My introduction to the word ‘minimalism’ was as a teenager, being introduced to Brian Eno’s Ambient 1/Music for Airports. It was like the sweetest breath of fresh air down my earholes. Music that swept me away and decluttered my aural environment.
For a long time I thought of minimalism as an aesthetic or style. A sparsely decorated room or that genre of music made of processed ambient sounds and long drone loops. I’ve always been drawn to these expressions. I don’t like clutter, and I love to have things around me simple and clear.
But in recent years I’ve been drawn to something in minimalism that transcends the surface levels of life. Take a look at my Minimal Manifesto here. These are some ideas from minimalism that have resonated deeply with me.
It stretches deeper. Helping us look at the reality of our finite existence, so that we can understand what matters most, and strip away all the stuff that anchors us into unhealthy attachments, ways of thinking, and patterns of behaviour.
Ultimately it is about freedom. And about acknowledging that we don’t have the capacity, time, or energy for everything. Yet we do have the ability to choose and discern between things that mean something and things that don’t. Whether it be stuff, work, people, commitments, opinions, and so on.
The Prison of Least Resistance
I’ve been reflecting on this a lot lately. I have been feeling anything but free. Burdened by tasks and overcommitment from the gradual drift of the mindless more. I’ve been on a return to some core minimalist principles. These have helped me audit my energy/time, and recalibrate.
This process has had a direct impact on the podcast. Because I’ve decided to make it a monthly rather than weekly show. 😳 There, I said it.
I worked out that it takes me 12 hours to prepare for, record, and publish each episode of The Gentle Rebel Podcast. No wonder I’m exhausted. I’m working near enough full time, doing two diplomas, and running a business, not to mention gigging, maintaining relationships, and attempting to stay healthy.
“But I can’t give up the podcast!”
When I’m tired I forget to think properly. I get a bit all or nothing. So my initial thought was, I’m going to have to quit the podcast. Either that or I have to carry it on like normal. But I don’t want to give it up. I can’t give ANYTHING up! Everything I have on my schedule is important. I’ve curated it over time. What am I supposed to do!? Everything is important. Everything matters, and I enjoy it all…on the whole!
In the last episode I spoke about ‘priorities’ and how you can only have one. I mentioned the idea of a Priority Spirit; a filter through which all things pass. I hadn’t realised quite how much I needed to grasp that concept for myself. And as I began to think about it, I have seen that my priority spirit for this year is Expansion Through Margin. Growth Through Pruning. Less and Better.
We can get so stuck in a thought pattern or way of doing things that we can lose sight of our ability to change the rules. For me I was stuck with this idea that the podcast is weekly and that’s that. But what if I changed my rules? I could still find the joy from producing the episodes, and do so in a way that is better for me AND better for the quality of the show itself.
Small Things Become Big Things
I worked out that by moving from four to one episode a month I will save about 432 hours a year. That’s 54, eight-hour days. That is some serious margin.
I am not axing a weekly podcast entirely. I will still produce the Extended Play Private Podcast each week. It only takes a couple of hours to pull together, and is an important part of the formulation and incubation of new ideas. I talk off the cuff, play some music, and share a much more rough and ready behind the scenes reflection on creativity, building a business, and navigating life when you don’t know which way is up.
If you want to keep hearing my voice each week then you can subscribe to it. It’s only $3, to cover hosting and running costs. Learn more here.
The minimalism principles I’ve been playing with:
1. Minimalism is Not About Stuff. It’s a Response to The Finitude of Things.
The true message of minimalism lays in what it reminds us about the finite nature of things. Including ourselves. It starts with the understanding that everything we say yes to is a no to something else. Nothing lasts forever, and there are real implications to every choice we make.
2. Recognising I Can’t Have, Be, or Do Everything, Opens Up The Path to Freedom.
There is something liberating about permission for normality and limits. In our world of self-development, inspirational memes, and motivational speakers, it can get pretty anxiety-inducing when we’re not filling our time with remarkable things all hours of the day. There is freedom in letting go. You can’t have, be, or do everything you dream of. Break out of the prison that tells you you can.
3. You Can’t Keep Adding New Without it Costing Something Old.
I spoke to Lauren Sapala and Jas Hothi recently. Lauren talked about her friend, Everett Bogue, a big advocate of minimalism, who used to only own 57 items. If something new came in, something old had to go.
Life is like a bag. It only has space for a certain number of things. If we want to bring in something new, something that already exists will need to go. Whether we like it or not. We can own this decision ourselves or it can own us.
