Minimalism

The concept of minimalism is something which is very important to me, in the form of a necessary maximization of efficiency.  Efficiency for what?  The two main situations where minimalism matters most in my mind are:

  1. The way we lead our physical life, and
  2. The way we treat our creations.

The first is the more obvious version which we all encounter to some degree.  To everyone who is not a hoarder by nature, what feels better than getting rid of unnecessary things cluttering your apartment when your life is already feeling so cluttered on so many other edges?

Yes, I realize it’s fundamentally a compensatory method.  But in the end, it has its advantages.

I started really trying to make minimalism an art two years or so ago.

  •  I realized that I didn’t wear half my clothes, so I donated them.
  •  I realized that most of my old books would never be read again and were $8 on kindle anyways, so I donated them.
  •  I got rid of my dresser in exchange for easily portable plastic drawers, and swapped my big desk for a neat compact $25 second hand desk which I can move more easily.
  •  I removed all the songs that I never listen to from my spotify and all the games I didn’t use from my computer.

I was a non-consumer leaning graduate student living in a NYC apartment in the first place, so that’s about all I had room to spare.  But in the end, this made me feel like my life was that much easier to preside over and pack up if need be. In the case of programs on a computer or phone, it’s evident that it’s less about physical space then mental space.

Also important is the economic impact (in terms of my own personal economy) of this form of minimalism.  I quite simply bought less in the first place from then on.  When I buy things, I really consider what I’m buying.

But, I’ve recently realized that the true meaning of minimalism lies elsewhere.

At the beginning of this year I began really working on making my lab life organized, making sure to have the week ahead on a google calendar, the month ahead broadly outlined goal by goal, and each task for the day written ahead of time.  My PI (boss for the non academics) told me to give him a thorough description of everything I want to do for the next month in 5 sentences.

5 sentences.

I had a bullet point list about a page and a half long.  But I forced myself to trim something off of everything.  And then I came to realized that sometimes, 3 points were really the same thing and could be summarized in one sentence. And somethings were just not that important, so they had to be scrapped.

15 minutes later, I had an actual outline of my project in that window of time like I hadn’t had before.  Complete with a more thorough understanding of all components.  He tacked my 5 sentences to his office corkboard, and all I had to do was consciously declutter my thoughts.

This has become a trend.  Recently, I wrote a 6 page thesis proposal for my first committee meeting.  Not only did I write 10 pages just to see the quality jump 100% upon shortening it to 6, but he also asked me to do something even better.  He pointed out that every Cell press paper requires you to have a 4 sentence overview at the beginning, each sentence that must be no more than 90 characters (it’s actually 85, but he gave me 5 characters slack).

90×4 = 360.  6 pages converted to 360 words.

In this case I really did struggle.  I submitted the 360 characters, and he had me reconsider about half of it.  In the end, it was an exercise in imperfection.  But, now I walk around with those 4 sentences in my mind, and not only am I able to utilize them, but I’m forces to constantly reconsider them.

And thus, I have a map to reconsider my project as a whole.

The same applies with art of course.  I’ve always had a fondness for haiku’s despite my dislike of unnecessarily rigid poetic structure because they force you to say something meaningful in 17 words, which may have been just that much more diffuse if you were allowed 34.

So, my observation, is that minimalism is these things to me:

  • efficiency
  • conservation
  • density of quality
  • direction
  • freedom to uproot
  • freedom to transform

That being said, it’s not entirely natural to me, as anyone who reads my early poetry knows.  But anyways, what is minimalism to you?  What tools do you use?

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