The Beauty of Simplicity in Building a Life

“I do believe in simplicity. It is astonishing as well as sad, how many trivial affairs even the wisest thinks he must attend to in a day; how singular an affair he thinks he must omit. When the mathematician would solve a difficult problem, he first frees the equation of all incumbrances, and reduces it to its simplest terms. So simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary and the real. Probe the earth to see where your main roots run. ”
―Henry David Thoreau


When I was a kid one thing I love is buying new toys, I collect Star Wars Lego series, Bionicles, Spider Man, and other various Lego model existed in the early 2000. I love building houses, cars, even a city with my Lego blocks which my parents bought for me. Most of the time I follow the instruction manual and build the particular model it is supposed to be, but every once in a while I build anything that came to my mind with what I have in hands. Sometimes it wasn’t completed because I ran out of the same color blocks, or because I didn’t like what I’m building. I carry the same trait I had as a child in living my life today, eliminate what I don’t like to have in my life and use the material to build something I love. Unlike Lego, life doesn’t include a manual book and often times we have to find the right material ourselves in building what we want. We are the designer of our life, we are responsible for our life end goals, what shape we want to make, and the whole building process toward our end goals.

I understood the concept of life and how to live the way I wanted to live not a long time ago, I found wisdom and knowledge from many self improvement books I read in the past three years. I found out that we are not helpless and we don’t have to be passively waiting for good things to happen in life, we could make one if we concentrate our resources into its realization. So I did start analyzing every single aspect of my life, from health to financial condition. I broke it down to an attainable target for each year and do what I have to do every week in Kaizen way. Kaizen means “never ending improvement”, a philosophy from Japan and popularized by Toyota in manufacturing their car. In cultivating Kaizen we have to reflect on what gone right and wrong at particular period of time, analyze what cause it, and develop a plan to make it better next time we do it.

I want a life where I can feel alive everyday, doing what I’m passionate in, and contribute to the world in a meaningful way. I want to travel to each and every country on this world (196 of them) because I love seeing different culture, breath-taking landscape, tasting new food and spices. I want to be free to go wherever I want, live decently as a human, and helping people I met on the road as a doctor. So I did my preparation with the timeframe I set two years ago, yes it has been two years since I realized what I really want out of life is not merely a decent job to work until death, I realized I love the adventure of visiting new country every year. Two years ago I was pretty clueless about where I’m taking my life to, or what preparation I have to do, but today those blurred ink starts to thickened on the blank page of my life.

What I’m trying to pass on to you is the concept of shaping your life the way you want to live. The concept is simple an could be plainly stated this way:

  1. Know what do you want to do in the next 5 years that will contribute to the world in a meaningful way. Having a meaning in life is crucial to long term happiness, people who contribute in some way without being paid are more happy than the control group.
  2. Analyze the detail of where you want to live, when you want to achieve the goal, with whom you are going to be, and what daily activities would you love to do.
  3. Understand in depth about how you could achieve the life you have stated above. How much money do you need each month? How you could earn more than that amount of money? What are you good doing at that will support your financial? If you want to change citizenship, what is the process? How could you increase the chance of finding your significant others?
  4. What small things you could do everyday or every week that will contribute to the realization of your goals? Are you willing to take the risk and energy needed?

Such question needs time to be think of, because what we imagine as our perfect life might actually be boring. Going fishing once a week is fun, going fishing everyday could be a chore that’s not very stimulating. It’s a good idea to test your “dream life”, living your “dream life” for a full week to determine whether you like it or not. That’s all I’m going to talk about shaping life, so where does simplicity comes in?

Simplicity comes in the preparation of “dream life”, the beauty of simplicity is the less burden you have the faster you’ll move toward the goals. In my case, I want to travel the world which mean I have to move from place to place lugging my possession. Less stuff I have with me, more comfortable I will be in the road. The beauty of simplicity doesn’t stop there, it also work in home and life in general. If you have much stuff wandering in your house, it took longer to clean your house, it also took harder to find things you need, not to mention the risk of losing control of your own house. The same thing goes with life in general, for example when we are pre-occupied with tasks that is not important until we lost in chaos and forgetting the real important things in life, it might be family, time to do hobby, or going to church.

I started throwing away my useless stuff a year ago, first I put away thirty new-unopened loose-leaf binder, plenty of key chains, and six boxes of my childhood toys. The amount of goods I accumulated over the years surprised me, goods I have never use and probably will never use. I don’t need 100 pens to write, in fact now I only have three ballpoints with me, two Montblanc clipped on my shirt and a free-comfortable ballpoint in my work desk. The thirty loose-leaf I throw away? I spare one for myself and haven’t use it yet, perhaps I don’t need one. Remember my hobby of buying toys as a child? It used to fill 6 boxes and five levels of glass cabinet, I gave it all away to my 3 year old nephew and didn’t miss any of them. Perhaps the hardest thing to throw away was my books collection, but in the end I realized I could download the e-book version in case I want to read it again. Today I live only with the essentials, one DSLR-sized camera and two pocket camera (I used to have 3 DSLR and 4 pocket camera), one laptop (used to have four), and a wardrobe filled with gadget boxes, about 20 essential books, and a dry cabinet for camera.

Estimating the amount of stuff I had before and after the “simplification”, I would say I throw away 70% of my possession. Stuff I didn’t need, stuff I no longer need, stuff I don’t value anymore. Not everyone would suit this kind of lifestyle I have, but I could testify for myself that I felt much happier living in simplicity. I have more time to focus on the essentials to me, it took less time to clean my room, easier to find stuff I need, and most of them all sharing what I have to people who might need it.


About Journeyman

A global macro analyst with over four years experience in the financial market, the author began his career as an equity analyst before transitioning to macro research focusing on Emerging Markets at a well-known independent research firm. He read voraciously, spending most of his free time following The Economist magazine and reading topics on finance and self-improvement. When off duty, he works part-time for Getty Images, taking pictures from all over the globe. To date, he has over 1200 pictures over 35 countries being sold through the company.
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