“There is more joy and fulfillment in pursuing less than can be found in pursuing more.” – Joshua Becker
Minimalism is an increasingly popular lifestyle whose practical benefits and simple implementation have a lot to offer today’s hectic world. I personally discovered minimalist principles several years ago through the work of fantastic bloggers and authors who have collectively produced an impressive body of information. For those looking for a more comprehensive overview than what follows, I strongly suggest exploring some of the resources at the end of this post.
What is Minimalism?
Minimalism involves simplifying your life to the essentials. It’s less about reduction or not doing, but rather about putting energy, commitment, and time into the things that give us the most joy and benefit.
Let’s go on a brief segway to early 20th century Italy and the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. After discovering that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population, he surveyed nearby countries and found a similar distribution of both land ownership and wealth. Intrigued, Vilfredo then noted that even in his garden, 20% of the pea pods contained 80% of the peas. His observations have since been generalized across many domains and are formally known as the Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule or the law of the vital few.1
So what does a 20th century Italian economist have to do with minimalism?
Minimalism and Things
When you apply Pareto’s principle to the possessions you own and the things that you do, you get minimalism. By getting rid of the 80 (or 90 or 95) percent of “waste” – possessions which are unused or activities which are inefficient or ineffective – we are able give more time and energy to the things that matter.
In it’s most extreme forms, a minimalist ruthlessly applies the principle again and again, reducing the 80% of excess repeatedly until left with only the absolutely essential. Some extreme versions have the goal of living with less than 50 total possessions, but there are great benefits to be had from de-cluttering and simplifying even a single drawer, closet, or room:
- It makes choosing easier. Having fewer things can help to ward off decision fatigue by reducing the available options. For example, once you donate clothes that aren’t frequently worn it’s easier to decide on what to wear.
- It’s easier to find what you need. When you have fewer things to keep track of it’s easier to find what you are looking for.
- Minimalist spaces can reduce stress. Our brains are constantly analyzing our environments to make sure we are safe. When there are fewer things in the environment to analyze, the brain is calmer, translating into a smaller chance of your body jumping into fight or flight mode.
- Minimalist, uncluttered spaces lead to an uncluttered mind. Remove potential sources of distraction from the environment and you reduce the chance of getting distracted! This leads to more mental energy to commit to the things that matter.
- It can save you money! In understanding the benefit of only purchasing items that truly add value, minimalists are more selective about what they spend money on. This can generate substantial savings over time as we stop paying for things that will only be discarded later.
Minimalism and Time
Minimalism is equally powerful when it is applied to time. It is a tool that can assist in the personal budgeting of time and attention in the same way that a business might budget to decide where to invest it’s capital and manpower.
Many of the most successful companies are those who have implemented similar strategies when going through their budget process. “Budgeting is a discipline to decide which arenas should be fully funded and which should not be funded at all,” explains author Jim Collins in his book Good to Great. “In other words, the budget process is not about figuring out how much each activity gets, but about determining which activities best support the Hedgehog Concept [the core mindset/skill of the business] and should be fully strengthened and which should be eliminated entirely.”
By looking at where we spend our time and removing the activities that least serve us, we are left with more energy to give to those that do. One strategy which can be effective is to make a “stop doing” list just as important as a “to do” list. Jim Collins continues:
“Most of us lead busy but undisciplined lives. We have ever-expanding “to do” lists, trying to build momentum by doing, doing, doing— and doing more. And it rarely works. Those who built the good-to-great companies, however, made as much use of “stop doing” lists as “to do” lists. They displayed a remarkable discipline to unplug all sorts of extraneous junk.”
The takeaway? Be selective about where you spend your time and strive to only do those activities which bring you the most value. Time is a more precious resource than money, so spend it wisely. “People who value themselves highly allocate their time carefully,” writes author Brian Tracy “When you love your life, you love every minute of it. You are very careful about misusing or wasting any of the precious minutes and hours of each day.”
Implementing the Practice
Space is at a premium when you live in the city, so over two years ago I slowly worked my way through every inch of our condo and put things into one of four piles: trash, give away, keep, or relocate. Last year I went through again and was surprised at how much more I had left to reduce. Over that same period I also took a hard look at my calendar and decided to drastically reduce the activities that weren’t serving me. It’s made a world of difference.
What would you do with less stress and more time?
Interested in learning more about minimalism? Check out the following resources:
- Leo Babauta of mnmlist.com and zenhabits.net has great tips on implementing minimalist practices in steps as well as a general minimalist faq
- Joshua Fields Millburn describes a day in the life of a minimalist, or check out Joshua and Ryan Nicodemus site The Minimalists
- Joshua Becker of becomingminimalist.com describes his journey to minimalism and offers creative ways to declutter
- Mike Burns of The Other Side of Complexity on Why Less is More
- Although not about minimalism per se, here’s a funny 5 min clip by George Carlin on the problem of too much stuff.
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareto_principle [↩]