Minimalism & Headspace for 2016

At work we’ve been reading Greg McKeown’s Essentialism together. It’s been really enlightening. I read it in 2014 and remembered loving it, but didn’t have the space in my life to put any of it into practice. Now, as the kids get older and Ruth and I settle in a bit into our new life in Fort Collins, Colorado, the space is finally opening up to really dig into the concepts of simplicity, minimalism and head space that was important to me many years ago. And I can’t wait to see where we get to by the end of the year.

The general ideas go like this

  • Less, but better
  • 99% of everything doesn’t matter… The trick is finding out what does and focusing on it
  • Decluttering stuff, projects, and mental space
  • Living with a lower impact on the environment
  • Removing obstacles; like freeing up head space by getting rid of things I don’t use or don’t need, or saying no to things that don’t bring me joy, peace, or necessary functionality

The list could be pages long, but these are some of the core tenets on my mind. But to see anything through, the why is what’s most important…

The Why

There are a lot of things I want out of this endeavor. Some of the most important to me are:

Increased head space

I miss the ability to have the clarity of thought that used to be so effortless. By getting closer to less clutter in my head, I hope to improve my focus on work projects and remove mental blockages like analysis-paralysis and procrastination. Overall, the quality of what I produce should go up.

Living lightly

As you all know, I’m a product geek. As a User Experience Designer, I love finding products that have been week thought through and made to last. But over the years of inadvertently collecting many physical objects like shoes, bags, gadgets and the like, it wasn’t hard to identify the feeling that a lot of this stuff was just weighing me down in a psychological way. By decluttering my physical space and learning to live with less ‘stuff’, I hope to streamline my workflow and time taken for preparing for a workday. Hopefully, owning less will also free up some head space.

Doing only what matters

I’m your classical people-pleaser. I love making others happy. Being a people-pleaser with a lot of different skills results in a lot of favors for others. For me, this usually looks like helping someone with a website or design project, but I’ve also volunteered a lot of my time for my board seat at Fort Collins Archery Association, my local Housing Association board, and most recently, Fort Collins IXDA. I’m curating this list throughout the year to focus on the things that truly matter.

Fewer irons in the fire

I do too many things. I’m spread too thin. I’m going to change that by making difficult cuts to my list of obligations, and by changing the way I make choices about new ones.

I’m starting with ‘stuff’

The easy-win is to first get rid of stuff, because it’s relatively mindless and results are quick and tangible. In fact, I’ve already started in two major areas:

My wardrobe

I had a pretty nice collection of clothes. I’ve always been quite picky about what I bought. I had probably 10 different jackets, about 20 pairs of shoes, lots of t-shirts, hoodies and sweaters, and at least 20 different day-bags. It was so easy to go through it all. One of the great quotes from The KonMari Method book was something like “Don’t think about what you have to get rid of — focus on what you want to keep.” This was a really useful tool, but I put some of my own rules in as well, such as if it hasn’t been used in a year, and how easy is it to replace if I REALLY needed it?

In the end, I went from a bulging (my) half of the walk-in closet to a new, airy and organized setup. I now own one jacket, two hoodies, 4 pairs of shoes, 3 hats (winter and summer), 3 pairs of gloves, 6 pairs of underwear, 3 thermal bottoms, one thermal top, 6 pairs of socks and 2 day bags. My side of the closet looks like the Gutenberg Museum compared to, erm, the other side ;-). 12 bags of stuff over 3 trips to the charity shop and 2 bags of trash sorted it all out in 4 sessions over the space of 3 weeks. 2 bags went on Craigslist.

My office

As you know, I have an office space at home, but I rarely use it. It became the place where all my electronic stuff, illustration materials and papers are stored. When I first started going through it, the task felt huge. There was just SO much stuff in there. It had become my work ‘home-base’ of storage & ‘organization’. But as I learned from many writing about the topic of decluttering, most things that are ‘stored’ are NEVER accessed, and therefore not needed at all.

I went through cables for audio, video, power and data. I sorted hundreds of papers and filled 4 trash bags with them. I Craigslist’d 4 bags of stuff including expensive headphones, hard drives, innumerable electronic gizmos like a Kindle and wireless speakers. I charity shop’d at least 15 bags (and counting). Right now, on my desk is my set of Bose wired speakers, and my MacBook and iPad charge there overnight. That’s it. I got the wireless feature of my printer working and plugged it into on top of a box in the walk-in closet. I folded two blankets and placed them in front of the fireplace. Now that the room feels clear and clutter-free, I’m moving on to things that will make it feel like a more usable, distraction-free workspace. Stay tuned for that.

Where I’m headed

The bedroom, kitchen and bathroom:

They all need the same treatment. There’s an old single covered chair in the bedroom that never gets used apart form collecting ‘stuff’. That’s going. Our bathroom is so tiny that even the smallest amount of things makes it feel cluttered… like you can barely step anywhere without getting deodorant on your feet or tripping into the bathtub. The kitchen is a usability-disaster. They all need work.

The garage

As most of you know, I like to tinker with cars & bicycles. My huge garage is half the reason I bought this house in the first place. But now that my car needs no tinkering, most of this junk is going to get cleared out. I’m not quite ready to be getting rid tools, since I’m hoping to do more DIYing anyway, but the space needs some serious organization.

Minimalism and Nomadic Working

To me, the concepts of Minimalism go hand-in-hand with Nomadic Working. Being outside your comfort zone in a foreign city or wilderness requires a good amount of focus and personal optimization. I see minimalism as one of many focuses that can be beneficial to Nomadic Working.

I’m already experiencing a lot of the positive effects of it; it’s easier to get out the door each morning because I’ve removed many of the time-consuming decisions that I was making previously, like which bag to use, which headphones to grab or what to wear. I’ve whittled down every single one of those choices to one. There is no choice — there is only what I have chosen to keep — and that is what I use. What about the varying needs of each day? Well, so far, I’ve found precisely zero downsides to my previous many choices. The clothing I wear every day is more like a uniform. I wear jeans (usually the same ones) every day. I grab one of 4 t-shirts. I wear my single base layer top (in winter). If I’ll be hiking that day and it’s cold, I wear thermal bottoms for running. If it’s not cold, I grab one of 6 pairs of boxers. In summer, I wear my summer shoes. In winter, I wear my winter shoes.

The absence of choice cannot be overrated. I’ve found it to be one of the benefits that is the easiest to achieve, and represents one of the quickest wins. (I’ll get into exactly what all these items are in an upcoming post.)

Another thing I’m noticing as an immediate benefit is lower maintenance. I own about 10% of the clothes I did before, which means 90% less washing. I’m taking half the amount of time to get out the door, which is a 50% time savings. Every single object I use on a daily basis has a specific ‘place’ where it lives, so I’m never searching through boxes or closets for anything. The objects I’ve kept are singular and specific. There are very few extraneous items I ever interface with on a daily basis. Nothing ever gets in the way, and because I have fewer items to maintain, the time I spend maintaining anything seems to have disappeared almost entirely.

Pretty sure it was Tyler Durden who said “The things you own end up owning you.” There’s definitely some truth in this. I can’t wait to learn more about it.

What’s next for Nomadic Working?

I’ll talk more about these experiences as they unfold. I want to focus on the effects a little more than the journey (which has been covered in many great books). I’ll be doing a series of posts about the physical things I’ve chosen to keep, and I hope to get into some of the reasoning behind a lot of those choices. I’d also like to get into the lifestyle side of it — the changes in how I organize my day, how I’m getting rid of previous responsibilities, and how I’m trying to focus on what is ‘essential’.