Why Choose Simple Living? 4 Benefits of Limitation

The goal of life: simple but not empty. ~Terri Guillemets

Life does not fit into a box. Yet, when moving to a new home, an excitement emerges when staring at our life packed neatly into cardboard cubes. The objects that tie us to certain locations or times can be tucked away and, for a moment, disappear. We ask ourselves, is this it, is this what has been holding me down?

Part of the moving process involves discarding what is no longer useful or appreciated in favor of the essential. Boxes are separated into piles, one set for our future, the other for somebody else's. Somehow the old and static is transformed into something new and invigorating by simply changing its surroundings.

Liberation Through Limitation

There is something liberating about boxes, or cubed spaces in general. Within its limited volume, we are forced to fit aspects of ourselves. When packing, we must choose which items are worth taking and when decorating, which decor suits the space best. There is a balancing act involved, weighing the needs of external and internal space. When we decorate a room, in some sense, we are really decorating ourselves.

The way we design our external environment has a lot to do with our internal world as well. A cluttered room breeds a cluttered mind, and vica versa. Likewise, a calm and open mind relates to quiet, open spaces. It is no coincidence that Zen temples are sparse in decoration, as the emptiness of mind and environment compliment one another.

This principle applies throughout our life as well. Simple living, minimalism, or whatever we call the scaling down of life to its essentials, is an acknowledgment of this fact. Like with moving boxes, it is the empty space within that makes it useful. In life, it is the emptiness of our time that spawns usefulness. On the surface what appears to be a limitation can be a form of liberation.

Here are 4 Benefits of Limitation that I have noticed increase my appreciation of life and help alleviate the anxiety caused by profusion.

1). Fewer options facilitate creativity. Intentional constraint and limited options are simply easier to manage. Whether it is a small living space or a basic musical structure, limits challenge us to create abundance out of the scarcity. Blues music, for example, follows a basic three chord pattern, yet each musician is able to create his/her own unique way of expressing their emotions through it. With three notes, B.B. King or Ella Fitzgerald can convey a depth of emotion that sometime cannot be found on entire albums.

Likewise, a perspective geared towards simplicity can add richness to situations that, on the surface, appear barren. For example, Tumbleweed Houses offers pint-size housing for minimalists, travelers and the like who are seeking a Walden-esque lifestyle. What is so fascinating about these homes is the creativity needed to meet basic needs of living within a 300 sq ft space.

Bathrooms double as showers, stovetops become counters and attic space becomes a bedroom. With less space, the architects of these homes must reorient how they think about space and daily living in order to make each square inch useful, without cluttering. Their homes become a work of art in style and design.

2). Simplicity allows for deeper appreciation of what we already have. If we own four sweaters and one tears, we usually toss it in favor of the other three. Its value is immediately lost once it no longer meets our needs. However, if we own only a single sweater, we are more inclined to care for it and hem the tear in case we need its warmth on a cold winter day.

This principle can be applied to our possessions, loved ones, hobbies and career. As quantity increases, value decreases. However, if we limit our lives to only the experiences and things that matter, we have a deeper appreciation what we have. When we need something or someone, we know they will be there for us because we took the time to care for them. If we live as if people and objects are expendable, we find that no quantity will ever satisfy our desires.

One day we may go to the closet and find that we tossed our last sweater and must brave the cold without it.

3). Unlimited choice breeds indecision. Large enclosed spaces are overstimulating to me. The prospect of decorating or filling a large home, for example, is tiring to even consider. The same emotion arises when we are forced to make life choices. Choosing a career can be an exhausting process because of the seemingly unlimited choices available.

By narrowing down our values - what is important to us, how we enjoy spending our time, what causes are we passionate about and who we care about - we relieve the anxiety of choice. By focusing on what it important to us, rather than what ought to be important, we are able to chip away at the iceberg of indecision.

Freedom is often confused with the notion that anything goes, however, it is often restriction and structure that maximizes our autonomy.

For example, living with someone without setting boundaries limits the freedom of both individuals. One may want to stay up all night listening to music while the other needs sleep for work. Both feel restricted even though their are free to do as they wish, in theory. By setting small limits each person is able to meet their own needs within certain perimeters. Music can be played until 9, or with headphones, etc.

4). Our time is limited, and therefore precious. Living simply comes from the acknowledgment that our life has limits. We have X amount of days to walk this planet, so how should we spend it? Time is our most precious commodity because it is irreplaceable. Each day is a microcosm of this, as we have limited access to certain experiences before we tire and must begin again.

If we live each day focusing on what we care about, with people we care for, then our life will reflect this in the long term. Life, in a sense, is a collection of moments and those moments are dependent on our choices.

If life were a suitcase, most of us would want to fill it with as much of our stuff as possible. However, doing so only drags us down and limits our mobility. On the other hand, packing only what we need allows greater flexability, with less burden. Furthermore, if we spend our lives with a full suitcase, we are unable to add mementos acquired on the way.

No Frame of Reference

Life does not fit into boxes, yet most of our life we spend occupying cubed spaces and viewing the world through a framed reference. There are certain literal experiences of this, such as moving or travel, when we are required to limit our needs to a finite space for the sake of convenience. This constriction can feel suffocating at times and our minds become entrapped within its dimensions.

However, if we treat our life as if it were a suitcase, carrying with us only what is required from moment to moment, everyday life will become a new venture. The cliche goes that it is not the destination, but the journey that matters. There is truth to this. Some find greater happiness is a walk to the corner store then others do astir across the country. It all depends on what we are carrying with us.

Photo by Bob AuBuchon