Our Life is Frittered Away by Detail

The title of this post is based on a quote by legendary American philosopher and poet Henry David Thoreau:
Our life is frittered away by detail…simplify, simplify.
As an experiment in simple living, Thoreau famously left the city and built himself a tiny cabin (10 feet wide and 15 feet long) in the forest around the shores of Walden Pond, where he lived for 2 years and 2 months. In his classic book Walden, Thoreau wrote:
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

Whilst not quite a Walden-ish experience, moving to a new country has the unintended benefit of enabling me to start from a clean slate.

All I have with me is approximately 30 kilograms worth of stuff, representing my luggage allowance plus carry-on. As I am renting a room in an established home, I don’t have to worry about the paraphernalia of setting up my living space – my landlord/s take care of the details (I pay the rent). I work normal office hours from Monday to Friday. Apart from my work commitments, I get to fill in my spare time with as much or as little as I wish to.

Having been on a simplifying journey for some years now, I have learnt to be mindful about where I choose to focus my attention and how I spend my time. Right now, I’m using this space to prioritise activities that nourish and energise me. Not a long list of things – just 3 things – meditation, yoga, and starting this blog.

It didn’t used to be this way.

For a long time, I was very focussed on getting more done. I read time management books and was constantly tweaking my “system to squeeze more activities into the available time. I had my GTDs marked out on my to do lists. I broke down projects into chunks and scheduled time in my diary to complete my tasks.

It worked. I was very productive and tasks/goals were ticked off. Sure there were times when things didn’t go exactly to plan. Unexpected hiccups like kids getting sick and not able to go to childcare. Scheduling conflicts like when the due date for my MBA assignment clashes with my daughter’s birthday party. But all these challenges were taken in stride as I marched stoically towards the work/life balance holy grail.

When I started to suffer from migraines, I recognised this as a warning sign from my body, but justified this as the cost of doing business – just another element that needed to be managed. Regular appointments were booked with what I called my “health panel” – acupuncturist, chiropractor and masseur – to help me manage the side-effects of my roller-coaster life.

I saw glimpses of myself in Allison Pearson’s wonderfully witty bestselling book I Don’t Know How She Does It, where she dramatised the dilemma of every working mum. Like Kate Reddy, the main character in the book, my life looked picture-perfect and under control – from the outside. I compartmentalised and managed the various spheres of my life – work, family and study – with military precision.

Look – I’m not complaining. It was my choice to to live my life a certain way at that time. And no doubt I certainly achieved a lot in a short time. But at what cost?  Apart from affecting my health, I realised that my work was increasingly preventing me from doing other things that were important to me, like spending quality time with my family and friends.  And pursuing other interests.

It was also an exhausting way to live.

Slowly but surely, I recognised that even though I was achieving a lot, it wasn’t making me happy.

I started making different choices. I simplified my life. I de-cluttered my physical space, my financials, my inbox, my time, and more. I bought less things. I focussed on things that matter most to me.

It was simple, but not easy.

But here’s the secret – the more I simplify, the more I have. I have more time. I have more freedom. I reflect more. I am healthier. I am more productive.

In the coming weeks and months, I hope to share more about my simplicity journey with you.

Until then – take it simple.

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