How I Understood That Simple Isn’t Easy

A friend of mine once told me: “Simple is not easy.” Of all the things I learnt from him, this is most likely the most important one. Not that I actually understood what he meant back then. I think that he had to explain it to me in different ways at first before I could even get its notion. Eventually, I understood what he meant. Whereas it didn’t resonate with me at the time, it does now.

For a long time, I thought that complexity would result in a more dynamic life. I was convinced that it would mean more excitement and energy. Although it was to some extent, complexity turned out to be the most exhausting and mentally draining thing that I could have implemented into my life. You see, at first, it did give me energy and excitement. It made my life, indeed, more dynamic. But after a while I found myself handling different actions, values, ideas, things, situations that, on their own, had their own kernel of truth. Every single thing had its own story and by that its own complexity.

Imagine being a juggler and every ball you are juggling with represents one of your core values. Now imagine that you are splitting up theses values, and for every situation, interaction or thought you’ll have one separate ball. If you consider yourself an experienced juggler, it might be fun to do it like this for a while. But even then, the longer you do it, the more exhausted you’ll get. You will start to let some of those balls fall, which may cause frustration. Some balls even start to clash with one and other. And then, suddenly, they all fall.

Despite being barely impossible to handle, it was really easy to take every single thing and keep it separate. Not having to think if all these ideas would work together is actually quite easy. So, when my friend told me that I should try to take things with more simplicity, my immediate reply was telling him that everything was simple. When I elaborated, he realized that I meant easy and not simple. He explained that simplicity and ease don’t always go together. Sometimes, simplicity is difficult.

How could I take all these different parts and start seeing them with a more holistic approach? So that all these loose values or ideas, would be characteristics of a ‘whole’ value. A broader value, that I could go back to and have as a point of reference. By having such ‘whole’ values, there wouldn’t be clashes anymore and I would have more headspace to nurture these values, even more, I presumed.

I remembered that in our conversations about simplicity, my friend mentioned ‘minimalism’ multiple times. Back then, I didn’t like the idea of minimalism. To be honest, I just didn’t understand it. To me, minimalism seemed to be about decluttering and becoming less of a materialist. Looking back, I missed the whole point. It was not about stuff — okay, maybe partly. Eventually, I figured that it was a mindset. A ‘less is more’ mindset that, at the time, frightened me, because it meant that I had to re-evaluate everything. And I knew that it was not going to be easy.

Even so, I decided to give it a try. After all, what did I have to lose? It was pretty clear that I needed some radical changes in my life. I started to list everything that I was doing. All the things that I told myself and others that I wanted and stood for. Ironically, nothing seemed to have a connection. It was as I thought: they all were self-contained and contradicted one and other. There was no correlation. It just didn’t make sense.

After listening to Jelle Derckx — ‘Verlangen naar Minder (Desire for Less)’, I wanted to revise all the non-sense I came up against. I was able to identify myself in not only his perspective but also his personal story. And even though some of the points he made seemed quite pretentious, something started to become clear. I’ve always known what I stood for, and what I didn’t agree with. The problem was, that I didn’t do anything with it.

So, I started decluttering, but not with actual ‘stuff’. I started to declutter my thoughts, ideas, values. Which, of course, is an ongoing process. Even so, I knew that I had to start doing this. I went through some of the most important or most influential things that I am involved with and started to evaluate them. Do I really identify with this, or not? Am I happy with this, or not? If there was a bit of doubt that hadn’t to do anything with what I stand for, it became a no.

Although it is still difficult, I want to keep pursuing this. By doing this I am not only attaining more headspace, but it becomes easier to organize in my head. To reach these ‘whole’ values. No more clashes. And hopefully by getting there, also bringing some more peace and balance into my life.

So, these past few weeks, my friend’s words started echoing through my head: “simple is not easy.” I finally understood it. Finally, I experienced by myself that simple is not easy. Not even a bit. Whereas I took it as a joke back then, it has been the most helpful thing that one could have said to me in the past year. For that I am thankful.

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