The Howells Group Blog

Finding Sanity in Simplicity


Ever wonder if it’s just you? Why oh why does life feel so complex at times? A recent article in the Wall Street Journal offered me some perspective that I’m not alone and that there are many reasons for the crush of complexity. One root cause is the “overwhelm of choice”; 800,000 apps for your phone, thousands of breakfast cereal options, televisions with endless stations and movies. And of course, there’s the plethora of electronic devices supposedly designed to “simplify” our lives; iPods and pads and phones and electronic readers, to name just a few. Not to mention the pace of life. The internet never sleeps. You can shop, email, study online, invest or Skype twenty four hours seven days a week. A sane rhythm of life is hard to find; and often it’s “on – go- faster – more”. Organizations need to pierce through complexity to connect better with customers and employees in order to achieve success. The article and related book offer some great suggestions on how to do so. As we near tax time I’m hopeful the IRS folks will read it. Sigh.

There is personal application as well. As I read the article I remembered two of the simpler seasons in my life. One was the time our children were newborns and life’s rhythm was eat – sleep (hopefully) – change diapers; repeat. Everything else, often to my frustration, fell to the wayside. People knew I couldn’t volunteer, attend a conference, go to a play or even talk on the phone. It was clear what mattered; take good care of this child with love and physical nurture. There was freedom and focus in simplicity, though we did see a marked increase in laundry.  My second experience was recovering from cancer surgeries and treatment from 2008-2011. On July 31st my world narrowed. My husband and I heard the words together on speakerphone “your tests came back positive – you have breast cancer”.  From that moment on, life’s focus became simple. I would do everything possible to get well. The rhythm of life became doctor visits- treatment- surgery- rest- recovery; repeat. Once again, the nonessentials dropped away.

Since I am NOT the poster child for simplicity in any way, I’m asking myself “What can I learn from those times of simplicity”? Here are some thoughts I’m mulling over as I lean in to the third trimester of my life and commit to greater simplicity.

  • First, ask “what matters most to me now, really?” The answer to this question changes as you move through life’s stages. It’s easy to unconsciously live according to past priorities and not be clear on current ones. Living in alignment with your values requires regular checking in with yourself.

  • Second, know that “should” is the enemy of simple. Ok – I am guilty of this! I should go to this professional meeting, I should attend this social function, I should spend time with this person etc. etc.  When I hear “I should” it signals it’s time to check in with my thinking and ask if it’s essential and does it really fit in the category of what matters most?

  • Recognize you must choose. Not to choose is choosing. Our culture tells us we can have it all by multitasking, using more electronic devices and working smart. Bottom line? We can’t. There are limits to what the smartest and most efficient human being can handle. Our energy and lives are finite.

  • Ask for accountability. Team up with a trusted friend or spouse and do a “complexity audit”. Support each other is defining what really matters and deleting what doesn’t in big and small ways. And then meet or talk regularly about how it’s going.

Writer Victoria Moran observes “A simpler life is not seeing how little we can get by with—that’s poverty—but how efficiently we can put first things first. . . . When you’re clear about your purpose and your priorities, you can painlessly discard whatever does not support these, whether it’s clutter in your cabinets or commitments on your calendar.”

Should we list some other resources? Websites, books – or is that too complicated?!

One Comment

  1. Posted April 11, 2013 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    You’re so right that what matters changes as we go through life. It’s good to have that reminder.

    I continually try to remove “should” from my language – it was something that I learned long ago – it has a certain feeling that goes along with it. “Could” sounds soooooo much better, and tends to be more appropriate.

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