I saw a bumper sticker driving around town that had this simple verb as the content: simplify.


So much of my life in the Bay Area, I was carrying around too much stuff. Too much mental baggage, too much physical stuff in disarray. I was so consumed with the stuff pursuit that, well, I allowed myself to start believing one of the great myths of the Silicon Valley:

Working that hard for what you get here is worth it.

And I’ve still got that toxin in my blood, it’s still German autos I think about, it’s still hand-crafted asian furniture I dream of resting my 30" Apple Cinema display upon while sitting in a Herman Miller chair. The dream of all these things, the imagined ledger book that adds up how many ducets would be required to fulfill that vision, it’s all part and parcel of teaching one to hunger for malnourishing things and then to hate being starved.

If Vedic India took a third of a lifetime to push Siddartha Gotama to realize that thinking this way is a trap, Silicon Valley can do it in thirty months.

Therefore one has but two choices:

  • to exceed and succeed: This is why Wall Street and similar keep looking to this area to find the next starved person who will be so driven with hatred of the upper-class meagre lifestyle to create a great startup

  • to Simplify, really simplify: This is essentially the message of Buddhism. Your want is limitless, you want, because you want you are unsatisfied, because you are unsatisfied you suffer. The Buddha said to end this cycle of pain, we must un-learn the wanting and not be attached to that which we do posess

Our move to Austin has been motivated, even before we saw this bumper sticker, by this idea. We sold off about 3000 worth of stuff: computer parts, TV, bags, furniture, etc.

I’ve never felt so much more like I’m getting “better”. Walking outside, the humid days for indoor study, the warm twilight for walking and relaxing on patios, the evening where I speak honestly, openly, and peacably with my girl.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not espousing some sort of know-nothingism. Get thee back to living simply, but think deeply about difficult important things. You’ll do this a lot better once you’re freed of some of that damnable stuff you’ve got.

You may be saying that my bucolic vision is quaint and cute. How could you implement it? Well, if you were really serious….Hmm….If I were to coach someone on simplification I’d suggest.

  1. Buy / rent a place smaller than what you think you need. You will be daunted by this at first, but do it. As an added incentive, get the place up 3 flights of stairs and move in the middle of the summer. You will be rather motivated to shed any inessentials you have to haul up that kind of stairway on a hot day.

  2. This place should cost you less than your present circumstances, therefore you should have cash leftover.

  3. Simplify-ing is hard. A lot of us have an addiction to stuff. Take the aforementioned cash differential and buy yourself a nice storage unit.

  4. Pack suitcases, etc. for a 2 week road trip vacation. Everything else box up. Mark dishes, silverware, critical clothing (if you have to wear suits, etc.), a few favorite books, etc. and put them in storage but mark them special.

  5. Take vacation. Think about simplify-ing.

  6. Move in. Your “critical boxes” should be fairly small in number and you should be able to move this by yourself in your truck or rented vehicle. It’s the threat of this pain that makes sorting essential from inessential effective. Naturally your bed, dresser, art supplies, etc. should come along. Also, for me, a computer and networking gear are required.

  7. Try to live. You will have forgotten things. You’ll need a colander, or an iron, or swim trunks. Fish them out of storage.

  8. Realization: Hey, all that stuff in storage, I’m doing pretty well without.

  9. Enjoy the clean zen asthetic of your new home minus tons of bagage.

We have done this with our move and are enjoying all the open space. Even more we enjoy the freedom from furniture, trips to Ikea, boxes and boxes and boxes of stuff to empty.

I think the above is a generic formula whereby people could become well simplify-ed. Here are some things that we’ve done that may be “phase 2.0”.

Sell your TV.

I have mixed feelings about this one. I like movies, I like entertainment, I like to play video games.

But….without a TV i still use up all my time but with other things: writing, talking with Lauren, kissing Lauren, walking, cooking meals. In short, things that I’d rather be doing anyway. I mean, I’m sure “Deadwood” is great, but Lauren and I have had some great conversations and have spent quality time together. I ask myself, would I trade that for 30 minutes of some recycled sit-com pablum?

Put your book stack away

Now most “I don’t have a TV” people are all on about how they read: Harper’s, New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Dostoyevksy, and Moliere. But if you read, and love to read, you could quickly find yourself breaking under the weight of your purchased dead wood.

I have such a stack of unreads that I find it hard to face the stack. Put that in storage in a box called unread. Take out one book, have it around.

I understand that books are a great decor item, and smart people use them to make smart people feel good about coming to a smart person’s home. I think that smarty-pants people should come to appreciate the calibre of the conversation and the cleanliness of the asthetic as the new calling card of the focused mind.

I’ve not really thought this philosophy or HOWTO out to its fullness, but I’d welcome any further insight from anyone reading this.