The Essentials of Simplicity, Part 1: Using All You Have

Today marks the first of a three-part series I'm calling The Essentials of Simplicity. Over the next couple weeks I will publish the remaining parts. Each article will focus on an idea of simplicity that I think is vital to living a simpler life. If you have a handle on these five principles, simplifying your life will go much smoother and easier.

The first Essential of Simplicity is using all you have. Sounds pretty simple and probably trite, right? I agree, it is. Before you completely dismiss me as grasping at straws, take a second to go to your bathroom and look under the sink. Or in a drawer. Do you have any duplicates of the materials in there? Are they both opened and half used? What about in your office? How many pens are you currently using on a daily basis? How many notebooks are currently in some phase of completion?


I think the ability to use something all the way to completion is a key skill in simplifying life. I realized this principle a couple years ago when I was averaging a lost chapstick every week or so. I could never keep track of it for any longer than that and was consequently having to buy new ones constantly (chapstick is required in winter in Bowling Green!). I would always seem to find all my lost chapsticks at the same time so I would alternate between not having any to suddenly having four or five partially used ones. I finally realized that it was ridiculous that I couldn't keep track of something so trivial, so I decided I would not buy another chapstick until I completely used one up. Amazingly, I didn't lose my solitary chapstick. In fact, I had to become much more mindful of where I put it after I used it because I knew that if I didn't finish it completely, I was going to have to go without. Sometime in my sophomore year of college I completely finished my first chapstick. Think about it, have you ever kept track of one of these long enough to actually use it until there is nothing left in it? It's a surprisingly good feeling. An added bonus is that you will have to increase your mindfulness to keep track of one of anything. You can't just mindlessly throw that chapstick somewhere and expect to find it later. Your actions and thoughts have to become more deliberate.


Another area I decided to apply this principle was with my office supplies. I used to be very cavalier with losing pens and pencils because I seemed to always have a huge reserve of back up utensils. However, I realized that it was pretty lame that I couldn't keep track of a pen long enough to even think about having to replace it because it was empty. So, I decided to pack up all my pens and pencils, except for one of each, and put them somewhere inconvenient. I would now have to keep track of my one pencil and my one pen until I used them up all the way. If I lost one, I'd have to go break into my very inconveniently located reserves.

Think about all the consumables in your life that you have duplicates of. Do you really need to have more than one "in action" at any time? I would recommend starting with your bathroom and them moving into the kitchen (check out that pantry!) and your office. All three of these places seem to breed identical, partially used, duplicates.

I realize that this is an incredibly simple idea. However, if you've never tried implementing it you might be surprised at the difficulty of doing so. Use what you have, one at a time, until it's gone. And then use another one, one at a time, until it's gone. The added mindfulness and the reduction in waste will be a surprisingly liberating feeling.