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Living Freedom by Claire Wolfe. Musings about personal freedom and finding it within ourselves.

Want to Comment on a blog post? Look for and click on the blue No Comments or # Comments at the end of each post.

Claire Wolfe

Getting to simplicity

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

“By doing just a little every day,
I can gradually let the task completely overwhelm me.”
— Ashleigh Brilliant

This is just a ramble. Not sure where it’s going to go …

A long time ago I decided that keys — yeah, the kind on a key ring — would be a good measure of how successful I was at simplifying my life. I figured getting down to one key would mean I’d made it. At zero, I’d probably be living in a cave, and I’ve never hankered for that version of “simplicity.”

Closest I ever got was two. I think I’m a seven right now. And while things could be much worse on the Great Key Scale (were there actually such a thing) …

… they could be better, too.

There’s a reason that every time you see people with lots of keys, they’re some sort of jailer or some sort of paranoid. Or they just have so much to guard or protect.


Have you ever reached a point in your life where you broke an old pattern, made what you thought was a monumental change (e.g. gave up a career in law for art; divorced a spouse and broke with the entire life you’d shared; left a stressful job to start a business) … then found yourself a few years later feeling as if not much had changed?

Or, on the other hand, have you made such a change, lived it for years, and found it really gratifying? Found that you, and your life, really changed?

What do you think makes the difference between “meet the new rut; same as the old rut” and really breaking free?

Mindset, of course. Or at least that’s a part of it.

If we tend to stress out in one line of work, chances are we’ll stress out in another, just because we’re a stress-out kind of person.

If we fall into Bad Romance time and again, likely the fault lies with us, rather than in our stars.

If we jump from one pie-in-the-sky endeavor to another — absolutely sure each time that the next one really will make us rich, famous, and good looking — we’re at fault when we end up poor, disappointed, and just as homely as ever.

But mindset isn’t all.


Life has an insidious way of complexifying itself. When we’re not looking, the freedom we seek in our personal lives becomes a heap of responsibilities and difficulties. (Similar to the way political freedom gradually becomes a heap of bureaucracies, rules, and incursions. Whether the two phenomena are linked could be an interesting subject for another time.)

It takes darn near as much “eternal vigilance” to keep our personal lives focused and gratifying as it does to keep a country from becoming tyrannized.


It’s all tradeoffs. Today I could go pitch a tent in the woods just to get away from the artificial annoyances that have piled up over the last week.

At first, the thought of throwing it all off fills me with — if this is even possible — calm elation. But no sooner do the warm fuzzy feelings arrive than the thoughts come crowding in: “But what would I do for Internet? And insulation? And what if …?”

I recently read a book, The Man Who Quit Money, about Daniel Suelo, a guy who really does live in caves.

His life seemed incredibly complicated to me. The logistics of it. The perils. The dependencies. And for him, the incessant moral/ethical decisions.

It would be a lot easier just to be rich and have the servants handle things. Except then you have to handle the servants. And the tax man. And whatever.

Not to mention that small problem of getting rich in the first place.


You’d think that life could at least get simple on one’s death bed. But I remember my Grandma, in the last weeks and months of her life, fretting about duties she’d neglected and people she’d slighted decades earlier. Nobody else knew what Grandma was talking about; she wasn’t fully with it by then. But she’d pluck urgently at my aunt’s sleeve and say, “Oh, be sure to tell Nettie about that pinafore,” or, “I shouldn’t have said that to Leonard, I really shouldn’t have.”


I sometimes wonder when life gets to be simple. And why is getting to simplicity so darned complicated?

Is simplicity a gift, a grace that comes when one quits trying? If it’s a grace, does that mean it’s unavailable to some of us, no matter how hard we try?


I ought to conclude on some upbeat philosophical note. Some word of wisdom. Some demonstration that I have it all figured out.

Some days, I really do. Some days … don’t we all?

But it’s been a stressful week. And today all I have is Ashleigh Brilliant to kick off the blog and Yogi Berra to close it:

“If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.”

