The Zen of Simplicity

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It seems that many people I know are reading and following the advice in The Japanese Art of Decluttering. Is it the laid-back life in Western North Carolina that allows time to contemplate the need for simplifying our lives, or is this a nationwide trend?

I remember reading in a college psych class about the way trends seem to sweep over us, whether we are in contact with others following a trend or not. The example the textbook gave was scientists were studying monkeys on neighboring islands. Monkeys on island one started using rocks as tools for the first time. The scientists were impressed, but they were baffled when immediately after the first group started using tools, the monkeys on the second island did the same. They had had no contact with the first group of monkeys, yet they too made this dramatic change. Jung would have credited the Collective Unconscious, that part of our old brains that connects us with one another.

Malcolm Gladwell writes similarly in his interesting book, The Tipping Point, about the speed fads are spread. He explores, for example, how a few young hipsters in Brooklyn adopted the trend of wearing old-mannish Hush Puppy shoes, and how the trend spread overnight into a national fad. Another similar trend is the wearing of those cheap fedora hats. I see young men and women wearing them everywhere. The goofy hat was even a gag in the recent Ben Stiller film, While We’re Young. Think about other fads that meant acquiring now junk: Beanie Babies, hula hoops, and those rubber band bracelets. One minute they were hot-hot, and the next they were in the trash. My question is, is “simplifying” a fad, or is it a sensible solution to stress? I don’t know.

I am resistant to fads. I don’t like to be same-same as anyone else, but this simplifying trend seems like a good idea to me. Be assured, however, that I am not advocating stripping your life down to ascetic simplicity. I love things far too much! I like the suggestion in the decluttering book that we should take a hard look at all our possessions and ask ourselves if each one brings us pleasure. I find pleasure in lots of things, so this strategy doesn’t help me hone my possessions as much as it helps me trade stuff that is just okay for better stuff that I can’t live without. That way, when I am out shopping and I see something irresistible, I don’t say, “Oooh. I don’t need that.” Or “Oh, I love it, but I have no space for it.” I believe there are different kinds of need! I wish all my customers adopted this same philosophy.