About seven years ago, a magazine called Real Simple was launched in the US. At that time, it was the butt of much media tittering. The magazine purported to teach you how to simplify your life. Sure, the snide jokes went, “you want to simplify your life? Buy one more magazine.”
Real Simple survived. Nay, it thrived. I know this because I was one of those people who thought it would bomb. Simplicity didn’t seem a seductive enough idea to base a magazine on, especially since most people I know (and I) thrive in chaos. My idea of a perfectly engineered departure is to engage in useful—and useless—activities till the last minute, get an adrenalin rush by racing to the airport, and get escorted by anxious ground staff past the security lines, straight into the plane just before the doors close. That to me is good timing.
I am older and wiser now. I have come to realize that while simplicity is not a necessary component of the good life (as exuberantly proved by Brazil), it gives the average person what I consider modern living’s greatest luxury: time. While I don’t buy into planning and organization yet, I can see the allure of a simple life. What’s more, with the zeal of a new convert, I’ve come up with some thoughts on how to simplify. I follow every one of these—I wouldn’t presume to preach them if I didn’t.
Tear up some of the cards you carry in your wallet. Do you really need all those Smart Shopper loyalty cards from Shopper’s Stop, Westside and Pantaloons? Do you really need five credit cards? Why keep five when one, preferably Black, will do? I keep one credit card, one ATM card and my driving licence. That’s it. And cash of course. The fact that I have multiple but similar wallets for multiple countries is another matter and dilutes this argument somewhat (my Singapore wallet for instance has a “Nets” card that is useless elsewhere but essential in Singapore). But there it is—credit, debit and cash is all you need.
Splurge on those items that you use and enjoy every day and give the rest to charity. I know I am treading on turbulent waters here but do you really need 50 pairs of shoes? I will ignore the resounding “Yes” that I hear and plod on. Wouldn’t it be simpler to own a few pairs of what I call all-purpose shoes that you can wear from meeting to nightclub? I recommend black Ferragamo patent leather flats. They are discreet enough for the boardroom and yet allow you to shake a leg in comfort. The same logic applies for men. Strangely enough, most men I know splurge on ties. They may buy their business suits off the rack but will insist on name-brand ties. Ties, in my mind, are an appendage that is on the verge of becoming a relic. Who wears ties that often these days? Sure, have a few Hermès or Zegna ties if you must but consider spending the same $100 (about Rs 4,000) on say, perfume that you use and enjoy every single day. Better yet, get five Brando briefs made by Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana. The world won’t know but you (and your partner/spouse) will. And believe me, it will show in the way you carry yourself. What is it that business gurus say about confidence veering on cocky?
De-clutter: A sticker (far left); and a wall hanging (left), made by tsunami-affected fisherwomen for Tsunamika, an Auroville project.
Indulge your passion. If you enjoy writing poetry, rather than write it into the computer or on a drab diary, buy marbled Auroville handmade paper notebooks and a fountain pen. I like Tsunamika.org for cards and stationery created by tsunami victims. Handmade recycled paper won’t cost that much more but will offer a quantum upgrade in pleasure. If you like flowers but cannot afford or be bothered with multiple flower arrangements that are changed every day, consider buying strings of jasmine from the vendor down the road. Simply because it gives you pleasure.
Don’t hesitate to ask for help. In India, it is possible. Last week, I delivered some suits to the dry-cleaners. On a whim, I asked if they would deliver it back. The manager at first said, “No”. “We don’t offer that service, Madam,” he said. I persisted. I’ll pay you extra, I said. I’ll pay for your man’s auto fare and remain flexible with my dates. To my surprise, he agreed. Nowadays, I routinely do this. I have to give my car for servicing next week. Since I don’t have a driver (I fired him to simplify my life—I couldn’t deal with his personal problems), I am going to ask the service station if they will come and pick up my car and deliver it back for a charge. Reasonably priced labour is one of India’s pleasures and luxuries.
What’s your concept of luxury? Is it diamonds, a Delhi farmhouse with carefully selected objects d’art, a cellar with world-class wines, owning luxury brands, turning left after entering the aircraft or better yet, owning a private jet or yacht? As for me, a funny thing happened on the way to the Chanel store. I realized that luxury for me was owning fewer things, not more. It simplifies decisions. My grandmother owned five beautiful Kanjivaram silk saris. She was always exquisitely turned out and never uttered the following words when she opened her closet, “Gosh, I don’t have a single thing to wear.”
(Shoba Narayan doesn’t have a single thing to wear when she opens her closet. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org)