The City Space

Cultivating Urban Understanding

How to Live a Simple Life in a Complicated City

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Last week’s post about adventure got me thinking—maybe we all need a little more adventure. So here’s my new Adventure series, which will include ideas for experiencing cities in fresh, exciting ways. Let me know what you think.

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Every city has its moments of crazy that make you crave a little peace (see Monday’s post). I make no claims that my city is any more complicated or loud or overwhelming than yours—I think even small towns can feel like too much at times. In any case, if that’s your situation, here are some ideas for cultivating simplicity in a complicated place. Many of them (especially 3-7) are pulled from the Orthodox Jewish rules for keeping the Sabbath. The Sabbath is meant to be a day of rest and, for those who don’t know, a full Orthodox Sabbath forbids any activity that might be construed as work including cooking, writing, planting, plowing, building, and carrying any object outside of the home (plus 33 other rules). You’re also not allowed to make anyone else work. I hope some of these ideas help simplify your life:

  1. Seek nature. I’ve written about the value of green space before but I’ll expand beyond it to say that rivers and lakes, in addition to parks and gardens, usually create peace in chaotic places. Find one and sit by it for a while.
  2. Stay home all day. Seriously. Wake up and make breakfast. Take care of household chores. Write job applications or your dissertation. Play games with your kids. Watch TV. Embrace the sanctuary of the home. If that’s too constraining for you, try staying in your neighborhood all weekend—maybe give yourself a fifteen-block radius in which to remain. You can walk to the park or say hello to your neighbor, but stick within this nearby area if you want to calm your life down a bit.
  3. Occupy the quiet coffee shops. If you crave simplicity, it’s a good idea to locate the quiet nooks and hole-in-the-wall cafes within your city where you can curl up with a book or your thoughts for a couple hours.
  4. Use only your feet for transportation. To cultivate simplicity, slow down. Don’t even ride your bike, but take time to walk everywhere you need to go.
  5. Don’t spend any money. This immediately rules out running errands or buying groceries, but as long as you have something in your fridge, or a generous friend who is willing to feed you, you needn’t worry. Focus your energies on something that doesn’t involve commerce for a day.
  6. Lose track of time. Drop your watch and turn off your phone. Go about your day, but don’t schedule any activities for specific times. Wander.
  7. Carry nothing. This is something I definitely picked up when I practiced an Orthodox Sabbath and I’ve held onto it for solace ever since. When you leave your house with nothing in your hands and no bag slung over your shoulder, you feel a kind of liberation. You have to try it to understand.


If you’re reading this list and thinking, “not possible” then maybe you don’t need to simplify your life. But if you’re truly craving a simpler path or, at the very least—a breath of simplicity—you’ll find time for one of these practices. You don’t have to give up driving or spending money or leaving the house altogether—the point is to set aside some space within your week dedicated to simplicity.

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2 thoughts on “How to Live a Simple Life in a Complicated City

  1. Love this list! If i could add one thing it would be to take a nap in public space. I oddly only do this when i travel but its so peaceful (to me) falling asleep to the sounds of the city under a tree. Its such a different way to connect to the city, and so romantic too.

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