I keep coming back to the theme of simplicity as I understand more about it by trying to apply this idea to everyday life.
The problem with simplicity is that there is always a tendency to do more, regardless of what we are discussing. The fact is that we can always do more. We can throw more resources at something, spend more time, and work a little harder.
And once we buy into the idea that complexity is good, there is no end. If we can spend an extra hour on something or add an extra feature, where is the natural stopping place?
This reminds me of a point that the philosopher Epictetus makes in his Enchiridion, specifically concerning wearing fancy purple slippers. He asks what a natural desire is and what is an unnatural desire. He differentiates between the two by asking if a desire has a natural limit.
For example, we all have a desire for water. Every cell in our body requires a minimum amount of water to carry out its functions, and we can quickly die within a few days if we lack water. And so, it makes sense for our evolutionary biology to imbue us with a strong desire to ensure that we get enough water. But, drink 1L of water, and then you don’t want any more for many hours. There is a natural limit to the desire, and then the desire is refreshed each day.
This is unlike the materialism of getting fancy purple slippers. I have been to people’s houses where they have dozens and dozens of handbags that they proudly show off. I’ve wondered if some degree of mental illness or obsessive-compulsive disorder is going on. Still, I remember that this is a natural outcome of letting an unnatural desire run its course.
Unnatural desires have no limits, there is nothing that can fulfil them.
To embrace simplicity, I often think we should turn a common question on its head. Instead of asking, “what do I need in life?” Ask, “what can I remove from my life?”
What can I do without? What baggage do I have that I don’t need? This can be material but can also be unfruitful friendships, dependencies on drugs such as caffeine, alcohol, or nicotine, or even just plain old anxiety.