There is More to Simplicity than Getting Simple

There is more to simplicity.

I care about people. I care about animals. I care about health. I care about my time. I care about giving freely, loving deeply and doing work I love. I don’t care that much about stuff.

That doesn’t mean I don’t like some stuff or fully appreciate its value in my life. That said, I’m attached to very little of it and could walk away from most of it at any time.

So after you’ve decluttered and simplified your life, what’s left? What’s next?

A reader recently wrote to me with this question:

“Your blog inspired me to immensely declutter my home (and not just my wardrobe). I really appreciate the extra space it’s allowed. However, after over a year of practicing minimalism, I am still not feeling the other positive aspects (more time, more freedom…). I feel like I’ve switched the consumption addiction to an emptying one. Do you have a post that address that particular issue? I have been following a couple of blogs but most seem to stop past the decluterring part.”

I’ve heard a similar questions and concerns and I think this will help …

Simplicity is awesome, but it’s not enough. The act of getting rid of things will make you happy temporarily, just like shopping, spending, and collecting.

Happiness didn’t come from the stuff you put in your closet and it won’t come from the empty space that have today or hope to have tomorrow. That empty space will however offer you opportunity for greater longer lasting happiness compared to anything you pick up at the mall.

Here are a few things that my friends have said about this very thing …

“Pursuing simplicity isn’t about which storage bins to buy at Target. It’s about nurturing our souls and the souls of others.” – Dave Bruno

“Living a minimalist life won’t automatically make you a more generous person, but it will provide the space necessary to make it possible.”Joshua Becker

“There is an empty room, and you. And you are enough. You are all that’s needed in this room, you fill it with your light and the miracle of your being, and you now realize: the things you used to express yourself, those were just a crutch. You need none of it. You are enough.”Leo Babauta

Today, instead of decluttering or living simply and before you give away one more thing …

I couldn’t have said it better than Dave Bruno, “We need to know that when we crave simplicity, we are not after an easier life. We are after life.”

Simplicity, minimalism and decluttering are the tools that will give you the time and space you need to identify your joys, passions, loves and cares but you have to give yourself the permission you need to take that time and space. You deserve it. This is your life we are talking about, not a closet or drawer.

It is possible that you won’t give yourself permission because you are …

scared that you won’t know what to do with your time and space. Don’t worry if you don’t have a passion. Often, you have to identify what you don’t want to do before you can discover what you want to do.

worried that if you do know what you want to do, you won’t be good at it. How good you are won’t matter. The joy is in the practice.

feeling like you don’t deserve the happiness that’s available to you. You deserve every bit and once you realize your capacity for happiness and love and joy, you can share it with the world.

You may end up with more time and space than you know what to do with and that can be really uncomfortable. That’s not an excuse to keep your focus on stuff and clutter, but instead an invitation to think about what you really want in your life and for your life.

Accept the invitation. RSVP with a resounding Yes.


  1. says

    Wow! So well stated. I love that you hit the nail on the head about how we substitute one activity for another in order to fill that void. I know I will come back and retread this posting often on my own journey.
    Thank you.

    • Courtney Carver says

      Thanks Michelle, I really think this is a common issue. We can obsess on something that we become comfortable with or “good at” and then avoid all that is truly meaningful.

  2. Kathy Mader says

    Wow again! Great post. You are so gifted with expressing just the right sentiments with just the right words. Thank you!

  3. says

    Decluttering stuff from your surroundings allows you space to explore how you want to make an impact on the world and to then do it. Many of us are afraid. Afraid of that what next. What if we do make an impact? What if we don’t? Our stuff allows us to hide from the world. I have been doing that. I also use the clutter of my fear to keep me hidden away. Clutter can be internal and that has to be cleaned up to allow us to bring ourselves fully into living more joyfully.

    • says

      Great article, Courtney, and I also agree with you, Kate, that our stuff allows us to hide from the world. For me, it also distracted me from doing other more important things. Now that I’ve really begun to declutter and minimize in earnest, I have found that I have fewer distractions and I’m happy to have more time to myself. I can also more fully engage in life and try to be more present.

      • says

        You are right Kim! When I explain to people why i am doing this…I tell them it’s to get to the core of who I am, and then to be able to add experiences and goals back into my life that truly enhance and has meaning. I’m thrilled to see so many like minded people, even though I am a bit late to this party!

        • says

          It’s definitely fun to read other people’s comments and see how they view simplifying. I think it’s so great how changes in our own lives end up making our relationships with others more gratifying.

  4. says

    When I finished decluttering, I found room for many passions, the greatest of these being sailing.

    Last summer, I was afraid to go out and learn to single-hand, because I knew everyone would be watching. I didn’t want to look stupid. I didn’t want to make mistakes that everyone would see. I didn’t want to fail.

    But my passion is not being a passenger on a boat, it’s sailing. So I went out there. I screwed up in front of everyone. I looked silly. And as time went on, I looked less and less silly. Soon I was able to take the helm, like I’d been doing it for years.

