Defining Your Own Simplicity

White Vespa on Badolato Street

Lone white Vespa

Confession: I don’t live in a cloister or shun modern conveniences and technology — and I don’t plan on doing so any time soon.

I work full-time entirely on the Internet, and I love my iMac and my iPod Touch. These technological advancements enrich my life by connecting me with family and friends around the world, keeping me current on world events, providing me with e-books in English that would be difficult and prohibitively expensive to get in paper form, and so much more.

I always have several projects going at once, whether for work or pleasure, and I say, without shame or guilt, I strive to be successful in whatever I do; I relish the feelings of accomplishment and success.

Why am I bringing all this up?

Because from various comments and messages recently, I’ve come to understand that some people equate simplicity with the requirement that one give up modern conveniences and/or career aspirations. I suppose that is one definition of a simpler lifestyle, but it’s certainly not my definition of simplicity. To me, the ideas of having a successful career and living a simpler lifestyle aren’t mutually exclusive.

You don’t have to live like a pauper, give up all modern conveniences, or denounce a career in order to infuse simplicity into your life.

Heck, even the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh tweet.

In my definition of simplicity, my goals are several, and include but are not limited to:

  • Paring down my physical belongings (this is not easy for me as I’m a natural pack rat, but I’m working at it!);
  • Narrowing my activities and concerns so I’m focused only on those most important to me;
  • Making sure my family, including four-legged creatures, are well-taken care of;
  • Honing the craft of writing and other artistic pursuits;
  • Growing and raising as much of our food as possible both for our own benefit and for the environment’s;
  • Buying local products whenever possible and reducing waste;
  • Incorporating daily yoga and longer walks into my life for guaranteed downtime;
  • Practicing mindfulness in all I do — really being present in the moment;
  • Appreciating small, everyday joys in life while dwelling less on negatives.

I say “not limited to” because my goals are constantly evolving; I’ve found that after making one small change in my life, I’ve been excited to take on another, and another, and another. Maybe you’ve experienced that too, or maybe you will find it to be true. Or maybe not. My definition of simplicity and my experiences regarding it may not be the same as yours — and that’s not only fine, it’s to be expected.

We are all entitled to design our own lives, which means there is no “one size fits all” plan.

And this is where the hard work comes in.

You have to figure out for yourself where your happiness lies, what your most important concerns are, and what changes you would like to make in your life. Preserving your own food may sound like torture to you, and perhaps you just really love your SUV and couldn’t live without it. OK — let’s move on from there, because these preferences don’t mean you can’t incorporate other small changes into your life if you truly want to simplify.

Moving toward a simpler lifestyle doesn’t have to be all or nothing, and it certainly doesn’t have to happen overnight — but you are responsible for defining your own simplicity so you can get started and continue down that path.

What does simplicity mean to you? What are you doing or what can you do to move closer to living your definition of simplicity?

39 Beans of Wisdom to “Defining Your Own Simplicity”
  1. 03.10.2011

    For me it means living deliberately. If most things that I do are deliberate, there won’t be room for the things that make life complicated. Does that make sense? I makes a ton of sense to me.

    Total sense! Really goes well with the mindfulness (inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh) I’ve been practicing as well πŸ™‚ Thanks for commenting!

  2. I am loving this post Michelle. Brava! For me, simplicity is accepting your situation and turning the tables in your favor. Sure, people are shocked with they find out that I don’t have a dryer, car, or A/C. I don’t mind. I love hanging my clothes to dry in the sun. My clothes last longer and there’s no shrinkage. I don’t mind not having a car (most days). This way, I can justify the enormous amounts of gelato I eat! As for the A/C, I just open the balcony doors and I’ve got it!

    Preparing meals from scratch, including baby food, going for a walk because I want to… I love it! It relaxes me and puts my life into perspective. Just don’t take away my MacBook, iTunes or my TV!! πŸ™‚

    My MacBook has been off for repairs for a while (grr) or that would be on my list too! I’m with you on the dryer, not having a car (most days!), A/C…but for me, my podcasts and e-books keep me going along with some select movies/shows I watch via Internet πŸ™‚

  3. Gil

    This post totally blew my mind. I thought that you were a hermit living in a cave! Ha-Ha- Ha If you ever figure out how to pare down on possessions please post as I might take a hint or two.

    Definitely an upcoming post, Gil; it’s probably my biggest challenge…for now I’ll tell you I’m tackling magazines & old clothes. Uffa.

