“Less is more” is usually associated with the idea of simple elegance. I have a particular passion for simplicity, so quote this often and might adopt it as my mantra. Although the quotation isn’t necessarily scriptural in all translations, the concept certainly is.

“Less is more and more is less.” – Psalm 37:17 (MSG)

The NKJV translates this verse as “A little that a righteous man has is better than the riches of many wicked..”

Simplicity is the good old days. Youth. Freshness. Just two pairs of shoes to choose from and no Google calendar. Simplicity is decisions limited to one thing or another, not the push and pull from dozens of options, hands, or opinions every waking moment. Can you remember a time when you had large chunks of uncommitted time? Time is an asset to be invested. Most of us are so busy we end up squandering it like end-of-shift buffet remnants.

Simplicity breathed it’s last when personal electronics became the norm.

Or did it?

Origin of “Less is More”

The phrase originated in Robert Browning’s 1855, ‘Andrea del Sarto’. Here are a few excerpts. You can read the full piece on Poetry Foundation:

Yet do much less, so much less, Someone says, 

(I know his name, no matter)—so much less! 

Well, less is more, Lucrezia: I am judged. 

Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, 

Or what’s a heaven for? – 

In this world, who can do a thing, will not; 

And who would do it, cannot, I perceive: 

Yet the will’s somewhat—somewhat, too, the power— 

And thus we half-men struggle. At the end, 

God, I conclude, compensates, punishes. – 

I am grown peaceful as old age to-night. 

I regret little, I would change still less. 

Browning speaks of simplicity in love, artistic composition, and life. Throughout the poem Browning refers to God’s design and His influence on humanity. Adam and Eve enjoyed the weightless joy of simple relationship with God, creation, and each other. They lacked nothing and were closer to God than anyone since.

True simplicity died when death entered the world, veiling the simple perfection of God’s design ever since.

When is Enough, Enough?

Instead of pursuing less in order to receive something more, modern folks are perpetually dissatisfied. What constitutes enough? Why do people want more of anything? There are two reasons:

  1. They have an unmet need, or
  2. They lack peace and contentment; something to scratch their itch.

Needs and wants are not the same. Seeking peace anywhere but Christ is a losing proposition. More always comes with a price tag.

“To whom much is given, much will be required.” – Luke 12:48

Honestly, if you have 12 pairs of shoes, will your life really be better, smoother, or more wonderful if you buy those cute little red strappy things?

If you’re after more – more what?

  • Money?
  • Love?
  • Celebrity?
  • Approval?
  • Friends?
  • Children?
  • Square footage?
  • Challenge?
  • Beauty?

I don’t know anyone who isn’t busy. Who isn’t behind on household chores, hasn’t blown good intentions to exercise more or eat less, or failed to keep resolutions to spend more time with friends and family? Somehow there’s never enough time.

As a society we’re over-committed and under-productive. That’s what happens when we respond to the siren call of the world and the worldly. Jesus calls us to peace, to rest, to laying down our burdens.

Simple Joys of Stewardship

I enjoyed an amazing day yesterday. I was alone. (I know, how often does that happen?) With the temptation of distraction limited, I moved joyfully, productively, and purposefully with a goal of creating less. There’ll be more in the trash Tuesday, but my office, to-do list, closets, and laundry hampers are less populated and neater. Bathrooms sparkle and the breezeway swept. My expectations were limited to what was possible. Higher expectations produce stress. Stress decreases efficiency. I accomplished more by thinking less about productivity and more about stewardship.

Electronics were banned. No music. No television. No internet. I experienced my home without interruption. (Except the occasional comment from one of the dogs.) The peace and quiet made it easy to see where simplicity had morphed to disorganization and unkemptness. (Maybe not a word, but it works for me.)

Office cabinets left closed for years were depopulated and refrigerator science projects removed. Leisure. My horses were cared for (including the two who escaped through a gate I forgot to close) and happy. Not once did stress, irritation, or busyness cross my mind.

My goal? Less.

The return on my investment of less was more joy, more leisure, greater creativity, sharpened focus, increased clarity and peace. I felt God with me in each step. Even brushing toilet bowls. Did I really see Him smiling at my calm, unhurried efforts? I believe I did.

Perhaps I even heard the opening bars to, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

For the full text and meaning of Browning’s poem.