One of the most overlooked and understated benefits of minimalism is the sense of clarity and ability to focus that is granted to its practitioners.
I’m fortunate in that I absolutely love what I do, but because of this I also spend a whole lot of time doing it. Like, a lot of time.
When I was running my branding studio out in LA, I was clocking in well over 100 hours per week, and that was just the time I considered work; there were many aspects of my job that I enjoyed so much I didn’t even think to charge for them.
And honestly, there’s nothing wrong with that. If you enjoy something, there’s no reason you shouldn’t do it just because the cultural standard says that work is bad and doing nothing is good. That’s not how I roll, so the cultural standard can suck it.
I did have one big problem with this situation, though, and it was significant enough to push me toward becoming a minimalist and changing the way I do business.
I hesitate to write it, because it’s a problem so terrible I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone, but here goes: I wasn’t able to keep up with Project Runway. Hell, I didn’t even know who was kicked off three episodes ago. It was a serious issue.
I’m not a TV person. I haven’t owned a ‘stupid box’ for about six years, and in that time I haven’t missed it one bit.
I do, however, try to keep up with pop culture and what’s going on in the entertainment/marketing/pop culture world, and to do this I need to be up on what people are paying attention to. In order to achieve this, I make it a point to always be watching one TV show. I’ll go online and find old seasons and episodes and slowly whittle my way through the stack. It’s amazing how many popular culture references I was making with no idea where they came from. I was learning.
Along the way, there were a few shows that jumped out at me and hung on, and Project Runway was one such show. It has been a consistent source of entertainment since I started keeping up with it a few years ago, and after a productive day of drawing pretty pictures, coffee meetings, and reading for a few hours, I’d grab a bag of Doritos and plop myself down in front of my computer, eagerly anticipating the bold style decisions that would soon bedazzle me.
At some point along the way, though, I got lost on my path to faux fashionista fulfillment. The shows weren’t able to hold my attention. The Doritos didn’t taste so cheesy. Something was up.
After a bit of deep thought and anxious glances at my untouched bag of tortilla-goodness, I realized that the problem wasn’t with the show or the snack, it was with me. I was distracted; so distracted, in fact, that it was starting to affect my sleep, my relationships and my stress levels.
I was becoming more and more successful, but along with the success came an ever-increasing level of tension that I couldn’t shake. There was always some little concern nagging at me from the back of my mind, and I wasn’t able to relax or focus. Something had to be done.
My Minimalist Solution
I stumbled across minimalism accidentally.
There was a striped polo shirt in my dresser that I had been sitting there for months, unworn. Every once in a while I would put it on in the morning, fully intending to wear it for the day, but before I would finish breakfast I would have my fill of ol’ stripy and I’d head upstairs to change. I don’t know if it was the fact that it was too short or the fact that it’s hard to pull off horizontal stripes even on a good day, but something about that shirt on me didn’t mesh.
So I did something drastic: I got rid of it. Or rather, I prepared to get rid of it.
I took that striped polo and threw it on the floor next to the dresser. I immediately got an incredible sense of clarity an empowerment. ‘That shirt is no longer my responsibility…I’ve washed my hands of it! Maychance I could partake in even MORE fruitful culling of my under-utilized frockery to prolong and enhance this feeling?’
And I did.
A mere thirty-minutes later, I had ransacked my wardrobe, pulling out any subpar pant or superfluous sock within range. I snagged a trash bag from the kitchen and filled it to the brim with unnecessary clothing. And then I filled another. By the time I had made it to the closet I had filled four trash bags with clothing that I hadn’t worn in a good long while.
I. Felt. Amazing. I could concentrate! Relax! I sat down in front of the computer, opened up a fresh bag of Doritos and let the artificially-amplified drama of reality TV wash over me like a warm, friendly tide.
After this brief hiatus into TV land I had an amazingly productive and happy day. I slept better than I had in over a year, and all the little things in the back of my mind were easily muffled until they could be sorted out and handled.
It was at this point that I started to consider minimalism as a key component of my philosophy.
If getting rid of excess clothing could have such a dramatic impact on my mood and the responsiveness of my brain, what would happen if I gave all of my possessions the same once-over? There was only one way to find out.
My Minimalist Business
Fast forward to now and I’m a minimalist heart and soul.
I’ve come to realize that the very things that we buy to help us deal with problems and free up time actually add to our mental clutter and take up more time in the end (not to mention the resources they eat up).
The impact that minimalism has had on my life and my business has been immense, drastically increasing the quality and quantity of my free time, while at the same time increasing the amount of money I make (while substantially decreasing the number of hours I work per week).
My businesses all have zero overhead and are slowly evolving into more passive forms of income. Because of the simplicity of my business structure and lifestyle, I’m able to travel the world and have amazing experiences without worrying about, say, where I parked my car, if an employee will do the work they’ve been assigned or whether or not I’ll be able to earn enough money to make it through the month.
When you’re able to really, truly focus on what you’re doing, it’s amazing what you can accomplish.
Even if your only goal is to eat chips and watch Heidi Klum.
Update: December 16, 2016
A few things:
1. I think this was an attempt to mix pop culture in with my writing, and not knowing much about pop culture, the results are fairly mixed. I give it a 4/10.
2. I still feel out of touch with popular culture, by the way. I’ve been undertaking an updated version of the ‘one TV show at a time’ thing of late, and it’s bizarre how many inside jokes and references were flying right past me. There’s a lot of hidden subtext in conversation that remains hidden if you’re totally in the dark about such things. There’s still plenty of reason to moderate intake, but a little awareness, I’ve found, goes a long way.
3. Ugh, Doritos. There was a time when I guzzled energy drinks and snacked on Doritos pretty much daily. Looking back on those years, today, as a black-coffee-drinker who makes all his own meals, is gut-twistingly painful. I’m glad I survived, frankly, with all the exotic chemicals I was imbibing and all the processed cheese powder I was munching on. Again: nothing wrong with the periodic junk food, but it’s much better in moderation.