The art of simple: why it’s hard to achieve, and how to change that.

Simple is such a comforting word. And inherent in it is the idea that when simple is present, things are easy, straightforward, and uncomplicated. Those words are comforting as well.

But attaining “simple” – making it your default way of looking at things – can take some work. At the least it doesn’t, ironically, come easy.

Enter entropy.

It’s a word and concept I had never heard of until I read an article about it by my beloved James Clear. {Oh how I love what he writes, and how he writes it.} This article introduced me to a different way of looking at simple, and how we can achieve it despite it often feeling so hard to do so.

Entropy is basically defined as a measure of disorder. Understanding disorder, and why it happens, is a good thing to know more about if you are trying to bring order into your life. Which I hope you are. Understanding the why something happens can often shed light on what to do to change it.

This is how James Clear describes entropy:

Problems seem to arise naturally on their own, while solutions always require our attention, energy, and effort. Life never seems to just work itself out for us. If anything, our lives become more complicated and gradually decline into disorder rather than remaining simple and structured…It is the natural tendency of things to lose order. Left to its own devices, life will always become less structured. Sand castles get washed away. Weeds overtake gardens. Ancient ruins crumble. Cars begin to rust. People gradually age. With enough time, even mountains erode and their precise edges become rounded. The inevitable trend is that things become less organized…[and to combat that] we must exert effort to create useful types of order that are resilient enough to withstand the unrelenting pull of entropy.” (James Clear, Entropy: Why Life Always Seems to Get More Complicated.)

It’s that part “we must exert effort to create useful types of order” that is key here.

Without structure, things obviously have a propensity to slide into disorder. Effort is needed to keep things in efficient working order. But building the right systems and creating logical homes for the things in your life are important parts of creating order that will last.

I am sure it seems a bit of a stretch to think that organization alone can prevent that propensity for things to slide into disorder.  That decluttering and minimizing so you own only what has a purpose could help make simple living a reality. And that building systems can help you manage the flow of life, and all that comes in and goes out consistently.

But in fact, it can.  Organization, creating useful types of order, is exactly how we combat entropy. It is how we create a life that feels peaceful, despite its propensity for disorder.  Building systems (and keeping up with those “types of order”), along with planning, tidying up, and consistently questioning, is exactly how you keep things moving efficiently.

These 3 points are important to remember when creating a useful type of order that is resilient enough to withstand the pull of entropy:

  1. You can’t build a system on shaky (cluttered) ground. It might start out strong but it won’t be able to keep up with the weight of too much clutter and unmade decisions. And so the natural tendency of things to lose order will unfortunately prevail.
  2. Don’t set up a system to help you store clutter, or stuff that doesn’t serve a purpose in your life. You must do the work of sorting through clutter before you build a system or find a home for things. Determine what truly matters in your space because this is what you want to keep in order. And it is more manageable to keep in order because it has true meaning.
  3. With too much clutter – all the things that don’t have a purpose or a good home – your system will be overrun. With too much, systems will struggle work in keeping order. Just as weeds can overtake a garden if you let them, too much “stuff” can over take your home, your head, your heart.

Choose simple.

We complicate so much about how to do everything that we get caught up in myriad piles of mental and physical clutter. And it is that clutter that creates entropy – the disorder we are trying so hard to overcome.

When you choose simple, you look for the basic solutions to challenges – especially those challenges that unattended to will lead you to more clutter and confusion. Basic is so much easier to keep up with and when something is easier – simple – we tend to use it more.

Disorder will lead to complicated. And given what we know about entropy it will always try to emerge. And life will always get more complicated if you let in too much of what confuses and suffocates you.

The way to combat the inevitable trend for things to fall into a state of disorder is in keeping what you do, think, and keep, simple – and organized.

Do these things to tackle entropy:

  1. Keep only what serves a purpose.  Question what comes in. Know why you have a particular item or thought, where it is going to go, and how it is going to be used before you let it into your life. Doing so will help you keep unwanted and unnecessary clutter at bay.
  2. Build solid systems and useful types of order. Make sure they make sense for your life and space. When a system makes sense, you’ll use it. And keeping up with a system means you’re more than likely to keep up with order.
  3. Keep up the good work. Once you get to where you want to be keep doing what got you there in the first place. Make living a simple life your way of life.

In this world where disorder is too easy to come by, choose. simple. Choose organization.

They are your best weapons in the fight against entropy.

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