The last couple years, the fascination for zen-living was taken to another level by the sometimes-controversial Marie Kondo, a seemingly delicate Japanese woman who is not so delicate in throwing away beloved college sweatshirts and childhood photos for the sake of “tidying.” Her philosophy is rather than try to tidy bit by bit, you simply take everything you own, throw it on the floor, and ask yourself, “does this spark joy?” If the answer is no, or you hesitate for a second, buh-bye. Having grown up in a borderline-hoarding family, I have had a bi-annual habit of cleaning and yet, it seems I have always end up with things I don’t ever use. So I followed Kondo’s advice a few months ago and anything that didn’t spark joy, I gave away. While I probably could have a fairly successful pop-up consignment shop, the amount of things I held on to was astounding. I no longer have a fall, winter, spring, summer closet. Even as a book lover, I’ve pared my books down to a few shelves. The things I have kept are things that not only bring joy, but also serve as foundations on which to build and create other things (black t-shirt goes a lot further than a red ballgown). However, it’s not just about things. It is about removing those distractions in life that take up headspace and energy we could turn towards something more meaningful and satisfying. It’s getting rid of those old thoughts and habits, the toxic relationships and feelings, and the sweet, sentimental, but cobwebbed emotions and memories that keep us in the past. It’s paring down to a more simple, satisfying, and sparkly life.


Chemist George Whitesides shares a fascinating talk about the science of simplicity. He notes that simple things should have a function that offers high performance for value. Simple things have functions that are predictable, affordable, and important, serve as building blocks. talks about simple things has function that is predictable, affordable, – high performance for value – and potential to serve as building blocks for others. He points out it is about making things simpler, not simple.

Empty space opens up endless possibilities.

Stop the “what if”

We often hold on to things we don’t need because we feel better with the “what if.” What if I were to finally take that trip to Maui? I need those flippers sitting in the back of my closet. What if I were to pick up painting again? I need those dried-up acrylics in the back corner of the closet. For some of us, a photo or size 000 jeans (that’s not real, that’s a Barbie doll pair of jeans) might serve as the key motivation for us to do, but for the majority of us – let’s face it – it’s a constant reminder of what we’re not doing. Instead of motivating us, these things are our “what ifs” thrown in our faces (or hidden away but felt like a pebble in a mattress). They are our anchors telling us that while we know what would make us happy, we are spending more time coming up with excuses with why we can’t do them. Suspend the “what if” one-day fantasy. Do or do not.

2. Stop making excuses for the joyless

We keep doing things we know aren’t good for us or bring us joy. Whether it’s holding on to a toxic “friendship” (we have a long history….) or getting infuriated with a “horrible” boss (he/she never listens and is an arrogant pickle…), we come up with all sorts of reasons why “things can’t change” or why it’s someone else’s fault. As easier as it is sometimes in the short-run to make excuses, looking at what we can control and we can change – and then doing it – can help us remove those things that aren’t helping us live happier and more freely.

3. Imagine you’re on the run

Not as in the run “from the law.” But imagine that you’re about to trek a 6-month hike/walk/venture where you need to pretty much carry everything you need and you have limited internet access. You quickly realize how little you need and how the most basic of things can be used in the most creative ways. That clothes pin to dry your clothes? That can also serve as a cookbook holder or a binder clip or a potato chip protector. Think about those people and relationships you would want to preserve on the way. Who would you write to? Who would you call on your limited cell service data plan? Probably not the 450 “friends” on Facebook,

but one or two individuals who bring you happiness. Paring down what we have is difficult, but can help us unburden. We feel lighter and can be more ready to connect with those who matter.

4. Get quiet and make space
We pile things on a table or a shelf to help us feel full and complete. But instead of feeling full and complete, we easily feel cluttered and burdened, as if secrets and unfulfilled desires hide in the dust behind corners. Getting rid of superfluous things and clearing out that space allows our things – and us – to breath. To be. To think. To imagine. To create. To smile. Same goes with our brains. We are so afraid to be alone in our heads. We all know how children prefer to play with empty boxes than the fancy toys inside. If only…. Turning off all the electronics at least once a day (and not just when you are sleeping), and for one day a week can be transformative. When we are left to our devices, it’s uncomfortable at first. Many of us can’t deal with the silence – or the noise in our heads. But after a while, these noises settle down, and start making space. Empty space. Empty space to be. To think. To imagine. To create. To smile.

5. Answer simply
What do you do? If you can’t answer that simply, 1) no one will listen and 2) you won’t be good at whatever ‘that’ is. Who are you? If can’t answer that simply, 1) no one will listen and 2) you won’t find contentment at who you are. What matters to you? If you can’t answer that simply, 1) no one will listen and 2) you will be easily swayed by others who tell you what should matter to you. These questions may seem complex, but it is us who tend to confound them. Being able to simplify what matters to us and who we are is key to finding the freedom and beauty that comes with living a simple life. A simple life doesn’t mean living like a monk, but rather, a life without rusty hangups, unfulfilled dreams, and toxic people. A simple life is one where we connect with those who positively help us grow, surround ourselves with that which give us joy, and have the freedom and space to be, to think, to imagine, to create, to smile. Nothing more, nothing less.