A few years ago the "voluntary simplicity" movement took the world by storm. Magazine articles and books on how to live the simple life abounded. A whole new posse of motivational speakers appeared to educate us on the joys of simple living.
Initially I was drawn to this movement. The idea of clearing out years of accumulated stuff, reducing my commitments, and creating margin in my life was exhilarating. But I soon noticed that every time I had margin, it quickly got filled with something. Then I started noticing that all of these "simplicity gurus" had pretty full lives too. They might be living simply as a personal practice, but then they were expending enormous time and energy analyzing how the rest of us weren't living simply and how we could correct it to be more like them, going through the process of writing and publishing books on the topic, and then engaging in rigorous speaking schedules - all in all not a particularly simple endeavor.
So then I got kind of ticked off. How dare they engage ina complex, challenging, fun, and probably lucrative career telling ME that I needed to live more simply. Hmmmmm...
Enter Victoria Moran with a little encouragement - in her enormously entertaining book Creating a Charmed Life, Ms. Moran states that:
"Simplicity is what you get when you remove from your life certain complications: items that don't serve or delight you, and activities that take more energy than they give back." (p. 57)
Sounds good to me! She notes that the reason that simplicity became a movement was that it lends itself to quick fixes and pithy counsel (e.g., "touch each piece of mail only once"). However, she argues that things are rarely so cut and dried because our greatest joys are the things that tend to complicate our lives the most. Most mothers will tell you that life was much simpler before they had children. Yet their children bring them incredible joy. Those of us who love international travel will agree that in order to have all the fun and adventure, we must go through quite a bit of complication to schedule the trip, get passports in order, organize our funds, etc.
Therefore, if we seek simplicity above all else we will likely miss out on quite a bit of joy in life. That doesn't sound so good, does it? Moran offers a solution by advocating for "selective complication":
"This is the essence of selective complication: paring down the possessions and occupations that rob you of hours and energy so that you are free to focus on what matters to you. Then, if there is clutter, it's the residue of projects you're passionate about. If there are complications, you'll have chosen them instead of the other way around." (p. 59)
I love it! As someone who has long tried simplicity as the path to a better life, I've experienced guilt when I see the books and articles strewn around my office as I try to write a dissertation proposal, the scraps of fabric in the family room that are leftover from the quilt I was making as a baby gift, and the dirty dishes in the sink from making my son's favorite cookies. It is so encouraging to think of these things as "selective complications" rather than thinking of them as simple clutter (pun intended).
Thanks to Ms. Moran, I've decided to STOP obsessing about getting the projects I love cleaned up. I'm going to try instead to focus on the joy they bring to my life. Suddenly my list of things that I need to simplify seems pretty short - a few bills that need to be paid and a client projects that needs to be filed. I think I can handle that!