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“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.” –Henry David Thoreau
National Simplicity Day
National Simplicity Day is observed on July 12, the birthday of Henry David Thoreau to honour the author who exemplified a simple life and talked freely of its advantages. In 1845, at the age of twenty-seven, Thoreau retreated to the woods for two years to learn to live simply, and as he put it, “Deliberately.”
When we simplify our lives, we shed the illusion that outside sources determine our happiness and fulfillment. Simplicity comes in many forms and touches all aspects of life, from the things we have to the thoughts we think.
As a minimalist, I can confirm that the less you “own” the freer you are.
Very often we are controlled by our things to an extent that paralyzes our movements for fear of losing them. After a house fire taught me the fleeting nature of tangible objects, I vowed that items would neither be a measurement of my life nor the meaning for it.
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While it took a while to whittle down my life to its bare bones, it all starts with making a decision.
There are many ways we can simplify and step into a life unencumbered by the weight of that which we don’t need.
Simplify your surroundings
“Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.” (Henry David Thoreau)
We can collect things or we can collect stories. When we aim to simplify our surroundings, we narrow our vision and eliminate distractions. Look around your immediate environment and decide what warrants your attention. Plenty of us keep items we don’t particularly want out of obligation or if the item was a gift. It’s ok to let that idea go.
- Clean out closets, cupboards, and drawers
- Separate items into three piles: throw-store-donate
- Toss frayed, worn, or outdated items
- Inventory room items and pack away out-of-season or neglected decor. Rotate stored knick-knacks, pillows, etc. for a fresh look every few months
- Donate unused or unwanted items (it’s tax-deductible)
Simplify your thinking
“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.” (Henry David Thoreau)
How much do we overthink any given situation? It’s one thing to practice due diligence, it’s another to become paralyzed by indecision. It can help to start by figuring out what you want so you can shape your choices to match your ideal.
Identify what you want and create goals around the ideal.
For example, more time might mean reducing working hours, being more productive with downtime, etc. Break down big goals into smaller, actionable milestones that let you move steadily forward.
Simplify your choices
“Our life is frittered away by detail…simplify, simplify” (Henry David Thoreau)
Sometimes we are overwhelmed by choices.
Think about a single trip to the grocery store, then think about a single item you may need, how many choices are there? Let’s use mayonnaise as an example: A simple Google search reveals that there are twenty-four brands of mayonnaise. Imagine looking at a wall of mayonnaise, faced with twenty-four varieties that may or may not be different from the other. How do you choose?
As humans, we seem to have an eternal want for something new, something different, and while that’s fine, we need to be discerning about what matters. Ask yourself if the decision you’re about to make is about enriching your life, or if you’re just staring at a wall of mayonnaise.
Simplify your worldview
“It is never too late to give up our prejudices.” (Henry David Thoreau)
Especially in light of today’s circumstances, we might find ourselves torn in many different directions: north, south, left, right, up, down. In these whiplash times, it’s hard to know where to place our attention or where to direct our efforts.
Some may be reacting strongly to lockdowns, unemployment, civil unrest, or ongoing injustices and it can add to already stretched frustrations.
It might help to remember that we are all human.
No matter our skin colour, political affiliation, or societal class, we are all members of the human race. If we strive to keep our humanity at the forefront, we not only make decisions with our fellow humans in mind, we serve as the example of how acknowledging another’s humanity doesn’t diminish yours but widens it.
Henry David Thoreau knew that life was meant to be lived and that our ideas about what that means may not align with how we’re creating that life. As we continue to hold steady while the pandemic continues, you’ve probably already simplified your life to a degree. Keep going.
Take action to design the life you want, not the one you think you’re supposed to have.
If you think it sounds pretty simple, you’d be right.
“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.” (Henry David Thoreau)
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