The Problem with Simple Living

 akron sunset

Filling water balloons really gives a person time to reflect. Life has been feeling complicated, and I’ve been feeling guilty about that.

After all, scores of articles suggest that life would be more manageable if I just simplified it.  Their short, percussive paragraphs try to soothe the soul. They inspire me to clean out my kitchen junk drawer, because if I had less junk in there, my life would definitely be better. Zombie-like, I close the tab and start throwing away broken pens in a passionate quest to regain control.

Next I’m told to attack my closet with a vengeance. If I get rid of perfectly good clothing and replace it with sustainably-made tees, I will muster enough dormant brainpower to invent the next Facebook. Or at least appear on Shark Tank.

According to these sources, it’s not just my belongings that need to be simplified. My schedule is also a disaster. If I stopped hanging out with anyone who brings me down, I’d be a lot better off. If I just said “no” to all the stuff other people want me to do, I could say yes to what I truly want. I will find peace.

I beg to differ.

What Does Simple Living Mean?

Simple living used to be a euphemism for resisting over-consumption. Living on less certainly makes life easier. Cutting the stuff we don’t care about, like pedicures and elaborate birthday parties and toddler tee-ball, saves so much time and money. “Simple living” in this sense allows us to be a one-income family and do volunteer ministry.

Recently, the terms simplicity and minimalism seem to encompass all of life—your time, experiences, relationships, possessions, work—everything. I agree with so much of this thinking. Cultural trends to over-schedule kids in lots of extracurriculars, stay hyper-productive at all times, or work crazy hours to pay for crazy stuff are bogus and need to be challenged.

But why do I leave the simplicity articles feeling frustrated by my not-so-simple life?

The problem with “simple living” is that…

Life isn’t simple.

Having a family is complicated. Sometimes I’d like to have a less hectic calendar with more flexible days. We are not “overscheduled” in the traditional sense. Our 5-year-old has taken one structured class, ever–swim lessons. He hasn’t been to a day of school in his entire life (no, I’m NOT homeschooling).

So how’d our schedule get so complicated? Well, there’s the part where we lead a home church and various small groups. There’s the part where I oversee the children’s ministry for our church. And there’s the part where my husband wants to make as many fun memories as a family while our kids are still young enough to like us. I wouldn’t trade these for all the simplicity in the world.

When life feels convoluted, I have to remember that I’m married. I have children. And these people have opinions and preferences that I must take into consideration. There’s nothing simple about that.

Relationships are complicated. Having friends brings so much joy, but it’s also complicated. Weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice doesn’t simplify my feelings or my schedule. I’m far from a perfect friend, daughter, or sister. But I do devote time, energy, thought, prayer, and emotion to the people in my life.

Living in a broken world is complicated. If simple living means finding what makes you happy and filling your life with that, people will starve. Humans will be sold into slavery. Orphans will go homeless. I don’t imagine we will end these horrors entirely. But simple living shouldn’t mean ignoring the immense need all around so we can be more comfortable. Rather, helping those in need should motivate us to free up time and money, not for our own peace and enjoyment, but for the sake of others. We can all be activists for at least one cause.

Find Purpose, Not Balance

In light of the world we live in, we don’t need to “find balance” or “live simply.” We need to live on purpose, and that is going to feel both complicated and imbalanced at times.

Of course we need to take care of ourselves to avoid burn-out. We need to relax, refresh, and reflect on a regular basis. We very much need to recognize our limitations and accommodate those.

I’ve fallen into the trap of thinking my life would be calmer if I could find the perfect ratio of activities and downtime. Or figure out when to say yes and when to say no. Seeking a rational schedule is fine, but expecting my life to feel straightforward is irrational.

I’ve been striving for simplicity in the superficial areas: my calendar, my spending, and my junk drawer. What I really need is simplicity of purpose. And I already have that. We hope to inflate others’ lifestyles instead of our own. I know many other minimalist/simplicity movement people are doing the same, but I hope the purpose doesn’t get lost in the practical when it comes to applying their advice.

Does life feel complicated? What cause are you passionate about?

41 Responses to “The Problem with Simple Living”

  1. Emily says :

    I couldn’t agree more. I love simplicity to the point that it frees me up for the more complicated things you mention: family, relationships, and ministry. It isn’t about “finding what makes us happy” as much as it is about obedience and clearing distractions like TV, shopping, and working long hours out of our life. I understand the frustration that life will never be simple, but I’m actually okay with that. I love what you said about how finding purpose is more important than finding balance.