24 Responses to “Getting to simplicity”

  1. jed Says:

    There was a time in my life when I had a huge gob of keys. I actually thought it was somewhat cool, because it indicated all the places I could get into. Well, I was actually enjoying the job I was doing, so it wasn’t bad. Another job I had provided me with a key to Hoover Dam. No, I wasn’t living simply, but I was living well. Odd thought — and ties in, I guess, with yours that some people will just find ways to stress out. In fact, I recall psych study I read about that said that people will find ways to add stress, and that some level of it is good for us. Hah! Do I really buy that? That article mentioned things like rearranging the furniture, just to have some be different. But, simplicity might be all it’s cracked up to be. In the IT industry, simplifying things for the end user usually involves making the back-end software more complicated. Always trade-offs as you said, and there’s some balance to be found. That’s the really hard part, that balance thing.

    I have 6 keys on my ring now, but 1 of them is there only so I don’t lose it. (Or, I’m too lazy to remove it and put it in the drawer where I’ll forget about it.) In that drawer, is a keyring with keys of my past. No, I’m not going to count them. Some of them I think still fit things I have around some place. Again, I’m to lazy (at least for that task) to match them up to padlocks, luggage, etc. which might or might not be somewhere I can get to it. Amazing, sometimes, what sort of stuff I hold on to.

    I don’t yet feel like just pitching a tent in the woods, but just getting away from the big city would be a big improvement.

  2. jed Says:

    Aaargh. Obviously, I’m not a good proofreader today. ;-)

  3. winston Says:

    I can’t count how many times over the last year or so I’ve had to step back and say “wait a minute, I’ve been here before and it didn’t end all that well”. Whether it’s a girl or some other bad habit, I never seem to realize till history repeats itself…I’m convinced that no matter what job you have, what you wear, what you do, who you do it with, you’re still “you” and no matter how much change you go through, part of you will always stay the same for better or for worse, albeit sometimes they appear differently. It’s like the old guys at AA meetings who are never seen without a cup of coffee and a cigarette.

    Yeah, let me know when you find that wi-fi equipped cabin in the woods…

  4. Pat Says:

    Now everybody go run and count their keys. :-) I have five, one of for which I have no clue.

    I think simplicity falls somewhere between multi-tasking and minimalist. It takes work to stay minimalist, and it can get boring. (I know… I tried a couple of times.) Simplicity, OTOH, takes a certain laissez faire attitude (I’m not talking political here) that’s hard to maintain in the modern world. It takes concentration of purpose without the intensity of action.

  5. winston Says:

    I guess the main thing I took away from this is to try not to just always shrug and say in one way or another. “This is okay, it’s totally different this time!”

    Easier said than done though.

  6. MamaLiberty Says:

    I have a box of keys and I have no idea what any of them go to… I dare not discard them because I – or someone I care for _ may need them one day. But probably not…. some of them have been in that box for 50 years.

    There are a number of such boxes in my life. I have one of hard drives and small floppy disks I’ll likely never be able to acces again…

    But they don’t take up much space… and who knows?

  7. naturegirl Says:

    I have one key…and I can’t say it equates to any kind of simplicity….My life was simplified for me, originally – I just took it and traded it for other types of difficulties in trying to keep things simple, LOL…..

  8. LarryA Says:

    Does it count if you re-key multiple locks so they use the same key?

  9. Joel Says:

    I think simplicity is like freedom, in that it’s in the eye of the beholder. Everybody’s got needs that must be filled, and that takes some finagling. Everybody with any character has times when he’s forced to swim against the cultural tide. So life will have its complications no matter what we do, but at least to some extent we can choose the sort of complications we fill it with. So maybe, like freedom, it’s a matter of definitions. What’s sweet simplicity to me might bring you unpleasant levels of stress – and vice versa.

    Not a question of finding one answer for “what’s good in life,” but of what’s good for you as an individual. Conan had his answer, but I was kinda with the falcon guy.

  10. Kent McManigal Says:

    Life is complicated, and I don’t think there’s any way to avoid that and be alive. But I do know there are happy complications and miserable complications. There have been times in my life where things would appear from the outside to be terribly complicated, yet I was very happy. And times where my life would have looked simple and I was miserable. It’s all how you deal with it and how you look at it.

    My love life has been a mess for 15 years or more (especially if you consider the 10 years of marriage where I put on a happy face to hide misery). My finances for even longer. My parents have told my kids to not repeat my mistakes and have referred to my life as a “trainwreck”. Yet, the “trainwreck” times were better than currently when my parents see things as “better”.

