What Does Simple Really Mean?

meaning of simple

Patrick and I grew up with different backgrounds. He grew up playing on hundreds of acres of West Virginia mountains and I grew up (largely) in a landscaped middle class suburbia.

One of the big differences we encountered was in regards to pets. I didn’t have a lot of pets growing up and he had more than a person could count on two hands. There was even a horse. Who has a pet horse growing up anyways? Isn’t that every nine year old girl’s dream? ;)

It figures that at a certain point in our relationship, I decided I wanted to have pets, and he was vehemently opposed to having pets.

I’d seen a beautifully appointed 100 gallon tank of neons over at my friend Brad’s house. It had been huge, clean, and peaceful. I could see myself meditating for hours on a school of neons of my own, getting into the energy of fish, and using the tank as a simple way to destress after a day of work.


We all create different visions in our heads sometimes, but they’re not always based in reality. ;)

After much debate on the pet/no-pet issue (spanning several years) I got a small 10 gallon tank.

I immediately saw how many little doodads and accoutrements were required. I wasn’t just buying a tank, I was buying a stock supply of water cleaning chemicals, filters, backgrounds, gravel and fake plants to go with the fish and the tank.

A little nervously I brought the set-up home, learned about tank care, and learned what it meant to be a steward over something else’s life.


Sometimes a neon would get sick (they don’t live very long.). It would jerk through the water with quick stilted little movements while I frantically added fish healing chemicals to the water.

Sometimes they’d fade. Oh my god. Did the fish industry dye fish to brighter colors to make them more exciting to the standard consumer? It seemed, like so many other things, that neons might not be so naturally vibrant, they might be artificially colored just like a box of junk food cereal.

Sometimes the fish would have a poo string coming out of their fishy butts. Ewwww. I’d come home (valiantly sticking to my vision of a tranquil, perfect life with a tankful of fish) and notice a poo string swimming by behind some of the school.

Being a fish steward wasn’t as glamorous as I’d first thought, and it hadn’t transformed my life to a peaceful, tranquil, zen-like calm either. ;)


Then we had the great tank fail of 2003.

We were living in our rustic cabin in Arkansas in the middle of the woods and an ice storm hit. It was our first winter away from the safety of the thermostat dial on an apartment wall and we were still trying to get a feel for rustic cabin living.

All right, lesson learned. Sometimes when an ice storm comes, sometimes the power goes out. Understood.

Patrick and Sunny and I would be cold for a few days with no power. We’d be uncomfortable but we wouldn’t get frostbite.

The fish on the other hand….

My stewardship was taking a turn for the worse.

They needed a tropical water temperature with very little deviation and I suddenly found myself unable to provide it for them. Their little water heater ran on electric and the electricity wasn’t working.

I cried as my little fish got too chilly that night. Most of them died.


Shortly after that experience I decided to get rid of my tank. I approached some friends who ran an animal sanctuary and asked them if they would like to take on my few remaining fishies. They were delighted. I was delighted. And suddenly I found myself free of the heavy burden of caring for their fragile, delicate lives.




I got that tank because I had an idealized view of reality in my head, where a small tank of fish would provide me with tranquility and serenity.

I’d made many other purchases in the past based on that same assumption (or hope).

The bonsai trees that Patrick and I had picked up at a roadside stand a few weeks before Christmas were in the same category. The more I looked into bonsai, the more I realized we needed to buy more accessories and tools. There was wire, different pot sizes, sprays, fertilizers, books and specialized dirt to buy. And in the meantime, visions of serenity were gone as I tried to pacifistically battle the aphids that had decided to move onto our two trees. Had they come that way, the aphids too small to be visible at first, or had the aphids somehow found a way inside our space, lured in by the delicious aroma of roadside bonsai trees?

Being a pacifist I struggled with questions many people would find ridiculous. Was it moral to kill the aphids? Was it moral for the aphids to kill my tree? Could I lure the aphids onto a piece of paper (and off my tree) and then escort them outside?


I wanted peace, calm… serenity.

But I couldn’t find it in a Target zen garden or a Home Depot Buddha statue.

I couldn’t find it in a specialty carved amber Quan Yin statue, or a lazer carved vogel wand either.

