the wisdom of less

I’ve always had a tendency to want to fill things in. Like my garden, for instance.

When I began my quest to create a calm and inviting outdoor space I planted way too much. Within two years the grasses and lavenders and perennials were tussling for space. Reluctantly, I dug up more than a few and sent them to the compost bin.

I know. This is a common novice-gardener experience. But wait — there’s more.

Each year, as fall pruning commenced and winter approached, I’d feel a creeping sense of discomfort.

The garden seemed constricted. Naked. Shivering in the cold.

So I’d thumb through garden catalogues to find winter annuals to fill in the empty spaces and the empty containers.


Oh yes, the empty containers. God forbid they should spend the winter without their annual fix of pansies, stock, calendula, snapdragons and violas.

Simply put, I could not abide an empty pot.

And the trees. Oh, the trees. I went into a little bit of mourning as leaves shriveled and dropped, leaving behind sad, bare branches.


But things have been changing in me during the past few years. And this year, more than ever, I feel the transformation anchored deep inside.

Today, as I wander through this cold, dark winter garden, this garden of less, it’s like I’ve got on a new pair of glasses.

Maybe for the first time I’m taking delight in the lingering trumpet vine branches, bright orange blossoms long gone, forlorn seed pods waving in the wind.


I’m loving the once mad-blooming salvia stopped in their tracks by the freezing temperatures.


I also kind of like the look of the bell-less coral bells, made holey by the feasting snails.


And the trees. Oh, the trees. No longer do I mourn those lost leaves. Now I’m captivated by the view: up, out, through.


I’ve even done a 180 on the empty containers. Not only can I thoroughly abide them but I’m appreciating their shape and form like crazy.


So. The urge to fill in (in the garden and life) has waned.

I like the empty space, the less-ness of it all. It’s here for now and I don’t need to do anything about it. I trust that it will fill in when its ready.

And here’s the weird thing: apparently there’s some research to back me up on this.

A few weeks ago I stumbled across an article that suggested that instead of making resolutions and setting goals in the New Year, we might be better off embracing a philosophy of less. I can’t exactly remember why, though; something about decreasing stress and increasing awareness of the big picture of life.

Kind of flies in the face of conventional wisdom, right? Of course, I know lots of people say they don’t make resolutions, but I haven’t run into anyone who’s decided to choose less.

But you know, I don’t really need the research or the experiences of others to convince me of the wisdom of less.

All I have to do is look out my window or take a walk in my winter garden.

Now it’s your turn: Where is the wisdom of less showing up in your life?

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12 thoughts on “the wisdom of less

  1. I’m not sure if it is a wisdom of less or more. I’ve made a conscious decision to do less in the evenings now (I used to do work and writing), which means I go to bed earlier and get more sleep, which means I feel more relaxed and less stressed. it feels more spacious to me. Which feels like a wisdom of less.

    Thank you for the post – a nice thing to stumble across.

  2. Hi Patty,
    I so resonate with LESS. As I’m purging thru this house, letting go of a 32 yrs. accumulation of “stuff” as I prepare for a new life, I find joy in knowing I will be traveling a lot lighter and brighter into the New one. Along with the whole concept of “less”, I think there is a thread connecting it to the ability to let go and let be, to re-examine expectations and attachments.

    As the old song goes “Whisper words of wisdom….let it be, let it be”

  3. I was just thinking about this today. I saw an ad proclaiming “Save More”. And it hit me that was a perverse way of looking it it. Marketers would never want to get you going down the path of “Spend Less” or you might take it to heart and realize just how little of their products you need.

    I do think part of our obsession with “more” is in response to marketing and TV. We think that the solution to everything is to introduce more of something. More things, more friends, more activities, more food…even more choices. But like you point out. Less brings its own satisfaction.

  4. I can definitely appreciate the empty bucket — space has a tranquility to it that no stuff seems capable of matching. 🙂 In my own case, I’ve finally decided to prune back some of the activities I’m involved in — up until a little over a week ago, I was in an evening psychology grad program, and for months I was basically remaining in it because I loved my cohort (the other students). Eventually I recognized that I needed to pour more energy into music if I was ever going to actually “get anything going” (a loaded term, I know) with it.

    • Oh, I can relate Chris. I have a lot of “staying too long stories” of my own because of the people. You bring up something important: when we let go, release, leave behind there will always be some sadness there, even if it is what we most desire.

  5. Hi Patty!

    Welcome back!

    As usual we are on the same life wave length. Am hosting a five-week wisdom program beginning today. Got a grant in the fall to offer it. The culture of more has created a spiritual quagmire. More is a gateway drug. You can never be satisfied.

    I try to never utter the word goal. It doesn’t leave room as you write for improv. I prefer to see what comes my way when I let go.

    You know I still have an old “razor” flip phone. Not sure I need a phone that’s smart. Will I forget how to think on my own? Think there will be an epidemic of neck problems from everyone looking down all day.

    Ironically, it’s glorious when we look up at the sky and stars and moon and clouds.

    Your photos are beautiful – so stark, yet rich with story. Maybe a book on Less? It’s very short, of course.

    Glad you took a technology break. It drives me crazy when the “they’s” keep saying the future jobs will be in technology. How much more do we need? I’d rather see more naturology or creativology or humanology jobs …


  6. It’s alway such a joy to read your comments, G. For sure the book on less would be very short!

    Re: your phone…There was an article in Sunset mag about unplugging last month, and one of the people interviewed said he decided to go back to his flip phone because he was so tired of all the people around him looking down at their phones. He realized he had become one of those people too. The most amazing thing was he said w/o the phone he actually got to know his city (SF) better because he didn’t have the phone to get him from point A to point B. Kind of like life is lived in the detours and getting lost is a good thing.

    Hey congrats on the wisdom grant! One of the very best things I ever did was start the women’s creative wisdom circle.

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