10 Steps toward Simplicity


simplicityIf you’re looking for a simplicity guru, I am not your girl. I’m actually the girl who has spent most of her life trying to make things as complicated as possible. Really.

In the year before I began my simplicity project, I juggled a demanding full-time job, a blended family, and a health condition requiring monthly visits to a specialist in Vancouver (a two-hour ferry ride away). I began two big new writing projects and participated in an online writers’ group. I took golf lessons, a semester-long photography course, and an intensive writing workshop. I had surgery and I published my book, An Alphabet of Men: Dating My Way from Adam to Zak (a book about the  year when I took complication to dizzying new heights).

As you can see, simplicity hasn’t really been my thing.

But after a difficult surgery, and a longer-than-anticipated recovery, I realized that maybe things had become a teeny bit out of hand.

Okay, maybe I realized that I was exhausted and strung out, and that I wasn’t going to get better if I kept up this frantic pace in my life.

And so my Year of Simplicity began. Here are 10 small steps I’ve taken in the first three months of my journey:

1. Find inspiration

I started by reading Courtney Carver’s Soulful Simplicity, and Shauna Niequist’s Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living. Their stories provided me with the insight and the inspiration to begin. They also reminded me that embracing simplicity takes time, critical information for somebody who would most certainly have set out to declutter her entire house in a single weekend.

2. Identify the longing

My Year of Simplicity began as a deep longing for things to be different, and before I began, I had to get to the heart of what simplicity looked like for me. I knew I was ready to give up on crazy, super-busy, frantic distraction. That was pretty clear. But I needed to know exactly what I was hoping to feel instead: calm, centered, and grounded.

3. Create a Yes and No list

So what was I saying yes to? Rest. Journalling. Calm. I was saying yes to space, stillness and silence. Yes to paring down, to knowing I was enough and had enough. I was saying yes to breath and trust and freedom.

And no? I was saying no to busyness, distraction and over-commitment. No to clutter and people pleasing and striving. No to controlling everything in my life.

It’s good, it turns out, to be really clear about these things.

4. Keep reminders at hand

The home screen on my phone is a photo that embodies simple living for me. The first pages of the journal I write in every morning have reminders about why I’m embracing simplicity. You’ll find my Yes and No list there, and a simple graphic surrounded by all the words that describe my version of simplicity.

5. Say no

This seems so simple, but remember, simplicity hasn’t really been my thing. I’m a lifelong “yes girl.” If there’s an invitation, an opportunity, the possibility of an adventure, I’m all in. “No” is hard for me. But I’m learning, and my late-November surgery helped. I had to turn down every single Christmas invitation (and, sadly, all the middle school band concerts) on the calendar. Rather than feeling like I was missing out, I felt liberated, loving the slower pace of that particular Christmas season. It’s made it easier to say no since.


6. Let go of being a workplace star

This is a recurring challenge for me. Not only am I a lifelong yes girl, I’m also far more concerned than I should be about what other people think of me. I know it’s none of my business. But saying no at work has meant having to let go of my super-competent workplace armour.

This is not comfortable at all for me.

What if someone thinks I’m not working hard enough? What if someone thinks I’m lazy? What if someone – heaven forbid! – doubts my capability?  In my journey toward greater simplicity, this continues to be one of my biggest struggles. But what I’m also learning is that I can’t do as much as I once thought I could. And in the end, I’d rather do fewer things well, even at the risk of losing star status.

7. Do one thing at a time

You can imagine how somebody like me might do with a step like this. Yes. Definitely another big challenge. I started by clearing the pile of 5 or 6 books on my bedside table, committing to read one book at a time. At first I felt twitchy and kept reaching for my Kindle, with its library of hundreds of books. But I’m gradually rediscovering the pleasure of fully immersing myself in the pleasure of a single book. And the biggest surprise is that I’m reading more. The challenge, of course, is to apply the “one thing” approach to other parts of my life.

8. Unsubscribe

This has been an easy and hugely liberating step for me. In my quest to live a healthier, greener, more creative, simpler, more soul-satisfying, more productive life (!!), I had ended up on a shocking number of subscriber lists. And while I could rely on weekly tips for making my website more effective and for preparing delicious green smoothies, all those emails were taking an enormous toll on my psychic energy. One of the beautiful things about unsubscribing is that I have a much greater sense that I am enough. Even without the smoothie recipe.

9. Rest

Another great gift of my surgery was that I realized how exhausted I was. These days, sleep is a priority, and I’m a complete convert to yoga nidra, a form of rest meditation that is transformative.

10. Check in

Every few weeks, I check in during Morning Pages. Three months in, I am calm, centered, and clear about my purpose. But I can see that I’ll need to be vigilant, or I’ll easily backslide into complication and distraction. It isn’t easy to change the habits of a lifetime.







Learning Again to Play

When I let go of perfectionism and my need for control, there’s room, I’m learning, for play.




I love to play, but I’m not always very good at it. My default tends to be focussed and somewhat driven. It’s easy for me to forget how to be playful. But when I let go of perfectionism and my need for control, there’s room, I’m learning, for play.

