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Seeking simplicity in a complex world

Published July 24. 2010 09:00AM

It was supposed to be a simple shopping trip.

I only needed two simple items.

I'm repeating the word simple because of one reason: "Simple" is hard to find in this complex world.

All I wanted was a simple pedometer and an alarm clock. I didn't want all the available bells and whistles or all the things technology can offer.

I just wanted a pedometer that measured my walking distance, nothing more. I rejected the one with a built in memory and the ability to recall all my walking trips. I turned down all the models that offered 11 different functions.

No, thank you. I've learned the hard way that the more "functions" something has, the more problems it develops and the more agitated I am when I use it.

The pedometer I bought is fairly simple. There are only two buttons. Not much can go wrong.

Buying a simple alarm clock was a bit harder. Most had things I didn't want, such as a docking station, MP3 player, iPhone, iPod or "complete entertainment system."

"What ever happened to simple?" I asked the nice clerk who was helping me.

"No one wants simple," he said. "The more gadgets, the better." Then he gave me the pitiful look one reserves for those who want to be dinosaurs.

It's not that I don't appreciate ever-changing technological improvements. After months of researching digital cameras with the super-zoom lens I wanted, I was pleased to see the camera I picked has a 12x optical zoom and an image stabilization system so advanced that camera shake is eliminated, even in low light.

But I'm not happy the camera came with a built in GPS that geo-tags and identifies over half a million locations.

According to the photo technician who sold me the camera, the GPS feature is what appeals to many buyers. "It will record exactly where you took each photo. You'll love it," he promised.

No, what I love is having a lens long enough to capture a closeup of a bird without having to worry about too many buttons and gadgets that get in the way.

Simplicity. That's what I want.

Judging from the proliferation of magazine cover stories, there is suddenly a renewed interest in living simply.

In fact, "living simply" has become the buzzwords in the media. I think that's because when times are tough, people start to put more emphasis on simple values and simple living.

There was a story on the Internet this week about Jay Shafer and his quest to live simply. Ten years ago he went from a 4,000 square foot luxury home to an 80-foot home he designed and built himself.

He said he chose to live small because he was tired of what he sees as "lives with a lot of excess and excess waste." The more stuff we have, the more burdens we have, he said.

Those of you who saw the photos of his home on the Internet know how lovely it is. The open bedroom loft looks inviting and the yearly utility bills under $100 are another inviting aspect.

He is now building similar homes for others who want the financial and emotional freedom of "living small."

Most of us say we crave simple living. But we stay caught up in consumerism, buying more stuff for already crowded homes and buying each new gadget that comes along.

I fall into that trap, too. But, like many other people, I'm making the effort to live more simply.

I've always most valued the simple things of life. Eating a wonderful meal in an upscale restaurant is nice. But what I value more is walking late at night, looking at the stars while holding hands with my special guy.

In my fantasies, I'm not at some far-away island sipping Margaritas. I'm lying on my back at the beach, looking at puffy clouds float by, just like a kid with nothing to do except dream. There is no noise, no one else around, no distractions, and no schedule.

There is only the freedom to just be.

The nice thing is, it's easy to make most of that fantasy reality. All it takes is a trip to my local beach during off hours.

When I sit in solitude at the beach and watch and listen to the ocean, I know there is nothing else I need to feel rich. No matter how much you own or don't own, the tranquility is the same.

The simple pleasure of being outdoors, feeling the freshness of a light breeze and drinking in the beauty before me requires no output of money. But it's priceless in what it gives back to me.

The older I get, the more I delight in simple pleasures. I love an old-fashioned picnic with hot dogs on the grill and cold watermelon for dessert.

I've never been a big fan of potatoes but I love potatoes in tin foil roasted over an open fire. It's the simplicity of an open fire and a simple treat that is most appealing.

Riding a bike, gliding quietly in a kayak, watching a sunset, going for a walk at night - all those simple pleasures enrich my life.

The more complex the world gets, the more I find myself seeking simplicity.

When it comes to buying stuff like alarm clocks and cameras, nothing is simple anymore. But it's still possible to enjoy simple pleasures and the delight of living simply.

Let me know how you manage to live simply. It's always good to share ideas.

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