My journey started last Tuesday when I read this quote from Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, “The more you know, the less you need.” I was hooked. Because I want to know more and I want to need less. I’ve written about this before since it is, in fact, the backpacker’s dilemma. Every ounce we carry makes the trip more enjoyable, more comfortable, and safer. And yet every ounce we carry also makes our trip less possible, less enjoyable, less comfortable, and less safe. The more things we are afraid of the more gear we carry and the heavier our pack becomes.
After every backpacking trip I pull out my gear list and mark the items I actually used and make notes for next time, the goal being to whittle away the list to minimize my load. I’m trying to use my experience, to need less. “The more you know, the less your need.”
Then a new friend added this, from writer Sebastian Junger, “Risk increases as one’s range of options decreases.”
So the formula is more complicated than I thought. Having less, living more simply, isn’t necessarily easier. In fact, it reduces the range of options, which means taking on more risk.
I asked my Facebook friends, “Is Chounard’s quote – ‘The more you know, the less you need’ - true for life in general, or just backpacking?” Here are some phrases from the answers I received:
“I think it is true in general. I find life being simpler and simpler as I go through it. I just find I need less.”
“It takes a huge spiritual discipline to be simple.”
“As I age, my need for things, the stuff I own and think I need, is changing.”
“Graceful aging means continually throwing the excess over the side; constant winnowing.”
For me personally, the older I get the less stuff I need. One surprising result of that is I’m becoming one of those guys who are hard to buy gifts for. This is a common complaint I hear every Christmas. However, only a portion of that comes from intentional simplification. The rest is because my clothing styles seldom change and I can afford gear that doesn’t wear out quickly.
Back to my original question about simplicity and risk and knowledge. A few days after I started this journey of thought I read in my Daily Bible, from Psalm 116:6, “The Lord protects the simplehearted.” (NIV)
That’s cool. Not simpleminded or purehearted, which are more common words, but simplehearted. I asked my Facebook friends another question: What do you think it means to be simplehearted?:
“One whose emotional needs are easily met”
“Someone who doesn't seek to complicate things”
“One who loves first, last, and always”
“Integrity of heart”
“A heart that is uncomplicated and less cluttered by life stuff”
“Being fully alive and optimal.” (I really liked the word “optimal.”)
I didn’t stop there. I realized my mind was locked into this idea of simplicity when I read this from Peter Matthiessen's The Snow Leopard: "The sense of having one's life needs at hand, of traveling light, brings with it intense energy and exhilaration. Simplicity is the whole secret of well-being"
Merely having less isn’t enough, though. Nobody wants to live a striped-down lowest-bidder life. We need something deeper. We need meaning.
John Maeda, in his book The Laws of Simplicity, wrote, “Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful.”
For me, one part of my life where I don’t take the simplest route is writing. I do all my first-pass writing by hand, with ink, in a paper journal. Later I type it into Word and start editing. I’ve learned if I try to simplify this process and do my original work on the computer, I’m not as creative. I’m not as original, and not as meaningful. So I appreciate Maeda’s quote … the real life goal isn’t just to simplify, but to live meaningfully.
How about you? What do you do to simplify your life? Does it add meaning?
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32