  2. Brian says :

    I like simplifying some things in my life (cleaning, yard work, etc.) to free up my time to pursue other things I’m interested in. Attending my children events, helping others, volunteering my time. I think I been more active over the last free years than I’ve ever been, but I don’t feel busy.

  3. Amy says :

    Great post! It’s so true that life can be empty, when it’s simplified! I often feel like our weekday evenings during the school year are hectic, but there’ not much I can or want to change about them. In the few hours after my daughter gets off the bus, I play with her, help with her homework, make dinner, clean up, get lunches ready for the next day, and spend a little time with my husband. It often feels like a crazy blur, but as you point out, that’s just life. And it’s just as I want it. (Maybe minus the cleaning up…)

    • Kalie says :

      I’m sure life with feel complicated in new ways when our children start school at the hectic period ensues after school. Thanks for weighing in as a mother who experiences and embraces this!

  4. Tonya says :

    I think the word simplify if simplicity, or even minimalism is in the eye of the beholder. It’s what you make of it. It seems those words do not sit well with you for some reason, which is totally OK. Simple, to me, just means clearing out the “junk” in one’s life as much as possible to do what really matters. I’m reading a book right now called “Essentialism,” which I LOVE and might sit better with you. Or maybe not. 🙂

    • Kalie says :

      Thanks for the book suggestion, Tonya. I love aspects of the minimalism and simplicity movements, I just think the awesome philosophy behind it can get lost in the practical details. Losing sight of that is in the eye of the beholder–well said.

  5. Amanda says :

    Thanks for this, Kalie! While I love the idea of simplifying, I’ve tried and often feel I will never get there. I don’t have any trinkets or do-dads taking up my space and time, so in that respect, I guess I’ve simplified. Life always seems busy though. But when I take a step back and look at the busyness, it reflects the what is important to me, so I need to be okay with that.

    I have two causes I’m passionate about (outside of my family) – teaching self-defense and helping at our local homeless shelter.

    • Kalie says :

      Glad to hear I’m not the only one feeling this tension! Those are two (or three) great causes you’re involved with!

  6. Mr. PIE says :

    We are both passionate about unstructured fun time for our children. The endless cycle of invited parties ( at places that are the very antithesis of unstructured) is at times nauseating.

    And letting our kids see the world with travel opens up their mind ( and ours). Perspective through your own eyes rather than that of social media or media in general is rather powerful.

    • Kalie says :

      Haha, I agree that unstructured fun with the kids is important, and the party invites do get nauseating! We are starting to pass on those that aren’t with close friends or family. Fortunately most of our friends just throw parties where the kids play in their homes, which is nice!

      Travel is also a big deal for us, though it is exhausting for me with two young kids!

  7. David Taylor says :

    I’ve got to say I now love the simple life. Maybe that’s turning 35 this year? Unstructured fun all the way for me!

  8. Hannah says :

    I value simplicity because it’s typically the most efficient way to live, but I’m having to get over that. If I want to teach my son any life skills, it’s a pain in the butt, and if we’re to have people over in our small space, it’s just not seamless. And having a fussy baby involves a lot of rocking her instead of… anything productive.

    I think this post helps me put that value in perspective. It’s so much more important to live with purpose than to do everything efficiently (but I still want a clean house if possible).

  9. FinanceSuperhero says :

    “In light of the world we live in, we don’t need to “find balance” or “live simply.” We need to live on purpose, and that is going to feel both complicated and imbalanced at times. ”

    Yes! You are 100% correct, Katie. It’s easy to get caught up in following the herd in an effort to find “balance” or “live simply,” but both actions are missing the point. Living life with a purpose by being in touch with your own values and priorities (and then acting accordingly) is what I envision when I think of true happiness and contentment. Great post!

    • Kalie says :

      I’m so glad this resonates with you. The philosophy you describe is exactly what we’re after–and was probably the original intention of “living simply”–before it became a fad.

  10. Jack says :

    Anything good taken to an extreme goes bad, including simplification.

    But like you said, if you’re simplifying because it frees your focus for what matters most to you, is a powerful force.

    The trick is figuring out what truly matters…

  11. Prudence Debtfree says :

    Today, I watched a 30 minute Youtube of Ravi Zacharias (such an inspiring speaker!) and his message was to live a life of purpose, and that while it was important to refresh, it was important not to become addicted to comfort. You’ve given much the same message here. I love it when I get the same message from unrelated sources. Thanks for this one : )

    • Kalie says :

      I love Ravi Zacharias! And I’m honored that you found a similar takeaway here. It seems that comfort is more accessible to most now than it ever has been, and thus is more tempting, too.