We don’t often think like that. Because we believe we can keep adding more and that everything else will stay the same.
4. You Get to Choose What Has Value For You, and How You Want to Contribute Value To Others.
This is at the heart of a minimalist mindset. It’s about choosing to invest time, energy, space, and attention, into things that are of value. And no one gets to say what ‘value’ means, except for us.
When we know what values we want to live by and contribute, it makes it more possible to audit the time we spend doing things that drain us.
5. The First Way to Get a Pay Rise is to Stop Spending Money on Things You Don’t Need. It’s The Same With Time.
This is one of Ryan’s core principles. It fits with the idea that the more we earn the more we spend. And we end up always feeling poor because whether it’s money or time, we push things right to the edges of our capacity and means.
The important question with the podcast turned from yes or no? Into ‘how much?’ Sometimes we just need to tweak our budgets slightly. We might gain as much value from one a month as we do from four a month. In fact we might discover that we get MORE value from doing less. We can make more hours in the day first and foremost by spending our time in the most valuable and effective ways for ourselves.
6. Desire is Often Planted By People Who Want You To Invest in Life on Their Terms.
Desire is an interesting thing to think about, and something that is very much linked to minimalism. It’s the precursor to adding. It’s the feeling that tells us we must have something.
We can place space between the stimulus and the response. In other words, between the immediate desire reflex, and the response of acting on that desire. Tools like the 30:30 challenge is good for addressing this:
“If something I want costs more than $30, I ask myself whether I can get by without it for the next 30 hours. (If it’s $100 or more, I tend to wait 30 days.) This extra time helps me assess whether or not this new thing will add value to my life.” – The Minimalists
7. If You Don’t Know What Enough Looks Like, You Will Always Be a Slave to More.
The other potential trap is believing that there IS a way to feel complete, whole, or happy, if only you find ‘the right thing’.
Releasing ourselves from their grip allows us to find joy in the cracks. Light in the fragments. Peace in the conflict. If you don’t feel it now, you won’t feel it then.
After I finished recording this episode, I had an uncannily appropriate email from Paul Jarvis about minimalism and the idea of ‘enough’.
“It’s hard to be in pre-enough and hear about post-enough—from people urging us to live with and do with less when there’s not even enough to begin with. It’s equally difficult to have empathy for those in the pre-enough stage if we’re in post-enough, because we’re currently optimizing and making decisions based on reaching something that not everyone has yet. There’s also a massive amount of judgement going around about comparing someone’s enough to someone else’s. Just the other day I saw a comment that someone’s tiny house wasn’t small enough to be considered truly tiny. What?!
It’s not up to us to judge what someone else’s enough is. It’s up to us to be mindful about where we are personally, and either work towards or optimize for what our own enough actually is. And we could all do with a bit more empathy and understanding here.” – Paul Jarvis
8. Margins Aren’t Spaces to Fill, They Are the Gaps That Help Us Truly See.
Margins help us see. They turn written content from chaotic, overwhelming, visual noise, into something readable. Imagine trying to read a book with no margins or paragraph spacing. It would be horrific.
It’s the same with our lives. Margins exist to help everything make sense. Just like the space between the notes in a song. If it wasn’t for those gaps, nothing would have definition and the sound would carry no meaning.
9. Hard Shoulders Save Lives. They Provide Refuge and Safety When Things Go Wrong.
‘Smart Motorways’ have been in the news recently here in the UK. These roads respond to the volume of traffic; setting speed limits, and opening/closing hard shoulder lanes to ease congestion.
There have been many fatalities in recent years involving broken down cars with no where to go because the hard shoulder is being used as a live lane. The purpose of a hard shoulder is like emergency margin. To provide somewhere for cars to pull over when they’re in trouble. And for emergency vehicles to make progress when there is an incident they need to attend.
What sort of hard shoulder contingency do we have in our own lives? When things go wrong, are we able to pull over and get ourselves sorted without putting everything at risk?
What might this mean for you?
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Over to You
How have these principles of minimalism played a part in your life over the years? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Listen to The Gentle Rebel (Extended Play) Private Podcast:
Minimalism, Being an Angel in Disguise, and Choking on My Own Excuses
If you like this topic and want to hear more of my (more personal) thoughts and reflections, as well as some exclusive ‘behind the songs’ insights, you can subscribe to the bonus podcast right now, through Patreon.