The Challenge of Simplicity

Simplicity is hard. It requires diligence and a lot of intentional effort, but clutter and complication has a funny way of sneaking up on you.

As a designer, I constantly look for ways to weed out the unnecessary and the distracting. Non-data pixels don't belong on a dashboard, so I fight to remove them. Visual embellishments should always serve a higher purpose, not my ego. The composition/page/application needs to be viewed as a whole and not just a collection of parts - if a piece is broken, then the whole probably is too.

As a coder, I embrace the need for clarity in everything thing I write. If a block of code isn't used, it's removed. If functionality is repeated, then the code is refactored. If the code isn't clear in its intention and use, then it gets worked out until any other developer can understand it.

Whenever I write an email or speak in a meeting, I try to be mindful of how I shape my environment. Words are lasting things of power. They contribute to a mood and their affects stick around long after the words have been forgotten.

I solve these problems and I think about these things nearly every day. So then, how is it I let myself accumulate clutter, distractions and frustrations in my personal life? How does bullshit get so sneaky?

Even after a recent purge, I've got a shelf full of books that I've haven't otherwise look at in years. I'll never open them again and I've known this since I put them on the shelf in the first place. Why did I put them on the shelf? Sentimentality? Pride? No, I did it because the shelf was empty. There was space and I felt compelled to fill it.

I've got this cup full of like 30 pens. I don't remember the last time I used more than one of them, so what's up with the other 29? Am I some kind of hoarder in the making? Are pens a gateway to collecting toenails?

My wife doesn't really ask a lot of me. I'm a lucky man. She doesn't nag me and tries really hard to like what I like, while tolerating the rest. So when she asked - nay, begged me to stop shaving my head last year, I did. I hated it, but I not only grew my hair out, I even paid people to cut it for me on occassion.

Let me tell you, there's nothing more confusing to a hair stylist asking what you want than to say, "I don't care." I don't know if it was an act of defiance or just stupidity, but I couldn't have been more indifferent about what they did to my hair. Maybe I was daring them to give me a reason to cut it off, I don't know.

There I was today with my greasy-ass hair, staring at a full bookshelf and my unplanned collection of crappy pens. I'm not sure why, but something about these three little things just pushed a button and I decided that I had had enough. Simplicity and clarity don't come easily, and they don't come for the complacent. This was a day of reckoning and purge.

Now there's a bag of hair and pens in the alley and a pile of books at the door I'll be taking into the office tomorrow. (Maybe I should bring the hair, too. You never know…)

For what it's worth, I've apologized to my wife but I think I'll be on high-alert for sneaky bullshit and I'm eyeballing that drawer of t-shirts next.