On Simplicity

May 17, 2008

Two Ways to Understand Enjoyment

Filed under: Simple Living — Serendipity @ 5:00 am
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Part of living simply is being able to truly enjoy things.  Without sincere enjoyment, you can never be satiated, and you’ll likely want more. And more. And more.  One of the greatest lessons in enjoyment is one I’ve learned from my husband, and it involves chocolate.

Method #1:The Nibble Savor

Now, I’m the kind of woman who loves to spread out the enjoyment. I want it to last as long as humanly possible. So I nibble. And I savor.  If I get a chocolate bar, I’ll take the tiniest bites possible and roll each little bit over my tongue to fully experience it.  This process takes a long time and helps me to enjoy things mentally as well as on a sensory level.

Method #2: The Shovel

My better half is a shoveler. If given a chocolate bar, he’ll do his absolute best to get all of it in his mouth at once.  A look of bliss crosses his face, and in a flash, the chocolate’s gone.

Trying the Shovel Method of Pleasure

This behavior used to drive me crazy. “We’re trying to be frugal and stretch things out, hon,” I’d say. “Why don’t you take smaller bites and take the time to really enjoy treats?”  His response?  “I enjoy it most when my mouth is absolutely full of it and it takes over all my senses.”

I still didn’t get it.  Finally, I tried it.  Hey, we had a lot of Easter clearance candy given to us, so what could it hurt to “waste” a few items, right?  So I shoveled.  He gave me a shout of approval, a huge smile, and I thoroughly enjoyed the moment.  It felt good to be so reckless with a rare treat.

Experience Abundance

In our efforts to be frugal, sometimes we try too hard to eke enjoyment out of well, anything.  Once in a while, it can feel great to just shovel. You can shovel food, drink, parties, social occasions, books, fun projects, your favorite shows on DVD—lots of things.  In the shovel moment, you’re giving yourself over completely to pleasure—there’s no saving it, or measuring it, or worrying about when it will be gone.  In this sense, an occasional shovel is a great way to feel like you’re surrounded by abundance. 

The next time you’re feeling deprived (or you’d simple like a moment of bliss), try the shovel method.  No counting, measuring, or thinking: just pure sensory overload.  It makes you feel like a kid who’s getting an indulgent wish, and isn’t that the richest feeling of all?


May 15, 2008

Am I Just Faking It?

In reading other blogs, I come across quite a few items that make me question whether I’m truly a simplifier or not. After all, Xin Lu at Wise Bread, in a great post on living in small spaces, is willing to forgo a sectional for a beanbag. I, on the other hand, am not willing to ditch my sofa for a beanbag at this point. Am I just providing lip service to the idea of simplicity? After all, if you’ve read a few posts here, you know that I love clothing, I live in a big house, will probably never get rid of my television (dude, no MXC?), and so on… Does this mean I’m just faking it?

What Simplicity Means to Me

When it comes down to it, I don’t think I’m just faking it. This isn’t just a cosmetic choice for me. In my own life, simplicity isn’t a race to the bottom to see who can live with less. It’s about making conscious choices, being thoughtful in what I bring into my home and into the world, and focusing on relationships and experiences instead of stuff.

How do I accomplish this? What do I focus on? Here are my top priorities:

Not buying crap. I do a pretty damn good job of not buying things “just because.” Things I buy aren’t just bargains, they’re things that either promote health, bring me or someone else joy, or are really going to be useful.

Keeping media to a minimum. I don’t eschew television, but I also don’t watch that much of it. I stay away from sensationalistic news and gossip. For wimpy news, I stick to headlines instead of reading fluffy article after article after article.

Keeping my personal spaces clean and minimalist. I can breathe in a clean home. I can create. I can dream. I’d prefer an empty room in a beautiful color than a fully furnished room full of useless accessories. It still comes down to pure aesthetics, but it’s also about feeling like things have purpose.

Time commitments and lifestyle. I try to keep my time as my own to give myself freedom and peace of mind. With a job that’s essentially a community service, I can feel good keeping a good portion of my time off to myself to spend with family and friends.

Is Champagne Ever Simple?

I’ll agree–I’m not the traditional voluntary simplicist. While I do have a persistent and weird desire to be a survivalist, I always picture celebrating the first successful potato crop with a champagne toast. (I know.) However, simplicity isn’t just about cutting stuff out of your life. It’s about stripping life down to the bare essentials, throwing out all assumptions, and rebuilding the world around you to fit the dream you have, not the one you’re told to want or raised to believe in. After all, life should be rich. It just doesn’t have to be rich in money, or stuff, or accolades.

