So what was it I was looking for, and how did I end up at minimalism? For the answer, I have to go back to 2015 to a more hectic time.
Two years ago I was doing many, many things, and I was desperately trying to find bandwidth to take on more. Off the top of my head I was:
– Working a rewarding 9-5 job
– Playing squash two or three evenings a week, including for the local team which meant travelling once every two weeks.
– Learning photography, reading many books and buying kit. I was trying to build a small business.
– The usual things of keeping fit, trying to save money, spend time with my wife, catch up with friends, floss, keep up with the latest TV series, have all the latest tech. The list continued.
So where was I going to get all this time to play more squash, grow my photography business, get a promotion at work, spend more time with my wife?
The first step actually came from listening to a podcast where David Allen and Getting Things Done was mentioned. After researching, I found that David Allen was the author of Getting Things Done, a book on personal management.
The basic premise of GTD is that your brain is a terrible place for ideas and to do lists and so advocates an “external brain”. An external brain is typically a notebook or an app. This frees up space in your brain for having ideas and being creative. So I embraced GTD and I was happier and less stressed, and I had more time. Great!
One of the key concepts of GTD is that you capture everything your mind holds to free up all the bandwidth you need. The issue I had with capturing everything is that by the time I had everything off my mind, my list of projects was enormous. It felt ridiculously cumbersome and I would never get through all of it. I couldn’t focus for long enough on my list of tasks without my mind wandering to all the other things I had ongoing. And as always, more stuff was coming in every day.
In the end, I declared GTD bankruptcy, and decided I needed a better way. There are things about GTD that I will always keep, particularly the capture habit, but I needed to move on as that massive list of things for me to accomplish was too great a source of stress and procrastination for me, so I had to simplify.
simplify, then simplify again
Albert Einstein apparently said something like: Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction. For me, the greatest example of this is good design. Take the iPhone, for example. The design of the iPhone makes it intuitive to use. If you need to read a giant instruction manual to use it, then no one will. However, it is not simple to make things simple, and a lot of the cost of the iPhone is engineers who are paid handsomely to make things simple.
Simplicity allows you to remove the unnecessary to be able to focus on the essential. When you cook a meal, it’s easier to start with a clean kitchen. When you do something on your computer, it’s easier to start with a clean desk. When you go to sleep, it’s easier to start with a clear bed. Surely, if you want to have good ideas, it’s easier to start with a clean mind?
(For this, you have to reject the notion of tidy desk, empty mind.)
It is now received wisdom that if you want to get things done, you need to multitask. You need to be checking your email while writing a proposal. You need to be reading the news while having your lunch. You need to be checking Facebook while having coffee with a friend.
And yet, what I noticed, and what recent neuroscience shows us is that humans are terrible at multitasking. I was particularly bad at it. All I found was that I would do many tasks slowly and without focusing, rather than well.
It was thanks to GTD that I finally came across minimalism. I kept a GTD list of photography ideas to shoot, and one of these was minimalist design. (For some reason, I had written down Danish minimalist design.) So when I went hunting for minimalist ideas, I stumbled across the minimalists. I started reading their blog, listening to their podcasts, and reading their books, and it was like being born again. All the frustrations I hadn’t been able to put into words, clearly laid out for me. From there I discovered Joshua Becker, Leo Babauta, Rachel Aust and Melissa Alexandria, and discovered that I was not the only one who benefited from the clarity of minimalism.
Through implementing changes in my life, I’m beginning to have confidence that I am doing more of the things that I want to do rather than the things that are expected of me. At this stage I have gotten rid of my TV, Xbox, Blu Ray player, one of our cars, a coffee table, my DVDs, 90% of my CDs, 70% of my books, 70% of my clothes, and various other assorted “things.”
I still have a long way to go, but the point of principia minimalista is a response to the fact that I have found that a lot of the resources out there don’t document the minimalist journey all that well, so I wanted to begin now while I still have a long way to go, so that others may not be overwhelmed by a lot of resources from people who are already minimalist.
I would like to clarify that getting rid of your TV won’t make you happy. That isn’t how minimalism works. I won’t go into it too much now as I want to talk about this in future posts, but getting rid of things is not the objective of minimalism. The point of minimalism is to get rid of the non-essential to focus on the essential. That is different for each person.
The minimalists sum it up nicely by ending their podcasts with the following phrase:
“Love people and use things, because the other way round never works.”