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Yearning for the Simple Life


As the Days of OurLives get shorter, I find myself seized by a strange new obsession: Simplicity. I don’t think I am alone. A landscaper told me his older clients are always asking him to cut down their trees. Why? Because they want less to deal with. I notice more and more women, as they get older, looking like they get their flagrantly gray hair cut at a barbershop. I actually had the cheek to ask one such woman why the butch haircut. Her answer? It’s simpler.

But, I wonder, is this just what happens when you get older? You can’t take all the noise and activity, and long to retire to some quiet place where you can play golf and knit funky scarves?

To check this out further, I polled my correspondents about whether they — like Paris and Nicole — yearn for the simple life. Overwhelmingly, they said yes! Simplicity is something they are, as one man said, “absolutely, desperately, on a daily basis” searching for.

And they offered solutions. Here are a few. Eliminate! Disqualify high-maintenance people from your life. Use online bill pay and banish the atavistic practice of writing checks. Crank up your spam filters and sign up for “do not call” lists. Drop out of groups that have outlived their personal usefulness. Stop raising your hand every time a volunteer is called for. Actively get rid of “stuff.” (With the greater wisdom that comes with years, we should have some idea of what we truly need and don’t need.) Liberate yourself from technology. Get radical and turn off the cell phone and computer for an entire day each week and actually make all your interactions up close and personal. Free yourself from the tyranny of your BlackBerry; don’t answer every cell-phone call that comes in. (Since when was everything such an emergency situation?) Stop the insane practice of multitasking in almost everything you do.

Zero-sum game. Leslie told me she realized we spend the first half of our life accumulating stuff and the second half trying to get rid of it. That would make life a zero-sum game, and something about that appeals to me. As a way of realizing this, Mike suggested taking up backpacking. “You realize how little you need when you have to carry it all on your back.” He also tries to utilize the lessons he learned while living on a boat in his younger days. “I had a rule that if I brought anything new onto the boat I had to take something off. It was a good rule, and if I had not left the rule on the boat when I moved ashore I could probably get my car into the garage today.”

Get creative. Accomplish just one task on your to-do list every day. According to Margo, “The feeling of one less thing to worry about is very calming.” Holidays can become an increasingly complicated event in our lives so Larry simplifies his by expressing love to his wife every day. “When everyday is special it isn’t necessary to add stress to the typical big days.” And then there was this innovative strategy from Michael: Practice agoraphobia. “Not leaving the house makes things so much simpler.”

Not everyone I heard from subscribes to simplicity as a virtue. Katy emailed me the following eloquent refutation of simplicity: “I see simplicity as a lack of responsibility. If I want Darfur on the front page of any newspaper, and not Anna Nicole Smith, I need to complicate my life and voice my opinion. Participators live very complicated lives. We have to chose who we want to be.”

Wherever you stand on the virtue of simplicity, probably you will agree with Amanda, who said: “Simple is not simple anymore!”

Dr. Michael O.L. Seabaugh is a licensed clinical psychologist with a psychotherapy practice in Santa Barbara. Comment at healthspan@mac.com and visit his web site/blog at HealthspanWeb.com for more information on the topics covered in this column.

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