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A New Approach to Simple

It’s almost as though all the hints I’ve left myself this past year should have clued me in, much less anyone else who could read between the lines. (I only talked about change here, here, and here in just a few months’ time.)

Confession: I’ve wanted to hang up the closed sign on this website several times the past two years. Never because I no longer liked it, nor because I wasn’t proud of what all had been built over the course of a decade.

Simply because I wanted to move on to other things.

I’ve felt like I’ve said all I could say about the idea of simple living. I still agree with the idea, but there’s more to me than this, and I was more than ready to have time to explore new ideas.

But I kept it going for a few reasons: admittedly, because it still puts food on the table for my family, but also because we were still publishing good stuff. Although I personally mostly podcast now, my team of writer friends have continued to publish essays worth sharing, and I still enjoyed reading them.

Running a community-built website for ten years now, I’ve seen a lot of change on the internet, and I’ve also spent thousands of hours writing, editing, creating, and hitting publish. And at the end of the day, I still love doing this. But there’s some stuff I really don’t like.

There’s been an interesting full-circle I’ve noticed this past year, with people admitting they miss the good ol’ days of internet publishing, when writers still blogged and readers left mostly thoughtful, respectful comments. People—myself included—have grown weary and suspicious of the benefits of social media, where friends and followers spend more time sharing one-off memes, arguing without listening, and trying to be first to share news so they can Monday-morning quarterback it all.

I miss old-school internet, too, and I’m holding on to hope that there’s still enough of us that feel the same. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram help us connect, but as fine-tuned as they are, they’re still not great places to really flesh out thoughts best formed through longer form.

All this to say… I think I recently realized that, at least right now, I don’t really want to shut down the site. Instead, I want to steer it to new places.

It’s the topic of simple living that gives me that painted-in-a-corner feeling.

When I realized/admitted this, my immediate knee-jerk was to start something new—a new site dedicated to something else. Let’s wrap up this site, build a new place, make it totally different! But honestly, that sounds… tiring. A lot of work. And kinda missing the point, really. It’s not like I want to build a completely new house. I’d rather rearrange the furniture, renovate the kitchen, plant new flowers in the garden.

We already painted the walls and hung some new artwork around here when we updated the site design a few months ago. It’s now time to bring new ideas to live here, to water them and watch them grow.

The Change

The word “simple” in The Art of Simple doesn’t need to only refer to the idea of “simple living.” It can also just mean “easily understood and straightforward.” The antonym of simple is complicated. Simple can mean breaking down complicated ideas and making them understandable.

This, of course, can refer to literally anything, from current Netflix binge suggestions, to Middle Eastern politics, to the history of beer, to best places to visit in the spring with kids under age 10, to how to best bake an apple pie. (I’m making stuff up here, if you can’t tell.)

Simple can just mean… simple. Clear. It doesn’t have to refer to the idea of living with less, eating locally, making your own cleaners, or some other nebulous practice often associated with the phrase “simple living.”

When I embraced this now-obvious idea, the brush and weeds started to clear out from the path ahead: we can talk about something else here. We can talk about something else here!

So, that’s what we’re going to do.

Hear me out: I’m still a fan of capsule wardrobes, essentialism, living debt-free, and the beauty of small houses. That doesn’t suddenly go away. I’m not going to delete the hundreds of posts in our archives, and I’ll still suggest my short course to anyone who comes to AoS unsure of where to begin when they’re desperate to simplify.

But I’m going to be the boss of me and embrace what’s been true and sitting right in front of me: we can talk about other things.

You have no idea how much I’ve wanted this!

A few side notes:

This is a risk for me. It’s risky, because what’s worked so far has supported my family, and here we are, trying something new instead of sticking with what’s proven to work for us. This change could very well mean us (meaning, Kyle and I) changing how we earn an income.

I’m saying this only so you can see a little bit behind the curtain here, to understand why this feels so big to me. On the front end, I can see the response to this being a little shoulder-shrugging, with a, “…Fine. Do what you gotta do.” If I read something like this on a site I follow, I’d probably have this reaction.

But perhaps this is also an encouragement to you, if you feel the need to make a big change in your work as well. At some point, you cross this line where staying where you are feels riskier than taking the next unfamiliar steps.

I can’t believe I’m about to quote Tony Robbins, but here you go—“Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.”

That’s where I’m at here.

Another thing… The simple living/unconventional living/minimalism online fan base can be pretty judgmental and competitive. It’s my least favorite thing about this niche, actually, and yet I realized that this was a major fear of mine holding me back from making this change:

Those reading and listening here for “simple living” reasons might not only move on from here, but they might actually respond negatively.

At minimum, they might eyeroll and comment “Can you believe this?” to their friend next to them. At worst, they could actually say something online that’s detrimental to my livelihood.

