The first words ever written in my blog category Simplify were these:
“While I don’t see myself becoming a minimalist ever, ideas of effortless, happy productivity and a decluttered home do have their charm. Simplifying life to me means living authentically, with clarity and intention, whilst doing my best to avoid chaos both inside and outside my person.”
What they mean in practice is what I touched on in the blog post about my journey into decluttering and organising, more specifically in the section “It never ends.” Keeping everyday life rolling effortlessly may look beautiful in its apparent simplicity, but behind achieving such a state is complexity. Over the years, I’ve had many a beginning on this discussion, but rarely have people wanted to see past what they perceived to be complication, and so it is finally time for me to clarify the difference between the two. I’ll get to the nitty gritty of simplifying life in other blog posts, but for now I think it’s relevant to set the scene so we have a common language.
Complexity versus complication
The number of things you own does have something to do with simplicity the way I define it above, but it’s more to do with the increasing number of decisions arising and actions resulting because of them.
A decluttered everyday life, one with few things, can be far from, if not the opposite of, simplicity, whereas a life of simplicity can include living in a cluttered home. While I prefer decluttering what I own, I still choose to distinguish this way between decluttering and simplifying life.
If we bring the act of organising to the mix, I would say that organising things can happen whether there are few or many of them and so it means you could sort them in a certain way, alphabetically like authors of books for example.
The more books you have, the longer the process of alphabetising will take, but complexity itself isn’t increasing. You’ve established a system to which you keep sticking the same way, in as complex a way as when you decided on its structure.
If you have many different categories of books, both fiction and non-fiction, your system of choice can be a lot or a little complex. If it’s important to you to find them quickly, personally you may feel that your system is complex, but not complicated.
To someone else, sticking to the very same system could feel complicated, however, and the recent fad of arranging all books according to rainbow colours could be the pretty and uncomplicated solution. The person, who needs or wants to find their books quickly, could feel like the such a bookshelf were the epitome of chaos, and gladly I confess to having tried the books-by-colour once. The project of going back to my original, moderately complex system was an interesting undertaking, so tread carefully is all I care to say on this topic.
Discipline or not
So clearly complex and complicated is subjective to a certain degree. Regardless of your personal thoughts, we still need to accept the fact that to find stuff, they need to be managed somehow at some point.
Did you read my post on New beginnings yet, where I talk about what I want to recall in 2017, the part about discipline in particular?
Everything is a trade-off, and part of being disciplined the way I’m picturing this ideal situation is that I try to create a more positive state of mind by reminding myself of what Dalai lama says in Howard C. Cutler’s book Happiness. While I may have to say no to something in the present, it may still be a yes, cause greater happiness in the long run, if I manage to stick to the decision.
And while discipline sounds boring quite frankly, to me, what it leads to, is my personal ultimate freedom no less. When I stick to my goals and project management, I’m saying yes to my priorities and no to what doesn’t matter, and as a result I’m happier in everyday life. Discipline becomes a tool and I get to see the fruits of my labour. I hope :) At least I’ll give it my best shot.
In the end, while discipline and simplifying life don’t seem to mingle well at a cocktail party, for some reason I think of the pair of unlikely friends, one bubbly and a free spirit, and the other quiet and thoughtful. Both are needed to balance out the equation.
Things to ponder
Where do you need to increase complexity and when? And where would it benefit you to decrease it instead? Sometimes we try to establish systems when they aren’t necessary at all.
A simple example would be the two-minute tasks of Getting Things Done. David Allen, its creator, suggests that next actions you can finish in a single sweep, lasting around a couple of minutes only, shouldn’t even be put on a list but simply get done. Decrease complexity in other words.
On the other hand, when trying to create habits of easy actions, such as making the bed or taking a supplement every day, visually creating a streak in your calendar or on a note on the fridge door can be the difference between sticking to it or giving up. Momentarily increasing complexity could be the trick then.
Know thyself and observe what works, tweak what isn’t working, and drop what isn’t serving you at all.
By the latter I’m thinking of times when for instance work or a family situation is particularly demanding and it simply would be one too many a thing to ask for to add also habit building to your daily to-do list. A non-pressing, new habit will most likely weigh you down in that case, so why push? You can work on it a few weeks or months later instead.
Another, slightly silly example of trying to work against your natural patterns of existing in your own home would be to try to force the toothpaste to be stored behind the tv when you’re never using it there. Does it make sense to demand behaviours that will only make everyday life miserable? Keys in a bowl in the entryway, when you repeatedly forget them, if the one and only bag would make more sense, since you’re always remembering that one? New shopping list in the calendar, when the fridge door is the only spot you remember to keep updated? And so on.
Watch and learn. For this very reason, I’m rather critical about “expert advice” from self-proclaimed gurus. They aren’t you in all your glory, with strengths, weaknesses, interior-decoration taste, and other circumstances. The person you should please and support with your behaviours and habits is you.
Speaking of outside pressure, beware also of social media and pretty photos you see. It’s okay to admire from a distance a beautifully kept calendar, but you don’t have to implement all the doodling yourself unless it’s something that comes naturally to you and you definitely want to spend time on every day.
There’s a certain kind of hotness to utilitarian options as well, so don’t do like I’ve done, jump on the latest wagon of organising porn whenever it appeared. It’s tiresome to switch from paper to app to Mac Calendar back to paper combined with other app. All that mental work could have been spent moving projects forward instead.
And speaking of calendar, check out my downloadable January calendar for you in the library, or sign up below for instructions how to enter!