A few days ago I spent the afternoon relaxing by the beach.
It was a real joy to let time fill its sails with wind and flow right past me. It was a joy to let the saltwater kiss the bare souls of my feet as I crouched across the stretch of sand to pick up some seashells–tritons, tellins, cowries, and conches in the many shades of peach, plum, and pink.
But an hour later, I found myself staring at a fast-sinking sun, weighed heavy by a load of shells in my pocket. And much like the waves in front of me that constantly ebbed and flowed, a contemplative thought arose in my mind: How often do we spend the hours of our days exerting needless energy to collect more memories, more moments, more things, and then drain ourselves as we continue to hold onto them?
Do you really need to add another item to the plethora of clothes in your closet? Do you really need to launch another side project or should you just double down on the one that you’ve been tweaking and procrastinating on for years?
Do you really need to take on more responsibility at your job because everyone around you seems to be doing it? Do you really need to connect with more people or have you considered connecting more deeply with the people you already know?
Do I really need all these shells in my hand? Or can I choose three as free gifts from the shore and send the rest back to sea?
In the Tao te Ching, Lao Tzu writes: “Excessive fortune brings about its own misfortune. Too much light blinds the eye; too much noise deafens the ear; too many spices dull the taste; too much exercise weakens the body; the pursuit of great riches leads to ruin.”
The pursuit of great riches leads to ruin and the pursuit of more leads to less—less physical, mental, and emotional energy and certainly less inner wealth. In other words, too much of something is never too good. It tips the scale toward stress and so we naturally fall off balance as we get bogged down by the needless weight we are now burdened to carry.
But if there’s anything I’ve learned over the recent years, it’s that in a fast-moving world, there’s nothing more invigorating to the mind and body than living slow. And in an increasingly complex world, there’s nothing more calming to the soul than simplifying your small space within it.
The Art of Simple Living First Begins With Shedding
There’s a quote by Sir Isaac Newton that reads: “Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.”
Isn’t that an eloquent expression of life itself? A life of simplicity is what all great thinkers and philosophers have always preached, and yet, until today, a life of multiplicity is what we chase. More social outings. More holidays and travel. More ideas to pursue. More books to read. More products to buy. More people to meet and more time to steal from ourselves and give to others.
We now live in an era where we are so easily tempted to consume more than we are called to create. And that’s a serious problem since fulfilment is nourished by creation, not consumption.
But what is multiplicity? A life of multiplicity is one defined by endless distraction. It manifests when we make it a habit to seek more of what we don’t have rather than fully indulging in what we do. What happens then? We end up doing too many fragmented and conflicting things, and thus, spread ourselves too thin.
And why do we do this? Because deep we don’t really know what we want, so we go about life drifting through it, instead of intentionally rowing our own boat. We go about life coasting, instead of leveraging the wind to sail with it. We follow the pace that’s set for us, instead of carving out our own strides forward.
We scatter the energy of our bodies doing work that doesn’t nourish our soul. We scatter our emotional energy pleasing people whose values don’t even align with our own. And we scatter our mental energy complicating our problems by feeding them too much complex thought.
As a result, we fragment our energy upon needless happenings instead of unifying it toward an intentional, self-directed destination.
No wonder over 80% of the working force in the US and in the UK is constantly feeling overwhelmed and stressed. In her book, Gift From The Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh writes that “one learns first of all in beach living the art of shedding; how little one can get along with, not how much.”
The art of a simple life begins with shedding.
Shedding your outgrown clothes and all needless material possessions. Shedding your burdens and all the emotional baggage that no longer serve you. Shedding the circles of friends who drain you. Shedding your ego, pride, vanity, masks, and shells. Shedding the irrational need to be constantly doing something in order to fill the meagre gaps between space and time.
The way I see it, shedding is less a process of removal than it is a process of renewal. It is less a process of letting go than it is a process of pealing the layers to arrive at your truest authentic self. How else can you arrive at your own inner essence if you don’t shave off the things that consume your attention and thus distract you from your innermost purpose?
It is a fact that, as humans, we shed our entire outer layer of skin every 2-4 weeks at the rate of 0.001–0.003 ounces of skin flakes an hour. So over the course of a lifetime, we shed our skin almost a thousand times.
But while skin shedding is a natural process, the question that you should be constantly asking yourself is: “What am I consciously shedding today?” How are you simplifying your life? How are you paving the way for inner peace to blossom?
Become an Essentialist, Learn to Say No, and Always Ask Yourself This One Question
Simplifying your life isn’t a complex process. And if it is, well that’s a measure of how immune you’ve become to multiplicity. There are two principles that I return to time and time again when I’m feeling off-balance, stretched and overwhelmed: Become an essentialist by always asking this question: “Is this necessary?” Say “no” without any hint of hesitation. Consider the words of Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius:
“Most of what we say and do is not essential. If you can eliminate it, you’ll have more time, and more tranquility. Ask yourself at every moment, ‘Is this necessary?’”
It isn’t about doing less for the sake of it. It’s about doing less of what doesn’t matter to you so you can have more energy and time for what does. And the way to that is by always coming back to what is essential. How do you determine what is essential and what isn’t? By asking yourself this one question:
“Is this necessary?”
When you’re tempted to add one more subscription or material possession to your life, ask yourself: “Is this necessary?” When you’re pulled toward one more social activity that you know is going to drain you, ask yourself: “Is this necessary?” And if you still can’t arrive at an answer, as yourself this question:
“How does this align with my long-term vision?”
What I love about the initial question is that it instantly draws you back to your priority list. It first demands of you complete clarity on what matters to you and then, when faced with a dilemma, it places your power back in the palm of your hands. It reminds you that you always have a choice.
The truth is, no one is going to value you more than you value yourself. And no one is going to value your time more than you value it. And that’s exactly why you must learn how to draw the line. You must learn to say “no” to everything that doesn’t serve you well and everyone who doesn’t contribute positive energy to your life. But if you don’t know what your priorities are, what your values are, what you’re working toward, or in which direction you’re taking your life, then how would you know what to say no to?
So if you wish to live a focused, simple, and fulfilled life, you must first get intentional about it. You must first get clear on what lifestyle you wish to lead, what values you want to live by, and what energy you want to attract. And then, all that is left is for you to honour those commitments and start shedding.
It’s a Simple Life That Cultivates Your Inner Peace, Harmony, and Grace
In her bestselling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Japanese author Marie Kondo writes: “The process of assessing how you feel about the things you own, identifying those that have fulfilled their purpose, expressing your gratitude, and bidding them farewell, is really about examining your inner self, a rite of passage to a new life.” And this process of assessing and letting go extends way beyond material things—it also applies to people, places, memories, and feelings.
There’s nothing more conducive to your inner and outer tranquillity than the act of simplifying your life. Because only by doing so will you create more time and space to reflect and align action with intention.
Simplicity is the antidote to multiplicity, and it’s a simple life that cultivates your inner peace, harmony, and grace. Sure, it’s fine to collect and carry back home with me over two dozen seashells. But is it necessary? Absolutely not. I’ll find much more love, meaning, and freedom in the three that will remain.
As for the rest, I’ll express my gratitude to them and bid them farewell. Less in the sun and life becomes fun—that’s my little reminder today that the beauty of a simple life is born from how little I choose to get along with and not how much.