The Beauty of Simplicity

Have you ever encountered something so complicated you’re not sure how to use it?

A few years ago I went to a hospital. It had these big shiny glass doors. Beautiful to look at. The problem? No one was quite sure whether to push or pull. So myself and several other explorers began an epic journey to discover “where the hell is the handle?” There was even a queue. An outpatient entry became a daytime nightclub. “Not tonight lads, too many of you and that girl at the back looks like she’s had too much.” Eventually we found the handle…which was hidden. Why wouldn’t you hide a handle? Particularly when most people entering hospitals are sick or elderly. When we got inside, we shared a nod…we had survived. I learned a lot that day. Not just that the NHS had been monumentally ripped off by the world’s worst designer. But more so about the importance of simplicity.

The general concept when it comes to design is that simplicity is key. Take a look at your I-Phone. Even if it annoys you from time to time, you know that you could pick it up and do 90% of the things you need to, without instructions. A door should also NOT require a ‘push’ or ‘pull’ sign. When you put vanity before practicality the end result is chaos.

In a similar fashion, we all try to overly complicate our own lives by choice. We try overly complicated diets that require several books and a DVD boxset to enact. We give ourselves 30 different passwords for the 30 different websites we shop on, then forget them cyclically and have to reset them with 30 new ones. We buy stuff without any real intention of using it. I’m thinking about those 4 paperbacks you own where you never got past the first chapter…but you’ll get round to it(!??) Or what about that prom dress you’re hanging on to ‘for the memories’? We zig zag in and out of dates and relationships because heck isn’t it just complicated making decisions about what we want? That ‘to do list’ and ‘bucket list’ get longer every year but we’ll “get around to it.” We watch TV shows we don’t even like because “there’s nothing on.”

There’s a great Zen saying – “Let go or be dragged”

It refers to becoming overly attached to things and outcomes. I don’t think it’s bad to become attached to outcomes or things – so long as they’re important. So long as they matter. When you become a bit like the badly designed door – having fancy handles for no reason, you’re giving away your ability to be practical. Because if you focus on the essential. The practical aspects of life. It might not always be entertaining or glamorous. But you’re not complicating things. Simplicity is focusing on what really matters. Doing the things you enjoy. Buying the things you need and actually want, rather than the crap you don’t. It’s spending time with the people that make you happy. Not spending time with people you don’t really like just for the sake of appearing ‘popular’ or outgoing. If you complicate things by indulging in the unnecessary, well…if you don’t let go…you’ll be dragged.

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