Cabins are beautiful. They’re archetypical examples of simple architecture: a place for everything, everything in its place, and nothing that doesn’t need to be there. Some walls, a fireplace to keep warm, a bed to sleep in, and some kind of heated surface upon which to cook a basic meal from un-messed-with ingredients.

But as much as cabins have become an ubiquitous representation of the ‘simple life,’ not all of us want to live in cabins. Even those of us who crave that kind of simplicity, upon reflection, would probably prefer some other living situation, outside of periodic, sabbatical-esque retreats.

It’s not the cabin that we crave, it’s the simplicity that such a space represents. We want fewer distractions and fewer options. When you’re living in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, you cook what’s available and entertain yourself with introversion or basic social interactions with whomever else is there with you. You aren’t overwhelmed with ‘fear of missing out’ anxieties or a complex social schedule. You aren’t burdened with decisions about which restaurant to eat at or which Netflix show to binge-watch.

The cabin, then, is merely a convenient visualization for something more expansive; a concept that’s less Pinterest-able and Instagram-able when made less specific. Something that’s harder to explain when it’s not attached to a nostalgia-inducing structure and all the romance it entails.

Cabins aren’t the only visuals associated with the concept of simplicity. Brands that make clothes, prepare food, sell real estate, and lease cars use visuals that tap into this desire to be free of some of the modern world’s more pernicious complexities.

What they won’t tell you, of course, is that you needn’t buy a thing to achieve this goal. You needn’t wear a specific label, eat a certain type of food, or live in a certain kind of home.

All you have to do is take some time with yourself to figure out what sets you ablaze with happiness and fulfillment.

Identify the aspects of your life that make getting up in the morning worthwhile, and what you look forward to all week. Then focus on these things. Habitually eschew those activities, relationships, and acquisitions that unnecessarily complicate your life, weigh you down, or siphon away your happiness.

Cabins are beautiful, but even more magnificent is a self-aware person who is able to imbue any space, or lifestyle, with that same intentionality and significance.

This essay originally appeared in my newsletter.

Update: April 21, 2017

Other things that have, over the past few years, come to be associated with minimalism, simplicity, and ‘the simple life’:

Vans, turntables, hardbound paperback books, mugs of coffee, pour-over coffee, hand-drawn logos, coloring books, wood carving, camping, beards, line-art tattoos, hand-lettering, wood block printing, the ukulele, $20 physical magazines, hemmed pants, selvedge-stitched denim, Scandinavian design, mid-century design, puffy white duvets, hardwood floors, building-scale murals.

This is in no way a complete list, and these elements will continue to change as trends evolve. The important thing to remember is that none of these trends are wrong if they make you happen and you find value in them, but you don’t need any of them to be happy and they won’t complete you. Trends aren’t solutions, even though we’re sold them as if they were.