Aim for less sounds so unAmerican, so unprogressive. After all, we are a nation founded on always striving to achieve more. No one pines for a smaller house, fewer cars, or a reduction in income. As a culture, we’re heavily invested in the concept of “more is better,” applying that to material acquisitions, experiences, choices. Psychological research is clear that, as Barry Schwartz summarizes in his book The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, more can simply paralyze us and cause us to second-guess our decisions. More clutter, excess, busyness–whether in our homes, on our “to do” lists, or in our psyches–simply overwhelms us.
One case of “more” that really illustrates this concept is what I call “the tyranny of one more.” Familiar scenario for most of us: this is the endless effort we make to sneak in one more task, one more item crossed off the list before we head out the door, pick up the kids, or climb into bed at night. The “tyranny of one more” makes me late more often than not and keeps me working past when I need to relax and unwind. It’s a direct route to being overtired and overstressed.
My younger daughter, perhaps showing her old soul, has been in touch with “less is more” since she was a tiny child. When she was approaching her third birthday, we were talking about the guest list for her party. I began naming friends, listing them on a tablet, while she played nearby. I was really writing this list for me, until I heard what she was muttering. “Too many friends, too many friends. No, no, too many friends.” I listened. We reverted to the time-honored rule of one guest per birthday year celebrated, and invited just three little girls as guests. It was an ideal party, with no melt downs! Another life lesson learned from a child–because I listened.
“Voluntary simplicity means going fewer places in one day rather than more, seeing less so I can see more, doing less so I can do more, acquiring less so I can have more.” These words are by Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor emeritus of medicine at University of Massachusetts Medical School and prolific writer on mindfulness meditation as a stress reduction tool. Cut yourself some slack this week and practice the wisdom of “less is more.” Decline one invitation. Make dinner out of canned soup and fresh fruit. Sit down and breathe in your backyard. Embrace ways in which less truly is more: guilt yourself less, affirm yourself more; spend less, save more; worry less, relax more; compete less, connect more.