To portray the richness of simplicity as a theme for healthy living, here are eight different flowerings that I see growing consciously in the “garden of simplicity.” Although there is overlap among them, each expression of simplicity seems sufficiently distinct to warrant a separate category. These are presented in no particular order, as all are important.
- Uncluttered Simplicity. Simplicity means taking charge of lives that are too busy, too stressed and too fragmented. Simplicity means cutting back on clutter, complications and trivial distractions, both material and non-material, and focusing on the essentials — whatever those may be for each of our unique lives. As Thoreau said, “Our life is frittered away by detail … Simplify, simplify.” Or, as Plato wrote, “In order to seek one’s own direction, one must simplify the mechanics of ordinary, everyday life.
- Ecological Simplicity. Simplicity means choosing ways of living that touch the Earth more lightly and reduce our ecological impact on the web of life. This life-path remembers our deep roots with the soil, air and water. It encourages us to connect with nature, the seasons and the cosmos. An ecological simplicity feels a deep reverence for the community of life on Earth and accepts that the non-human realms of plants and animals have their dignity and rights as well as the human.
- Family Simplicity. Simplicity means to place the well-being of one’s family ahead of materialism and the acquisition of things. This expression of green living puts an emphasis on giving children healthy role models of a balanced life that are not distorted by consumerism. Family simplicity affirms that what matters most in life is often invisible — the quality and integrity of our relationships with one another and the rest of life. Family simplicity is also intergenerational — it looks ahead and seeks to live with restraint so as to leave a healthy earth for future generations.
- Compassionate Simplicity. Simplicity means to feel such a strong sense of kinship with others that, as Gandhi said, we “choose to live simply so that others may simply live.” A compassionate simplicity means feeling a bond with the community of life and being drawn toward a path of cooperation and fairness that seeks a future of mutually assured development in all areas of life for everyone.
- Soulful Simplicity. Simplicity means to approach life as a meditation and to cultivate our experience of direct connection with all that exists. By living simply, we can more easily awaken to the living universe that surrounds and sustains us, moment by moment. Soulful simplicity consciously tastes life in its unadorned richness rather than being concerned with a particular standard or manner of material living. In cultivating a soulful connection with life, we tend to look beyond surface appearances and bring our interior aliveness into relationships of all kinds.
- Business Simplicity. Simplicity means a new kind of economy is growing in the world, with healthy and sustainable products and services of all kinds (such as home-building materials, energy systems, food production and transportation systems). As the need for a sustainable infrastructure in developing nations is combined with the need to retrofit and redesign the homes, cities, workplaces and transportation systems of developed nations, it is generating an enormous wave of green business innovation and employment.
- Civic Simplicity. Simplicity means living more lightly and sustainably on the earth, and this requires, in turn, changes in many areas of public life — from public transportation and education to the design of our cities and workplaces. To develop policies of civic simplicity involves giving close and sustained attention to media politics, as the mass media are the primary vehicle for reinforcing — or transforming — the social norms of consumerism. To realize the magnitude of changes required in such a brief time requires new approaches to communicating with ourselves as different communities of citizens.
- Frugal Simplicity. Simplicity means that, by cutting back on spending that is not truly serving our lives, and by practicing skillful management of our personal finances we can achieve greater financial independence. Frugality and careful financial management bring increased financial freedom and the opportunity to more consciously choose our path through life. Living with less also decreases the impact of our consumption upon the earth and frees resources for others.
As these eight approaches illustrate, the growing culture of simplicity contains a flourishing garden of expressions whose great diversity — and intertwined unity — are creating a resilient and hardy ecology of learning about how to live more sustainable and meaningful lives. As with other ecosystems, it is the diversity of expressions that fosters flexibility, adaptability and resilience. Because there are so many pathways into the garden of simplicity, this self-organizing movement has enormous potential to grow.