    I know I am the cause of most of my problems- love life and finances, especially. Yet, in some ways I can’t see how I could have avoided some of the problems. Circumstances seem to have shoved me in certain ways that I couldn’t avoid without magic. Or, without being someone completely unlike me. Still, I’m not going to blame anyone else (other than in specific instances where they were undoubtedly to blame- and those are few).

    I want to make some changes- things that might seem less complicated to some, and more complicated to others, but to me they seem not a different level of complication, just a needed change. And I’m not sure how they’ll play out if I manage them.

  11. puptent Says:

    I don’t lock my house, but I have keys. You can start the old IH pick up with a pocket knife, screw driver, or butter knife, but I have a key. I keep a coffee can of keys, some of which I’ve found in odd places. Once, that coffee can full of mystery keys produced a Rambler key that opened a locking gas cap for a friend. Anyway, you can’t ever really “start over”, but you can change the direction. Lately I’ve noticed that when I have a choice in direction I generally pick “Downhill”… I rationalize those choices as just “wiggling the key a little”.

  12. MJR Says:

    I had not even thought about the amount of keys that I carry. I guess that by accident I have been carrying less and less over the years. Once I thought that a mitt full of keys was cool now it is just a pain in the pocket. As for me a simple house key, a locker key and a car key sume up the key ring. Even at work the huge key ring has been replaced with an access card and a master key.

    One other thing that I did over the past while was get rid of all the crap I used to carry in the old inch thick wallet. Now I maybe carry 5 bits of plastic and a couple of bills. Why carry less in the wallet? I was sick and tired of the back problems sitting.

  13. FishOrMan Says:

    I think what you were getting at is the ability to be different than the person you are. The way to do it is plastic surgery, (you can try years of therapy, but its quicker to just get a nose job). This comes from an old book, Psycho-Cybernetics*. Basically, the surgeon noticed certain people totally changed their lives around after surgery, even sometimes when the surgery was considered a failure.

    I know we never want to admit to being that shallow, but most of us have something that bugs us about our appearance. Could be as simple as making our smile a little “prettier”. Could be something major that we feel holds us back. Get rid of it… Or, at the very least, get rid of the belief that there is something stopping you from becoming the person YOU want to be.

    * Actually, the book didn’t promote plastic surgery, (and I don’t want to either), but it was “working” for some people. It was more about reprogramming the way we view ourselves.

    And after re-reading this all, I want to just delete the above, offer you a big HUGZ and tell you this week is gonna be better.

    Just thinking out loud, but is it because we are all relationship driven beings, and those relationships with others lead to complications? Might be why we are always drawn out of a simplified life? Relationship offers many rewards too, but I guess that only adds to the complication. Bah….

  14. EN Says:

    There was an episode of Anthony Bordains’s “No Reservations” that took place in the Amazon. These grindingly poor fisherman were showing him what they ate and he liked it, it was definitely fresh… and towards the end of the show he says something about the beauty of harvesting and then eating fresh fish and vegetables… the old saw about living simply. When he tells this to one of the fisherman he says, “you can have it”. And Bordain comes to the realization that it wasn’t simplicity he was seeing, it was poverty and it took working hard all day to feed themselves fed for just that day. Anything goes wrong and they do not eat. I like that program, but not for the usual reasons. I see a man who constantly misjudges the situations he’s in. My experience is that most of us spend our lives misjudging and jealous (but disguised as enlightenment) of individuals or groups. It ultimately drives and destroys mankind. When I hear of “creation to destruction”, I suspect we’re talking about human misjudgement of life. This plays out in things like being jealous of wealth. People are constantly knocking the problems and supposed unhappiness of rich people. They constantly say they themselves just “want to be comfortable, but not rich”. And they feel so strongly about it that they are constantly trying to create laws to take down the wealthy and redistribute their hard earned money. It’s not thievery, it’s a public service by God. How altruistic of them. They want the rich to know the joys of their money struggles. ;) Me, I love having money. Wish I still had some. As for simplicity, as long as I have internet, good wine, hot showers, clean sheets, women that smell nice, fast cars… I just want to be comfortable… Keys you ask? Six, but two of them are for gun locks. I have about a dozen guns locks and I got tired of always having to figure out what key went to what lock. So I keep two locks in my shooting bag and the keys to them on my ring.