I couldn’t find it in church, whether it be Catholic, Lutheran, Buddhist, or Pagan.

It was elusive, this peace, this slow harmonizing of my soul, this calm knowing that I didn’t need to create change, to better anything, that I simply needed to let myself be for a bit, to sit, to stand, to breathe, to open my eyes and look, to shut my eyes and retreat, to smell, to feel.




A second ending, simply because I already wrote it. Normally I’d edit it out, but I thought it would be fun to share the extra rambles that normally accompany my behind the scenes post writing:

Our complete focus on ownership of things has caused us to amass so very much. I’m talking culturally, rather than specifically.

I didn’t need to bring the water energy to me. I didn’t need to create a false ecosystem of fish to have on hand for my viewing pleasure. It caused too much pain for those fish. The tropical fish industry is filled with death, all of it unnatural in it’s own way.

Not all ownership is bad. It’s not terrible to own things. But maybe as a culture it’s time for us to look at what we own and what we do and ask who or what is being affected by it.

If I eat a four-course meal at a fancy restaurant and watch lots of gourmet food hit the trash can, am I responsible, or is it the owner of the restaurant’s responsibility? Do the waitstaff bear any blame, standing witness to pounds upon pounds of the best food available hit the trash can day in and day out, 365 days a year… while others die sometimes from lack of food?

What about the customers, who frequent the place? Do they have a responsibility? Or the government? Should it step in and demand that private food wastes of a certain level of freshness be passed on to food pantries or homeless camps?


What is the answer?

I truly don’t know.

I don’t believe in regulation by governmental systems, and I’m convinced only loopholes would develop from the passing of such an absurd, unthought-out law.

I don’t believe in telling people what to do, and most people feel the same, so who’s going to say, “Hey Mr. Restaurant Owner, You should give that food to a homeless shelter.”

He’d say something like, “Insurance companies won’t allow it. Risk to the company and all. Food poisoning issues and all.”

It’s all too complex…. just like my ten gallon fish tank.


Sometimes the only thing to do is to simplify.

As a nation our lives are way too sped up. We have less free time away from work than most other cultures.

We have a lot of other problems too, but the problem of a busy lifestyle is one that we each have the power to tackle on our own.

And having power over anything is… a very powerful thing.

We have power over the speed of our own lives.

We can choose to slow down our lives, to simplify them.

No one can take that away from us.

We have power over our heart centers.

We know what feels right and what feels wrong for us.

We can choose to honor our hearts, and listen to it’s wisdom.

We have the power to connect or to not connect.

We can say, “Yes we want to be around this,” and, “No we don’t want to be around that.”

No one else owns that for us. We own it, individually.

We have the power to slow down our buying, thereby slowing down some of our monetary needs… thereby freeing up our time.

We have that power.


Simplicity comes from within.

It isn’t bought and there is no registered trademark symbol attached to it….

It is free of sales, advertising, marketing and promotions.

It is a place within us that is just human, simple, and fair.

*And that’s the second ending for the post folks. ;)

*Image is a photo taken by Patrick of a lily in bloom outside our tiny house.

p.s. A few videos if you have the time:

Marianne Williamson speaking at the Oakland Unitarian. This speech is powerful. It’s an hour long and well worth the time spent watching it. If you’re short on time I highlighted 25 minutes, 36 minutes and twenty seconds in, and 54 minutes in as three powerful moments in her talk.




Corey Ogilve is quickly becoming one of my favorite film-makers for the occupy movement. I would love to have his talent and dedication to framing a piece of work. Instead of posting all his videos here, it seems more appropriate to send you to his videos. Here’s a sampling.


Music and heart by Jay Semel. A beautiful compilation of photos, with Jay’s personal occupy message. Jay said, “Sometimes all that’s left to do, is to smile, stand up and sing.”


A smart old broad, an 84 year old woman actually, who isn’t afraid to get pepper sprayed in the face and speak eloquently on the subject of occupy the next day. Wisdom from the elders, right here. She’s got it going on:

A quick history of the beginning of the protests we see now, starting with Tunisia:

We can occupy our heart centers.

We can occupy our own life.

We can occupy our personal values.

We can smile, stand up… and sing our own heart songs.

