Simplify (Part I): What does simplicity look like?

As far back as I can remember, I've always been enamored with flashy toys, cool gadgets or the latest tech. It's not unusual I suppose, considering the materialistic culture that we live in. What I'm trying to say is that I'm just like you and everyone else. We like stuff, right? I just want to make it clear from the get-go, I'm not looking down on stuff from some self-righteous "I live with less than 100 items" perspective (because I don't). But what is in store over the remainder of this series has transformed the role of possessions in my life and empowered me to enjoy life more fully. I realize it all sounds really crazy right now but I promise things will clear up as we go on. Just stick with me.

I would like to tell you my story.

It's not radical but I hope that it will illustrate my perspective.

I'm not sure what triggered it - I'm speculating that it was the culture shock of new-found independence - but the day I moved into my dorm room at college was the day I became intrigued by systems, organization, and productivity. Being handed the keys to my own world, just like that, was pretty cool I must admit. I could go to bed when I wanted to, not study if I didn't want to, buy a whole gallon of ice cream and eat it all by myself... man, college was the good life. Except that I didn't do any of those things (except maybe the ice cream). Let me paint you a picture of Jacob in highschool. I was an average A/B student (even got the occasional F), had no problem waiting until the last minute to do my homework, said "yes" to everything I was offered, basically had my mom manage my time and overall just enjoyed being a good, normal kid. So when college hit and I began taking life super seriously (a good seriously, not a bad seriously) all of the sudden, it wasn't a complete 180 but it wasn't exactly in-character either.

I began rigorously plotting out my schedule each week, even going so far as to schedule meals, naps, reading and downtime. It was a good thing too - I was involved in more things my first year of college than a lot of students take part in over their college career.
My roommate and I set a mutual 12:00am bedtime every night (what Freshman does that??) so that we wouldn't be sleep deprived and surprisingly, stuck to it with few exceptions.
I was determined to maintain A's in all of my classes despite my track record of A's and B's.
I stopped spending all of my money and started saving significant amounts for the first time in my life.

It sounds pretty good but, after a while, all of the responsibility that I piled on myself began to catch up with me. By the end of Junior year, I was beginning to notice the weight of managing a complex life and looked to make purposeful moves toward pairing it down. The first thing that I did - more out of desperation than out of curiosity - was to begin being more deliberate with my focus, learning to stop worrying or expending energy on the things that either didn't matter or I had no control over. This practice began freeing up my time because I was finally putting things aside in my mind that had little value and devoted that emotional energy and processing power to things that mattered. As a result, I was able to write and publish a book during my Junior and Senior years. The book eventually expanded into a blog which you are currently reading.

Through my writings, I noticed my obsession evolving from systems and productivity (don't get me wrong, I still get giddy over those things) toward intentional living. Reading books like Chris Guillebeau's "The Art of Non-Conformity" and Tim Ferriss' "The 4-Hour Workweek" sparked an insatiable thirst for figuring out ways that I could design the life that I wanted, achieving my goals, meeting my needs and fulfilling my dreams. I began to devour books, blogs and podcasts searching for methods that would help me direct my lifestyle and would then write about what I learned here on the blog.

Over and over again, I saw the theme of simplicity. Though it needs no explanation, simplicity gives you the necessary tools and space with which to craft your life the way you want it. Fewer things tying you down, fewer things distracting you from what matters, fewer things to worry about. It just makes sense. The summer after graduation, I was traveling across Europe for a few months with no more than a backpack's worth of luggage. From the start of the trip, as I would rush through the airport terminals or hop aboard a last-minute train, I was very aware of the speed, flexibility and ease with which I could travel, unencumbered by the weight and hassle of excess luggage. Backpacking gave me a personal handle on simplicity by forcing me into an extended situation in which I felt the immediate impact of it.

At this point I actually had no idea about “minimalism” as a concept and it wasn’t until the latter half of my travels that I stumbled upon Joshua Becker’s blog, Becoming Minimalist and Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus’ blog, The Minimalists. Through these two blogs I began to understand the philosophies and practices behind minimalism. For a few weeks after diving in, the prospect of living with fewer than 100 things was rather appealing – especially since I didn't have all that much to begin with (recently graduated college student, remember?). However, as I began to consider minimalism at its core – removing excess to make room for the meaningful – I realized that:

Owning things isn’t a bad practice as long as those things contribute value to my life.

During our travels I was continuing to write heavily. Below is an excerpt from an entry I wrote while in Rome (which ended up in my eBook, Story Arc).

For the past month, my friend and I have been backpacking Europe - it is mid-summer and the heat is excruciating. But by the time we make it back in the evening, crack the windows, brew some tea and sit down to write for a bit, we don’t even realize the lack of air conditioning or television. In fact the breeze is comforting and I almost dread going back to a life where television shows are readily available.

As I write this, I sit in a rented apartment in Rome. My host walked through the kitchen and asked if I wanted the lights on. Up to this point I hadn’t even realized they were off. I rather enjoyed the ambient glow of the window light.

That was the turning point. I saw the immense joy that I received from simple pleasures like a cup of tea and a pen. More importantly, I saw what I didn't need that up until that point I thought I couldn't live without such as air conditioning and a television. Don't get me wrong, I have AC and a TV - I just realized they were comforts not necessities. Upon returning home, I bagged up about 50% of my clothes and brought them to Goodwill. I gave some of the unnecessary things I owned to my Alma Mater's Theater Department to be used as props. I threw out two garbage bags full of junk that I was collecting and never used. Then I moved into my new living space which is only one room with a bathroom off to the side and it was absolutely perfect.

I don’t need stuff to have a peace about life – I have my faith. I don’t need stuff to get butterflies in the pit of my stomach – breathtaking views will do the trick. I don’t need stuff to be happy – friends, good conversation, a cup of hot chocolate and a bonfire sound just perfect.

I realized that contentment with less is not only a freeing position to be in but an empowering one too. Over the next few parts of this series, I hope to illustrate why and how you can also make simplicity a way of life.


Jacob Jolibois