No matter how much I try to simplify my life, sometimes it still feels really complicated. Do you know what I mean?
Several years ago, I started by getting rid of excess stuff. I made countless trips to Goodwill and Salvation Army, gave things away to those who needed them, and got ruthless about excess and clutter in my space. Honestly, it felt so good and freeing and opening to live with fewer physical possessions, I couldn’t help but simplify in other areas of my life.
I realized I could feel better if I would simplify my diet—start eating more real, whole foods and less stuff from a bag-so I really went after it. I bought only organic food, ate vegan for a period of time, and starting cooking everything from scratch.
This totally transformed the way I felt on a day-to-day basis, and it also dramatically reduced the number of times I needed to go to the doctor and/or buy medication. I got fewer headaches, was less likely to get sick, and almost completely eliminated heartburn and stomachaches.
I was a believer, an evangelist for simplifying.
My husband and I simplified our finances by going a whole year without buying anything new, and also by sharing a car. It wasn’t always convenient, but we learned a ton about our wasteful habits and we couldn’t believe how much we were saving on insurance and gas because we shared our one reliable, not fancy, but paid-for car.
Again, how could I ignore the benefits of living with less? Our lives were simpler, more streamlined, and we were happier and more productive. I felt like we had found the answers to everything, ever (that’s how strongly I felt about it).
But several months ago, things started to feel complicated again.
First of all, I travel all the time. And my diet—no sugar, no dairy, no wheat, organic only, whole foods—while simple when I was at home, wasn’t at all practical or simple when I was on the road. In fact, it made everything more complicated. I would have to skip meals at times when I couldn’t find anything to eat, or miss out on opportunities to be a part of a group when everyone was eating something I couldn’t have.
Not to mention, my husband and I reached a point where it just wasn’t practical for us to keep our “buy nothing new” stand-off going any longer. Like I said, it was such a great experiment because it taught us about our buying habits, but long after the lesson was learned we found ourselves still trying to stand by this arbitrary restriction—just to prove a point.
Additionally, not long ago I realized that for me, not having a car wasn’t just a small inconvenience anymore. It was a gigantic road block to everything I wanted to do in my life and all the things I felt like I was supposed to accomplish.
I couldn’t hang out with friends, found myself sitting home at night way too often, couldn’t make an impromptu trip to the grocery store, couldn’t schedule the meetings I needed in order to move my career forward.
What had once made my life feel so simple (even if at times slightly inconvenient) was now making my life feel incredibly complicated.
It wasn’t simplicity that was holding me back, but the way I had interpreted and internalized simplicity—my extreme adoption of it—was in some ways preventing me from growing and progressing and making decisions I knew were right for me in each individual moment.
So one night, my husband and I had a “family meeting” about it.
I told him what I had been thinking and how restricted I felt by all of our self-imposed restrictions. I broke down into tears as I explained how I really wanted a car—my own car—and I was so sick of making sure every single thing I put into my mouth was organic. It wasn’t that I didn’t see the value in these things. It was just that the whole point was to make my life simpler, and my life didn’t feel simple at all. It felt horribly complicated.
He listened to me and finally said, matter-of-factly, “Okay, so let’s get a car.” He suggested we call off the no-new-stuff ban and that we use the small amount we’d been putting in our savings account to buy a second, not-fancy, reliable and paid-for, car.
He also suggested I cut myself a break with the organic food stuff.
I felt such relief in that moment—the moment he let me off the hook from following my own, self-imposed, high ideals. It wasn’t that I lost the value of simplicity, but that I was given permission to see simplicity for what it is—not a list of rules and regulations, but a tool to make my life simpler.
To the extent it did that, I could embrace it.
To the extent it didn’t, I could cut myself some slack. I didn’t have to be perfectly simple, all the time. Maybe there isn’t even such a thing as “perfectly” simple. Maybe I get to make my own definition.
Maybe trying to define simple in this really complicated way is taking away from the point.