from Seth Godin’s blog: “The Simple Power of One A Day”

Seth Godin does it again in this short article, “The Simple Power of One A Day:”

There are at least 200 working days a year. If you commit to doing a simple marketing item just once each day, at the end of the year you’ve built a mountain. Here are some things you might try (don’t do them all, just one of these once a day would change things for you):

  • Send a handwritten and personal thank you note to a customer
  • Write a blog post about how someone is using your product or service
  • Research and post a short article about how something in your industry works
  • Introduce one colleague to another in a significant way that benefits both of them
  • Read the first three chapters of a business or other how-to book
  • Record a video that teaches your customers how to do something
  • Teach at least one of your employees a new skill
  • Go for a ten minute walk and come back with at least five written ideas on how to improve what you offer the world
  • Change something on your website and record how it changes interactions
  • Help a non-profit in a signficant way (make a fundraising call, do outreach)
  • Write or substiantially edit a Wikipedia article
  • Find out something you didn’t know about one of your employees or customers or co-workers

Enough molehills is all you need to have a mountain.

He’s speaking of business and marketing, but the concept applies to any endeavor in life:

Are you working on a writing project? Write just one page a day (250 words or so) and in 200 working days you’ll have a 200 page manuscript.

Are you trying to declutter your home of extra gunk? Discard just one thing a day and in 200 working days you’ll have 200 fewer needless items.

Are you trying to save money for a small purchase? Set aside just one dollar a day and in 200 days you’ll have $200 to spend.

You get the idea.

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” And it ends when you add all those millions of single steps together.

 

Principle 7: Collaboration

Balance prudent self-reliance with healthy, interdependent relationships.

Some time ago, I came across a book called The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-first Century[1](written by two psychiatrists). A quote from the book:

“Being neighborly used to mean visiting people. Now being nice to your neighbor means not bothering them.”

I think this anti-social attitude has infected much of the technologically advanced world, not just America. We leave people alone because we think that’s what they want, yet loneliness has become a hallmark complaint of modern men and women. We dare not show our faces on our neighbors’ front porches…

…yet we scrawl updates on the walls of their facebook pages, we tweet until our smart phones are hoarse, we forward emails to all our contacts. It’s paradoxical. We have an explosion of online social networks, endless opportunities to “connect,” but how many of us scroll through our computer screens, feverishly hitting the delete button, just looking for something—anything—from someone we actually know or that we actually want to spend time reading?[2]

It’s good lift up our eyes, away from our screens, and be really physically present to other human beings.

illustration from the front cover of O Come Ye Back to Ireland, painted by Christine Breen

Susan K. Rowland, in her book Make Room for God, discusses at length Sarah Lanier’s[3] comparison of “hot-climate” and “cold-climate” cultures:

“Hot-climate cultures are communal, group-oriented, inclusive and spontaneous. Cold-climate cultures are more individualistic, privacy-oriented and interested in structure and productivity.”

My parents grew up in England—which has elements of both hot- and cold-climate cultures—but cultures definitely collided when she encountered the true hot-climate culture of southern California in the 1960s. She and my dad had just moved to America with their infant daughter (me). After several months of dealing with the apparently certifiably insane population of La Mesa on the odd side of town, they moved into a new place. My mom, expecting the worst, battened down the hatches, unwilling to interact with more of these crazy Americans.

To no avail: one morning there was a knock on the sliding door of the kitchen. In walked her new neighbors with freshly baked goods and coffee. Long story short—these two or three families spent the next five years raising their small children together, and even though they now live across the continent from one another, they are friends to this day.

What does any of this have to do with simplicity?

Living and working in close proximity to other people, and building intentional community with them, simplifies things because you can pool resources of time and energy, tools and materials, emotional strength and physical skills.

“Many hands make light work.” (John Heywood, 1546)

Cocooning with just our nuclear family on the back deck while the front porch remains unused isolates and limits us. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel—you can ask your neighbor if you can borrow his wheel. And, even though we are sturdy, self-reliant Americans, we don’t have to do everything alone in this increasingly cold-climate culture:

  • The Amish and other “plain living” subcultures excel at the principle of collaboration, with their barn-raisings and other community activities.[4] [5]
  • Busy yuppies Niall Williams and Christine Breen experience the beauty of community and collaboration when they move from Manhattan to rural Ireland and work side-by-side with their neighbors on their farm.[6]
  • In The Way (2010, Directed by Emilio Estevez), a man grieves the death of his son, and also honors his son’s memory, by walking the historic “el camino de Santiago” (“the way of St. James) in France and Spain. On the journey he discovers the beauty of community and collaboration.

I’ll finish with a little anecdote from my own neighborhood. A friend who lives nearby was over at my house putting the finishing touches on some electrical work he had very kindly done for me.

As he was leaving, he said, “I think I’ll take my ladder home with me today, because I’ll need it for a project I have to do at my house.”

“Okay,” I said.

Then, after a moment’s thought, I said, “I think that ladder might be mine.”

“Hm,” he said, furrowing his brow. “Are you sure?”

We went to look at the ladder. It had been back and forth between his house and my house so often in recent months that neither of us could remember whose ladder it actually was!

He took it and used it for whatever it was he was working on, and I think it’s in my garage at the moment.

“Any culture emphasizing productivity cannot allow us to spend much time socializing.” (Susan K. Rowland Make Room for God)


[1] The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-first Century by Jacqueline Olds and Richard S. Schwartz (2009).

[2] Social Clear Cutting: Can Our Social Media Behaviors Destroy Our Social Environment?” This is a very good post by author Kristen Lamb. She writes passionately about the need to forge real connections with other people. Her target audience is other authors attempting to construct social platforms to promote their creative work, but her articles and books (We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer) still speak to anyone disillusioned by online social media and searching for rewarding interactions online.