I’ve decided I have to not care. 99% of our loyal readership and listenership have good intentions, I’m choosing to believe, so I’m going to trust that people will be mature and simply move on if they don’t like this change (more on this below).

But the very fact that I’ve felt fearful of the minimalist community is actually confirmation I need this change. I’ve spent the past ten years wondering what pushback I’ll get with every single Amazon link I add on this site, any brand I mention whose hands aren’t 100% squeaky-clean (because life is nuanced, not perfect, and sometimes confusing), and what comments I’ll get from any photographic confession that yep, I still deal with clutter in my house.

I’m so tired of that. I’m a grown woman. And I’m ready to move on from that paralyzing fear of wondering what the very people who keep the lights on in my house will say about the things I share here. It’s not a healthy place for me. It keeps me from working out of a motive of love.

And so. I’m choosing to move forward with change.

(Know that the purpose of these side notes here are to explain some of my hesitations with all this, and why, ultimately, it’s still important that I follow-through. Authenticity, man.)

Moving Forward

I’ve been in this line of work long enough to know the wisdom of not making plans too far in advance—who knows how I’ll feel about this site a year from now. But, here are some plans for the next few months, and if we like it (meaning, both us the creators and you the readers), we’ll keep going:

• On The Simple Show, we’re going to shift to deep-dive series of topics, exploring one idea over the course of about a month. We’ll go back and forth between heavier and lighter subjects—navigating a faith crisis, followed by our favorite children’s books, for example. Still working on the tag line, but it’ll be something about clearing a path in a confusion of fog.

• AoS will follow suit, pairing essays with podcast episodes for further nuance, depth, and perspective.

• Not everything we publish will fall neatly into a deep-dive topic, however—we’ll write about other things here and there as the mood strikes. Because we’re people!

• Topics will be broader than the constrictive “simple living” idea—our purpose will be more to simplify an idea that could otherwise be complex or muddy.

• Because we haven’t suddenly changed, new things we explore will still naturally come from an ethos of caring about the natural world, the need to live beyond a consumer mindset, and the like. I won’t suddenly do sponsored posts from brands I can’t stand behind. It’s simply that we won’t talk about those things as much anymore. We want to make room for other things, too.

Our popular Facebook group, Simple Collective, now has a life of its own, and has become a fantastic place where you guys share your ideas and thoughts on simple living. This will still be a place for this! And we’ll continue to share our many archived posts on the subject there. (In fact, that’s a great place to be if you’re reading this and not in love with this new idea.)

I still love Like Your Life, and will connect on a more one-on-one basis with those of you who enroll in the accountability group add-on next week. (Doing this was a highlight of mine from this past fall.)

I’ll still mostly podcast, but this shift here feels so freeing to me I may actually find inspiration once more to hit publish on a blog post. In the meantime, though, I’m excited to work on a new project, I have another idea for something else, and I plan to make more time for writing fiction.

The best way to keep up with anything we create here honestly isn’t via Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram—it’s via email. I send a letter every Tuesday that can be read in under a minute, and it’s a highlight of my work week to write it. Sign up here to get it.

I also write a monthly letter about the art of working from a place of love instead of fear. It’s where I do most of my longform writing these days, instead of blogging (though they’re still not very long). Sign up here to get it.

Final Thoughts

If you feel disappointed in our shift, please know that, to be honest, this official change is actually rearranging our furniture to match how we’ve already been living here. In some ways, our shift won’t feel that huge, because we’ve already been exploring things beyond what it means to live simply.

We’re mostly just calling things as they are, and officially giving ourselves the permission we’ve always had to publish new things. You need only access our archives to read hours’ worth of content on simple living.

We’re now opening ourselves up to sharing more topics we love: music, putting together outfits, why global politics matter in our local neighborhoods, great current picks on Netflix, how to make real time to read actual books, parenting teenagers and beyond, holding on to faith when it’s hard, nerding out on fandom in your forties, and on. The stuff of life.

At the end of the day, the biggest thing I’ve learned in a decade of online publishing is this: Authenticity matters more than anything else. If my heart isn’t 100% behind what I create, readers and listeners are missing out on the better side of me, the one that’s waiting on the sidelines to have her turn.

I’m excited for the days ahead.

Next week, I’ll share a new Simple Show episode, and Like Your Life re-opens on Wednesday. It’s a fantastic way to start the year with a clear head and full heart!

p.s. I’m also teaching a free live class on how to carve out time for Quarterly Think Days in 2018. It’ll only be about an hour, and I’ll share free downloads so you can customize it to your life. Sign up here for a slot that works for you.

p.p.s. Looking for my New Year’s Eve reflection questions? Head here.