Readings on Simplicity

“Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone.  The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.” Lin Yutang

“Reduce the complexity of life by eliminating the needless wants of life, and the labors of life reduce themselves.” Edwin Way Teale

“Voluntary simplicity means going fewer places in one day rather than more, seeing less so I can see more, doing less so I can do more, acquiring less so I can have more.”  John Kabat-Zinn

If one’s life is simple, contentment has to come. Simplicity is extremely important for happiness. Having few desires, feeling satisfied with what you have, is very vital: satisfaction with just enough food, clothing, and shelter to protect yourself from the elements.
The Dalai Lama

When we first began talking about simplicity, it seemed obvious that Americans were confused about happiness—we have believed that if we get rich, we’ll be happy.
Common sense and the wisdom of the ages have always argued otherwise, but now the research has come pouring in—it’s very clear that, after a certain point, more money doesn’t bring happiness.
So what does? Social ties. Relationships to people. The feelings of love and belonging.
Research shows that in a culture in which people spend more time together, there is less consumerism. Not only is hanging out in a café more fun than shopping, but our connectedness makes us feel more secure and we don’t need more stuff to impress people!
Lesson learned? The cure to so many of our problems, particularly consumerism, is more community.
When we learn to care for each other, we end up caring for all of life, the planet included. …Simplicity helps people to realize that we’re better together.
Cecile Andrews

Simple things are always the most difficult. In actual life it requires the greatest art to be simple, and so acceptance of one’s self is the essence of the moral problem and the acid test on one’s whole outlook on life.
Carl Jung

If simplicity of living is a valid principle, there is one important precaution and condition of its application. I can explain it best by something which Mahatma Gandhi said to me. We were talking about simple living and I said that it was easy for me to give up most things but that I had a greedy mind and wanted to keep my many books. He said, “Then don’t give them up. As long as you derive inner help and comfort from anything, you should keep it. If you were to give it up in a mood of self-sacrifice or out of a stern sense of duty, you would continue to want it back, and that unsatisfied want would make trouble for you. Only give up a thing when you want some other condition so much that the thing no longer has any attraction for you, or when it seems to interfere with that which is more greatly desired.”
Richard Gregg

Our lives are often filled with a million things to do and consume that distract us from simple living. When I pay attention and become mindful, I marvel at the simple things in life that I once passed over. Consuming less and living simply are the true conditions of happiness.
Barbara Ann Kipfer in 201 Little Buddhist Reminders

I do believe in simplicity. It is astonishing as well as sad, how many trivial affairs even the wisest thinks he must attend to in a day; how singular an affair he thinks he must omit. When the mathematician would solve a difficult problem, he first frees the equation of all incumbrances, and reduces it to its simplest terms. So simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary and the real. Probe the earth to see where your main roots run. Henry David Thoreau

“It is easy to be heavy; hard to be light.”G. K. Chesterton

“Simplicity boils down to two steps: Identify the essential. Eliminate the rest.”Leo Babauta

“Simplicity is not grinding poverty: It is not the polar opposite of wealth. To live simply is to pursue a quiet path of moderation. In a life of balance between opposite extremes lies inner happiness.” Paramhansa Yogananda

Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb nail. In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, if he would not founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds. Simplify, simplify. 
Henry David Thoreau

Indeed, simplifying has given me a more integrated life in all ways. My life isn’t broken up into stuff I hate doing and stuff I love doing. There’s this easy flow that comes from setting up my finances so I can do what I love for a living, rather than spending hours and hours at a job I dislike. Simplicity makes my whole life feel like mine – rather than feeling like I’m living someone else’s life. And that comes from making lots of choices every day – how I’ll spend my time, my money, and how aware I am of what I’m doing, what I want, how I love.
With simplicity, life isn’t just a blur in the fast lane. I notice it. I appreciate it.
And I am still madly in love with the practical, gut-earthy part of simplicity, like shedding stuff, not spending more than I have so I can maintain my freedom, and being salt-of-the-earth real.
Janet Luhrs,

Once there was an occasion for me to motor down to Calcutta from a place a hundred miles away. Something wrong with the mechanism made it necessary for us to have a repeated supply of water almost every half an hour. At the first village where we were compelled to stop, we asked the help of a man to find water for us. It proved quite a task for him, but when we offered him his reward, poor though he was, he refused to accept it. In fifteen other villages the same thing happened. In a hot country where travelers constantly need water, and where the water supply grows scanty in summer, the villagers consider it their duty to offer water to those who need it. They could easily make a business out of it, following the inexorable law of demand and supply. But the ideal which they consider to be their dharma has become one with their life. To ask them to sell it is like asking them to sell their life. They do not claim any personal merit for possessing it.
To be able to take a considerable amount of trouble in order to supply water to a passing stranger and yet never to claim merit or reward for it seems absurdly and negligibly simple compared with the capacity to produce an amazing number of things per minute. A millionaire tourist ready to corner the food market and grow rich by driving the whole world to the brink of starvation is sure to feel too superior to notice this simple thing while rushing through our villages at sixty miles an hour. …
Yes, it is simple; but that simplicity is the product of centuries of culture; that simplicity is difficult of imitation. … to be absolutely simple in one’s hospitality to one’s enemy or to a stranger requires generations of training. Simplicity takes no account of its own value, claims no wages, and therefore those who are enamoured of power do not realize that simplicity of spiritual expression is the highest product of civilization.
A process of disintegration can kill this rare fruit of a higher life, as a whole race of birds possessing some rare beauty can be made extinct, by the vulgar power of avarice which has civilized weapons. This fact was clearly proved to me when I found that the only place where a price was expected for the water given to us was when we reached a suburb of Calcutta, where life was richer, the water supply easier and more abundant, and where progress flowed in numerous channels in all directions.
Rabindranath Tagore

“Some seem to think my life dedicated to simplicity and service is austere and joyless, but these do not know the freedom of simplicity.” Peace Pilgrim 

“…there are often many things we feel we should do that, in fact, we don’t really have to do. Getting to the point where we can tell the difference is a major milestone in the simplification process.” Elaine St. James

Longer Reads

Minimalism is the latest version of simple living. From blogger Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist, The 10 Most Important Things to Simplify.

Read about how the Voluntary Simplicity movement of the last two decades is partially rooted in Unitarian Universalism in this piece from UU World.

Duane Elgin is the author of the classic text Voluntary Simplicity.  Read the first chapter here.

An exploration of the minimalism movement from The Atlantic.


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