Minimalism Maintenance

essentialismNature abhors a vacuum, and so do friends — ever since renting a large house with a housemate, it seems that more and more of our friends’ odd pieces of furniture and glassware have taken up “temporary” residence here. So much, in fact, that I’ve created a list of “stuff to give back” that I’ll be checking when I finally move out. (As an Air Force brat and longtime apartment dweller, my assumption is always that I’ll be moving each year! It’s a pleasant surprise if I don’t.)

Minimalism certainly requires maintenance. I’ve been practicing it for over 15 years, and if I didn’t carry out periodic purges to stem the clutter creep, I’d still be overwhelmed. It’s amazing how much Stuff (including digital files and time commitments) accumulates, even when you are consciously doing your best to keep life simple.

One of my maintenance practices is to read books and blogs about minimalism, simple living, and the like. They seldom have much to teach me — after 15 years, I know how the process works — but they do offer affirmation that I’m not the only person who’s making unconventional choices in an effort to keep out excess, since none of my friends and colleagues share this particular mindset with me.

One book I’ve recently read and appreciated is Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. I prefer his term “essentialism” to “minimalism” because it better captures my perspective on the practice — that is, it’s not a matter of having or doing less, necessarily; it’s a matter of having or doing enough and no more to pursue your goals. This typically means paring down your belongings, sure — clutter causes all kinds of time wastage — but it also means paring down other distractions, too; voluntarily narrowing your choices and focusing only on those activities that will get you where you want to be. McKeown’s book is, in fact, more about essentialism of effort than essentialism of stuff, which makes it stand out from so many of the other minimalism books I’ve read, which usually focus on Stuff and only later address Effort.

Again, it’s not that McKeown’s book offers much that’s new to those who are already practicing minimalism, but it addresses the issue from a slightly different perspective — it’s primarily about the importance of asserting control over your life choices, work routines, and leadership decisions — and of course it affirms that it’s not crazy to voluntarily eliminate things from your life that most people consider necessary, if doing so helps you focus on what you’ve chosen as your life’s priority.

If you’re a minimalist, or considering it, or if you’re a creative struggling to find time for your passion, I’d recommend reading McKeown’s book. Essentialism isn’t easy, and it does require constant maintenance, but in the 15 years that I’ve been honing my practice — whether under the name of voluntary simplicity, downsizing, minimalism, or essentialism — I’ve found that I’ve never regretted the effort. …For one thing, those books lined up on your right would never have been written without it!

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