What Does It Mean to Live Simply?
How embracing discomfort can lead to a greater sense of peace.
Simple seems like a vague word to me. It’s a placeholder for other words like basic or plain or mediocre or beautiful or stunning. It precedes concepts like minimalism, zero waste, sustainability, and green. Simple to me is a word that describes a whole host of ideas and concepts that seem good and right. The idea of simple does not shun the complex, as I enjoy the complexity of science and math or of a Picasso. The word simple does really encompass everything that is beautiful in my mind, though, I guess.
I was driving to a coffee shop this morning thinking about how when I was young, I sought after my personal comfort more than anything else. In high school, I was a member of the marching band. Every year we marched in the local winter parade, and I hated it. It was a love-hate relationship because really did like marching band, but I hated for my hands to get cold in the skimpy gloves they gave us to wear with our uniforms. So, on the morning of the day of the parade, all I would be thinking about was how cold I was going to be, how uncomfortable I was going to be that day marching in the parade.
I played sports in school because I knew that someone would be there to motivate me past my “comfort zone” because I felt that I could not do it myself otherwise. For some reason, it felt important for me to experience pushing myself past what I thought possible, and I write about all of this because I’m realizing that over the last three years of my life I’ve willingly embraced several different levels of discomfort because I felt that it was more fulfilling than pursuing different forms of personal comfort.
For example, I’ve given birth to two children at home. Birth isn’t comfortable for anyone, but at home, I felt in control of my body and able to fully embrace the discomfort, which physically propelled my children out of my body. I think back on the birth of my children and the intense discomfort of those births with joy. By the time I’m writing this, I’ve been a vegan for about four months. There was a time when I thought vegans were insane. It seemed like such a limiting way for someone to eat let alone live, but interestingly to me, becoming a vegan has been very rewarding.
I’m realizing that our concepts of satisfaction and comfort and discomfort are often matters of perception or perspective. Living simply to me means embracing a “basic” lifestyle that is vegan and aspires to be more minimalistic and zero waste. The purpose of this lifestyle for me is two-fold. One, this kind of simplicity feels like freedom. In an age of uncertainty and debt and financial crisis, building a tiny home for our family and working away from a mortgage feels like security. Two, my decision to live this way does make a small but tangible impact on the world. By eating vegan and becoming a minimalist and pursuing a zero-waste lifestyle, I feel that my life expresses deep respect for the earth. I’ve been in love with the earth since I was a child and, in a way, moving away from my childhood concept of comfort and embracing what once seemed uncomfortable to me gives me a greater sense of peace, which is a kind of comfort, I think.