  4. 03.10.2011

    Hello Michelle,

    I always enjoy your posts so much. I am farther along on the path of life than you and our common/dear friend, Diana, but your inspiration is just as valuable to me nevertheless. My best friend in San Francisco closes every email to me with, “Stay in the present” – excellent advice which becomes even more compelling as we advance in age.

    Simplicity! Simple word but rather difficult to define…. Indeed, its definition is particularly subjective. While I feel I have achieved an excellent balance in my life, at this stage I am on a renewed crusade of downsizing, further simplifying, and more and more relying on my own treasured vegetable garden and local, trusted farmers for my food.

    Like you, my computer is central to my life: in endless ways it simplifies my life by allowing so many of the business dealings to be taken care of online. It also, and this is no small advantage, allows me to connect with people like you – people with whom I would have no dealings and of whom I would have no knowledge if it weren’t for my IMac!

    I would treasure meeting you someday, Michelle. You are an inspiration to me.

    Right back at you, Mary πŸ™‚ xx

  5. Domenica Galluccio

    Hello Michelle,

    This is a wonderful piece. For me, simplicity is getting in touch with the things that make you feel good. Or back in touch with them if you’ve somehow lost your way. These are ever changing as I grow as a person, but by being present and mindful of the moment I am able to making decisions that make me feel good and this is how I keep my life simple and uncluttered. My time living in Italy reminded me to get back in touch with myself and to just feel good and really enjoy life. How to not let it get away from me.

    Enjoy your day.

    Thanks for adding your thoughts, Domenica — the uncluttering part is a big aspect of it for me, and one I constantly struggle with to boot πŸ˜‰

  6. 03.10.2011

    Hear, hear, Michelle and so well explained. Simplicity in one’s life is a constantly evolving situation and I feel also varies tremendously depending on where we are as regards age. πŸ™‚

    I think perhaps the age of the soul makes a difference, yes — I’ve come across people of all different physical ages going through a similar experience at the same time. Either way, it’s comforting to know there are quite a few of us out there πŸ˜‰

  7. 03.10.2011

    Loved the post. For me, seeking simplicity means quietening the noise and unnecessary excess of the life I thought I should have, so that I can hear my soul’s cry and make choices to move towards the life I truly want. I spend time in different countries now with far far fewer possessions than I ever had. I do rely on my technology (and I’ve always loved a few clever little gadgets) to keep me connected to creative communities worldwide and because they are useful tools for my work, but other things like a car and lots of living space and agendas full of appointments with people and situations that don’t make my heart sing… well, they’ve gone, and now there is more space for joy to rush in.
    Dana said above, “For me it means living deliberately.”
    That makes perfect sense to me too!
    Un abrazo from Buenos Aires.

    Yes, I love that deliberate quote too — I’m going to springboard off it in a future post in fact because I feel it dovetails so nicely with both mindfulness and the difficulty many of us have/had saying “no” — especially women.

  8. 03.10.2011

    I love what you’ve said here. It rings so true to me. My own take on simplifying is that you need to embrace complexity in order to figure out what is meaningful to you. Once you know what is meaningful (even if it is very complicated), then you are living a more simplified life. To others if may seem that you aren’t living simplified, but to you it is the epitome of focus and grace– which I’d say is the essence of simplicity.

    Lovely, Ally, just lovely πŸ™‚

  9. 03.10.2011

    hm, Simplicity… not buying acrylic or oil paints and trying to learn a totally new way to paint. Avoiding learning Spanish and sticking to Italian. Whenever I buy clothing, I get rid of something I already had (I cheat and don’t do this with socks or shoes)
    Always cooking “from scratch”
    And you’re right, some of what we do embraces technology. We used to go to movie theaters. now we get DVD’s in the mail. Less driving, MORE free time.
    Reading YOUR blog, sei un’insolita persona giovane!

    Grazie Mimi; yes, there is certainly an aspect of technology that frees us up to focus on the most important concerns to us…although I’d love to see what you’d come up with in a new form of painting πŸ™‚

  10. 03.10.2011

    Terrific and valuable post, Michelle. Many wise comments from others as well.

    Back in the Whole Earth Catalog days, folks talked about “appropriate technology.” Do you need an SUV to drive a block for a gallon of milk? Probably not. Do you need an SUV to transport your daughter’s soccer team? Probably so.

    I did without A/C for many years, both in my home and car. When menopause hit, A/C was definitely appropriate technology for me! But I too still hang my clothes out to dry. Sometimes that means freeze drying here in northern Pennsylvania – still works though. I’m in no hurry.

