In our modern consumerist culture, we are conditioned from an early age to acquire things – and to go on acquiring indefinitely. From commodities like kitchen gadgets and clothes to ephemera like experiences, achievements and accolades, we live in a world that encourages people to accumulate. As TV’s Frasier Crane once remarked, ‘If less is more, just think how much more more will be!’
On the other hand, the last few decades have seen the philosophy of ‘de-cluttering’ become an industry in its own right, selling the vision of a minimalist lifestyle that promises to transform the lives of its adherents. Product designers create ever sleeker, smaller, less intrusive gadgets, while systems like the Marie Kondo method aim to rejuvenate our living spaces and our minds by getting rid of the unnecessary.
As with much in life, both approaches have something to recommend them – it is, after all, enjoyable to buy new things or see new places, just as it is enjoyable to find peace in an elegant and empty space. Between the twin poles of maximalist excess and monk-like asceticism however, the idea of ‘simplicity’ in itself can serve as its own guiding principle.
With good reason we tend to think of simplicity as the watchword of minimal living, yet when it comes to human emotions this definition can be slightly reductive. Simplicity as an ideal doesn’t have to mean curating the perfectly minimal space or striving to throw off the buy-buy-buy mentality of 21st century capitalism. Instead, we think of simplicity as the calm, peaceful enjoyment of everyday things, appreciating what we have when we have it.
Find Joy in Simplicity
The ability to find joy in each moment is a lasting skill. Once we have developed it, even if times get hard and we falter occasionally, the sensation will never leave us entirely. When we go searching for pleasure by acquiring more and more, or even by throwing more and more away, we are looking to bring about externally an internal shift in our consciousness. Yet by being attached to these external stimuli as a means of accessing joy, we find that, as soon as we possess the material life we desire, it can never fulfil that underlying need.
When we embrace simplicity of spirit we can enjoy things for what they are without attaching ourselves to them too strongly. We can still enjoy a lavish meal at a fancy restaurant or our collection of designer clothes, we can still savour the aesthetic enjoyment of a minimal home with few possessions. Yet if we wake up tomorrow and the money for our fancy meals is gone, or a relative has had to move in with us and brought their clutter into our pristine living space, we know that we will be just as happy and content as we were the day before.
Simplicity isn’t just enjoyment, but acknowledgement of the fleeting nature of all experience and a sense of gratitude for our share. By being open and at peace we can realise the benefits of abundance and scarcity in equal measure to find a more lasting sense of joy.