[3] Foreign to Familiar: A Guide to Understanding Hot- and Cold-Climate Cultures by Sarah Lanier (2000)

[4] Plain and Simple: A Woman’s Journey to the Amish by Sue Bender (1989)

[6] O Come Ye Back to Ireland by Niall Williams and Christine Breen (1987)

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 GreenBiz.com

Principle 1: Needs vs. Wants

Principle 1: Needs vs. Wants

Make a sharp distinction between true needs and mere wants, because there are consequences for excessive indulgence of wants.

If you’re just getting started with simplicity, this is the easiest principle to understand.

Simplicity implies distancing yourself from the consumerism and materialism of the modern industrialized and technological world, a world where making money and accumulating possessions is equated with “the good life.”

All of us experience firsthand the sad effects of…blind submission to pure consumerism: in the first place, a crass materialism, and at the same time, a radical dissatisfaction, because one quickly learns…that the more one possesses the more one wants, while deeper aspirations remain unsatisfied and perhaps even stifled.[1]

A wise friend succinctly paraphrased the quote above: “Consumerism leaves the consumer empty.”

The principle of Needs vs. Wants applies not only to the choices we make as consumers (how to spend our money) but to the choices we make regarding the use of our other personal resources:

  • how to spend our time
  • how to spend (and expend) our energy
  • what to pay attention to
  • how to arrange our living space
  • how to use our gifts

Questions for reflection:

Am I considering a purchase right now? Is the item I’m thinking of buying a need or a want?

One of the consequences of consumerism is a paradoxical sense of emptiness. What are other consequences of excessively indulging our wants?

List the things in which you currently invest your resources of time, money, energy, and living space. Which are needs? Which are wants? Which are extravagances or selfish indulgences?

Take action:

Can you bring yourself to eliminate—right now—anything on the list that is an extravagance or selfish indulgence? Can you eliminate any wants?


[1] Pope John Paul II, On Social Concern (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis), December 30, 1987, no. 28

Simple Living In A Complicated World

For many years now, I’ve been striving to live a more simple life. I’ve made conscious, deliberate choices to eliminate excess and live a more streamlined, efficient, peaceful life, free of clutter, chaos, and confusion.

Now, let me tell you what my so-called “simple life” is really like. 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.

Monday I got up at 5:30 am to go to a 6 am exercise class. Came home and got ready for work. Went to work all day until 6. Came home and was preparing to hurry the kids out the door for an evening of errands and dinner on the run when a friend called and begged me to play guitar for a church holy hour service later in the week because the other guitarist couldn’t make it and by the way the rehearsal is tonight and it starts in an hour. Sigh. So much for my errands. The store I had to go to would be closed by the time the rehearsal ended.

I knew I would have to put off my errands until Wednesday because on Tuesdays I also work until 6 and then have a prayer meeting at 7 that is supposed to end at 9 but always goes until 10 or 11. So Tuesday was a wash.

Wednesday I was too tired to get up for the 6 am exercise class, but I did manage to get to work on time, sort of. During my lunch hour, I ran the errand I had planned on doing Monday night: pick up my computer from the repair shop. Then I went back to work for the rest of my shift, returned home, fired up the computer, and discovered two emails of doom: the first telling me that my daughter was supposed to have been serving the 6:15 am Mass this whole week, and the second telling me that an article assignment was due yesterday. Couldn’t work on it right away though, because my daughter had volleyball practice again and my other daughter needed a ride to her friend’s house so she could get a ride from there to the thing she was going to…

The next day — Thursday — I dedicated my lunch hour, in the middle of another shift that ends at 6 pm, to yet more errands. After which I picked up my daughter from basketball practice, and then came home too frazzled to do anything but retire to the couch with a bag of M&Ms and a stack of Star Trek DVDs, even though we were no doubt out of milk or some other essential, and I had a stack of real mail to go through and several screens of new email to process and a car that needed gas and a driveway covered in snow and a bunch of school papers to look at, permission slips to sign and yet another field trip to pay for and a thousand other things on my to-do list hammering away at my psyche.

At the time, I consoled myself with the reminder that this was just a temporary anomaly: my daughter isn’t usually in two sports at once, writing deadlines will not always coincide with computer breakdowns, and once this cold snap was over the big kids could walk to church on Sunday if necessary.

Nevertheless, 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]

But what is simplicity, really, and why should we be concerned to seek and maintain it in our lives? Most people freely admit that they long for a simpler life. But how is it even possible in such a complicated world?

The purpose of striving for a simple life varies with each individual, but I believe the most universal reason is:

  • We would prefer to conserve our most precious personal resources—time, energy, attention, and others—in a way that allows us to direct those resources toward things that are truly important, such as personal growth, important relationships, worship of God, service to our neighbor, and activities that give joy and meaning to our lives—rather than frittering them away on endless trivial errands, the minutiae of daily life, and the “tyranny of the urgent.” [3]

The hectic pace and materialistic focus of modern life in the technologically advanced regions of the world leads to dissipation of our energies and focus, and as a result, our “deeper aspirations remain unsatisfied and perhaps even stifled.” [4]

If you’re looking for some calm in your life and need some practical ways to nurture those “deeper aspirations”—such as “…purity of soul, the life of the mind, the cohesion of the family, [and] the good of society.” [5] —I invite you to explore this website. I hope you find it helpful!


[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

[3] Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) said, “Our lives are frittered away by detail…Simplify, simplify!”

[4] Pope John Paul II, On Social Concern (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis) December 30, 1987, no. 28

[5] David Shi, The Simple Life: Plain Living and High Thinking in American Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), p 3-4