When Simplicity Doesn’t Come Naturally

We have so much. We have education, food, shelter, knowledge, technology, opportunities, abilities and talents. But still, for reasons carved deep into the walls of our hearts, we want more, better, faster. We glorify a chronic breakneck pace, always moving forward, always upgrading, adding and amassing. But what if, even for just a few days, we addressed the perfectionism that produces these ugly feelings? What if we took a good look at the burning holes in our hearts, to see what they are really shaped like?

Is the hole we’re filling really shaped like a new dress or a new pair of shoes? I don’t know about you, but I had a baby-shaped hole in my heart for a long time. I tried to fill it with dark-wash skinny jeans, knickknacks, and more stuff from Target. I remodeled our entire kitchen trying to take my mind off it. White subway tile didn’t get me very far. Do you know where it did get me? To a sad place where all I wanted was all I’d never have.

Contentment plays an enormous role in our ability to simplify… Imagine what life would look like if we were truly content with just the objects that we own. Sit on that for a minute. All you have now is all you’ll have. That thought makes the kitchen table I’ve been wanting to replace look pretty good…

Our lives could use more white space… When we rid ourselves of excess we make room for God.

Emily Ley, Grace Not Perfection

I’m a visual person. It means I appreciate aesthetics in addition to function.

It means I notice details other people might overlook.

In my days as a filmmaker, this was a very good thing.

But in life, it can sometimes be overwhelmingly frustrating.

Even though I wholeheartedly believe in simplicity, sometimes I want to replace things in my home for no reason other than I saw one that is more my style.

What is “my style” anyway? Isn’t it always changing and being influenced by what’s popular?

Sometimes I rock at simplicity and minimalism.

For instance, I don’t find it difficult to resist high-tech gadgets and new technology.

I’m not tempted by expensive cosmetics and perfumes like some women…actually, they give me a headache.

But it is difficult at times to balance being both a frugal minimalist and a highly visual person. It is especially challenging when I have a vision for something and I have to put that vision to rest for a while.

It means I have to be creative with what I have and compromise a lot.

Like, a lot.

The Beauty of Balance

It isn’t always easy being frugal. Sometimes I have a very bad attitude about it.

Sometimes I just want to buy myself some nice underwear or a new plant. Without having to justify it or feel guilt about it.

You can’t live your whole life on a shopping ban.

It isn’t necessarily healthy to over-analyze every $6 purchase, guys.

Because, while frugality and simplicity are important to me, balance is even more important.

But balance isn’t glamorous. Balance doesn’t go viral or get on the bestseller lists. Not like excess and extremes.

But extremes aren’t sustainable over time. Balance gives our goals longevity.

Sometimes when I want to throw in the towel, it just means I was going at it too hard.

The solution isn’t to give up but to find the balance that’s sustainable and life-giving.

The Beauty of Waiting

Josh, who appreciates only function and utility, doesn’t relate to my dilemma. He does, however, encourage me. He reminds me that I can buy those things. But is it really worth what I’m giving up?

Why replace a light fixture that isn’t broken when our refugee friend can’t pay her rent?

It isn’t that new light fixtures are bad. It’s that they can wait. It isn’t worth passing up an opportunity to help someone who needs it now.

I’m learning how to wait.

Wait to see if my desires for material things go away. (They often do.)

Wait to see if there’s a better use for the money. (Helping refugees definitely counts.)

Wait for the thing to break and actually need replacing. (With kids, it’s only just a matter of time anyway!)

Think about it this way – the first homes were invented because humans needed shelter from the elements. Somewhere along the way we’ve turned them into perfectly-curated, “Instagrammable,” climate controlled showrooms.

Couches, TV, Internet, stylish decor, and 72-degrees year-round. We’ve traded survival for comfort. We’ve traded what was meant to be a safe place and turned it into a ruler by which to measure our success and our happiness.

Do you think maybe, just maybe, we overdid it?

What if we could all take a deep breath, loosen our grip on those fleeting dreams of perfection, and find the balance? The happy medium?

The Beauty of Compromise

I’ve found some ways to compromise my desire to beautify my surroundings and my life. For instance, I’ll ask myself: What one thing will make the biggest impact here?

Is there one thing that will bring me joy every time I see it, and change how I feel about the things that I can’t change yet?

Maybe it’s a fresh coat of paint, but waiting several years to upgrade the furniture.

Maybe it’s new shades on top of existing lamps.

And you’d be amazed at all the hidden treasures I’ve found in my garage and basement and re-purposed into furniture or decor!

Minimal rule: Treat special things like they are special. Don’t leave them in boxes covered in cobwebs. Either get rid of them or showcase them.

Frugal rule: Treat normal things like they are special too. Dust off those cobwebs and give that “vintage” cabinet or shelf or desk a place of honor in your home. You’ll save money and people will think you have great tastes.

Because if you’re truly a minimalist, the normal things are special. Clearly they mean something to you, or you would have gotten rid of them already. Your possessions have more of a history.

In some ways, materialism is actually the opposite of overconsumption. Wrap your brain around that.

We want our things to last so we aren’t buying as many.

We don’t follow all the trends because we know how impossible it is to keep up.

We know it’s about our things serving us and not the other way around.

The Beauty of Simple Pleasures

As I was struggling this week with a bad attitude and the discontent, non-frugal urge to buy all the things, I decided to make these lists.

Things that bring me crazy amounts of joy:

  • White walls / simple decor
  • Houseplants!
  • Coffee and tea
  • Working out
  • Bike club!
  • Singing loudly
  • Exploring nature with the kids
  • Sunshine
  • The pool
  • Real conversations
  • Dancing crazy to worship music

You know what doesn’t bring me joy?

  • Endlessly browsing and “window shopping” online
  • Comparing myself to Internet celebrities
  • Lusting after the latest trends
  • Obsessing over the next update
  • Focusing on what is “wrong” with my body, home, wardrobe, etc.

When I look at these lists, I notice two things:

The stuff that brings me the most joy isn’t stuff.

None of the things that bring me joy are expensive. Most of them cost nothing.

How ironic is it that we spend so much of our time, money, and energy looking for joy that can be found for free in the simplest of things?

Yes, even though I write about this stuff regularly, I needed to be reminded of that this week.

Sometimes we all struggle.

Sometimes we need to be reminded why we’re minimalists in the first place.

Sometimes it takes everything in us to resist another trip to IKEA and go for a walk in nature instead.


What about you? What parts of simplicity come naturally to you and what parts do you struggle with? Is there a correlation between the true desires of your heart and your spending habits? How can we encourage one another to stay the path in our moments of weakness, without being judgmental or insensitive?


Photography by Tim Wright


Add yours →

  1. Great post today!
    I am not tempted either by cosmetics & fancy perfumes, for the same reason you aren’t (headache).
    I have been thinking alot about this topic recently…a sometimes problem for me is to read a blog or view instagram & someone is talking about clothes & how she has this great whatever it is & right away I feel like perhaps I need one too!!!

  2. Great post, thank you for keeping it real, for me its boredom, I like change. I just get sick of looking at the same whatever day in, day out. Sometimes a long walk and counting my blessings fixes the problem. Sometimes a $1 thrift store vase does the trick or using something I already have in a new way. But ultimately I don’t want to be owned by stuff and I am learning to live with simplicity. Grace and Peace.

  3. Emily, I absolutely adore your blog and everything you write! Please don’t ever stop. I find myself returning to your posts again and again for encouragement. We would SO be real life friends if we lived close…but alas my hubby and I and our kids are missionaries in Uganda. 🙂
    Blessings upon blessings to you,

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