Can Plainness Grant You The Freedom You’ve Been Searching For?

“It is uncanny how social reality can deaden and numb us so that the mystical wonder of our lives goes totally unnoticed.”

– John O’ Donahue

There was a time, a few months ago (while my novel was still in someone else’s hands and I was still awaiting feedback) when I felt overwhelmed.

My senses felt so dizzy and exhausted from so many bright colors and flashy things coming at me from everywhere: from my laptop, from my TV screen, from my cellphone, from billboards on the freeways I drove on, and from the signs being waved at me from street corners I would pass by.

So much of our lives these days is saturated with bright, shiny, loud, in-your-face, 3D, High-Definition, gourmet, designer, supermodel, mobile, all-in-one, instant… stuff.

It got to the point where I literally had to shut it all down as much as I could in order to keep my sanity.

During those months of plainness, I spent a lot of time at the park meditating, watching black and white silent movies at home… or just tuning into all the silence around me.

It was so refreshing not to be bombarded with flashy signals coming at me from all over the place.

It was so liberating.

I found so much freedom in plainness.

Can Plainness Grant You The Freedom You’ve Been Looking For?

I wonder if we shackle ourselves when we ask ourselves to do so many things all at once.

I wonder if we couldn’t be freer if we just asked ourselves to do one thing only: the thing that we are doing right now?

I wonder if we aren’t just fashioning our own prison when we demand that we be so many different people all at once.

I wonder if we couldn’t be more free if we just asked ourselves to be just one person: the person we are right now?


What if every meal we ate didn’t have to be exceptionally delicious?

Maybe we would be satisfied more often… and disappointed less often.


What if every outfit we owned didn’t have to make us look like a supermodel with a banging body every day of our lives?

Maybe we would feel secure more often… and insecure less often.


What if every movie we watched didn’t have to blow something up in our faces every ten seconds–just to keep us entertained?

Maybe we would be pleasantly surprised by movies more often… and bored by normal life less often.

In this age of in-your-face, gourmet-style, supermodel-level flashiness, I sense that we all hunger deeply—voraciously—for plainness.

No, we don’t want designer-relaxed-fit-bootcut-cargo-skinny-acid-wash-pre-torn jeans. We just want some jeans, for god sakes.

No, we don’t want gourmet-signature-culinary-celebrity-chef-inspired-sauteed-with-mushooms-and-rare-ostrich-booger-sauce-from-the-Yucatan paninis. We just want a sandwich, for god sakes.

No, we don’t want mobile-to-mobile-anytime-minutes-unlimited-texting-4G-network-anytime-anywhere-full-bars-GPS-Siri-theres-an-app-for-that-instragram-your-butt-to-your-boyfriend-next-generation Smartphone devices. We just want to buy a phone, for god sakes.

Nothing flashy. Just plain… because all this stuff, instead of setting us free, is starting to make us feel trapped.

Leading The Quiet, Plainness Revolution That is Boiling In Our Hearts

There was a time when we all wanted more, but now that we’ve been given more, we are now starting to hunger for more of less.

We hunger for plainness.

I can feel it.

And for a moment there, I was the daring one.

I left the world of flashy, High-Definition, over-abundant, gourmet, supermodel, designer-style-living and existed, for a brief moment, in a world of plainness.

And there I was free. Free.

It was then, for a while, that mediocrity became a delicacy. Silence inspired me to dance more than ear-pounding Hip Hop club music ever did. The vagueness of passing clouds in the sky was so much clearer to me than High-Definition television. The bland, muted colors of old black and white films suddenly bled more potently than the neon colors of the flashiest of modern blockbusters. The flatness of the earth beneath my feet (as I meditated in the park) was far closer to me, and far more thrilling, than 3D-Blue-Ray-DVDs-played-on-a-Nintendo-Wii-console.

It was then, when I was living in plainness, that the world truly felt as if it was at my fingertips… and I wasn’t even holding my mobile phone.

much love,


Today’s Courage Exercise

Live in plainness for a day. (If you are daring one, try it for a week.) Focus on silence instead of the noise. Watch black and white films instead of color. Don’t seek the flashy, designer, gourmet treats of the world: shut that all out and, instead, seek out everything that is plain and modest. See if you don’t feel liberated by the end of the day.

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14 comments on “Can Plainness Grant You The Freedom You’ve Been Searching For?

  1. It seems to me that even just a measly 10 years ago, it was easier to live a “plain” life. I feel the speeded-upness to the point that I don’t notice the natural world nearly as much as I used to. Thanks for the reminder, Ollin, to return to “plainness” – which is really just plain ol’ goodness. I’m going to disconnect more from Facebook for a week (and maybe it’ll become a nice habit!) and go outside and take more notice of the sky, the winter trees laid bare here in Denver, the beauty that is in each of the seasons. Thanks for the reminder. And have a wonderfully simple day! -Dana

  2. We live in a spoiled era, relying on materialistic and superfluous things. Just the other day, a friend of mine had her cable shut off, (times are hard and she had to weigh if losing her house was more important than TV… she chose her house). Her thirteen year old daughter informed her that she ruined her life and that she couldn’t live without cable. Mind you, she screamed these very words with tears streaming down her face. Her mother didn’t want to worry her about almost losing their home, so she just apologized and told her that she’d get it on as soon as possible. I thought it was apalling that she would talk to her mother like that, for one, but also that she would feel something so insignificant was so necessary. As someone who struggles constantly, my family and I have learned to love the plain life. We spend more time playing board games and interacting with each other, than glued to phones, televisions and shopping malls. And, we’re a stronger family because of it. Great post, Ollin.

    • Ollin says:

      That story makes me sad. I remember growing up without cable mostly. So I was always grateful when I had it, but I always new I could live perfectly fine without it. I also didn’t have any video games. I spent most of my free time writing and reading and using my imagination–and it has served me well!

  3. KJ says:

    I have been going through a period of intentionally living more plainly – less online time, less noise, less going out, etc. – and I’m finding it very freeing. I hope to continue making space for a simpler life in a number of ways because I am finding it so very rewarding. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  4. Troy Skog says:

    I’ve had a saying for quite awhile now….”My Flair is my lack of Flair.”

  5. Sandee says:

    Such a wonderful reminder of the truth. I feel so overwhelmed by all the “stuff” around me especially here at Christmas. I also feel overwhelmed by expectations and trying to make everyone happy (which I know is not really my responsibility but still fall into the trap). I am a plain and simple person and I feel like I’m not good enough because of all these things you described ( that I am not and don’t want to be). I somehow feel like I’m failing the people around me. Crazy! Thanks for your words of wisdom that remind me I am not alone.

  6. Thank you so much for writing this. I was beginning to feel very alone – not that being alone is a hardship, it;s my favourite way to be 🙂

    Just the other day I thought: if we were satisfied with less our lives would be less we would set ourselves free. This constant how to make a million, when the only ones making the million are the one selling you a useless scheme. All this having to network, be an affiliate, build a platform stuff scares the hell out of me, when I just want to quietly do my research, write my stories, and be me.

    • Ollin says:

      I don’t think there is anything wrong with making a million as long as you are helping others. But yes, making a million isn’t everything.

  7. I have spent most of my adult life trying to live what I call “small.” Living frugally. Nothing fancy. Nothing flashy. Lots and lots of silence. People (especially your children) think you’re weird. But, it is such a satisfying way to live, I don’t mind people thinking that I’m odd. I do live an unusual lifestyle by 21st Century American standards. That doesn’t mean I’m wrong, nor does it mean that those who pursue different lifestyles are wrong. We’re just different. I happen to like my lifestyle just fine, thanks.

    Love your blog!!

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