Defining Simplicity

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I just realized today that I use the word “Simplicity” a lot, but people view that word in different ways. Sometimes you’ll hear someone refer to a person as being “simple” which isn’t a compliment.

And sometimes “simple” is used to mean ‘easy to understand’, and yeah, I live a pretty easy to understand life. But that’s not all simplicity means.

Another definition suggests that simplicity lacks luxuries, extravagance, and pretense… which is great – our home has no decor that has no purpose. However, our home is more luxurious because the space is small and we’ve chosen better finishes and we live with higher quality items. So in that sense, our home is small and simple, and but actually quite luxurious. It’s the minimalist axiom “quality over quantity” that has suited us quite well.

Another aspect of simplicity is the absence of putting on airs… no fakery… living an honest and authentic life. Years ago in art school, one of my professors went on a rant about honesty in architecture. If it looks like wood – it should be wood! That’s what designing ethically meant to him as an architectural designer. That idea stuck with me, so in our home: if it looks like wood – it IS. No fake marble, no plastic, no fake anything. Authenticity matters to me.

We live in a smaller house than we can afford, knowing full well people will judge us based on our small house in a neighborhood with some real characters. And that has to be ok. Because if I live in conformity to cultural standards and sacrifice myself in the process… well, that would be depressing in the extreme. So we are intentional about living in a small simple home, and our collections of yarn, oriental rugs, and beautiful dishes have to fit within that space. And if it won’t fit within the confines of our 660 sq ft home, then we don’t bring it home. We are also tempted to collect vintage cars, but if they don’t fit, we don’t bring them home either. And that’s one aspect of small house minimalism for us. This keeps us from over-spending, and owning too much. If it doesn’t fit, or something else can’t be moved out to make room – then we don’t purchase it.

Because we live a simple and frugal life, we have a lot of autonomy. I love that I have the self governance to wake up and get out of bed when I wish. I never punch a time clock, and I work at a pace that is comfortable to me instead of culture’s frenetic pace. Autonomy means we have the freedom to turn down work for a client we find disagreeable. We can volunteer for causes that matter to us, and we can break for lunch with a friend if we desire to. This means we aren’t working jobs we hate for people who treat us poorly – just because we feel we “have to have” the money/health insurance. We do not work soul-sucking jobs! Living ultra simple frugal lives gives us self-governance (to the extent allowed by law) and this means the world to us!

I regularly clean out items we no longer use and send them off to our favorite charity shop. I’ve found that I love my minimalist “Soft Office” (combination office and textile studio). There is one wall covered in colorful yarn, but the rest is white and ultra simple. This diminishes the distractions in my space so that I can focus when I’m working, and still have a delicious joyful time when I’m at the loom weaving something lush and colorful. I’ve minimized my office supplies and equipment to two small rolling carts, which keeps me from working too much. Keeping my home simple has really helped me reduce distractions and focus better. Plus, spending less time at work, reducing financial stressors, and getting more rest also helps me focus. More focus has lead to more clarity in my life and work, which has made a huge positive difference for me.

Smaller spaces that are well organized are efficient and that’s one reason I love cooking with my husband in our small kitchen, or doing laundry. It’s just so simple when everything is right there at hand.

Fundamentally, the best aspect of living simple, frugal lives is that we have had amazing opportunities to help people on an individual basis. (We aren’t much for 501c3’s.) My husband is a very generous man, and it’s one of my favorite aspects of life with him. I see so much Jesus in the way he helps people, and the way he is often moved to be generous. And helping someone out makes us so happy. People have helped me so many ways over the years, often showing up just at the moment things were most desperate. It’s a pleasure to be able to give back in whatever way possible. We keep an account and we both know that we have the other’s permission to use that account to help someone at any time. We have intentionally removed the friction from giving – including asking permission from each other. I’ve never known anything that makes us happy the way this does. I didn’t know what generosity felt like when I lived in the big house on the golf course and I was up to my eyeballs in debt. I am convinced that living generously is one of the keys to happiness. And the truth of the matter is that generosity is a great privilege that WE ALL HAVE. I have seen people who have very little be extremely generous, and I have seen people with great wealth be extremely generous. Generosity isn’t about how much you make, or how much you can give. It’s about our posture with our resources – open hands? or closed? Open hearts? or closed.

The more we live with open hands and hearts… the more we experience the joys and peace of living simply. And I suppose that’s what simplicity means to me – there is peace and joy in living an orderly and generous life that isn’t all about just me. I guess I’m something of a simplicity evangelist these days, because fundamentally… I believe that simplicity is life-changing. It has certainly changed mine.

What does simplicity mean to you? Are there parts of my story that resonate with you? What is your favorite aspect of simplicity?

This message brought to you by The Simplicity Mindset.

Making room for what matters most: meaning and mission.

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