Do You Over-Complicate Your Life?

Keeping things simple? We know it’s a good idea, yet we struggle with achieving it. Sometimes we find ourselves so bogged down in details that we cannot see our way clear to how we can simplify.

Part of the dilemma we face is an unwillingness to give anything up – material things, activities, or possibilities.

Are we really so afraid of missing out that we must immerse ourselves in a surplus of “somethings” that have little meaning to us?

Do we over-complicate our lives without realizing we’ve done so?

“I’ve discovered two principles in recent years, and I live by them,” said an old friend to me, a few weeks ago.

“What are those principles?” I asked.

“Do what you love if at all possible. And be lucky.”

I smiled. I understood the first point, and likewise the second. We have control over the first to some degree, and less so when it comes to luck – the sort that we can’t “make.”

Creating Complications

As for complications?

They seem to come in all forms – thrust upon us by “life,” or we have a hand in creating them (even unknowingly) – in our emotional lives, our work lives, our financial lives.

Realistically, we carry the burdens of a mix of worries and duties that are unanticipated and beyond our control, and others that we take on or manufacture, all on our own.

Planning to Overflow

Some of us are so committed to contingency planning that we take simple life tasks and weigh them down with an abundance of worst case scenarios.

We may be conditioned to do this from prior experience. A life in which we don’t have backup may add to the tendency to overcompensate in this area. Or, we may be worriers by nature.

I know myself to over-complicate in this way (though not in everything), and I’m consciously making an effort to do better.

Control, or Fear of Lack of Control?

Some of us complicate our lives subconsciously, repeating relationship patterns with friends and partners. We may take on troubled people, troubled situations, and responsibilities that become our own by virtue of making them our own – when we shouldn’t.

I think of those who take in strays (men or women who are fixer-uppers), entangling their lives or setting themselves up for heartbreak – or worse.

I wonder if we attempt to fight what we cannot control by (inadvertently) complicating situations and relationships, believing that will reduce our fear or worry.

Striving for Healthy Simplicity

And I look at the friend who is a master at keeping it simple – in style and in life – and I remind myself that he’s at a stage where he can. 

His children are now grown, he’s on a second career that feels meaningful to him, and he has streamlined every aspect of his lifestyle so that he’s comfortable, while requiring little that is material. Instead, he focuses on relationships and experiences, as well as pursuits that interest him.

He seems genuinely content.

Are Women More Likely to Complicate?

Is over-complicating a woman’s issue, a mother’s issue, or an accumulation of nature, nurture, and experience that leads us to overdo in a confusing and complex culture?  

Even my friend acknowledges that my situation – logistically, financially, personally, professionally – is different from his. It is structurally more intricate, less predictable, and with others who depend on me in a way that isn’t true for him. As for the rest of his opinions on simplifying when we can?

Doing What You Love – If You’re Lucky

As for pursuing one’s passion, getting lucky, and facilitating both with sound judgment?

Writing is my passion and I love it. I’m not writing everything I wish I had time for, but doesn’t that offer more to look forward to? As for luck, these days, I’m feeling my share, though that wasn’t always the case.

When it comes to choices, my single mother life took me in a direction in which I made certain decisions – some good, some less so – and others were made for me, which I learned to live with. Most single parents could say the same.

Yet I’m convinced I can do better, and I take a lesson in simplifying when and where I can, hoping to accept necessary trade-offs that result in more deeply felt experiences and considerably less stress.


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  1. says

    Anything that stresses me has to go .. within reason of course. You would be amazed how much we put up with and never do anything to change. I make an effort every day to listen to my inner voice and when there is a negative thought look at what instigated it. Gradually I am eliminating those things which cause stress and negativity … usually things but sometimes it can be relationships. Could be as simple as a squeaky door (fix it!) or as complex as a toxic relationship, and everything in between – to simplify my life and be surrounded with optimism, hope and inspiration. Life will always supply the challenges, I need all the fuel I can get to rise up to them.

