Every day luxuries: “The things you use every day should be the best-designed things you can get”

I don’t know where I found this, so I can’t give credit. I clipped it as soon I saw it and saved it, but I failed to include the link. Maybe I was too excited about the wisdom imparted here:

It’s not bad to own fine things that you like. What you need are things that you GENUINELY like. Things that you cherish, that enhance your existence in the world. The rest is dross. Do not “economize.” Please. That is not the point. The economy is clearly insane. Even its champions are terrified by it now. It’s melting the North Pole. So “economization” is not your friend. Cheapness can be value-less. Voluntary simplicity is, furthermore, boring. Less can become too much work.

The items that you use incessantly, the items you employ every day, the normal, boring goods that don’t seem luxurious or romantic: these are the critical ones. They are truly central. The everyday object is the monarch of all objects. It’s in your time most, it’s in your space most. It is “where it is at,” and it is “what is going on.”

It takes a while to get this through your head, because it’s the opposite of the legendry of shopping. However: the things that you use every day should be the best-designed things you can get.

Amen.

I don’t need or want a lot of stuff. But I want the stuff I use often to be great, to give me pleasure in using it.

“Less, but better” is the mantra for me.

Kitchen tools. My razor. The furniture I sit on. The phone in my pocket. I want to delight in using these everyday things because I do use them daily.

One of my favorite purchases in the past year was this kitchen trash can. Yes, silly, I know, and expensive for a trash can. But it’s actually quite nice looking. And, even better. I love that it’s open, that there’s no lid. There’s no friction in throwing something away—no pedal to step on or lid to lift. Both its form and function are a delight.

I get a tiny tingle of pleasure (maybe microscopically tiny in this case) from using that trash can every time I throw something away. But those tiny tingles add up, as do the tiny pains of annoyance from using subpar or ugly things.

I appreciate the grace of great things, and adding more moments of delight each day or eliminating more moments of frustration or “meh” will make my days shine a bit more.

The gift of a blank brain

Author Michael Harris on living in the Internet age and the prevalent tendency to check your phone as soon as you wake up:

“When you wake up, you have this gift of a blank brain. You could fill it with anything. But for most of us, we have this kind of panic. Instead of wondering what should I do, we wonder what did I miss. It’s almost like our unconsciousness is a kind of failure and we can’t believe we’ve been offline for eight hours,” he says. It is habits like this that are insidious, not the internet itself. It is a personal thing.

This is not exclusive to the Internet era. Many of us used to wake up and immediately trudge to the front door to retrieve the daily newspaper to start our day.

But it’s exponentially easier to distract ourselves now, and content is infinite. The newspaper only took so long to thumb through.

I typically do a quick scan of a handful of apps when I wake up. A morning routine devoid of external inputs, though, at least in those first minutes of consciousness, could build some space for my brain to embrace a bit of blankness, to allow possibilities to percolate that would otherwise be swamped by those external inputs.

Those days where I make time for even ten minutes of meditation first thing in the morning are marked by a calmer, more solid beginning.

Embrace the gift of a blank brain more often. Sit with the quiet. Be patient. Listen, not to the noise piped in from the connected world, but to your own inner voice or just to your breath. 

Ants marching

 Whether you’re doing things right or just doing things to stay in step with the crowd, to stay busy and to complain (or brag) about being busy, it’s pointless if you’re not doing the right things. 

Beautifully empty

Our living room right now: IMG_7017We are not moving. We just had our floors repaired after our water heater died and tried taking as much of the rest of the house with it as it could.

We’ve been in this house for thirteen years. In spite of the hassle of fixing the floors, it’s worth it for the delight of seeing this floor look like new again.

But now I’m loving the stark emptiness. I’m not eager to have our furniture and stuff returned to where it was.

Of course, it’s not a museum piece. We live here and need somewhere to sit. 

Or do we?

The photo above reminded me of this famous photo below of a young and newly rich Steve Jobs, who was so loath to possess anything of merely average beauty that for a while he lived with just this Tiffany lamp and his stereo in his living room:

WOODSIDE, CA - DECEMBER 15: CEO of Apple Steve Jobs sits at his home in Woodside, CA on December 15, 1982. IMAGE PREVIOUSLY A TIME & LIFE IMAGE. (Photo by Diana Walker/SJ/Contour by Getty Images)
WOODSIDE, CA – DECEMBER 15: CEO of Apple Steve Jobs sits at his home in Woodside, CA on December 15, 1982. IMAGE PREVIOUSLY A TIME & LIFE IMAGE. (Photo by Diana Walker/SJ/Contour by Getty Images)
No worries. We will not be living like Steve. But we will use this opportunity to rethink what goes back in. If it’s not useful or beautiful to us, it really shouldn’t make the cut.

Busy Saturday

“BEWARE THE BARRENNESS OF A BUSY LIFE.
—Socrates”

My busy Saturday today centers around two key commitments with my daughters: the pool this afternoon and the movie Tomorrowland tonight. I might squeeze in some reading if I find some down time.

This is my kind of packed schedule. 

More better

You are going to die.

I am, too.

(Warm, happy way to kick off a conversation. I’m fun at parties.)

The universe is staggeringly massive.

For every grain of sand* on Earth, there are at least 10,000 stars in the visible universe.

Amazing, right?!
*And yes, there’s an algorithm for determining the number of grains of sand on Earth. Also amazing.

We are infinitesimally small.

Our time is limited.

(The average human lifespan fills just .000001 percent of the entire history of the planet.)

