Principle 8: Nature vs. Artifice



Stay close to who and what you really are.


Every tool invented by mankind is essentially an extension of man’s hand or mind.

  • A pneumatic hammer, which drives a nail into wood or masonry, is basically a claw hammer on steroids. The claw hammer itself is just a fancy rock. And a rock is what a primitive human used to bash things that he couldn’t bash with his hand.
  • A jet plane is a horse and wagon, crossed with a ship, only really fast. Any vehicle does exactly what the human body can do—travel distances over land or water—only faster, farther, and loaded with cargo.
  • A computer does exactly what the human mind can do: store and retrieve information, perform mathematical computations, and manipulate data, only more quickly, more accurately, and at greater volume. These days a computer also frequently takes the place of paper and pen, and can even replace a drawer full of art supplies.

So, simplicity means doing only what you can do with your bare hands, traveling only as far as your own feet will take you, and doing all mathematics and information management in your head.

Just kidding!!

Tools and technology improve our lot in life by protecting us from the elements, enabling us to procure and prepare better food, allowing us to prevent and treat diseases and injuries, and making it possible to do things beyond the tasks essential for sheer survival.[1]

Modern modes of travel are wonderful, allowing us to connect quickly with all points of the globe for purposes of commerce, education and cultural enrichment. On a more local level, technological transportation, such as automobiles and mass transit, increases a person’s employment options, allows greater autonomy and personal liberty, and makes available a wider range of goods and services. (Even a person who doesn’t own an automobile can get around by taxi, bus, or train.)

But too much reliance on tools and technology has negative effects on us:

  • Technological advances in high-speed transportation and communication have indeed shrunk the world and made it easier than ever to “connect” with other people. Nevertheless, modern men and women in technologically advanced countries typically report a prevalence of loneliness, psychological disorders, stress, and dissatisfaction with life.[2]
  • Despite advances in agriculture and the availability of more and more options for healthy food and more and more leisure time that could be used to stay active, modern men and women in technological societies are fat and unhealthy like never before in history.[3]
  • The stay-at-home mom may be one of the loneliest occupations in America. Where did everybody go?[4] They’re all at work, doing everything they can to earn enough money to pay for their numerous cars, their spacious homes, their cable or satellite TV subscription and the several flat screen plasma TVs to watch, their internet service providers, their handheld smart phones, tablet, laptop, and desktop computers, their ready-made, pre-packaged boxes, cans, bags, and jars of food.

The 8th and final principle of simplicity is about preserving at least some of the essentially human touches in our lives and keeping at least some things immediate and scaled to human proportions. Examples of this principle in action:

  • If the weather is nice and the distance is reasonable, walk.
  • Instead of listening to prerecorded music on an mp3 player, grab a guitar, some friends, and sit around a bonfire making music.
  • For entertainment, when was the last time you attended a live theatre production? Or got together with a bunch of people and played board games?
  • Do we really need to buy pre-packaged cheese and crackers? How hard is it to put a handful of crackers in one Ziploc bag, a few slices of cheese in another? Instead of buying chili powder for seasoning your taco meat, did you know that you can make your own from salt, pepper, cumin, paprika, and cayenne pepper?
  • Connect to living food by growing at least some of what you eat. Even an apartment dweller can enjoy fresh summer tomatoes from a container on the balcony or grown in a rented plot at the community center. If you have a sunny window you could grow fresh herbs year-round.[5]

A review of the previous Principles of Simplicity:

Principle 7: Collaboration

Principle 6: Vigilance

Principle 5: Empty Space

Principle 4: Freely Chosen Constraints

Principle 3: Pruning

Principle 2: Detachment

Principle 1: Needs versus Wants


[1] See Josef Pieper’s Leisure: The Basis of Culture for much more on this last subject. Men and women who do nothing but work degrade their humanity and actually begin to lose their cultural refinement.







Update to “How to live comfortably in a tiny little apartment”

Now I remember where I read all those statistics on house size and family size from my previous post: it was in Tsh Oxenreider’s book Organized Simplicity.[1] Here are the numbers:

In 1950 the average square footage of a new single-family home was 983.

In 2004 it was 2349 square feet.[2]

In 1950 the average family size was 3.67 persons.

In 2002 the average family size was 2.62 persons.[3]

This means that in 1950,  average-sized single-family home had 268 square feet per person.

By 2002 / 2004, the average single-family home had ballooned to 896 square feet per person—the amount of square footage that 50 years ago housed an entire family of 3 to 4 people.

[1] Organized Simplicity: The Clutter-Free Approach to Intentional Living2010 Betterway Home Books / F + W Media

[2] “Housing Facts, Figures and Trends for March 2006” National Association of Home Builders

[3] Here Oxenreider cites U.S. Census Bureau figures found in an article by Alex Wilson and Jessica Boehland “Small is Beautiful: U.S. House Size, Resource Use, and the Environment.” July 12, 2005. Currently available at

Principle 6: Vigilance

My Teetering Inbox

Pay attention to what is happening in your life. Maintain focus on what is truly important.

