Why We Need To Learn To Live Simply, Now More Than Ever

Long before Marie Kondo taught us how to fold, Dominique Loreau published L’art de la Simplicité to international acclaim. On its anniversary publication, she reminds us why we all need less stuff

I grew up in France, and after traveling to different parts of the world during my student years, it was Japan that I decided to call my home. Experiencing two different civilizations provoked endless self-examination. Fusing French culture and Japanese philosophy, I began to search for the perfect way of life. And by a gradual process of elimination, I came to understand that the pursuit of simplicity was the right way for me to live both comfortably and at peace.

For me, learning to live the simple life was no easy matter. I experienced a process of gradual metamorphosis, an increasingly urgent need to live with fewer things, but more lightness, freedom, and fluidity; greater refinement, too. Little by little, I realized that, as I lightened my load, the things that were left seemed less and less vital. We actually need very little to live. And so I came to the unshakeable conviction that the less we have, the greater our sense of freedom, and the better we are able to thrive. Simplicity, to me, is about quality. If we have too many things to do, too many people to deal with, too means things to take care of and maintain, the quality of life is inevitably poorer.

 Little by little, I realised that, as I lightened my load, the things that were left seemed less and less vital. We actually need very little to live

In the last decade, we have seen a huge surge of interest in the philosophy of minimalism and simplicity as a way of living. The reason for this is simple: we have lost the art of living simply. We have too many material possessions, too many temptations, and desires, too much choice, too much to eat. We waste and destroy so much. We use throwaway knives and forks, pens, lighters, cameras – and to make them we pollute our water and air, the landscape and nature. It’s up to us to tackle waste here and now before we find ourselves forced to confront the issue tomorrow. Simplicity means possessing little, clearing the way for the bare necessities, the quintessence of things. It is only when we eliminate waste that we can see the possibilities ahead.

The Digital Age means that our lives have become more cluttered. We are reading and responding to emails at all hours, interacting more on social media – we are not communicating with ourselves but with our smartphones. Although the internet is not bad in itself, it’s the overuse of it that complicates our lives. The first principle of simplicity is to realize that we don’t need 80% of the things we do or own to be happy. Think about it: when you find yourself stranded without internet, how liberating is it to not be checking emails or social media accounts? The same applies to material possessions, most of us journey through life with a great deal – often excessive amounts – of baggage.  We should pause for thought and ask ourselves, why are so attached to things?

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For many people, material wealth is an expression of selfhood, proof of their existence. Consciously or otherwise, they associate their identity and self-image with the things they possess. The more they have, the more secure, accomplished and fulfilled they feel. Everything becomes objectified and aspirational: material goods, bargains, works of art, acquaintances, ideas, friends, lovers, holidays, a god, even the ego. People consume, acquire, accumulate, collect. They ‘have’ friends and contacts, ‘hold’ diplomas, titles, awards. They stagger under the weight of their possessions and forget, or fail to realize, that their acquisitiveness saps their vital energies, making them listless, and subject to increasingly urgent needs and desires. Many things are superfluous, but we only realize this when they are gone. We used them because they were there, not because they were essential. How often do we buy things simply because we’ve seen them in someone else’s home?

I own almost nothing – I could easily move out of my apartment in half an hour with a suitcase of clothes and a small box of my most useful possessions; my contacts list consists only of close friends and family; I don’t have a smartphone and often leave the house without my mobile. I cook simple meals and have no interest in gastronomy, and to me, my greatest luxury is the art of being able to live simply. I urge you to try this way of living. By applying the principles of simplicity to all areas of existence – not just focussing around the home and clutter, but everything from the food you consume to relationships and contacts you will discover a life calmer, energized and serene. Simplicity shouldn’t be a new fashionable way of living. It should be what it is: a happy way to live one’s life.

L’art de la Simplicite by Dominique Loreau is published by Orion Books


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