This week our photography homework has been to experiment with shutter speeds and f-stops. Because I am such a beginner with these concepts, I can let go of the outcome and truly just play around. I’ve been tromping through pumpkin fields, and wandering the local woods and beaches. (It’s the first time in years that I’ve wished I owned a pair of rubber boots!)

I’ve been setting up my camera and just playing around.

What happens if I set the aperture to 4.5? What kind of shutter speed do I need? Now what happens when I change the aperture to 22?

I’m immersed in the process, messing around with the controls on my camera, and trying to remember as many steps as possible. Because I can’t yet predict what a particular shutter speed or aperture will do to my image, I’m not worried about what the image might actually look like. I can be guided by playful curiosity and experimentation alone.

A couple of days ago, I set up my tripod at the foot of our local pier. It was a beautiful, clear evening, and I wanted to see how high I could set the aperture. I was hoping to capture the rosy sky and the faint snowy outline of Mt. Baker in the distance. When I looked at the images afterwards, I was surprised by the blurred figures in the foreground.

So that’s how photographers do that!

Now I want to go and mess around some more and see if I can capture blurred swirls of water around ocean rocks.

I might need some rubber boots for that kind of play.


My Dance with Perfectionism

This isn’t about the photographs, is it? It’s about my fear of judgement. This is just me getting into that comfortable old slow dance with perfectionism again.



So I’m heading back for my second photography class tonight where we have to share two photographs we’ve taken this week. As soon as our instructor announced that we were to bring two fall-themed photographs to the next class, I started to panic. Because if everyone was going to see them, they’d have to be perfect.

Even if this was a beginner’s class!

I’ve been blogging – and posting photographs on my blog – for years. I post on Instagram daily. Sharing two photographs should be no big deal. But this assignment was different! These photographs would be projected onto the wall for everyone in the class to see. And my inner critic kicked into overdrive.

The colours in this photo are too washed out.

The composition in this one is dull.

Pumpkins? You’re kidding, right? What a cliche!

My critic’s underlying message? Not good enough. Not good enough. Not good enough. 

You have no idea how many photographs I’ve taken – and ruled out – in the last week.

As with any life lesson I have to keep relearning, it took me a while to recognize what was going on. “Oh. This isn’t about the photographs, is it? It’s about my fear of judgement. This is just me getting into that comfortable old slow dance with perfectionism again.”

In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown reminds us that in order to let go of perfectionism, we need to cultivate self-compassion. It’s not that easy for me. But for the last couple of days, I’ve been gentler with myself.

You’re just learning, darling. You’re a beginner. Nobody expects National Geographic quality. And look how much you’ve learned, just in this week. 

On my way home yesterday, I drove past the marina near my house and was captivated by the saturated colours of the boathouses in the warm evening light. Even as I was taking the picture, I could hear the critic’s voice in my head.  “This does not qualify as a fall picture.”

I think I might use it anyway. It’s good enough.


Life Lessons in Photography Class

Every time I learn something new, I have to start by learning all my old lessons over again.


You know how there are some lessons you just have to keep learning over and over? The ones you think you’ve figured out and then somehow forget? It’s happening to me right now. Again.

I just started a beginner’s photography course at the local college. After using my dSLR for ten years, I decided it was time to stretch myself and move beyond using the little green “automatic” button and (when I was feeling really crazy) that one with the little mountains on it. It was time, I decided, to actually find out about apertures and f stops.

This being a beginner’s class, we started with the basics – a good thing really, given my attention span. And then at the end of our first class, our instructor sent us away with an assignment: return next week with two fall photographs.

And the Universe started to laugh. Because every time I learn something new, I have to start by learning all my old lessons over again.

The biggest lesson for me, always, is about giving up control. I so love the illusion that I am completely in control. And my biggest struggles occur when I get those gentle (and not so gentle) reminders that I’m not actually the boss of everything.

Like this morning. This morning I had a plan. I had an exact picture in my mind of the photograph I was going to capture. The sun would be rising over some local fields as the early morning fog began to lift. It was going to be perfect!

Except as I started shooting, I could see that the pictures weren’t working. I was facing towards the sun, and even though it was hidden behind fog, there was too much light. Everything in the foreground was too dark, and those beautiful foggy fields and trees? You could hardly see them because they were so washed out.

Disappointed, I grabbed my camera and crossed the road to see if there were any promising vistas with the sun behind me. I took a couple of pictures, and they were a little better, but I still wasn’t happy. I hadn’t captured the exact image I wanted.

And then I turned around to this:


And it was like a big, beautiful reminder: Stay open! Let go of your expectations, and just see what emerges. Trust the process. Trust me. 

When I got back to my car, the sun had risen above the fog and had lit the entire field with warm golden light. The trees that had been black silhouettes in my first set of photographs were now flashing green and gold, and the fog had lightened, revealing distant trees. The photos I captured weren’t the ones I planned on, but they were so much more interesting than the image I had wanted.

And once again, I was reminded about letting go, about giving up control, about staying focussed on the process and not the outcome. And so, until I forget again, I’m handing myself over to the Universe – at least just a little. Today I’ve got photographic evidence that this might not be such a bad idea.