  15. puptent Says:

    The one thing that we can count on, is that in the next instant we will be someplace that we’ve never been before (I’m sure that someone smarter than me said that first… ) Maybe that great thinker of the 20th century, William Jefferson Clinton, nailed it with: “It depends on what the meaning of IS, IS.” ;) Or, my mother: “Ignore him, he’ll get tired and go away…”
    The real questions for me are: Do I prefer Peace or Serenity? Do I want Happiness or Contentment? Will I Overcome or Succumb? Fight or Flight? Coke or Pepsi? I’ve always marveled at those people with a destination; to become a doctor, to be an astronaut, to be a forest ranger, who achieve what they set out to get, or become, (because they have discipline and ambition? Make the “right” choices?). Will I not notice that Time is an arrow until it thuds into the straw bale? I always seem to get distracted and sidetracked and end up in unexpected places with unintended consequences, for which I’m not quite prepared. And then one day, wake up to discover that I’m old and alone, with a pocket full of keys that fit who knows what; and the only thing I can think of is that now, I have a reason to have my hand in my pocket, in case anyone asks me what I’m doing…

  16. Woody Says:

    Puptent, That was great, and very much like the story of my life! You made my day. Thank you.

  17. Kent McManigal Says:

    Simplicity? Or something else?

  18. R.L. Wurdack Says:

    When we’ve all been injected with an RFID and everything is controlled by the government life will be simple. You won’t be able to go anywhere you shouldn’t or to do anything that you are denied or think anything on your own.


  19. Matt, another Says:

    Keys? Hmmm, I’m down to about 5. I bought a box of padlocks that are keyed the same, that makes a big difference. I like less keys because they fit in my pocket better.

    I like simple, and have simplified my life as much as I can. Its a good thing. Most of the stressful times are due to how I react, not the specific situations themselves.

  20. Scott Says:

    I have six keys, counting the one I keep simply because I like its looks(an old iron skeleton key). “Simple” and “Best” cover a lot of territory-you just have to find what works for you.

  21. Ragnar Says:

    I had just finished “The Man Who Quit Money” a few weeks ago and am now reading “The Moneyless Man” by Mark Boyle. I find myself in this pseudo-Agorist mode about once a year… and while I never tend to simplify anything, it is fun to dream.
    I remember another fun little one from a ways back… something about “How To Kill The Job Culture Before It Kills You.” Just looked that one up on Amazon and it seems to have become quite pricey… looks like my copy is worth at least 5 12 packs of Corona now. Turned out to be a nice investment, even if I did just keep my day job.

  22. Ellendra Says:

    I’ve surfed the net from a tent before. The connection was a little slow, but it worked. Just saying :)

  23. The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit Says:

    One house, one car, four office keys (four different office doors). A flashlight. A SwissTool. And a mini-carabiner.

    Yup. I’m complicated. Complex. Like a fine wine or a good cigar. Generally aged and mellow, but with a bit of bite when needed.

    And completely unapologetic about it. Simplicity is one of those interesting goals – but, like many others, it’s a personal one. Your simplicity is not mine, nor mine yours. And the simplest person will still have parts that are complex, while the most complex person will still have simple bits. It’s the nature of humanity.

    Things are what they are – it is only the belief in the “complex” that gives rise to the belief that there is “simple.”

    Tao Te Ching: Chapter 2

    When the world knows beauty as beauty, ugliness arises
    When it knows good as good, evil arises
    Thus being and non-being produce each other
    Difficult and easy bring about each other
    Long and short reveal each other
    High and low support each other
    Music and voice harmonize each other
    Front and back follow each other
    Therefore the sages:
    Manage the work of detached actions
    Conduct the teaching of no words
    They work with myriad things but do not control
    They create but do not possess
    They act but do not presume
    They succeed but do not dwell on success
    It is because they do not dwell on success
    That it never goes away

  24. lelnet Says:

    1. Front door
    2. Car
    3. Backup for the safe (which contains at least a dozen other keys that are rarely used, but which we dare not throw away…mostly for doors that are either not normally locked or else not normally opened)

    If I trusted the electricity to always stay on, I’d classify the front door key with the “rarely used” ones, since the only time we open it is to either check the mail or walk around the property…if we’re going far enough away that we want the door locked behind us, we’re driving and thus enter/exit through the garage.

    I don’t actually regard “simplification” as a goal per se…I just got tired of having to replace my pants every few months because the profusion of keys on my keyring kept wearing huge holes in the pockets. :)

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