Maura Malloy: The Masterpiece of a Simple Life at TEDxIndianapolis (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of screenwriter Maura Malloy’s TEDx Talk: The Masterpiece of a Simple Life at TEDxIndianapolis conference. This This event took place on October 20, 2015 at Indianapolis, Indiana. To learn more about the speaker, read the full bio here.


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Maura Malloy – Screenwriter

William Morris once said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

These are words I live by for two reasons: I love being surrounded by beauty, and my physical surroundings directly affect my person. I can meditate and do yoga till the cows come home, but if I’m surrounded by a mess or just excess stuff in general, I am unable to focus, to work or to relax. A serene space is a requirement for my sanity’s sake, both professionally and personally.

Clear countertops, an empty sink, clothes put away, an empty desk to write on. That thought alone both focuses and calms me, but the world I live in doesn’t readily meet my needs for simplicity. There are more products available to us than ever before.

The 1950s-era supermarket contained 3,000 different items, but by the 1990s, there were 30,000 items.

Let’s take a look at a swanky Fifth Avenue apartment in 1943. Notice the lack of clutter, the negative space, the simplicity of it all. This is no longer the ideal, or, even if it is to some people, it’s nearly impossible to achieve. We, as a society, are accumulating more than ever before, much of which can be traced back 25 years ago, to when imports to America increased exponentially, allowing huge amounts of cheap toys, clothes, and electronics to come our way.

As a result of this accumulation, 1 in 11 American households spends over a thousand dollars a year to rent self-storage space. One quarter of households that have two car garages have so much stuff in there, they can’t park a car. And although US consumers make up 3% of the world’s children, we buy 40% of the world’s toys.

So, while I find this New York apartment to be the ideal for serenity, it wasn’t necessarily attractive to me always. I remember coveting my collections as a little girl. There was the Berenstain Bear book collection, the pencil collection — I don’t understand — the Teddy Bear collection, and most importantly, my dolls. I wanted more of all of it. I was a child of the 80s and 90s. More equaled better, which equaled a happier, more fulfilling life, right?

All I have to say is, thank God for curiosity, because at 19, wanting to see the world, I traveled abroad to India, where I spent a good deal of time with a bunch of joyous children that lived nearby me. They were happy and fulfilled, but they had none of the collections I had as a little girl. A broken bicycle tire could entertain them. And, when I say “entertain”, I’m talking unquenchable joy emanating from their beings for hours at a time.

What’s more, my stuff was limited on that semester. Due to weight restrictions on Indian flights, I was only allotted 40 pounds in my backpack for the entire four months away, and that doesn’t add up too much. Yet, I felt unencumbered. Life got simpler. It was freeing, and my days became filled with experiences, and not stuff.

So, a seed was planted, but it wasn’t enough for me to change my habits. I judged American consumerism, but I bought tons of trinkets on that semester abroad. Many were for friends and family, but many were for me.

I shipped a huge box of tourist gear back to my parent’s house. But this was a unique circumstance, right? Possessions equal memories, right? That box was proof that my life had forever changed. It was proof that I was an adventurer, a world traveler.

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