The Unexpected Value of Being Simple

My wife is on a minimalism kick and has been for years now. I’m the guy that likes stuff – toys, mementos, books, stubs from great movies I attended, neat bookends, old stuffed animals, clever coffee cups…you get the idea. I sometimes think she’d be happy with one picture of a moose on the wall in an otherwise bare room, and truthfully, I used to silently make fun of her for it. “Where’s the character of the room?” I’d ask myself. It’s so borring!  It has no visual excitement. That couch must have throw pillows to be “right.” Of course we need rugs in the kitchen and a little Statue of Liberty in that spot over there…


But like every great wife (and mine is amazing), she’s slowly converted me. There is a certain peace about having less stuff around. Something about visual clutter sort of stresses me out in a way I didn’t used to recognize. So next month, we’re going to play a little minimalism game. Every day we are going to get rid of a number of things equal to the date. So on March 1st, I’m ditching, donating, recycling, selling, or giving away 1 thing. On March 15th, it will be 15 things. By the end of the month I’ll eliminate 496 things. She’s doing the same. So if everything goes like we’re planning, we’ll clear out almost 1000 items from our house. Sounds scary, but I’m really excited to see what the result looks like.

What qualifies as an item? Anything – a pen, that extra pad of sticky notes that we’ve had for 10 years, an old empty storage box kept around just in case, that old computer in the garage that needs to be recycled, the 3rd copy of that same screwdriver, etc. I expect the first half of the month to be pretty easy, but the last half is going to be tough. The only way I’ll ever get through it is with her help and accountability.

As we discussed doing this, it occurred to me that I could do the same thing in my office at work, though on a smaller scale. As work gets more stressful, I find I need to keep my space peaceful and simple so that it doesn’t add to the chaos that is my over-busy life. You know what’s cool about having only one picture on a wall? It’s the only thing you look at. (So make it a great picture!) There aren’t a million other things competing for attention.

It occurs to me that my schedule, volunteer activities, and to-do list (as much as possible) should be this way as well. Being involved in too much stuff just distracts me. Working on multiple things at once just means I do them all with mediocre results. Having my email constantly pinging while I try to get something done gets overwhelming. It turns out, the whole idea of minimalism really does have merit for this guy.

One other thought for my fellow trainers out there. This principle applies to things like eLearning, and learning space design as well. Drop the clutter. Keep it clean, simple, and focused. Then you aren’t fogging the minds of your learners with unnecessary chaos. You can even apply this same principle to curriculum design.


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