    The joy definitely is in the practice. In sailing–as in life–we need to give ourselves permission to take chances and to make mistakes. It’s the only way to makes our lives into something wonderful.

  5. Gilly says

    I really enjoy your writing and I found this one very much to an important point. As a long time practioner of simplicity (I was already trying to simplify when I found Elaine St. James book in 1994), I can say that it is an up and down process. Over the years things will accumulate. But when I realize the accumulation has reached the point that it is distracting me from enjoying life, I declutter a bit. In the early days I found that my best thing was to take my cup of coffee into the living room and sit and drink it with the lights off. I would just let my thoughts drift–how light is it out, which cat had joined my for a visit, what could the day hold? That little ritual was a lovely start to the day.

  6. says

    Excellent post. This makes me think that we, as minimalists, may be approaching the problem from the wrong angle. If we approach the problem as living life to the fullest, minimalism will naturally appear.

  7. says

    Amazing wisdom in this post and beautiful quotes too. Thank you, Courtney. I’m in the middle of the de-cluttering “mess” but I see there’s so much to look forward to. And, I can even enjoy this very moment and the process of letting go.

  8. says

    As we’re getting ready to relocate to the Pacific Northwest, we’re working online with a real estate agent. One of the criteria we said we want is space. He wrote back and asked, “What are you going to put in the space?” We replied, “Absolutely nothing.”

    Shortly after that the phone rang. He was so taken aback he wanted to verify that he’d read our response correctly. We went on to explain that not only are we minimalists, we “live” yoga (we don’t “do” yoga); it’s a lifestyle for us.

  9. says

    Beautiful work Courtney.

    I love that you responded to your readers question with a thoughtful, inspirational piece, bringing together other great thinkers on the subject combined with your own ideas.

    I know that I have been loving the space and time that simplicity de-cluttering has given me, using it to be creative.

  10. says

    Great post, really got me thinking. I spent a lot of time last year doing the decluttering, but then I wasn’t conscious about a lot of the changes that took place afterward. There were changes, but I think that void gets filled differently for different people, and maybe we’re too busy looking for a roadmap for what should happen next instead of being present and seeing what changes take place.

  11. says

    Well, my take is that the primary issue here is that we, in this culture, are pathologically afraid of our own humanity. I mean being human is a messy business. We are filled with all sorts of crazy, often out of control emotions – and there are so many big and scary questions that we avoid like the plague – what happens when you die… why do people have to suffer… what is the point of it all… why am I here… etc. And clutter is only one of many distractions that we use to avoid dealing with all of this.

    I guess that’s why I’m not terribly fond of the “self improvement” approach to life – “Follow these 10 easy steps and you too can achieve eternal bliss and happiness!” I think it just leads people into the trap of more form over substance behavior. Just as having the “right things” won’t make you happy, neither will having the “right number of things.” Trying to make your life look a certain way – whether that means painting a picture of wealth and success, or trying to achieve a spartan life full of clean horizontal surfaces – it’s a futile exercise.

    No matter what pictures you paint, or how artfully you paint them, you’ll still be the exact same person. And ultimately the goal is simply to BE that person – freeing up space in your life is just a tool to help you get there.

  12. says

    Hi there Courtney,
    Your posts resonates with me because I’m in a decluttering phase at present. Though I lead a very simple life living in a semi-remote location, drawing my water from my well and splitting waste wood for heat, I still have too many possessions. It’s when they begin encroaching on my space to create in that I know it’s time for them to go. Overall the one in an one out replacement method of clutter reduction works well for me but when it comes to books, videos and cds – not so! In my research phases I slowly acquire more and more. In my writing phases I hold on but when the writing is done I celebrate my accomplishment by shedding the excess.

  13. says

    I’m sorry but I don’t know how to say this without mentioning my book ENUFF: Eliminate the Needless, Useless, Foolish,and Frivolous. It’s about chipping away the rock to find the elephant sculpture inside (you) and has chapters on finding your focus and creating a vision statement. The premise is that the whole point of digging out is to create a blank canvas and have the time and space and energy to pursue your real purpose – which up to a point, we have all assumed to be acquiring stuff becausue that’s what we were brainwashed into thinking.

    I hope this helps some of you! – Kate

  14. karen t says

    What has prompted me to make some changes is the unfortunate circumstance of not being able to find something of “importance” due to all the clutter and disorganization. Things that matter have been lost in the junk. I am referring to material possessions but this could also be a mental/cognitive issue to address. I read somewhere recently to differentiate between de-cluttering/organizing and “de-owning”. I need to be rid of the excess, not store it more efficiently. I also need to work towards changing when and how I acquire more “things”. I need to regift and donate more often and not worry if someone finds out I didn’t keep some”thing” they gave me. Thanks for the inspiring words.

  15. Linda Sand says

    I discovered my stuff took my energy. It all needed to be maintained. By the time I took care of it all, I had no energy left for anything else. Now, when a friend has a need I have the energy to be there. That makes decluttering worthwhile.