In the big scheme of things — the REALLY big scheme — who we are and what we do doesn’t seem to, in the words of Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, “amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world”.

Yet we all are so busy and in a hurry and stressed out.

Our to-do lists tug at us and unsettle both our conscious minds and our subconscious and even sneak into our dreams at night.

Our calendars are filled with meetings and appointments and projects and task-forces and so many things that won’t be worth remembering or talking about.

How much of what we do makes a real difference and is truly meaningful?

How often do you get to the end of a day and lay your head on your pillow and feel genuine, wholehearted satisfaction about the way you spent a precious day in your short life?

Maybe it’s unspoken existential angst or cultural brainwashing from childhood or tyrannical bosses that fling us into the futile effort to do MORE, check MORE off our lists, accomplish MORE…

…in the effort to have more and be more and somehow win at life.

MORE. MORE. MORE.

But what if…?

What if you apply “MORE” to quality rather than quantity?

What if you did LESS, but did it BETTER?

Do LESS, but do it MORE BETTER.
(Grammar police, look away.)

Here is almost the entire product line of the biggest, richest company in the world:

Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 5.03.55 PM

All of Apple’s products could fit on a conference room table.

Steve Jobs attributed much of his success to saying “No” to make room for a better “Yes”.

Steve Jobs:

“Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”

Albert Einstein, too:

“I soon learned to scent out what was able to lead to fundamentals and to turn aside from everything else, from the multitude of things that clutter up the mind.”

Warren Buffett:

“The difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

Jazz great Thelonius Monk:

“What you don’t play can be more important that what you do play.”

Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Warren Buffett, Thelonius Monk — all champions of doing less, but doing it better.

Imagine honing your focus and investing more of your limited time and attention in things that matter most.

Imagine the rewards of deep work and quality time on fewer projects.

Imagine more quiet moments and eye contact and actually taking time to listen intently.

What would intense focus on fewer things do for your work life, your relationships, your peace of mind?

But, to have that kind of focus, you have to be ruthless at saying “No” to even really good and noble things as well as to time-wasters and trivial distraction.

And you have to say “No” to nice people and to “good” opportunities.

Derek Sivers says when he’s confronted with a new opportunity, if his response is not a “Hell, YEAH!”, then it’s simply a “no” for him.

“Hell, YEAH!”

Or

“no”

That may be extreme, but exceptional, more better lives tend to defy convention.

Consider the things in your life, professional and personal, that are most important.

Make a list. Prioritize it.

What if you cut that list down to just a few key priorities, the things that would have the biggest impact and matter the most?

And what if you structured your time around giving those few key priorities more of your attention?

Peter Drucker, paraphrased:

Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things.

What if you built habits around the few priorities that have the biggest impact in your work and your life?

Consider whittling your daily to-do list down to one or two key tasks, tasks that would benefit from close attention and deep focus.

Consider overhauling your schedule by cutting out most meetings.

Turn off notifications on your devices.

There are people who only check email at designated intervals — first thing in the morning, around noon, and in the afternoon.

Crazy, right? Who does this?

I’m guessing Warren Buffett doesn’t live out of his email in-box.

Einstein didn’t surf the internet. 😉

(We’ll give Steve Jobs a pass on this one.)

What can you: streamline, unclutter, simplify, clarify?

Instead of a buffet, a smorgasbord even, of services and options, what if you offered just a few truly great choices?

Is your purpose, your mission — for your team, your family, your work, your life — clear?

Crystal clear?

How much stuff do you possess that you don’t really need, that’s not either useful or beautiful?

Less stuff, but better stuff.

Fewer pursuits, but more rewarding pursuits.

Picture the end of your life.

What kind of life do you want to look back on?

It will be quality, not quantity, that will matter most at that point.

And that should matter most now.

Do less…

… better.

*This is the thought stream for a presentation I will be leading at a conference next month. I posted a PDF of this from a Keynote document for use by the audience prior to the presentation. It can stand alone but is intended to be a warm up for what I hope will be a lively conversation.

Seinfeld: “I’m a thrower-outer”

Sharp insight and life wisdom from the astute (and funny) Jerry Seinfeld:

“All things on Earth only exist in different stages of becoming garbage.”

“Your home is a garbage processing center where you buy new things, bring them into your house, and slowly crapify them over time.”

This, by the way, is from one of the richest people in the entertainment business, a man who can buy more things than most of us could even imagine. (And I find that comedians have some of the wisest insights. They seem to observe life and its absurdities much more intently and honestly than most.)

Few things retain real value in your life over time. That shiny new awesome gadget is just future garbage. Same with that new piece of clothing or jewelry or furniture. Look through your stuff and consider what has remained valuable to your over a long period of time. I have some great things that have endured and remain useful and don’t have me itching to replace them. But most of my stuff has a pretty short shelf life.

I’m a “thrower-outer” and don’t feel overly attached to things. But I let too much clutter – future garbage – hang around in my life for too long. This is a great time of year to scan my surroundings and accelerate the garbage creation process for the inessential things in my life.

Contractor bags, those over-sized, super tough trash bags, are the ultimate tool for quickly culling the clutter. Just throw your unwanted stuff in the bag. Don’t think about having a yard sale or giving your future garbage to someone else. If it doesn’t make you happy or offer some useful value, put it in the bag.

Everything is going to go eventually. Let me expedite the process for the unnecessary stuff so that I can better appreciate the great things I do value. And I will be left with more energy for experiences and people that matter the most.

ht becomingminimalist.com