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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