    Those who appreciate Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama may also appreciate Pema Chodron.

    I love that idea of “appropriate technology”; still leaves room for lots of subjectivity, just as it should be IMHO πŸ™‚ Also, thanks for the tip on Pema Chodron!

  11. 03.10.2011

    You nailed it. Simplifying has been my goal for the last 2 years – eliminating clutter (literally and figuratively), cutting back on buying/hoarding/wasting and implementing reusing (I rinse out ziplock bags & bring my own cloth bags to the grocery store – even in the US), and making the yoga, walks, gym and quiet mornings a ritual. Not cramming my life with craziness anymore now allows healthy home-cooked meals and less eating out – all of this has been the touchstone of simplification. If we don’t take time to “be” and enjoy where we are, then we are missing the life that is flying right by us.

    Valerie, I have some thoughts on “morning ritual” to share as well…so very important πŸ™‚ Thanks for commenting!

  12. 03.10.2011

    oh (blush) what i meant about painting was focusing on watercolors and not getting distracted by other shiny cool media (which would represent a huge outlay of money and use up even more precious space in my studio. I will continue to try to paint that new and different painting … but with watercolors.

    watercolors are blissfully simple. you need paper, water and a brush.. and the paint. πŸ™‚

    Beautiful, Mimi πŸ™‚

  13. 03.10.2011

    Thank you for the reminder that I need to get back to the job of simplifying. I started a month or so ago to whittle away my belongings and got overwhelmed. It’s easy to forget that it’s an inner process as well as an outer one, and it’s time for me to take another step. Love your blog!

    Oh it’s *so* easy to get overwhelmed…I hear you…more on the struggle coming up! Thanks for reading, Dorothy πŸ™‚

  14. 03.10.2011

    Sorry, this is my current blog where I found you!

    Thanks for the updated link, Dorothy!

  15. Lark

    The most recent changes I have made to simplify my life are growing an herb garden and resisting using a credit card to make purchases. The herb garden has been wonderful. No more rushing off to the store to pick up a package of thyme or rosemary, only to use a couple sprigs and throw the rest away. No when I’m cooking I just step outside, snip what I need, and enjoy the beauty of my little garden every day. Not using the credit card has definite perks. Debt is dwindling, and along with it so is stress! I’m enjoying the new theme of your blog. It seems like you have a great perspective on life and are enjoying what you do.

    Ah the herbs at home are *such* a wonderful treat, I agree! Reminds me, I need to plant some parsley…thanks so much for your kind words, Lark; they mean a lot πŸ™‚

  16. 03.10.2011

    I have been trying to pare down my physical belongings…and like you, find it hard cause I am a pack rat, NOT a hoarder, I dislike that term almost as much as I dislike “passive-aggressive”.

    I agree — big difference between pack rat and hoarder. More on this topic, for sure….

  17. 03.10.2011

    Hugs Michelle! I have been wanting to try this lifestyle for years! Brava! Life is stressful enough with everything that is in it. When we start pairing down, we begin to realize what is truly important to live and life becomes more focused on what is meaningful rather than stuff or luxury!

    One small step at a time, Deb! Thanks for reading πŸ™‚

  18. 03.10.2011

    Buon Giorno Michelle,

    Ahhhh simplicity….yes, well I guess I have been called; “Simple” many times so that would mean it is me?

    In all seriousness and this is a rare moment folks, simplicity to me is living my life as best I can and not ever having the feeling nor urge to define that life to anyone anywhere.

    So Michelle all I can say is; “Penso che lei hanno ragione e perfeziona poichΓ© lei Γ¨. ….don’t mai il cambiamento eccetto poichΓ© lei vuole a. L’amore e la Luce, il richard”

    There’s a lot to be said for living life as best as one can; thanks Richard πŸ™‚

  19. MikeS29

    I read your beans of wisdom far more often than I write any of my own, but I am compelled to write today, because of two reasons:

    One, this post is so darned good, I just wanted to say, “complimenti!”

    The other is I’m relived that you are still…you. Your “transformation of the blog” post, while an important development for you, left me feeling (selfishly) sad that a good thing was potentially gone. I felt a sense of loss, as odd as that sounds, and I am glad to recognize the “old you,” the “new you,” and that those two are one and the same.

    OK, I’m getting sappy. Keep writing, keep being you, and I’ll keep reading and worrying about MY life πŸ™‚

    Hope some of that made sense!

