Principle 3: Pruning

Principle 3: Pruning

Trim away the obvious “dead wood,” but remember that even some healthy, growing branches and shoots must be removed in order to make the plant thrive.

Pruning dead branches from trees and shrubs is a necessary garden chore. Author and musician John Michael Talbot describes this memory in his book Simplicity:[1]

How vividly I recall a graphic example from my young adult life on a small farm in Indiana. Several rather large mulberry trees grew next to our house. Because they had grown excessively large and gangly, it was suggested that the trees be pruned.

A professional crew, complete with chainsaws and hydraulic ladders, went to work. In a matter of hours a dramatic change had taken place. The previously dense fall foliage had been reduced to a few stark limbs devoid of growth.

The pruning process sometimes appears brutal…Frequently it appears as though the freshly pruned tree has been killed.

Sometimes life becomes “excessively large and gangly,” weighed down by too many possessions, too many projects, too many activities, too many commitments, too many things draining away our time and energy.

When this happens, pruning away the dead branches is easy: some things are obvious wastes of time, money, or other resources. But pruning is not limited to removing dead branches; a skilled arborist or gardener knows that you must also remove living, fruitful branches in order to benefit the whole organism.

Using this third principle of simplicity requires the use of the first two: distinguishing between needs and wants, and being detached enough to evaluate the situation objectively.

The mulberry trees on John Michael Talbot’s family property underwent a severe pruning, but the professionals assured him and his family that by next season the trees would be just fine:

Sure enough, a year later a profusion of blossoming took place. The trees grew larger, fuller, and exploded with mulberries. The pruning prescription worked perfectly…a startling simplicity which, in the end, results in fruition and abundance.

That is the paradox of pruning: by cutting away not just dead wood but even living, seemingly fruitful branches, you increase the plant’s overall health and end up with a more bountiful harvest.

Questions for Reflection:

1 – What can be pruned from your life? Don’t limit this thought exercise to just external “stuff:” what kind of interior pruning do you need? For example, is there a leisure activity that in itself may be a good thing, but which is taking up too much time or causing too much stress?

2 – Prune your use of language by speaking less. “Omit needless words.[2]

3 – Pruning away excess material possessions yields a bountiful harvest of reclaimed physical space. (Ever watch Hoarders or Clean Sweep?) What else do you gain when you “lose” material possessions? What bountiful harvest do you gain when you prune away excess work? Excess activities? Excess entertainments?


[1] John Michael Talbot. Simplicity. 1989. Servant Publications. Ann Arbor, Michigan.

[2] William Strunk, Jr. & E.B. White. The Elements of Style