’t fit, and had to go.
And part of my identity went with them. The part that had been a “husband” was suddenly gone.
Was I a mess? Was I ever! And so – as my life fell apart around me – I went into counseling, and was blessed to find a counselor who saw to my soul both early in the process and with great patience.
Lots of good came from that counseling, but one of the most valuable (and unexpected) rewards was a rediscovery of simplicity from a healthier and more effective perspective than I’d previously had.
If you’ve read anything about simplicity, you may have been led to believe it’s a panacea for everything in life. What good can’t come from simplifying life? Do it well and you are promised better relationships, less stress, increased productivity, personal empowerment, and excessive joy in every facet of your life!
And guess what? All of those claims are pretty much true. The benefits of simplifying are enormous and well documented…and now can be personally attested to by me.
It is not, however, as EASY as its proponents sometimes make it seem.
It is not just about getting rid of stuff.
Unfortunately, in the search for simplicity, our initial inclination is to focus on what we will have to give up. And as soon as we start thinking about giving anything up, we become resistant. The whole process becomes something to white-knuckle our way through instead of something to move towards joyfully and hopefully and powerfully.
The wise counselor I was lucky enough to find after my divorce taught me a very different view of simplicity.
Here are some of the key lessons I learned:
- Simplicity is more about focusing on keeping what’s important than on what we are giving up. Once we clarify our life goals and identify what’s important in reaching them, everything else becomes little more than distracting clutter that’s actually quite easy to let go.
- Simplicity is best achieved in small steps. Leap in and resolve to change everything in 30 days, and you’re doomed – no matter what the articles in the newsstand magazines say. If you try to change too much at once, you won’t get a sense of what’s working and what isn’t. That’s because….
- Simplicity takes time. As with any growth process, we have to listen to our feelings and live with each change for a time to know if we are on the right track. We need to monitor the changes and see which ones work and which ones don’t before we go too far in the wrong direction.
- Simplicity takes commitment. In my experience, it can take a year or more for an individual to forge lasting simplicity. I would advise companies that want to simplify to commit to at least two years. Forget the 30-day wonder cures. Commit to the process for the long run, or don’t waste your time at all.
- Simplicity takes maintenance. Once you have significantly simplified things, and you are getting the results you want (and you absolutely will), you have to work at keeping things simple. This doesn’t mean you can never make changes, but it does require a regular revisiting of priorities.
Simplicity is an investment that we can all make confidently, with predictable results and little risk. It can turn our lives around. We can have more peace, less stress, and increased effectiveness in our personal life.
Professionally, we can develop companies and business relationships that have a more positive impact on both employees and customers. It all begins with understanding what simplicity is, and how it works.
Today my life is simpler and richer than ever – and touches people in ways I never imagined.
Now I live in Vermont, in a small 1800’s house that is easy to care for. I have fewer possessions, but all the things I have bring joy or beauty or meaning (or all three) to my life. There is no pointless clutter in it.
My relationships have changed, too. I have fewer acquaintances but deeper friendships. I’m involved in fewer activities, but those I am involved in are meaningful to me and build meaningful relationships. My work is simpler – not easier – but more focused, and far more rewarding.
Do I mourn what I’ve lost or given up? No. Not anymore. Instead, I have learned that reducing the quantity of things we have and do almost always results in an increase in the quality of what we keep or substitute.
I would not have asked to go through the pain and struggle I went through to learn that lesson, but, in the end, the lesson was well worth it.
Less really is more.
About the Author
Related Articles on Simplicity:
- The Art of Simplifying
- Simplify Your Life
- How to Come Alive
- How to Live
- The Perfect New Year’s Resolution
- Living in a Zen Center
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