n. freedom from complexity, intricacy // absence of pretentiousness

words by dani mcalister

From the second I open my eyes it feels like I’m starting a daily marathon, trying to smash through my to-do list before I’ve even gotten out of bed, flying through each day and collapsing every night.

Simplicity is a life language that seems reserved for other people in other places who just aren’t as busy as we are. We jam pack our days so that our only attempts to learn this language of simplicity is a quick snap of a sunset. Then we’re busy uploading to the world wide web so everyone can see how much we appreciate simplicity. It humours me that I schedule time for yoga, pay $20 to lay on the floor and have someone else tell me to take some deep breaths when the day is nearly over. 

Arriving in Helsinki was like taking one of those deep yoga breaths. Taking a moment from the complex life I build and self-impose, this space prompted me to think if life really needs to be this complicated. 

Despite the cool weather and extreme language difference (try faking your way through the Nordic languages), we managed to find our way to our little Finnish home. A small and simplistic space, cozy with books and chai tea brewing to warm up the -10 weather but not overcrowded with ‘stuff’. This minimalistic home showed me why the world has fallen in love with Nordic-style furniture. It breathes simplicity. It’s not pretentious. Simplicity feels contagious, so free from complexity. 

After a few slow days we headed north to Oulu. In the small hours of daylight we enjoyed croissants for breakfast, beautiful berry smoothies, books and delightful Finnish coffee.

But I struggled to relax. Unwind. Breathe. Simplicity and stillness do not come naturally to me. I am a product of the world of which I co-create busyness, never ending to-do lists. Simplicity? Well that is as foreign as the Nordic languages.

I just couldn’t get into that Finnish feeling where everyone seemed content and in no rush. My head felt like one of those abstract pieces of art (and not the good kind) with colours and scratches of paint going everywhere. 

One night in Oulu as we waited for a bus, the snow was falling and a woman rode past on her bike. The night was quiet, the air was still and the only sound to be heard was the swish of her bike though the snow. I had been standing there complaining to myself about the cold and my wet feet, when the simplicity of this moment overwhelmed me. I felt as though I had spent so much time resisting this simplicity that was so ever present, until this moment. 

As I stood there I wondered why do we do it? Create these anything but simple lives, run ourselves ragged and plan two day getaway trips once a year to try and simplify our lives?

For me, every corner of my life is jammed to the fullest - speed-read, multi-task, drive-fast, double-book coffee dates.  

In that one simple moment all the multi-tasking and complex scheduling felt so pretentious. I’ve created a life that is so maintained by stress, that this world, which is sustained by simplicity, was such an unfamiliar feeling of freedom. 

Unfortunately this one small stint in Finland has not completely cured me of my franticness or left me enlightened on how to live the simple life. But it did leave me with some of these really valuable lessons that I’ve tried to emulate since being home.

Put. the. phone. down. It’s unlikely that anything is going to happen if I don’t instagram that sunset. Taking some daily technology-free time to soak in nature’s beauty daily is the perfect recipe to shake off that stress. Turn the TV off. Cook dinner together. Share conversation and sit at the table. Sip your coffee, eat slower, stand outside in the quiet, breathe and watch the world go by, just for a minute.

But most of all, don’t try it all at once. Let’s not schedule simplicity, jam it into our to-do list and miss the point of the whole thing. Learning simplicity is like learning a new language - laugh while you stumble over the words, focus on one thing at a time and celebrate each tiny success.

Take a deep breath - we only have this one life - and lets keep it simple.