Most of the time, when we want to simplify our life, we are starting by searching for a new system. Being it a new life management framework, some sort of a magic technique or a chain of processes, we expect from this new addition to make our life simpler.
Oh, the irony!
We add something, and we expect our life to be simpler. See the paradox?
This is just one of the many fallacies we nonchalantly entertain for most of our lives, without even being aware of it.
Simplicity works by elimination, by getting rid of what’s in excess, not by adding something new. We simplify when we’re leaving stuff behind, not when we’re becoming productive. We may get a temporary feeling of satisfaction when things around us are falling into places, when we experience less friction, but that basically means we just made more stuff possible.
We didn’t simplify, we optimized.
Optimization versus Simplification
An optimized system uses the minimum amount of energy to generate the maximum amount of outcome. An optimized system is not necessarily a simple one, it’s just one that works in a balanced way. But the more complex, the more attention and energy it requires.
Simplicity, on the other side, tries to eliminate the unnecessary parts.
The problem, hence, seems to appear when we try to convey what’s “necessary”.
For optimized systems, it’s obvious that everything is necessary, so we tweak the system to include all of it, while minimizing the costs. Optimization is a hedonist approach. Let’s have more, in a balanced way.
For simplified systems, it’s obvious that just fundamentals are necessary, so we tweak the system to work with as little pieces as possible. Simplicity is an austere approach. Let’s live with less, cut all the fancy stuff.
In less abstract terms, a simplified life is similar with a monk living by asking for ailments, while an optimized life is what we understand now by “being rich”, or not worrying about the amount of energy (money) that we need for the desired outcome (our lifestyle).
Both these extremes are difficult to maintain long term in our current world.
Switching completely to being a monk is something that very people are capable of.
Enjoying a worry free lifestyle is possible for very few people too. They’re either being lucky to have inherited a lot of money, or they’re lucky by “making it” in this lifestyle, by generating enough income so they don’t have to worry about that part anymore.
The Middle Way
There is a certain path that can be pursued, though, without resorting to extreme decisions. On this path, the work is done primarily on expectations, not on the energy. We don’t give up external energy, completely, like a monk, nor are we chasing it relentlessly, in the endless pursuit of wealth.
We just tweak our expectations. Starting with the fact that we are ok as we are, right now. We don’t necessarily chase new things, by fear of losing out, and we’re not cutting off experiences that may be readily available.
We simply accept to live with less.
Less excitement, less entertainment, less consumption.