    Thanks so much for taking the time to write, Mike; it makes complete sense to me, and I greatly appreciate it as well πŸ™‚

  20. 03.11.2011

    I think you nailed it. Simplicity means focus. Focusing on what you want to do in life, who you want to be with, and what you want to accomplish, and cutting off most things that are time wasters. I think it has a lot to do with having a purpose in life and being very focused on that purpose day in and day out.

    I love this focus on focus in the comments…definitely worthy of more exploration IMHO. Thanks for commenting πŸ™‚

  21. 03.11.2011

    Hi Michelle,

    I agree that simplifying your life doesn’t mean ‘going without’. In fact, since we down-shifted from a busy city life to a more peaceful one in the middle of the countryside, we feel far richer and fulfilled.

    I, like you, find daily practices of yoga and meditation keep me balanced. And being with my family restores my soul. I’ve learnt that what I need is very little. I can still appreciate a beautiful possession – I just don’t need to be totally surrounded by them.

    much love, Heather xx

    Beautifully put, Heather; thanks so much for sharing πŸ™‚

  22. 03.11.2011

    I agree with you. simplicity can be very enriching. I noticed that the first time many years ago while travelling for months with only some clothes, my laptop and a handful of little things you need day to day. I didn’t miss anything, and coming back home I noticed how much stuff I had that I still rarely ever used and still didn’t miss after being home again. so I started to downsize big time. and ever since, every time I moved, I got rid of more and more things. it’s not the objects that surround you, it’s the people and the activities that should matter…

    Lovely Petra; thanks so much for sharing your experiences!

  23. Right now I am at a a critical moment where I am making life alterning decisions and changes. Oh, I’m not planning on leaving my husband or moving to another country, but I am striving to reorganize my life. Starting with what is between my ears, in my heart and how I let the world around me affect my serenity. I am redirecting my focus and changing where I find my bliss. A result of these decisions and changes is that some of the flotsom and jetsom of life is falling away and I am starting to feel lighter. A funny thing is that sometimes I’ll be thinking about something, mulling it over in my brain, and then I find that you write about it or something similar. I think the universe is telling me to find and define MY simple. So thanks universe … and Michelle πŸ˜‰

    I’ve always found the little markers and signs from the Universe inspiring and comforting, letting me know I’m on the right path…glad to be part of yours, Joanne πŸ™‚

  24. 03.12.2011

    I LOVE that I have re-found your blog! This post is perfectly timed for me. I am going to read it and read it again as I find my path to my own simplicity.

    I love it too, Michelle! I’m a Libra also btw πŸ™‚

  25. 03.14.2011

    (stretching from jetlag in front of computer)

    Michelle, you know how I feel about this post. It’s not a revolution requiring us to delve into the 7th century but rather an evolution that can and will make life more sustainable and meaningful. It’s at the heart of very single person who gets queazy from seeing waste and experiencing narcissism where there could be common sense and a feeling of community. It does not have to do with how much money a person has, or how little. It’s about US. How we want to live our life. What values we are going to take on and project.

    It’s about how much stuff we need. We all need some stuff. I am not giving up my Mac or my Ipod either. Or my kiln. But to not view consuming as sport is one of the greatest gifts my lifestyle has given me.

    I agree with everything you have written. One point strikes me especially…. that the thought of living like a pauper is just simply not what living simply is all about. Living simply is living consciously – in full awareness of what you have and what you want to do and achieve, and giving yourself the time and space to do those things, unencumbered by so much “stuff” that you cannot even see your own goals as being remotely possible.

    Love you, love your post, love your direction with this post…..

    “Not viewing consuming as sport.” I love that. I also want to write about getting rid of stuff (I can’t type that without having George Carlin’s inflection and voice echo in my head!)…some people do the “living with x number of things” thing, but to me, it’s simply (hah!) not about the number. More to come, of course πŸ™‚ Thanks so much for commenting — great to have you back on this side of the pond!

  26. 03.16.2011

    I’m posting again because I know your blog will show MY latest blog posting which will point you to a local (to me) artist is doing a raffle to raise money for Japanese Relief. For $10 you have a chance to win up to 3 tiny carvings your choice of subject. It’s a simple way to raise money, check out what she does, it’s SO COOL

    Thanks Mimi! Love it!

  27. 03.20.2011

    I like this post because it is too easy to think simplicity has to an elimination of technology etc and you so eloquently say it’s not.

    Thanks Sue πŸ™‚

  28. I’ve just recently discovered your blog — this is a great post that got me thinking. I think simplicity to me means is accepting the fact that there are things that I can’t change and no one expects me to.

