One nice trip this month would make me really happy. Does that mean that 10 trips this month would make me 10 times happier? Definitely not. I would enjoy a new pair of jeans, shoes, a couple of new books and one good online course. If I multiply all these by 10, what do I get? More joy? Nope. Just more mess.
We have a limited capacity to process and enjoy new toys and gadgets. We are also busy. So why do we persist in a constant battle to have more, do more, amass more? That’s not where our happiness is.
In “Essentialism” Greg McKeown uses a German expression “Weniger aber besser”, meaning “Less but better”. That is a powerful idea. If we are smart and deliberate, we can accomplish more with less. Enjoy more with less. Be more with less. Because less is more. Here are some practical examples of this principle.
1. Work smarter, not harder
This notion could be an ultimate insult in grad school, where all problems are typically explained by: “Well, you should work harder.” I recently got a paper rejected with a comment that it’s nicely written but lacks substance and innovation. That is the example of how hard work (focus on writing up well whatever results I had) cannot possibly compensate for not having enough “meat and potatoes” (substance and innovation).
Working harder isn’t always the solution. More often it is an excuse to stay busy, do more of the same actions while expecting different results.
We can always try to squeeze in more working hours in the day, at the cost of social life, peace of mind, physical, mental and spiritual health. I don’t know about you, but that is not the type of success that I want. I am hungry for a different approach to work. My current obsession: Deep Work. So many ideas on working smarter, not harder.
Mr. Money Mustache has a golden rule of minimalism:
“If you don’t use it, lose it.”
Our possessions should be things that we like, use and that bring values into our lives. This set of things will be different for everyone and you should make your own conscious choices.
In her international bestseller “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” Marie Kondo talks about belongings as about beings that help us live good, comfortable life. And just like beings, things don’t like to be neglected and forgotten in dark depths of the drawer you never open. If they don’t serve you, they would be much happier to serve someone else. This approach may seem a bit woo-woo, but I think it makes a lot of sense. Clutter creates stress and distraction. Free yourself from unnecessary stuff and feel a huge relief.
3. Capsule wardrobe
Are you a person with a full wardrobe that never knows what to wear? Do you spend 20 minutes staring at your closet every morning? Maybe you should try a capsule wardrobe, a careful choice of your favorite clothes, with a lot of classical pieces that are easy to combine. An interesting resource is 333 project, which is all about wearing 33 items for 3 months. Whether you are down for this challenge or not, remember that having (your own version of) capsule wardrobe is cheaper, simpler and more practical option comparing to a closet full of stuff you hardly ever wear.
Keeping a makeup routine simple makes life easier, plus it emphasizes natural beauty. But, ladies, don’t take my advice on this. Ask guys what do they think before you spend hours studying (and trying out) a Youtube makeup tutorial that will result in one bathroom selfie for Instagram. There are better and more meaningful ways to spend your time, money and energy.
5. Reading slowly
Often, way too often, I see people bragging about how many books they have read. It almost turned into a competition. People listen to audiobooks and podcasts on 1.5 speed. We are obsessed with skimming, glancing, scratching the surface. As Maria Popova said, we still want knowledge, but we don’t want the work and time that goes toward it.
Frantic reading makes us encounter an interesting idea, saying: “Hmm, this is interesting,” and move on in the search of next shiny solution for our problems. However, when we read slowly, carefully, when we highlight, contemplate on what we’ve read, when we try the ideas from the books ourselves, that’s when the books have the biggest potential to transform us.
For instance, I am procrastinating on reading “Deep Work”. Cal Newport suggests so many good strategies for deep work and I want to try them out. I don’t just want to check this book off my to-do list, I want it to have a profound impact on the way I work. And I will give myself time. (If the topic of slow reading interests you, HERE is a whole (viral) post that I wrote about it.
6. Writing concise.
I love Blaise Pascal’s quote:
“I would have written a shorter letter but I did not have the time.”
It takes a lot of effort to go from a huge pile of hot mess that you just slammed onto a page to something that is thoughtful, concise and valuable. It takes a lot of experience to be able to say more with less. But it’s worth practicing. No one will skip your post because it’s too short. Long posts may have more likes, but people are skimming left and right, myself included (See the idea #5.)
There is an episode of Liz Gilbert’s podcast Magic Lessons in which she coaches a young lady who is an aspiring poet. Liz was trying to explain to her how all of her experiences create a rich material for her poetry, and the girl asked: “Do you mind if I share the quote?” a girl asked. “Not at all,” said Liz.
‘Breathe in life, breathe out poetry.’
(Wow.) Liz concluded that poets are definitely the masters of saying more with less. Short, sweet, easy to remember and to the point. We should all read poetry more.
8. Ingredients in your food.
In his amazing TED talk, Mark Bittman argues that 70% of the stuff that can be found in the supermarkets is not really a food. Food is supposed to provide energy, nourishment and make us healthier. You got it, Doritos, Oreos, Pop Tarts and such don’t qualify as food. Processed food has millions of ingredients, most of which are unhealthy. Kris Carr says:
“If it takes the lab to make, it takes the lab to digest.”
Real food has a handful of ingredients and it’s simple and nourishing. Stripping your food from unnecessary stuff will only make your life better.
If you are into design, you have to watch Netflix show Abstract. In the very first episode, Christoph Niemann explains how the key to the good design is abstraction: subtraction of all the unnecessary elements while still leaving enough content so that object is recognizable.
Example: the heart (see the abstractometer below). The image on the right is the oversimplified form that doesn’t even look like a heart. The image on the left has too many details and looks a bit bizarre. The image in the middle is the right balance, it’s simple, we understand what it is and it doesn’t have anything unnecessary. That’s the abstraction, a powerful principle that can be translated into many creative realms.
We all know that it’s great to have choices and options rather than one paved path (which we may not even like). However, the excessive number of options and choices often brings us to the analysis paralysis. We are so terrified of making the bad decision, that we usually decide not to do anything. Or we spend hours obsessing over different options, figuring how to choose an optimal one.
That depletes our willpower and mental bandwidth. That’s the reason that habits are so effective, they eliminate decision making. That’s why meal plans save time, money and energy. Capsule wardrobe, too (See the idea #3). When we stop obsessing over minor decisions, we can start thinking about deep and important things. And that’s the whole point.