What Does "Simplify" Mean?

A couple of weeks ago, the same day I launched this lovely blog here, my dad asked me about some of my plans regarding freelancing, business ventures, etc. as I continued to prepare for my upcoming transition down to Florida.

As I shared with him the launch of this new blog and other ideas running around in my head, he asked me, "You keep saying 'simplify,' but what does that mean?"

Because I'm a word nerd, the first place I go for the meaning of something is to the dictionary — Merriam-Webster, to be exact — and according to good, 'ole Merriam-Webster, to simplify is "to make simple or simpler, such as: to reduce to basic essentials; to diminish in scope or complexity; to make more intelligible." Synonyms for it include streamline and clarify, but the basic idea of it is to make something easier to do or understand.


It's no surprise to anyone that life is often hard. No matter how well you try to plan, unexpected difficulties can pop up out of nowhere. So why is it that even with those unplanned hardships occurring, so many of us are in the habit of making life harder for ourselves in the day-to-day?

We live in a pretty complex and crazy world. Information comes at us at breakneck speeds and the world literally sits at our fingertips. While technological advances are intended to make our lives simpler, they often do the exact opposite because, rather than having a limited number of options to choose from, the possibilities for an exercise program, a new recipe, or this weekend's activities are seemingly endless. We're wound up and stressed out and it isn't doing any of us any good.

Last year, I stopped by the bookstore one day. I was itching to read something new and had a few options on my radar. As I wandered through the store, I picked up a number of books — both ones I had on my radar before I entered the store and others that caught my eye as I wandered the aisles. Eventually, I knew I needed to make a decision and that I had a budget to stick to, so I could only purchase one or two books at most. I stared at the more than  half a dozen options for what felt like ages and eventually left the store empty handed because I simply could not decide. The options led to paralysis analysis and stress rather than the joy of bringing home a new book to read.

When I began my simple living journey, it was because the amount of stuff — physical, digital, mental, and more — was overwhelming. Most days it felt like I couldn't even hear myself think because the clutter in my home, the notifications on my news feed, and the endless stream of information continued to distract me. Decisions were hard to make, not because I was an indecisive person, but because the number of options overwhelmed me. The same paralysis analysis that attacked me in the bookstore last year was affecting so many areas of my life — so I decided to simplify.

I started by decluttering, in the process became a minimalist, and eventually became a simple living advocate. Like most of the things in our lives, the questions I asked myself began to change and grow as I changed and grew as a person. The questions were no longer, "What can I get rid of?" or "Does this spark joy?" or "What do I want to keep?"

Now everything goes through a litmus test of two questions — is it essential and does it make my life easier? Does it make life simpler, less complex, and less overwhelming so I am able to focus on the things that are most important to me?

If the answer is no, it doesn't stay or come into my life. Period.

It's worth pointing out that simple for me is not going to look the same as simple for you. From an outside perspective or at the start of something new, things might look more complicated than they were in the past. But in the long run, if it lets you breathe easier and live easier in the day-to-day, then it's worth the effort at the beginning.

Take curating a capsule wardrobe, for example. At the outset, it might seem complicated and possibly even stressful. You have to go through your entire closet and sort through everything you own, deciding what to keep, what to sell, what to donate, and what to throw away. You then have to consider color palettes and find pieces that mix-and-match together. If your goal is to increase the quality of pieces you buy or to start purchasing ethically or sustainably, then you also have to do the additional research of finding those companies and brands.

From an outside perspective, all that work seems far more complicated than simply heading to the store and picking up a new top when you feel like it. But in the long run, it's worth the effort when you know that you love everything in your wardrobe, it all works well together, and getting dressed in the morning now takes five minutes instead of 30 because the effort put forth at the outset means putting together an outfit day-to-day is easier. 

We can't insulate ourselves from all the hardships in life and there are seasons when some things, or many things, are going to be a little bit complicated. Having grown up in a family of four kids who were all homeschooled and all had different extracurricular commitments, there was certainly a (rather long) season of life for my mom that probably seemed anything but simple. But looking back on it now, I can still see systems that were set in place and choices my parents made, or had us kids make, that kept things as simple as possible.

Simplicity is not possible in everything, but it's always possible in some things. And those simple some things can add up quickly to a life that is slow and calm rather than rushed and frenzied, and what a world of difference that makes.