    Once that pressure if off, the stress level drops and life just seems… simpler – because of it.

  29. Nicky-chan

    I sure hope that when people comment that your simple lifestyle wouldn’t work for them, it wasn’t out of jealousy. Some cannot reconcile with the fact that other people found happiness and would try to nitpick at everything that made you happy (esp. the little moments/simple joys). Right and left, they’d point out “this is extreme” and “that is just possible because you have the opportunity”, etcetera etcetera.

    Your blog is a breath of Calabrian air. Do continue raving about wonderful Italy. It is great that someone has found happiness in iTaly and iMac and iTouch all at the same time. πŸ™‚ When people want more wallowing on how ‘life sucks’, they should also take your advice and simplify: Read someone else’s blog on “Life Sucks.”


  30. 03.27.2011

    I think a great parallel to this idea is the specializing one goes through as one grows up. For example, in elementary school, we all played every sport with a passion. Then slowly we divided into the band geeks and the football jocks in middle school. Then in high school we really pursued our artistic passions and became increasingly talented in a handful of fields. Then in college we focus on our major and perhaps join an intermural or A Cappella group. Then, finally, we find ourselves working on five projects for financial firm that we don’t have a passion for and wonder about where those talents went. Something that seems to go along with your points of “Narrowing my activities and concerns so I’m focused only on those most important to me…Honing the craft of writing and other artistic pursuits” is the continuation of the dreams and passions you had as a young adult. Continuing those passions could make you happier and understand yourself in a more positive and fulfilling light.

  31. Linda

    Stumbled upon your page via Bleeding Espresso… Love your blog & this post too! For me its being able to eliminate unecessary excess baggage… letting it go if you will; lifting the burden. I have learned… along with age comes wisdom but if something itches, scratch, If something is broken well then fix it & move on…. Oh…. EVOLVE! Thank you for enlightening me & for sharing… what a concept! Words to live by! Simplify simplify simplify!

    β€œAnd in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”
    ~Abraham Lincoln

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences, Linda!

  32. Betty Sparacino

    Hello Michelle,

    I came across your blog as I was inquiring about Calabria. I am hoping to visit this fall or next Spring at the latest. Along with a vacation I intend to look at the feasability of living there ( at least part of the year).It was my hope that I would connect with someone who has already made the transition from North America to a less hectic pace in Calabria. As synchronicity would have it you came up on the scene.I feel you speak to the heart of most of us that desire a deeper connection with whats real in ourselves. Thich Naht Hahn certainly embodys a comforting wisdom that effortlessly conveys being fully present with whatever we are engaged in at the moment. I love that you are incorporating this awareness in your day to day experience and sharing the simple gifts they bring in your blog. If its at all possible I would truly appreciate any information you may have re: weather, enviornment, drinkable tap water, air quality, food etc. Thankyou for living your truth and inspiring the rest of us to do also.

    Hi Betty, I think you’ll find a lot of what you need to know when you visit, but basically I’d say the more rural you go, the better off you’ll be regarding air quality (although I don’t think even our cities are nearly as bad as “normal” cities); we don’t drink the tap water, but get it from a nearby spring; food is one of the best aspects of living here — seasonal, fresh, relatively inexpensive for fresh fruits/veggies; we get hot hot hot summers but fairly mild winters (snow only in the mountains, rarely here where I am at 250 meters); I’ve read that this climate is really great for people with joint problems/arthritis; come and see for yourself πŸ™‚

  33. 09.26.2011

    Hi, Michelle!

    Wandered over during some research for a much dreamed of trip to Italy that might happen sometime! I love your blog and its pictures, the thoughts you put out. Shall be reading more for sure. Linked into to your post in one of mine – fyi. Keep writing! πŸ˜€

    michelle Reply:

    Thanks so much for coming by, Sangitha, and also for the linky love πŸ™‚

  34. 09.26.2011

    Well captured receipe for living life “Simple”. You have made really good points. I think I can absorb a few and see how I can make my life more simple too !..

    michelle Reply:

    Thank you for coming by!

  35. joy borum

    As the 12-steppers say, “We said it was simple. We didn’t say it was easy.” However, I find the more awareness I bring to simplifying my life, the more willingness and clarity I receive and the easier it becomes…with multiply sized speed bumps and barricades here and there.

    michelle Reply:

    Love that, Joy. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts πŸ™‚

  1. [...] just how much I want to go back there.Β  And how some of my bucket list is related to Italy.Β  How amazi...



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