The Art of Simplification
“As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.” - Henry David Thoreau
I’ve lied to myself about simplicity in my life far too many times. Sure using Dropbox across my multiple computers would make accessing files far simpler. But wait…why do I have multiple computers? Oh, one for home, one for mobile, one for work, one for more intense computing stuff, etc. Simplicity…right?
In the last few weeks, I’ve made a serious effort to simplify my life. Part of this has to do with purging unnecessary things from my life. Other parts have to do with removing complexities from my life. In just the few weeks that I’ve been working on this experience, my head is already far more clear than before, and I’m so much more productive. Here’s what I did:
This isn’t exactly easy. You accumulate stuff. Plenty of stuff. So how do you decide what to get rid of? Matters are only made worse when oneself is somewhat materialistic and has disposable income. That was me. I had five computers to my name (MacBook Air for travel, MacBook Pro for photos and music production, two Mac Minis, one in each place of residence, and an iMac at work). Ridiculous right? In the last few weeks, I’ve consolidated down to just my MacBook Air and gotten rid of every other computer. It’s uncanny just how much better I felt knowing that I’m on one machine.
But it goes way beyond that…how about those random gadgets that you bought that you were determined to learn? Or that new hobby that you picked up and bought stuff for, but aren’t ever going to find time to get into it? For the most part, that was DJ’ing for me. After getting into electronic music, I felt like I was going to dive in and learn to DJ, because it looked like fun. I bought lots of equipment (more than I needed) and proceeded to watch it sit on the stand, unused for the better part of the year. Then I thought of taking lessons. Then I realized that I wasn’t ever going to get to it. Or at least for some significant amount of time. So I purged. Sold it all on Ebay. And the result? I didn’t feel emotionally any better the day before, when the stuff was still in my possession.
UPDATE: Thanks to Jeffrey Kalmikoff for pointing out this fantastic video that adequately sums up how I used to pick up hobbies. For those of you wondering, in my lifetime my hobbies have been: Legos, K’nex, Erector Sets, model rockets, model planes, hockey, golf, Magic: The Gathering, Battletech minatures, rollerblading, skateboarding, freebording, World of Warcraft, skiing, guitar, bass, drums, dj’ing, photography, beer brewing, cooking, comic books, video games, and probably a lot more that I can’t remember right now because I spent a whole of 30 minutes on them.
Which brings me to my point about material goods: it’s just stuff. Sure, you might like having stuff, maybe you show it off…but at the end of the day it’s too easy to get caught up in and fake emotional connectedness. The result is that I fill my life with more wholesome things than just playing with random gadgets I felt I needed.
Protip: How about for the packrat that keeps every bit of clothing they’ve ever bought? Here’s a trick: Turn all of your hangers in your closet backwards. Then, as you wear clothes, turn them back around. After 6-12 months, evaluate what is still backwards. Those are things you should get rid of immediately…you don’t wear them!
About two years ago, I had what I thought was a brilliant theory: get rid of my desk. If I didn’t have a desk, well then I probably wouldn’t work as much as I did at home. What a complete and utter failure that was. Turns out, when you don’t have a desk, your entire home becomes your work. I would constantly be on my laptop everywhere…my chair, couch, bed, kitchen table, etc. I realized that by getting rid of the computer’s dedicated “place” that I could no longer escape it. I’ve since re-purchased a desk, and it was the greatest thing I could have done. I keep my computer there…rarely taking it down to work elsewhere. Now, when I’m standing at my desk, I’m in “work mode”. When I’m away, my mind doesn’t stay attached to the work…it’s free to do whatever else.
A Clean Environment, a Clean Mind
I’ve had an odd relationship with the cleanliness of my place my entire life. As a child, I never made my bed…for some reason I just couldn’t justify it when I was just going to sleep in it 16 hours from then. I felt better if I just let my place go to crap for two weeks, and then do some big cleanup at some point. The same would be true for my desk.
Then one day, I just started being more mindful about my environment, and keeping it tidy. Now, I can only speak for myself, but I feel so much better day-to-day as I spend time in that environment. I feel as though clutter on a desk, or in a house can lead to a cluttered mind. If things aren’t in their right place, how are we to expect that our mind will be clean? Now, I make my bed, do my dishes, straighten up my desk, etc. on a regular basis. It’s incredible what a difference it makes. I highly recommend this.
Procrastination is Evil
Tasks don’t complete themselves. Ever. If you need to do something, just do it. For years, I’ve put the pro in procrastination. I would hold on till the absolute last minute to get anything done. Taxes, assignments, work tasks, cleaning out the fridge (ew). Now, I’ve gotten serious. I put tasks on my todo list, and I get them done. No waiting, no hanging around until the last minute…just accomplishing things. I think procrastination is a like a bad drug. It’s addictive, it feels good at the time, but the more you do it, the more it destroys you. I’m still working on breaking the addiction, but I’m already feeling a billion times better just by getting shit done and not letting it wait until the very last moment to be done.
The funny thing is, most of these things are very easy to execute…some are not. Maybe you can’t accomplish everything at once. But now that I’ve put my mind to it, I’ve tried to remove all of the complexities, the bad influences, etc. in my life. Now I feel better, physically, mentally, in every part of my life. I get more work done, I get to experience more interesting things on a day-to-day basis. Simply put, it’s awesome. I’d challenge you to seriously think about all of the complexities in your life, and how you might simplify them. You might just do yourself some good.