Minimalism, or more specifically “simple living” is a philosophy that focuses on…simplifying your lifestyle. It colloquially centers around reducing excessive material goods, not focusing on the pursuit of material wealth as a source of purpose, and overall living a more virtuous, simple life. I like to think of it as not buying a bunch of random stuff you don’t actually want and not making work the focus of your existential purpose (unless that is what you want to be doing, then disregard). I like how Gary V has phrased it in saying it’s not being against material goods, but more making sure you really enjoy the things you purchase and surround yourself with.
Like with any other ism, there are extreme interpretations. Some people may say that homes should be small and barren. Others may explain away how their house is bursting at the seams with tchotchkes. Minimalism is a very common concept and design style to reference. From sleek Scandinavian house décor, to company logos that create an intimate logo while using as few lines as possibly. There are endless variants of what minimalism can be, and history is abundant with examples of minimalists and an accompanying outlook – for instance the infamous cynic Diogenes often cast stones against societal expectations and is depicted living in a wine barrel. Basically – there are plenty of people who for thousands of years have pointed out that less is often more and material goods will not bring you happiness.
Based off the various perspectives which have resonated with me, this is the best description I can synthesize: Minimalism it’s a way of living where the vast majority of things in your life have meaning to you and make you happy; that you’re living with purpose and are thoughtful about the things you let into your life and the way you live. That sure sounds like living a life you choose to me.
It’s a really attractive category to pull from, especially when phrased that way. The rules are left totally for you to define. Even thinking through activities like cleaning out a cluttered garage, organizing a desk after a stressful period of studying, or evaluating your office setup after a big project – the peace and accomplishment that come with decluttering a room are very tangible. The relief of throwing away or donating items that you’ve carried from home to home because “they’ve always been there” is very real. Even just doing a particularly mountainous pile of laundry feels good.
We don’t question the importance of keeping our working spaces tidy, our living quarters clean, or organizing and downsizing our physical world. However, I’ve always found it’s much harder to carry that mentality into the digital world.
The digital world is exactly that another world. People like to debate whether or not the virtual world is real, but the concentration of time spent in the digital world gives it efficacy. Our world is lined with Wi-Fi, screens, and virtual communication – more than ever before and it continues to grow.
It feels like we don’t take the time to really police ourselves in that world though. Cleaning up our house makes sense, but we have 100 chrome tabs open. We carefully select books we want to add to our library, but we’ll read articles from random websites with clickbait titles that pop up on the Reddit front page. We’ll meticulously organize our desk once it gets too messy, but we’ll create an opened bookmark file of videos and links we care about but will ‘get to later’. We demand productive urgency in the physical world, but see only complacent leisure in the digital one.
As we pile up items that we will get to later and endlessly click and scroll, we are building a digital labyrinth for our minds. We build and succumb to the muscle memory of online indulgences and stack up an expanding inventory of potential and discovery in things we’ll ‘get to later’. We build mountains of things we hope to digitally do one day. They sit in their digital folders, collecting digital dust.
The muscle memory of doing what you normally do, coupled with the endless optionality of the internet, coupled with the general indecisiveness that comes with such abundance in our era creates a recipe of click, bookmark, normal indulgence, repeat. With so many possibilities of things we could do and think we would want to do, it’s easier to figure it out later. We read interesting things here and there, but it’s way easier to do the pointed leg work later.
Paring back that optionality can do wonders to help with this. Maybe you have a small cluster of websites and authors that you really like, so that can be your foundation for meaningful navigation of the internet. It doesn’t mean that’s all you read, but it gives you a trustworthy place to start. Or maybe you look through your bookmarks or common Chrome tabs and say – these tabs all seem to gravitate around these 3 things, I should start focusing on getting into those things more. Cooking, fitness, personal growth, music – whatever those things may be for you, if you can define it, you can help you really enjoy the things you want to.
There’s no correct way to enjoy and use the internet. I’d say there are some pretty clear wrong ways, but that’s for a different time. In thinking about that description of minimalism – ensuring the things in your life having meaning to you and being thoughtful about how you live – we can use that to create a better digital life as well. It can become less about consumption and indulgence, or mindless respite from a physical world we want to change, and rather become a blank canvas for our personal projects or the Library of Alexandria for our interests. Rather than filing away, letting things pile up and waste away in the digital world, we can reset and start carefully building a digital bookshelf or garage workspace that creates a better life for us.
See you tomorrow.
Inspirations: Diogenes, Gary V, Creativity, Time