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Maximizing Minimalism

How many different kinds of minimalism can you juggle at the same time?


There are many ways to be a minimalist. And each kind can add a lot of value to your life.

You can be a “stuff minimalist” and try to get by with less stuff.

You can be an “open loop minimalist” and try to get by with fewer thoughts running around in your mind.

You can be an “expense minimalist” and try to get by on less money.

You can be a “decision minimalist” and try to make fewer decisions each day -- especially decisions about things outside of your area of expertise or core creative endeavors.

You can be a “distraction minimalist” and try to create an environment for yourself that allows for maximal focus.

You can be a “motivational friction minimalist” and try to create a lifestyle that fits your natural desires better so you can operate with more passion and less willpower.

You can be an “interpersonal conflict minimalist” and try to strike new social agreements with people so there’s less drama in your life.

You can be a “hassle minimalist” and try to reduce the number of steps it takes to get things done.

You can be a “commitment minimalist” and reduce the number of promises you make (which tends to reduce motivational friction and interpersonal conflict as well).

You can be a “wasted moment minimalist” and try to reduce the amount of time spent on things that are unimportant to you.

You can be an “aspirational minimalist” and get rid of your bucket lists.

You can be a “coordination cost minimalist” and try to reduce the amount of time and energy spent scheduling, negotiating, and making your actions work smoothly with the actions of others.

You can be an “expectation minimalist” and lower your expectations for yourself, the natural world, and everyone around you.

All of these minimalisms promise freedom. We can get more done, save more money, and think more clearly when we don’t have so many things, commitments, open loops and negative emotions running through our lives.

But you might run into complications when you try your hand at . . . . . .

Mixing Minimalisms

Many of these minimalisms work quite well together much of the time. But that’s not always the case. From time to time, when we try to promote one form of minimalism, we will frustrate another.

If you live in the suburbs with a spouse, two children, and two cars, reducing the number of cars will promote “stuff minimalism” but work against “coordination cost minimalism”, because now you’ll have to schedule and negotiate the use of the single car. (If you try to reduce the number of children, you’ll have even bigger problems.)

If you try to save money with a cheaper car, you can wind up wasting time, increasing hassle, and increasing the number of tough decisions you need to make.

If you clip coupons, you’re saving money but wasting time and increasing hassle.

If you want to move to a smaller house closer to a bus line, you might promote all kinds of minimalism, but, if your partner doesn’t want to move, you will frustrate your desire for “interpersonal conflict minimalism.”

And by aspiring to move when it’s not likely to happen, you’ll be frustrating your “aspirational minimalism” as well.

Quite often we can’t minimize everything at once. We have to make trade-offs.

And this urge toward minimalism, which promised so much freedom at first glance, begins to look like yet another trap, and yet another source of frustrated expectations, complications, hassles, interpersonal-conflict, and endless to-do lists.

Merging Minimalisms

Still minimalism feels like a good impulse. Removing obstacles from our lives has to be a good thing, right? So let’s try to simplify it some. (At the very least we’ll scratch an itch for conceptual minimalism.)

Perhaps minimalism isn’t primarily about minimizing the amount of stuff we own. Maybe at its core it’s more about maximizing the amount of time, attention, and energy we have available for the most important things in our lives.

In fact, perhaps our primary goal should be a maximizing goal:

Maximizing Goal of Minimalism: Try to maximize the amount of time, attention, and energy you have available for the most important things in your life.

Isn’t that what we’re really after? Aren’t we attracted to the idea of getting rid of stuff, because having too much of it steals time, attention, and energy from more important things whenever some of our stuff breaks, needs cleaning, distracts us, or otherwise gets in the way?

And can’t similar things be said for all the other kinds of minimalism?

Now this maximizing goal doesn’t eliminate our need for minimizing activities. Minimizing is just as important as ever. In fact, at some points in our lives, getting rid of things, drama, expectations, aspirations or unwise commitments will be the single most important way to reach our maximizing goal.

We still need something like the following minimizing strategy:

Minimizing Strategy of Minimalism: From time to time consider whether you can increase the amount of time, attention and energy you have available for the most important things in your life through the reduction or elimination of: stuff, commitments, open loops, aspirations, distractions, expectations, expenses, drama, motivational friction, hassle, etc.

If we think of things this way, we can still appreciate the immense value of all the different kinds of minimalism, but we can be less rigid about any one form of minimalism. We don’t have to agonize over paying for a service or acquiring a new possession on that odd occasion when the net effect is to give us more time, attention, and energy for what really matters.