A Field Guide to Life – The Practice of Simplicity

by Brad on January 28, 2013

This installment of A Field Guide to Life invites you to simplify your life. Simplicity creates freedom, because it acts as a giant filter for the unnecessary. The Practice of Simplicity challenges you to consciously align your everyday life with just what makes you happy.


The Practice of Simplicity

“Manifest plainness; embrace simplicity; reduce selfishness; have few desires.”  – Lao-tzu (500 B.C.)

 Living an extraordinary life means allowing your authentic creative essence to blossom and to guide your life’s path. This happens naturally, without any force, when conditions in your environment are conducive to growth. Adopting the practice of quiet personal reflection as described earlier helps you to create those conditions in your inner world. Adopting a practice of simplicity allows you to create those conditions in your outer world as well. Together, they allow you to define a life context that encourages the creative spirit and opens you to transformative experience all the time.

Just like flowers in your garden, you need space, light and nourishment for newly-planted seeds to germinate. If the world’s stresses, demands, responsibilities and rules hold you down, there’s no room for even the most tenacious plant to survive. Possibility arises in open spaces; it emerges from the void. If there’s no void, there’s no room for the new. Nature ensures voids for new possibility by working in rhythms that renew and refresh. Simplifying your external world ensures you have space for new things to emerge and thrive.

17150570Look at your life today. You probably have far more happening right now than you want or need. Complexity is so ingrained that you may see it as the normal flow of life, perhaps even explaining why you always have so much to do. You perhaps were taught that working hard is key to success. Working harder must be even better. Being insanely busy, then, must be key to having it all! This creates a breeding ground for useless complexity, based on bad assumptions about how life is supposed to be. Simplifying your physical environment is a choice, one you can enact overnight, letting go of all that’s not truly important to you. What’s left is your essence. The journey to excellence will be far more effective when your life is simple: there’s just not so much to get in the way. Letting go of your external attachment to “stuff,” for example, is a great metaphor for letting go of your internal attachment to results and outcomes. If you find yourself concluding that there’s nothing you can eliminate from your life today, you systematically exclude your own greatest potential from materializing. 

I refer to simplification as a practice, something you do regularly. That’s because the first time you do it, you simply peel away the very first layer of complexity. As you do, however, you’ll see so many opportunities for further attention that you’ll want to keep going. Each time around, you’ll find things you didn’t see before. It’s contagious.

Every area of your life is an opening to simplifying. I suggest you first just read through all the bullets below. Then stop for a while and ponder your life. See what you notice; everyone responds differently. If you find yourself attached to the way things are now, and see nothing you can change, then just use your imagination to envision what life would be like if you did reduce complexity in a dramatic way. Just imagine. Then:

  • List everything in life that’s complicated, unfinished, bothersome, etc. in your life now. You may have 100 items. (Don’t forget the “12:00” that’s been blinking for years on your DVD.) For each, name why you keep it that way, along with the price you pay for doing so. Use your journal; write it all down. Be detailed, complete, honest. Ignore nothing. For now, just make the list; resist judging; don’t try to change anything. Over the next several weeks, proceeding as suggested below, you may want to add even more to this list. Although on one hand the list itself may feel overwhelming, you will soon feel the immense power there is for you to take action on the list. For now, the first step is to make the list.

Then, over a period of weeks (perhaps months), using your list as a guide:

  • Clean out your home. Get rid of all you don’t use; question things you do use. You are not your possessions. You may find it easy to start with closets, then maybe small rooms, a basement or garage. When I do this, I remove everything from the space I’m clearing and put back only what I love and know I need. Put it back in a way that makes you feel good. Then move on to the next space in your home. Don’t stop until you have a place of peace, a place of which you are proud.
  • Clean up your energy. Early in life, you learn to tolerate things, under the guise of being polite or gaining approval. These things drain huge amounts of your energy, yet they’re now so ingrained you may not notice. Major sources of energy drain: (1) being rushed; (2) having money dictate choices; (3) accepting disrespectful treatment from others; (4) the shopping experience; (5) doing errands; (6) obligation, duty, tradition, much of it with family. Make your own list. Just being aware of all you put up with makes it easier to take action. Start saying ‘no,’ even a little bit at a time. When you realize you’re still alive after saying ‘no,’ say ‘no’ again, to something bigger. Keep going until you feel a profound sense of freedom.
  • Clean up your time. What fills your day that isn’t bringing you joy? (If you laugh at this question, this topic will keep you busy for a long time.) Start with a blank calendar and make a plan for next week. First, put in things that are important to you. Allow not-so-important stuff to fill the spaces remaining, not the other way around. You may want to look at: (1) home projects you haven’t completed: hire them out; (2) social events that don’t work for you: say no; (3) roles you take too seriously, like parenting adult children; (4) goals you haven’t attained: financial, romantic, social. Let them go. Say yes to what supports the life you want. If among your topics is your job, start right now thinking about how your week would be if you loved your work; just envision for now. The process of envisioning a “perfect week,” over and over, has huge energy impact on making that kind of life come true. You do not have to know how it will come true, just that you would love to have it be so.
  • Clean up your tasks. There’s a lot of task work that goes into the general maintenance of life. These tasks, however, don’t need to be the reason for your day. Many can be hired out. Some can be combined and done at one time or “systematized.” Examples: cleaning, food shopping, filing, bill paying. For the tasks you choose to keep doing yourself as opposed to hiring them out, create a “system” so that doing them is easier, more fun and less draining. For example, I set aside 3 hours at a specific time each week for all of my “home admin” tasks, from laundry and cleaning to bill paying to computer file maintenance to finding opportunities for even more simplification. There seems to be just enough time to do all this while the laundry is doing itself.
  • Clean up relationships. One of the biggest sources of complexity in life is people who drain your energy. They always have some “acceptable” title like family member or friend, but at the same time, they drain energy. My experience is that this is largely a result of “one way” relationships, where you put in far more than they do, yet you can’t say no. It’s time to avoid people who drain your energy or who keep your life complicated; yes, even family members. Make time for those who make a difference for you. Be the kind of person you’d like to be around. Be around the kind of people you wish to become. It’s ok to give others a chance by asking for more two-way or fulfilling relationships; simply ask them. If they comply, fine; if not, it’s time to move on. This one area has created lots of space in my life; connections I have now are vibrant and supportive.
  • Clean up your money. Pay cash. Know where your money is going. Financial clutter reflects how you see yourself. Consciously look for places in your finances where simplification or change could make a big difference.
  • Want less: perhaps the ultimate in simplification is to want and need less. If you don’t need it, you don’t have to maintain it, so it can’t sap your time, energy or money. We’ve been fed a bad rap in this society that we need to have more stuff as a way to be happy. As you grow your awareness, you see how much you already have, the person you already are, the energy you create just by being you. Being grateful for “what is” helps to accelerate the process of wanting less. 

One of the greatest sources of freedom in life is to live simply. One of the biggest pay raises you can ever get is to reduce your needs and wants. And one of the most enjoyable times you can have is with people who love you back. Clarity and simplicity lead to freedom and peace.


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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Katherine Baynes Melehan January 29, 2013 at 9:47 am

I will say this as simply as I can. This is terrific. I will be downloading it soon.

Thank you,


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