This upcoming Friday is black friday.

The day the gods of consumerism open their doors and promise us deals like we’ve only dreamed before.

We wake up at four a.m., with our route planned out. Some of us camp out on the sidewalk the night before.

We wait for the opening bell and the starting gates to open, so we can rush into the church of our almighty lord the dollar, and trample our fellow brethren in the heat of our consumerist satori.


Are you going to do black friday? I’m sure as *?/!! not going to be participating.

Thanksgiving, to me, is a time to give grace, to honor the nobility of the turkey, who brings us the lesson of generosity. It is a time to reconnect with the earth and the people around me. It is a time for grace, honor, and compassion, for humbleness before the awe of the natural world around us, and that which brings it into being.

It is also a time where I share thoughts of hope and change, and dare to dream of a slightly better world.

I’m giving my personal message of change to the powers that be in the only way I know how, by not shopping.

I choose who and what I support.

I want to support people, friendliness, community, healthy foods, diversity of opinions, an openness to change, and a better today by actions done today.

I don’t want to support corporations and systems that are enslaving people worldwide with the concept of money, debt, poverty and ownership.

Money doesn’t exist.

People do.

Black friday is a new kind of day, and it has been for several years now.

The day after Thanksgiving is the official Buy Nothing Day.

The Buy Nothing Day holiday, was created by those fun-loving folks at adbusters, quite a few years back.

It’s a day where we, who like the holiday and want to participate, choose to simply not shop.

It leaves the playing field open for everything else. We can do thousands of other things that day, just not shop.

It’s fun. It’s low commitment, and it sticks them where it really hurts… in their pocket books.

What are your plans this black friday?

Will you be waking up to the hoards and masses looking for the best deal on the latest pieces of plastic crap… or will you be one of the adventurous ones who celebrates buy nothing day?


*And with that, the post is finally finis’ for real. ;)

simple really is simple



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44 Responses to “What Does Simple Really Mean?”

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  1. I’ll go first, simply because I can. Wow, what a ramble. Thanks as always for tuning in, even if you didn’t make it through the whole Marianne Williamson video. For those who aren’t familiar with her, she’s an excellent author. I’ve been an admirer of her work for many years. Hearing her speak brings it all that much closer to home for me.

    First, I’ve been successfully growing basil for several months, meaning it hasn’t died! For me this is a major gardening success. I’ve had limited yield from any veggies/herbs in the past and I’m excited about it. ;) We’ve also planted some green onions recently (something I know I can grow) and we’ve dragged together some four x fours into a square to make a small four foot garden. Heh, that’s funny, all the fours. ;)

    We’re also contemplating moving, so all the gardening may be for naught but the fun of it. ;) We’re actively seeking work back in Fayetteville, Arkansas and we’re planning to shift up as soon as one of us lands a position. In the meantime we’re loving the warm weather, doing our best to garden, and downsizing our possessions using a fine-tooth comb in preparation for the move back up. ;)

    It’s been a busy but lovely time.

    It was also a lot of fun to write this post without a lot of the typical editing I would do. It was refreshing just to ramble through a variety of subjects without forcing everything to tie in together tightly.

  2. Annie says:

    Love the post! I have a tank or koi and a goldfish, chosen because they can live without the special heaters and such. Well, actually I have 4 fish in a 55 gallon tank. I didn’t want too many because I didn’t want them overcrowded… and you are right, fish are NOT minimalist.

    Neither are pets. None of them.

    That said I love critters and am heartbroken over the recent loss of Katie’s guinea pig. I can seriously understand the desire not to have pets though. They are a huge burden.
    Annie recently posted..I’m A Bitch

    • No pets are not minimalist. I didn’t shop today. However I did go to the vet and drop almost $100 for one of my dogs who has a bladder infection.
      That being said, sometimes I wonder if owning a pet is the right thing for use. Right now I have 3 dogs at my house. One is 12 (with a life expectancy of 12-13 years). And one is a absolutley adorable puppy we just inherited from my son and his wife. I love him to pieces and don’t mind the idea of keeping him and all his “stuff”. Then my 18 year old had moved away from home and took her dog, but has had to bring him back to us because of a problem with her apartment. So now I am up to 3 dogs in my house. A little chaotic to say the least. And so much responsibility. We are trying to find a new home for daughter’s dog with someone we know so that we can see him on occasion. And nature will take care of the old guy soon enough :(
      So sad about your little fishies. That would have been tough, with no electricity!
      Living the Balanced Life recently posted..Truly Grateful

  3. Jill Foley says:

    “Simple things often aren’t simple” – so true! Everything is more complicated than it seems, isn’t it?