  12. Dividends Down Under says :

    Hey Kalie, you’re right. We can plan all we like, but sometimes things just don’t go the way we want them to as much as we’d like.

    Our modern world is complicated, full of duties and responsibilities that we can’t just walk away from. And there’s nothing wrong with that 🙂


  13. DC YAM says :

    These are all really great points and it’s so true – life is complicated! One thing I think a lot of “minimalism” and “simple life” approaches struggle with is not identifying who will benefit the most from taking the less stuff approach. I think I’d be miserable living in a tiny home, but there are clearly people who made the switch and have a much higher quality of life now.

    • Kalie says :

      I agree that it depends on the person. Some will thrive in certain settings and others won’t. For example, we own way more tools and equipment because we DIY home & car repairs. We also own more toys and household items because we host a lot. Where you live, what you own, and how you spend money should reflect your values–not someone else’s.

  14. Mackenzie says :

    I love this! You are right, it does come down to balance. When I read articles or posts regarding simple living, I take what nuggets I can gleam from them because many of the ones I read, the writer doesn’t have kids and I do! So I try to simplify what I can and just keep it moving from there 🙂

    • Kalie says :

      I’m noticing that this really resonates with the moms in particular. It definitely helps to take what’s useful and leave the rest–I’m sure that’s what most authors intend.

  15. Josh says :

    Living with purpose is the key. Even if it’s being a couch potato and watching tv all day, we can find something to pass the time by.

    I think we should have relationships outside our own family and do something to be involved in the community, but, spending time as a family as well.

    We are just beginning our parenting journey, but certain ways we are balancing is not getting involved with traveling sports (we don’t want to spend 8 days a week at the field) & limiting exposure to the tv & videogames.

    • Kalie says :

      I agree that time with and outside of family are both very important. Those are great tips for new parents to life getting way too complicated.

  16. Colin | rebelwithaplan says :

    This post perfectly addresses a problem I’ve been noticing with “simple living”. People want it and they strive for it, but like you said, life is complicated. People get frustrated because they constantly declutter and search for this balance when often times, there isn’t one. You have to develop systems and processes for getting through things.

    I actually have a post I’m going to be publishing soon that also takes a spin the movement, about when I noticed I unintentionally became a minimalist without fully realizing it, haha!

  17. NZ Muse says :

    Animals are my thing. As soon as I bought my house I adopted a dog and I can’t bear to think of others without a home.

    My main beef with the hardcore simplicity types are the tiny house evangelists. They are not for everyone and I cannot think of anything worse, having lived in small cramped places due to cost and hating every minute of it.

    • Kalie says :

      I cannot imagine living in a tiny home with my kids. I’d go nuts! I’m such a klutz, I’d break everything, too.

  18. Raven says :

    I was telling a friend the other day, that I am really not career or money oriented and as long as I have enough to live my values, then I’m good. For example, I’m a vegan and it does take effort and sometimes more money, so in that sense it’s more complicated — reading labels, explaining to others at meals, passing up things that are appealing but not vegan. But it’s important. And relationships – I’ve noticed that when someone I’m less crazy about invites me out I’ll say no, not really feeling up to it, but when my best friend invites me out shortly thereafter, it’s a solid YES even when I’m tired. The only time I really complain about things being complicated or tiring is when they don’t matter enough to me or align with me to make the effort feel worth it. Love takes work but it ultimately doesn’t really feel like work.

  19. Heidi says :

    I have 4 kids and because if that life is actually more simple. Honestly. Things like going out to eat are a non issue because who can spend $100 very easily all the time. But……in the last 2 weeks before school started we had 15 appts. It was orthodontist, dentist, well child check ups, and meet the teacher. It seemed a little crazy but really I never schedule anything else if we have an appointment that day. So really all we had was like an hour appointment everyday which on my calendar seems crazy but in reality wasn’t that bad. So I guess my life is not very simple but it seems very simple to me

    • Kalie says :

      I can imagine that having four kids could slow you down in terms of scheduling “unnecessary” activities. I’m so glad you feel at peace with your life with four children!

  20. Kathy says :

    It seems that there is an arrogance among advocates of certain lifestyles in that they appear to declare that everyone should live a minimalist lifestyle, or everyone should eat vegan, or everyone should jog versus walk, or everyone should walk instead of drive. I don’t understand why people can’t just conduct their own lives without trying to convert everyone else.

    • Kalie says :

      Yes, I’m not sure if it’s just enthusiasm for the benefits one has experienced, but sometimes it comes off as if everyone should live the same way. Which would be super boring! Hopefully we can all take what we find valuable from others’ suggestions and move on.

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