Big, Fat Faker

The verdict? I am a faker. A big one. Because in my eyes, simplicity is about having as much as possible. As much time as possible. As much love as possible. As much joy as possible. As much fun as possible. As much honesty as possible. As much thoughtfulness as possible. As much freedom as possible. I don’t want just a little, just enough to get by. No, I want a ton! Perhaps I should look into the availability of “onabundance”….

April 16, 2008

The One Pencil Philosophy

Filed under: Productivity,Starting Out — Serendipity @ 2:25 am
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My personal trend toward simplicity can possibly be traced back to a small decision. What was the foundation-rocking change I decided to make? I would have just one pen and one pencil in my pencil cup at work.  Yeah, I know–big deal. Still, I highly recommend this easy move, as it embodies much of what is useful and enjoyable about simplicity.

Imagine a pencil cup (or tray, or what have you) that always has your favorite pen in it.  You know–the one that feels wonderful in your hand, lets you write smoothly, and is the most stylish.  No more crappy pens with embarrasing pharmeceutical ads on them. (I had a Viagra pen at one time.  Funny sometimes. Reeeeaaaally embarrassing at others.)  No more pens that have run out of ink.  No more fumbling around your desk for a pen for 30 seconds just to write a two-second note.  With the one pen/pencil system, you’ve always got the best at your fingertips. 

There are three main benefits of reducing your writing implements to just one or two, and that’s what I’m going to focus on here.

The first benefit is that you surround yourself with best and get rid of the junk.  A lot of people keep things in their lives for a very logical reason: because someday, they might need them.  This isn’t a bad philosophy, and is great in terms of recycling and consuming less.  However, what this method taught me was that it was only things of lasting, reliable value that were worth saving and giving space to. When I placed one trusty pen and one solid pencil in my cup and deep-sixed the rest to a supply drawer, I found that I rarely needed those other items.  They had been adding nothing to my desktop while subtracting cleanliness and ease.  I learned that one great pen is worth about 20 cheap freebies, and I learned to seek out only quality things.  This is one of the lessons that translated well into other areas of life. Wouldn’t you be a happier person if always had the best of everything at hand?  While that doesn’t always work, it’s pretty easy to implement it in this one area of your life.  Let yourself smile when you pick up that trusty pen that always writes and feels wonderful in your hand.  It won’t be an earth-shattering event, but why not enjoy one of life’s simple pleasures every single time you need to write?

The second benefit is that this system can train you to value things of quality.   When I only had one pen on my desk, I kept much better track of it.  I didn’t carry it to the cabinet and leave it on a shelf, where it would collect desk for a few weeks.  I knew that if I needed to write, I had to take good care of my pen.  In response, I always put it back in the right place.  Rarely did I have to scrounge under piles of paper for a pen; I knew exactly where mine was.  I was learning, in a baby step, to be more responsible with things I valued. 

The third major benefit of the one pencil philosophy is that you’ll spend less time searching and more time doing.  The few seconds spent choosing between the umpteen writing instruments in my cup weren’t a big, but little things to add up.  I was losing seconds each time.  If having everything within reach was supposed to make work easier and more productive, I was finding the exact opposite to be true: I was wasting time hunting down disposable pens for no good reason. More importantly, I was losing focus.  “Green pen or blue? That one only writes half the time, so I’ll pick the red one.  Wait–where’s the red one? Did I leave it in the conference room?  Okay, blue it is.” This speedy thought process wasn’t enough to make me lose a good train of thought. Still, it was enough to dim my focus.  I found it much easier to stay in a flow state when I was able to eliminate the small distraction of hunting down pens. 

All in all, I have to say this is an idea in which the benefits can really outweigh the possible consequences (which are pretty much nil). It’s a great way to “try on” the idea of simplifying without having to create an elaborate organizational system or commit to any big measures. Plus, it really puts the entire philosophy of simplifying in a nutshell.  Ready to give this tangible thought experiment a whirl? Here are my implementation tips.  Tomorrow, I’ll touch on some of the larger lessons that can gleaned from this idea.


1.  Designate one pencil cup/tray/area.

2.  Choose your single most favorite writing implement of each style you need. I have one pen, one pencil, and one highlighter.

3.  Don’t toss the other items.  Keep a few spares in a supply area such as a nearby closet or drawer.  Give away the others and throw away or recycle what can isn’t usable.

4.  Keep non-essentials in a nearby but out-of-the-way place.  If you know 18 colors of Sharpies are just a reach away, you’ll be less tempted to clutter your everyday workspace with these items.

A lot of people keep things in their lives for a very logical reason: because someday, they might need them.  This isn’t a bad philosophy, and is great in terms of recycling and consuming less.  However, what this method taught me was that it was only things of lasting, reliable value that were worth saving and giving space to. 

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