It was January 2009, and simple living had come off the rails:

Sunday, our day of rest (ha!) began with driving my 6th-grader to an 8:30 am volleyball practice, returning home to drive my teenagers to church to sing in the choir at 9:30, getting myself ready for church, driving to pick up my 6th-grader from volleyball so she could get ready for church, then going to church with her at 11:30. Somewhere in there the teenagers reappeared, having apparently wheedled a ride home, so at least I didn’t have to go back to church a third time: all those trips back and forth were giving me highway hypnosis, and it wasn’t even noon yet…

I was also working full time, trying to go to an early morning exercise class three times a week, one of my daughters was an altar server at church, I was spending my lunch hours trying to do the errands and other household business.

Every time I began one task, it was impossible to focus because I felt like I had a chorus of hooligans behind me shouting out all the items on my to-do list. For every task I said “yes” to I seemingly had several dozen equally important tasks I had to say “no” to.

…this maelstrom I found myself in proved that in modern America, you have to fight to keep things simple. “Stuff” is always creeping in, piling up on my desk and on my bedside table, adding itself mysteriously to my schedule and my to-do list, insinuating its way almost imperceptibly into my life and into my family, until a week like that comes along and slaps me awake.

If I may be permitted to paraphrase Wendell Phillips, the price of simplicity is, truly, eternal vigilance[1] because “entropy increases.”[2]

(To read the entire post, go here: “Simple Living in a Complicated World.”)

Emergencies and special circumstance arise and overwhelm us, and we must deal with them, but being chronically overwhelmed is not good for us. The key to dealing with incremental overload is vigilance. Other words and phrases for this concept include mindfulness, watchfulness, paying attention, attentiveness, intentionality, or, as Thoreau put it in Walden, living “deliberately.”

Without vigilance, you go through life on autopilot and eventually start to wonder what happened…

Behold my wonderful desk:

Behold the same desk about a week later:

Stuff creep!

To avoid creeping stuff and the unsightly, teetering, Dr. Suess-like piles of things all over your house, you could employ one or more of the numerous personal productivity systems out there, in print and on the internet, including:

Getting Things Done by David Allen. He recommends regular “reviews,” in which you take care of all loose ends daily, weekly, monthly, and so on.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Peopleby Stephen R. Covey. He suggests we categorize our various tasks into four quadrants: urgent & important; urgent & unimportant; non-urgent and unimportant; non-urgent and important.

Organized Simplicity by Tsh Oxenreider. She blogs at And no, I did not misspell her first name. It really is spelled “Tsh.” 🙂

 The Power of Lessby Leo Babauta. Leo is a minimalist. He suggests we make a “short list” of 5 essential things that we want to do daily or at least regularly. He also blogs at

Keep this in mind, though: any personal productivity system, by its very nature, buys into the myth that maximum “productivity” and “getting things done” are one of the highest and loftiest goals to which a person may aspire. Susan K. Rowland, in her book Make Room for God: Clearing Out the Clutterchallenges this modern truism:

I believe our Western (American) culture keeps us from developing spiritually…This is not surprising. We live in a fallen world. Our particular culture seems to worship the god of productivity. It is isolationist and consumerist. [We] believe a whole set of cultural tenets: Good people get a lot done. God expects us to work hard in this life. Everyone else is doing fine, and I am not if I can’t do what they are doing. These beliefs are actually part of our cultural “religion,” which many of us accept unquestioningly and unconsciously. They are not true…

When dutifully doing things becomes the focus of our lives, we will never fulfill [our] true purpose or our deepest longings. We will never come to the end of our to-do lists. The world will never excuse us from one task or duty. We will never get to the really important things in life unless we intentionally carve out time for them.

Our essential selves, our purpose in life, our relationships…have too long been put aside and belittled by this culture that worships accomplishment.

So here’s the question: what’s at the top of your to-do list?

[1] “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.” Wendell Phillips (1811-1884) American abolitionist, orator, and writer. A contemporary of Henry David Thoreau.

[2] The Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Too much information, too little thought

sunrise in the garden at Little Portion Monastery, Arkansas

In any case, silence and stillness are not enough for us. They might be for a little while, as an immediate escape from the din and demands of daily life. But they are means to an end rather than ends in themselves.

The search engine has an almost godlike power to deliver the information we want. But even amid the swirling tides of information on the internet many people find the ultimate questions of life confronting them: “Who am I? What can I know? What ought I to do? What may I hope?” These point to the desire for truth…

I’m “reblogging” today. The above quote is from Carolyn Moynihan, writing on MercatorNet, Friday May 18, 2012: “Too much information, too little thought.”

Which principles of simplicity does the article illustrate?