    So good to hear from you. We have two fairly easy pets right now – an anole and a hermit crab. My girls would love a dog, cat, whatever….but after 11 years of having a dog, I need a long break.

    Shopping on Black Friday is not even an option for us. It doesn’t appeal to us in any way and we usually go hiking.
    Jill Foley recently posted..Thankful for Clutter

  4. Have I mentioned lately that I adore you? Truly, I do.

    As for me, I’m definitely skipping the stores. Maybe I’ll go hiking with my sister and our dogs. Maybe I’ll bum around the house singing crazy Sesame Streets with small children. All I know is that I won’t be shopping at all.

    As for pets, yep–a lot of work! Thus is why I LOVE to foster. Although we have two cats and a dog, I’m dying for the day when we can start fostering tiny kittens again. I’ve never felt so much love in my life than when I have nursed an itty-bitty-kitty back from near death. Thankfully, there’s not much they need at that stage other than warm snuggles and milk replacer. Big pets though? We try to avoid all of the hype with it…we made 2 dog beds out of an old foam mattress and blankets. And with making our cats indoor/outdoor, we only buy litter maybe 2x a year. All they need is food, water, shelter, and love!
    Megyn @ Minimalist Mommi recently posted..Grateful for Guilt

  5. I have four comments already and only one of them is me. Woo-hoo!

    I didn’t know anyone would still be reading, since my schedule has become erratic. Blessings to you lovely ladies, blessings. ;)

  6. laura says:

    I always look forward to your posts :) . My plans right now for black friday are to sleep in as long as I wish! nothing better than a day where you do not have to do anything and just see where the day leads you.

  7. Jewel says:

    Long-time lurker…first-time poster! Always love your food for thought Tanja, it is sweet and simple and there is such a tranquility in your writing.

    We have made it our tradition to canoe and camp on the Peace River (in your neck of the woods actually) every year since my kids were small. We always leave early Friday morning the day after Thanksgiving and come home Sunday night. Beautiful, peaceful, and we have to carry all we need with us as there are no stores! They have to content themselves with building campfires, “panning” for fossilized sharks teeth, and paddling on the river.

    I think at this point my kids (14, 14. and 20) don’t even know there exists such a thing as Black Friday!

    On another note….I have been wondering what will become of the Tiny House if you leave!

    • Hi Jewel,

      That sounds like an amazing Thanksgiving tradition you’re sharing with your family every year. There’s nothing better than exposing kids to the natural world and here in Florida canoeing and camping can be so beautiful.

      What will happen to the tiny house? When we built it I had a back-up plan in my mind, that if Cora wanted to she could rent it out for a couple of hundred dollars a month and that could help with her finances. It will likely be rented.

      However Cora has a long-time friend who is very ill with cancer right now, and there is a good chance that he may be coming to stay with her if he becomes unwell enough to stay on his own. We have offered up the tiny house for him if he chooses to stay in it. He is used to living quietly and close to nature, so the busyness of the main house would probably feel jarring. Our tiny house could be a peaceful retreat for him.

      (We’d take the tiny house with us if it had wheels. There’s something to those teeny portable ones. ;)

  8. abegail says:

    ctually, a big part of elegance is actually simplicity. If you look at French girls and women you will often notice that their way of dressing and such is very simple. Simple is very chic.

