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November 5, 2011

The Business of Simplicity

It was probably 15 years ago or more, when my kids were still home and toddling around, that I first heard about the concept of simplifying your life.   I was in New York City for an escape weekend with my Aunt, and we were browsing the boutiques of SoHo. There, in an eclectic shop filled with books, stationery and accessories for self and home, I found a little book that somehow was calling out to me, Living the Simple Life: A Guide to Scaling Down and Enjoying More.

I can remember how I was drawn to the very simple design of the book with its square shape, silver cover with very simple lettering.  It was flanked on either side by two other books of similar design and concept by the same author, Elaine St. James -- but this one just spoke to me.  I was a young mother, overwhelmed by life, so caught up in the day to day, that I wasn't fully appreciating my blessings.

I remember thumbing through the book, putting it down on the rustic pine table, browsing around the store looking at funky scarves, stationery, and cocktail napkins -- and then going back and picking it up again.  I didn't want to leave without it, but I also didn't want to add another $10 to the sum of books I'd already purchased that I thought would change my life.  So the browsing courtship with the book continued for another 10-15 minutes, until finally my Aunt let me know she was continuing on to the next store.

Elaine St. James finally won me over, and my sole purchase for that escape weekend to The Big Apple was the book that, in many ways, changed my life.  I couldn't embrace all of the concepts that Ms. St. James introduced, but she helped me re-frame my thinking to cut through the clutter (not just material but emotional as well) so that I could more fully enjoy my day to day living.  Til this day I know it was $10 very well spent.

So -- why in the world did this memory of some 15 years ago come to me today and inspire me to write about it?  Well, since reading that book, most magazine articles, emails, or books that talk about "simplifying" get my attention.  Sadly, very few "solutions" are really what I would really consider simplifying -- they're just costly gadgets and gizmos that (in my opinion) give you one more thing to think about, instead of one less.   

Today's offender comes from the magazine whose name boasts simplicity -- and this section of their website that claims their "mission...has been to make your life easier with smart finds like these."   I'm not dissing the item , and truth be told, I enjoy the magazine -- I'm just commenting on the real value of these items from a simplicity perspective.

Real Simple suggests,  "Travel Shoe Bags - After traipsing around town, don’t just throw your shoes in your suitcase. Slip them in these lightweight packing cubes to keep dirt and odors separate from clean clothes." *

I say, "Really? Now on top of remembering shoes I have to remember a bag to put them in? Can't I just put my dirty laundry in the plastic bag the hotel provides and be done with it?"

They suggest,"Tea Bag Buddy - This handy silicone lid, which has grooves to prevent the tea bag from falling into the cup, not only keeps your brew covered while it steeps, but its deep well also acts as a convenient way to hold the used tea bag." *

I say, "How about using a spoon and putting the tea bag right in the trash?  Who wants to look at a dried up old tea bag anyway?  Plus, the odd shape of this little gem is a storage challenge.  KISS theory applies."

They suggest,  "Collapsible Lunch Box - This innovative food carrier is large enough to bring leftovers for lunch, but also folds down to hold a snack-sized portion as well. When you’re done, flatten the container and toss it into your bag."*

I say, "We have a winner!  I like this one enough that I will tell you that Real Simple says you can find it at for $30.  I found the a similar one at for $23."

They say, "Pop-N-Go Scarf - Unpredictable weather can spoil your salon-perfect hairstyle. Keep this water-repellant scarf in your purse at all times and you’ll keep locks frizz-free." *

I say, "If you've really embraced the idea of living simply, you probably don't have a 'salon-perfect hairstyle.' that you are terribly worried about."

They suggest, "Bobble Brush - When was the last time you really washed that water bottle sitting on your desk? Give those containers a deep clean with this flexible brush designed to fit in and around the hard-to-reach curves on narrow containers."*
I say, "Huh? I love the notion that you have a refillable drinking vessel, but most that I've seen don't require a special brush.  Just saying..."

I don't know, maybe I'm crazy and I took Elaine St. James approach to simplicity a little too far, but sometimes I can't help but wonder if the business of simplicity has gone a little to far.

*Note:  All credit for the retail finds and product descriptives, attributed to Real Simple magazine -- which I really do enjoy, but sometimes I have to laugh at.   

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