Our modern society is becoming increasingly complex. The rapid rise of technology, fast-paced living, information overload, hyper-capitalism, and endless choices permeate all areas of our lives. Even simple acts, such as watching a film, browsing the aisles of supermarkets, or ordering takeaway food, can now present an overabundance of options.
We find ourselves in a “more-is-more” culture, full of sensory stimulation, excess, and unlimited choice. Living a simple life — and resisting perpetual FOMO — can be seen as near-blasphemy; a backwards step. But voluntary simplicity is a powerful lifestyle change.
To simplify, you don’t have to mimic the extremes of great spiritual sages, who renounced all of their worldly possessions.
Simplicity can be a blessing, not a sacrifice, when done with the intention to voluntarily simplify as a catalyst for spiritual growth.
Simplify to remove distraction from your inner life
I believe aversion to the mind’s untamed nature motivates our creations of complex lifestyles. The busier we are, the less time we have to confront our racing thoughts or troubling emotions. Be it harnessing a busy social life, stimulating the brain with entertainment, indulging in material purchases, or never switching off from social media, we have a myriad of ways to distract ourselves from ourselves.
Voluntary simplicity covers more than material possessions, though — we can also use it to cultivate ease with ourselves by slowing down, and giving us room to breathe and recuperate. This emotional simplicity requires ruthless discernment; a way to drown out the noise of insignificance, to halt the hustle and bustle of “shoulds and “oughts,” to provide stillness to appreciate what’s valuable.
The KISS (“Keep It Simple, Stupid”) principle of design states that systems perform best when they are simple, rather than complex. As the architects of our own lives, we have the opportunity to avoid unnecessary distraction by applying this principle to all areas of life– including our schedules, relationships, and even our goals and desires.
Gratitude and fulfillment
Voluntary simplification won’t be effective if we aren’t clear on what is most meaningful to us — therefore, gaining clarity over our values is a necessary part of the process. The first step is reducing distraction to begin the quest to uncover our heart’s desire. Once we have this insight, these values provide a foundation for simplicity to thrive.
A beautiful byproduct of cutting through life’s superficial elements and aligning to our values is gratitude and fulfillment. Identifying and magnifying what’s most meaningful is a gateway to appreciating what we already have; food in the fridge, our health, the people we love and those who love us. As this habit of simplification and gratitude increases, the desire for complexity naturally reduces.
As my practice has grown and I have invited more gratitude and simplicity into my life, my desires have changed drastically. Over time, my values have become clearer and clearer, as I’ve built conviction around their significance, a direct result of the benefits they bring to my wellbeing.
This simplifies the decision making process, too: I say no much more than I used to. I don’t crave escapism through alcohol or drugs or partying or sex.
Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich
To create a lasting habit, phase in your voluntary simplicity step-by-step. Start by adding a day of the week to detox from social media and spend time in nature. Or try eating dinner with a loved one, with no distractions from mobiles or TV or music. Spend time consciously exploring what you find most meaningful, and attempt to make this the primary focus for larger chunks of your time.
In Essential Spirituality, Roger Walsh refers to voluntary simplicity as “a lifestyle less cluttered by excess activities and possessions, a life outwardly simple yet inwardly rich.” It’s this intrinsic richness that provides the biggest benefit of simplicity.
As voluntary simplicity becomes part of your life, there will be challenges. There will be moments of resistance and FOMO. There will be cravings and lapses that require self-compassion, patience, and understanding. There will be times where it all seems futile, and the life of complexity, sensory overload and instant gratification appeals to you strongly.
However, with dedication and patience, simplification provides opportunity to appreciate the miracle of each moment. Over time, the discreet beauty of existence becomes increasingly lucid.
A walk in nature, a warm meal, and the embrace of a loved one all contribute to a full life — a life simplified on the outside, but enriched within.