Simplicity Is Not An Absolute

This is a guest post by LJ Earnest from the The Simple Productivity Blog

The most common thing people say to me when they find out I write about simplification is “I can’t do that. I can’t live without stuff.” And that’s before they even find out what I think simplification is.

It’s all over the internet, too. Articles and books about living with 100 items or paring down to one of everything, or some other extreme.

But simplicity is not about absolutes.

What Is Simplifying About?

Simplifying, in my mind, is removing the unneeded excess.

As Albert Einstein said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

When we strip away the extra frippery and get something down to its core features, but not any further, we have reached a good state of simplicity for us.

How Far Is Too Far?

I have to think about those people who pare down their belongings to 100. It’s a nice idea on the surface. Many things we have about us are not used or needed. But 100 items only? Those who profess to have that few have exceptions, as I found out when I read “The 100 Thing Challenge” – many things are not included, such as cooking equipment, furniture or underwear. So it really wasn’t 100 things at all.

But [someone] Says That Simplicity Is…

And then there are those that say that you haven’t simplified if you have books, or CDs, or earrings or some such nonsense. Or you should only wash your sheets and towels once a year. Or you should give up food you love because it isn’t simple to make. Or you should give up going out to eat and eat only what you can grow in your garden.

Unless the person is a member of a religious order that believes in poverty, it’s hard to take this type of message seriously. If you are planning to enter the religious order, by all means simplify to that extent! But if you are not, consider what going down that path will do to your enjoyment of life.

Simplicity Is Not About Definitives or Absolutes

We are all individuals. And because we are, we have different levels of comfort, and different needs.

Einstein’s “simple as possible” is not an absolute, either. It depends on the person doing it, and receiving it.

So it follows that each person will have a different level of simplicity, beyond which it falls into the “simpler” clause or over the edge to “Too Far”.

The Goal Of Simplicity

The reason we want to simplify is not because we are looking to strip all enjoyment out of our lives. We are looking for a saner way to live.

We should look at everything we do and have and hold it up to ourselves and ask if it is too much. It may be; it may not be.

Paring down our lives to the point of bleakness can strip away all the joy of living. Simplicity isn’t about asceticism. It’s about freeing ourselves of excess. Few of us can take away the excess to the point of nothingness and still feel content and happy.

Customizing Simplicity

How do you simplify? The bad news is you can’t follow someone else’s formula. You have to find the level that is right for you.

Do you need 100 pens? If you’re an artist, you may! If you’re not, you may be comfortable having one pen for each spot you may write.

Do you need to be involved in every committee at your child’s school? Is it giving you energy or sucking your energy out? Some people thrive on that; others see it as a horrendous drain.

Whatever it takes, remember that simplicity cannot be dictated by someone else. It must be an individual decision, to get to the level of “simple as possible, but not simpler.”


LJ Earnest is the author of, a blog that covers simplifying your life so that you can be more productive. She can also be found at Twitter at @smplprodblog.


* Photo Credit: by sleepyjeanie

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9 Responses to Simplicity Is Not An Absolute

  1. Keith June 14, 2012 at 5:09 pm #

    I have been thinking about having a clear out for some time, because I have a habit of hoarding. This gives me a more acceptable perspective to approach it from, so thanks for the post.


    • Mohamed Tohami June 14, 2012 at 6:19 pm #

      Great! I’m glad you found the right perspective to start from. I’m sure you will fall in love with simplicity once you start :)

  2. Moni June 15, 2012 at 9:08 am #

    I enjoyed this post. I am working towards my goal of a simpler life. But I want it to be a simpler version of the life I have now, but for it to still resemble my life. I enjoy reading different concepts of simple living, but have often wondered if some of the more extreme ideas would involve more effort than what is worth, so thank you this post has clarified it for me.

    • Mohamed Tohami June 18, 2012 at 10:54 am #

      Thanks Moni. I’m glad you found this post helpful in creating the midway simple living style you aspire to. We all aim for a simpler life, not a different life.

  3. Kimberley June 16, 2012 at 3:47 am #

    We are looking for a saner way to live. It’s about freeing ourselves from the excess.
    Those two sentences are so spot on. One of the reasons that I love traveling and staying in hotels, is because it is a reminder just how little we really need to live life. We aren’t dealing with the “clutter”, so our time is spent on experiences. I’ve often said that I could live quite comfortably in a residence the size of a hotel studio suite with a small kitchenette.

    • Mohamed Tohami June 18, 2012 at 10:56 am #

      That’s a great reflection on traveling Kimberley. I share the same interest with you. I LOVE to stay in hotels. There is something about the place that captures my heart. You made it clear for me why I’ve such an interest in hotels. That’s because we focus on experiences ONLY.

      I believe simple living is all about minimizing noise and maximizing joy.

  4. Online Gym Classes December 13, 2012 at 4:25 am #

    Living in simplicity just makes life easier! Letting go of all the stress and the obsession with material things and status, will really make us happier. All we need is love and health to survive!


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