The Art of Artlessness: On Living Simply and Naturally

“Simplicity is the essence of happiness.” – Cedric Bledsoe

Post written by Leo Babauta. Follow me on Twitter.

A lot of the complexity in our lives come when we try to keep up certain appearances.

A simpler, happier life can be achieved when we drop those appearances and just live naturally, without pretense or artfulness.

Let me give you just a few examples:

Shaking off these pretenses, this artfulness, results in simplicity. It’s when we try to hold up the pretenses that things get complex. We’re also less honest, and less true to ourselves.

Learn to live a simpler, more natural life, and drop the pretenses one at a time. You’ll be glad you did.

A few ideas to get you started:

  1. Dress: Do your clothes aim to impress? Do you have to keep a complicated, expensive wardrobe to maintain this image? How can you shed this need to impress, and just dress simply and functionally instead? I’m not saying you need to dress in rags (or wear sandals, as I do). But if you decide that you don’t need to impress anyone, you can drop a lot of your wardrobe “needs” and simplify things tremendously.
  2. Grooming: I no longer worry about grooming as much as I once did. Now I have a shaved head, and my grooming tools are down to a reasonable minimum: soap, razor and shaving cream, deodorant, electric trimmer (for the hair). I don’t need hair products, aftershave, a comb, or many other grooming products. Of course, not everyone is going to shave their head, but going for a more natural look could simplify things: stop trying to look a certain way, and you can cut back on the number of grooming products and tools you use and keep.
  3. Language: I know lots of people who use “impressive” language, often full of jargon or academic-speak or geek-speak. Well, that might impress some, but knowledgeable people know that you’re covering up a lack of real competence with complicated language. Speak simply, with plain language, and your real intelligence will shine through. You’ll also communicate better — a plus in my book.
  4. Decorating: Almost every home I visit is filled with decorative things, perhaps meant to impress or convey a certain message about the home. I find that the simple, natural look is better — subtract as much as you can, until you are left with a minimum of simple, beautiful things. For example, my walls are covered by only three pieces of art (all done by my dad). Everything else in my house is functional furniture — no decorative anything.
  5. Gifts: When we try to impress and keep up appearances, we can end up spending a lot of money on gifts, especially around the holidays but also on birthdays and other occasions. And while I think it’s great to show someone that you care with a gift, does it really need to be expensive? Can’t something home-made, or consumable, be just as nice? Or perhaps you can do something nice for someone, like a massage or chores or babysitting? Keep things simple, but show you care.
  6. Work: Don’t do things at work to impress — you’ll end up doing things that are artificial and false, and often stretch too far and fail, or at least show your shortcomings. While there’s nothing wrong with having shortcomings (who doesn’t have them?), you should aim instead to do the best you can, not because you want to impress but because you want to feel good about the job you’ve done.
  7. Transportation: Forget about an impressive car — go for minimalism and function. I have a van because I need one (yes, I have 6 kids, and yes, I know that’s not keeping things simple), but if you only need a tiny car, go for that. Or maybe you don’t need a car at all — can public transportation or a bike suffice? I’ve been walking more, for transportation, because I no longer worry about what people will think of me when I’m the only one in my town who walks places. As a result, I get more exercise, and I enjoy the outdoors more. Oh, and I help conserve resources a little more.
  8. Devices: Do you have to have the latest and greatest gadget (the iPhone, the Palm Pre, the Android), not because you need it but because you want to show people you have it? I’ve done this many times. I bought a Macbook Air, telling myself that I needed a laptop (which I did) and that the Air was the best functional device for me because it was light and a Mac and fairly minimalist in function (I only need it for writing and Internet). But really I just loved its sleek and minimalist design. Pretension, not simplicity. Drop the pretension and get only what you need. (Btw, I don’t regret getting the Air — I really love using it and it works beautifully for my needs.)

There are many more ways you can live a simpler life by dropping artfulness in different areas. What areas have you changed by dropping pretenses? What areas would you like to change? Share in the comments!

“If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things, then this is the best season of your life.” – Wu-Men

If you’re interested in a life of minimalism, check out my new ebook: The Simple Guide to a Minimalist Life.

Or find more of my other books and ebooks.