In character, in manner, in style, in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 Nobility of spirit has more to do with simplicity than ostentation, wisdom rather than wealth, commitment rather than ambition.

Riccardo Muti 

In order to seek one’s own direction, one must simplify the mechanics of ordinary, everyday life.


Most of us are still finding our feet in this new year. I trust you also enjoyed the festive season and relaxed with family and friends. Were you able to switch off from work and all the challenges that lie ahead? Were you able to live with gratitude for all the things you are blessed with? Could it be that life in itself is simpler than we make it out to be? That, in essence, it is about using our talents when and where possible, giving and receiving love, responding as best we can – with faith and commitment – to difficulties that come our way, and do it day by day knowing that life is a precious gift.

Somebody said progress is man’s ability to complicate simplicity. How much progress do you plan to make this year? Surely we would not want to complicate our lives further. Creative, yes, but not complicated. As Charles Mingus sais: Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity. I therefore would like to wish you a year of simple creativity.

Let us be realistic about what you will face in this year. No doubt you will be confronted by countless brilliant and very important new products and ideas on the market. Day in, day out you will be bombarded by messages about things you have to have, things you must do and things that will make your life perfect. By now, we all know how it works in our minds. At first you think: Not again! Why would I need this? With time and with friends’ and family’s recommendations and excitement about their new tools or new experiences, our defenses begin to crumble. We commit ourselves to another thing on our ‘to do/to buy/to see’ list. To live with simplicity in the kind of society and world we live in today, is easier said than done. It clearly takes a conscious effort to cut back on clutter.

I found the following ideas by Duane Elgin wise and helpful to simplify instead of complicate:

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 we take our next steps in life we will continue to seek our own direction. Where should I invest my energy and time? What areas of my life need attention? What is the vision that motivates me? As Plato said: one must simplify the mechanics of ordinary, everyday life to answer these questions well and find one’s  direction and creativity.

Author – Dr Gerhard van Rensburg