    It is more important to dress in a way that appeals to you, rather than to rely on what others think you should or should not wear. Listen to others advice while simultaneously listening to yourself…you may find they can point you into something that helps you out, or that you can adapt, or that you may just thank them for but not accept as it doesn’t work for you. It is always more important to be true to yourself, be authentic, than to pretend to be something you’re not. For some that will mean dressing outrageously and for others it means being quietly (but interestingly)
    abegail recently posted..penny stock

  9. MelD says:

    Happy Thanksgiving – in the true sense!
    It is bizarre to us that there is this consumer craziness in the US. Although to be honest, it is getting worse here in Europe, too. Having said that, the people I know all seem to agree that they don’t want to be part of it and most are very conscious of what and how they consume. A lot of the other nationalities living here have gone through harder times and seem to feed that boom, perhaps they feel they need to compensate for poverty and war that they experienced before. How sad.
    We are really lucky to have a lifestyle where we can choose what we want to buy (or not), when and where and in which quality. For us, people, and pets, come first and we try to be as uncomplicated as possible.
    We really appreciate that.

    • Thanks for sharing that MeID. I always love hearing an international perspective on things. It’s like a glimpse into a similar but different world. ;)

  10. Tali says:

    I have to say I am incredibly thankful for you!!! Just when I need you, bam! There it is, a post from you in my inbox that finds me enthusiastically nodding along with your lovely thoughts. Seriously, you rock and have brought clarity an positive energy to my life! I am grateful.
    Much love and happy thanks!
    Tali recently posted..Giving Thanks

  11. I believe, Tanja, that this is exactly why pet rocks became so popular for a while. All the best in your search!
    Allan Douglas recently posted..Giving Thanks on Thanksgiving

    • Kim says:

      I’ve just come across this post and and felt like I could let out a deep sigh. It’s wonderful to have companions in one’s way of thinking. Then your comment made me smile. :) I have (and have had) many lovely and loving pets, but I also fondly recall having a pet rock as a child–and I’ve been thinking that will be my next “pet.” It can sit on a window and sun itself. And no poop trails. ;-)

  12. tammy says:

    oh dear girl!
    finally a new post from you. i have missed your voice so much!! but totally
    understood and understand your need to re-energize and center yourself and rest.
    this was a wonderful post. as all of yours are. i think when you speak from
    your heart… and you so obviously do… it always flows. no need to edit or worry.
    i have not shopped on ‘their’ black friday since forever. i hate shopping anyway.
    and why would i do something i hate in a huge mob of people? can you imagine
    saying to your child… “children, i’m sorry, but your daddy was killed today by a
    surging mob of shoppers storming through the doors at walmart. he was trampled
    to death so people could get the best buys on junk they didn’t even need.”
    remember that true story of the poor security guard at a walmart a few years ago?
    tragic on so many levels!
    i’m thankful for the internet that lets me visit with you in faraway florida at the
    touch of a button! happy, happy thankful day to you and dear patrick.
    tammy j

  13. Mia says:

    We dont have Black Friday in Australia, we have something similar called Post Christmas Sales which starts the day after Christmas. We haven’t had anyone die in them yet, but only because we dont have the population density – we certainly have the greed! I dont plan to participate. I never do. Partly because the beach is too beautiful and the weather too lovely here to stay inside!

    I loved your post. I know how you feel about the fish. I really wanted a tropical fish tank at one stage, now I prefer to go scuba diving and see them in their home instead. :) It makes me much happier to see them where they are. And no, fish retailers dont dye them bright colours – I was amazed at what tropical reefs actually look like, bursting with fluoro, bright colours like a flowerbed. The movie Avatar, if you’ve seen it, is based on James Cameron’s experience as a diver. It’s just nature, being miraculous. xx

  14. Hmmm… there is quite a bit more to this post here on your web site than was sent to me in the e-mail version. As you know I’m a big fan of simplifying, reducing waste, and being responsible with what we have. Hunger is becoming more of a problem in America and the waste that comes from our dining industry is shameful. This post evokes a lot of emotional responses from me – and I probably should not give vent to any of them. We have a long ways to go before we become a “civilized” society.
    Allan Douglas recently posted..Our Untraditional Thanksgiving Day Dinner

  15. John Ferrel says:

    Thanks for sharing this article.

