''Simple Abundance,'' ''Simplify Your Life,'' ''Chic Simple'' and more suggest getting back to basics

By Alexandra Jacobs
Updated August 02, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

Oh, sure, we all wish life could be a little simpler sometimes. Lately, though, there’s been such a surfeit of guides on how to pare things down to the bare minimum that things actually seem to be getting more…complicated.

For starters, there’s Sarah Ban Breathnach’s hugely best-selling, Oprah-touted Simple Abundance. And there’s Elaine St. James’ trio of primers: Simplify Your Life, Inner Simplicity, and Living the Simple Life. And then there are those impossibly sleek, slightly menacing Chic Simple books, the 19-volume-and-counting series whose knowing and at times absurd approach to the nooks and crannies of ”lifestyle” (isn’t Chic Simple Nursery a bit oxymoronic?) is giving Martha Stewart a serious run for her money.

And it doesn’t stop there. According to Books in Print online, 1,075 books have used the words simple or simplicity in their titles since 1990. Compare that with 612 from 1984 to 1990 and 453 from 1980 to 1986 and it looks like we’re experiencing some close-to-the-millennium edginess.

”People are beginning to sort through what matters,” says Andrea Van Steenhouse, Ph.D., who cowrote A Woman’s Guide to a Simpler Life, coming from Harmony Books in September. ”They’re concerned about the spiritual element.” Kim Johnson Gross (the co-mastermind behind Chic Simple, who is currently working on a Face installment) agrees: ”It’s about learning to surround yourself with the things that really please you and work for you, and learning to edit out the things that don’t…. It doesn’t mean you can’t own a thousand shoes. If that’s your thing, great — do it!”

But doesn’t that contradict Chic Simple‘s credo, which states that ”quality of life comes not in accumulating things”? No way, Gross reassures us. Living simply, she says, ”doesn’t mean you can’t lead a cluttered life.” That’s a relief, because we were having a hard time figuring out where to put all these books.