Simplification as a muscle

I strive for minimalism but do seem to be predisposed to, or have developed a habit of, being an archivist.

“Archivist” is the more distinguished word I use for “saver.”  In my case,  it’s warranted too. I’m highly organized in my saving of family and personal artifacts, usually spending a lot of time labeling and chronologically sorting old family picture albums and slides. My feeling is that if you’re going to keep this stuff, it should be in order and easy to access.

That said, I’m always pushing myself towards great levels of simplification in everything too. Part of this mission is having less stuff. Throwing away is hard, but it becomes easier with practice.

In short: I think simplification is a muscle. And you should exercise that muscle each day.

I started out by using what I self call the “mule strategy”—It involves taking small boxes of stuff you know you aren’t using to the Goodwill. I call it this because I picture myself taking these trips with just enough stuff to put on the back of a mule. It’s not clear these trips are efficient when your goal may be to cut down on your possessions by 40% and you feel ridiculous handing a small box to someone at the Goodwill but often larger, more drastic amounts of personal simplification are improbable or too jarring if you haven’t been working out at the “Simplification Gymnasium” at all for the past 20 years.

Online gurus write about similar strategies like moving everything that is cluttering your house into the garage—or another room—so you can feel the reward of how nice that space is without any clutter in it before you throw the stuff out.

The thing I have been thinking about recently is how simplification and the use of the “mule strategy” is about more than just your possession count, it’s about the way you operate in business as well.

If you’re a creative person your brain is likely something like a cluttered home. You’re constantly making new connections and taking new notes and thinking about new businesses and new products and new articles. You keep on bringing in new items to your home every day and it gets overwhelming.

As a result: You need a system of simplification and prioritization in place in order to be an effective executer on your best ideas.

This is why it’s important to constantly review and purge useless debris from your notes and review your system of capturing your most valuable ideas and priorities.

I want the ideas in my mind and tasks I’m working on to meet the same criteria set for possessions in my home: Just stuff that makes me happy and will continue to make me happy for a long time.

So keep pruning.

Basecamp founder Jason Fried has even recommended to not take down as many notes when it comes to the development of products because the best ideas will just continue to float to the top and the other ideas you have will naturally die and writing them down may distract you needlessly. I don’t think I actually agree with this. I fear that not documenting something will mean I’ll lose something that had potential.

If you’re having a tough time and it feels overwhelming on the home front or in your mind, get a shoebox today, fill it with some worthless crap in your house or apartment and take that sucker to the Goodwill. It will feel good to work out that muscle for the first time.

Next week, after you realize how good it feels to be slightly lighter, take a slightly larger box.

Do the same thing with your business notes and organization system: Slowly but regularly delete.

One final pro tip: Consider getting a Fujitsu Scansnap, or something similar. I was able to throw away a couple of boxes of old tax returns and other files after digitizing them.



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