    I’ve just read it and I must say it really moved me if you get me , especially the part when you were searching for silence peace and couldn’t find it anywhere and you couldn’t find an answer. I’m still lookin for that.Any suggestions?
    John Ferrel recently posted..Fixodent Coupons

  16. taylor says:

    Hi Tanja! I’ve been absent from reading your blog for awhile, and this post was really meaningful to me.
    I haven’t had time to read your brilliant stuff lately because I have been busy busy busy: in both good and not so good ways.
    It hit me really close to home when you wrote about black friday because I work retail. I have been working retail for nearly four years now and this year I was driving home from my nine hour shift at a large clothing store thinking “I can’t do this anymore. I need to get out.” Working retail is so stressful in its own way: dealing with irate customers all day, feeling hopeless that your job allows you to contribute nothing all day, and that it supports consumerism, managers breathing down your neck because you haven’t gotten enough customers to open a store credit card you know they don’t need.

    So I decided enough. I started creating art again, and I made a youtube channel to show my process as I make a new piece of original artwork every day this month. I hope to someday be able to make a living as an artist and quit working for large, soul destroying corporations to achieve my ideal simple life.
    I’ve been frustrated because my audience on youtube is so tiny that I think I may never make it as an artist, but thank you for this post that reignited the fire under me to keep working at my art and my simple life so I never have to participate in another black friday again!

  17. Simple for me doesn’t mean convenient. A lot of simple things are not by any stretch convenient. Walking when you can get somewhere quicker by car (and not get wet through – I’m in the UK) isn’t convenient – but it’s a simple practice. Cooking from scratch with simple ingredients isn’t convenient when you can grab a prepared meal and microwave it in 2 minutes.
    Jo@simplybeingmum recently posted..10 Minute Tidy – My Cupboards – The Result

  18. Molly says:

    I have only one word… WOW! What a great write up.. I enjoyed every word of it. Really inspiring..

    Have a nice day,

  19. Karen says:

    Always love your food for thought Tanja, it is sweet and simple and there is such a tranquility in your writing.
    Karen recently posted..back of the site index

  20. Queenie20 says:

    Excellent point.. We really should be aware of this.. Thanks for this post!
    Queenie20 recently posted..Weird Sports

  21. shala says:

    I totally agree… Not all simole things are really simple. It takes some little effort though
    shala recently posted..Kitchen islands

  22. Andy Carol says:

    Such an awesome post! I may say something about what really simple means, to me being simple simply means not being extravagant, living withing your abilities.
    Andy Carol recently posted..maxworkoutsreview.net

  23. Kamilla Lecher says:

    For me simple means living according to your means and being contented on what you have.
    Kamilla Lecher recently posted..celebrex 200 mg capsule

  24. George Mackie says:

    Well we have different opinion for different things… people tend to take things differently for a particular thing..
    George Mackie recently posted..Xbox 360 Cable: How to get Started With Xbox System

  25. Shania Beck says:

    Great things starts from simple things. Simple people are nicer people. Please keep on posting. Thanks.
    Shania Beck recently posted..Proenhance Side Effects

  26. Great post.. I like your topic. For me, simple is being what you are. You don’t need to act other personality. Where you are comfortable, you must go with it. Simple person doesn’t need a lot of complication. You are contented of what you have right now.
    Daniela Foster recently posted..Alta White

  27. Nice post. Thanks. it looks really great and very informative.. Keep posting.
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  28. Anne Carter says:

    Simplicity means beauty. If you are simple, you are beautiful since you show what you really are.
    Anne Carter recently posted..Be Slim with African Mango Plus!

  29. It is really nice to be simple. If you are simple, many people would appreciate what you are. Simple means beautiful.
    Whitney Powel recently posted..Herbal Appetite Suppressants – Helps you lose Weight

  30. Yes, it is true. I agree with you. So, you must act the real you.
    Jennifer Graham recently posted..Symptoms of Nail Fungus

  31. Baju bayi says:

    Wow, fantastic blog layout! How long have you been blogging for? you made blogging look easy. The overall look of your website is fantastic, let alone the content!. Thanks For Your article about What Does Simple Really Mean? | minimalist packrat .

  32. Lindsay says:

    Wow! Great post; so much to think about : )
    Lindsay recently posted..How ethical are our trainers?

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  34. Marietta says:

    Hi! I’ve been following your wweb site for some
    time now and finally got the bravery to go ahead and give you a shouyt out from Huffman Tx!

    Just wanted to tell you keep up the fantastic job!
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