    My children are grown, I have worked hard, my life is precious … my family is precious. I want to be someone they want to be around and have the time and the serenity to be in the moment with them and inspire them also.
    Sometimes we go through a lot of pain to reach the point of awareness … perhaps that’s what mid life is all about.

  2. Deb says

    well, this post hit home! I have a tendency to complexify things which leads to catastrophizing. I’m working on staying in the moment and not adding stress by imagining scenarios that might happen and just focus on what IS happening. I’m also taking steps to eliminate stresses beyond my control – setting limits on just how much I’ll allow situations in my life that lead me to the crazy place.

    Think the key is in knowing that I ‘m not in control of the universe – a humbling yet freeing realization! Because the truth is, so much of what happens is in the ” not my problem” category, and no amount of organizing or complicating is going to fix those problems because they are not mine to fix.

  3. BigLittleWolf says

    @Deb, I know what you mean about more being out of our control than we admit, and that’s frightening as well as freeing. But don’t you find (American) motherhood puts us into continual contingency conditioning mode? (Does it all start with the ‘everything’ we stuff into the gigundo diaper bag?) I know corporate life taught me backup planning, but also to be efficient in doing it, thus my admission of over-complicating in some areas but work, generally not one of them. So where does it originate? Does it quiesce as we make a concerted effort with kids flying the nest?

  4. says

    I do think motherhood (at least as we practice it in the US) starts us on the “be prepared for everything” from wet diapers up to and including The End of Time! And much of that planning and organizing is essential or everything would go to the dogs. At the risk of sounding sexist, we do it because men (generally) don’t, and it becomes part of who we are. Maybe it is a way to control what we can so we have the illusion that we can control /manage everything – what a huge burden we place on ourselves!

    For me the realization that my over-complicating things was just wearing me down made me reassess. Really, none of the catastrophes I planned and prepared for ever materialized (thankfully) and I’d wasted valuable time and psychic energy.

    I don’t think this means we give up and slide into the “whatever” approach. (God, I hate that word – so dismissive!). I think it means prioritizing – not everything that happens is worthy of calling out the winged monkeys!

  5. says

    It’s not complexity that bothers me so much as all the struggle. I used to struggle over the stupidest things. I still do, but less so. Don’t bleed before you’re shot, I try to tell myself.

  6. says

    Are women more likely to over-complicate? I know we juggle more, absolutely keeping more balls in the air, than our male counterparts. A mother leaves home for a few days? The balls, at least most of them – drop.
    Relationships, to-do lists, career, children, children’s friends, siblings, parents, in-laws, birthdays, special events, finances, meals…..
    My mother-in-law passed away, my father-in-law had no idea how many ways she kept things running.

    that’s an aspect of an empty nest I’m relishing – the freedom to and the freedom from. The freedom to simplify and the freedom to put to rest many of the balls.

    And you’re so kind to bring up the fact that some of us simplify because we CAN. I always bear in mind and heart that many don’t have the option. But examining our life and cutting out what we can, not buying into what doesn’t serve us or our family and bringing awareness to ordinary moments of grace and meaning, move us away from over-complication.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      All those balls we juggle, Barb. I suspect there are many who underestimate the time and care required. Empty nest would, I imagine, allow for putting to rest some of those balls, as you say.

  7. says

    Do we over-complicate our lives? Absolutely. I have no idea why. I think it’s a misplaced sense of control. We all tend to make things much more complicated than they really are…read too much into what is said or done in ways that result collateral damage. Maybe we’re all control freaks? And for the record…the balls are still juggled in that empty nest…they’re just different ones!! :-)

    • BigLittleWolf says

      I actually don’t think we’re all control freaks, Lisa, but it has become part of our culture to “need” (debatable) so many things and need to do so many things – I believe it adds. I can’t help but think of how everything is simpler (not simple, but simpler) in Europe (and yes, very different). We just don’t seem able to allow ourselves to stand still in this country – even for a short time – and recognize that we need that in order to stay sane and healthy.

      And yes indeedy, still juggling even after Empty Nest – just to a different tune, right?

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