Eliminate the Unnecessary

The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary can speak.
— Hans Hofmann


Out of all the buzzwords of the past couple years, simplify is my favorite. In the midst of my busy life, the idea of simplification--even the mere mention of the word--feels like a daydream. Something we yearn for, but never quite achieve.

I, and many of the people I know, are experiencing this collective phenomenon of being too busy. There are many important tasks, and not enough time in the day to do them. More and more, it seems the important tasks increase to the point where we are juggling too much, losing track of our own priorities, and rushing through life.

Then, in the midst of the rush, we start to talk to ourselves:

When did I acquire so much stuff?

Where did all of these obligations come from?

Why do I feel so powerless to fix it?

In the middle of one of these unhelpful self-talk sessions, two thoughts occurred to me, materializing in my mind like the time I realized there was only one toothbrush in our bathroom because sometime in the past ten years my husband had given up on having his own and adopted mine but when did this happen and how did it take me so long to notice and how is this acceptable?

  • Number one: If i am too busy to do all the important things, maybe I am calling too many things important.
  • Number two: I chose this. Each and every task, obligation, or item, somehow or someway, was something I allowed into my life.



As an idea, simplicity resonates with us. It makes us feel all warm and fuzzy. I hear people wistfully dream out loud of simplifying by minimizing their wardrobe to a capsule and downsizing to a tiny home to force themselves to limit consumerist tendencies, which we are convinced have complicated our lives.

"I only allow myself one new item a quarter, and it has to match each of my other 5 items in an elegant display of Scandinavian design," we say, in excited sotte voce, "and in order to bring a new thing into my home I have to sacrifice another thing I love, like my dog, on the altar of the minimalist gods to placate their anger at my purchase..." 

This isn't meant to be a lampoon. I have a well-organized wardrobe. I intentionally live in a small house. I carefully consider every acquisition to ensure I'm not wantonly contributing to my own suffocation by possessions. I have found that regulating my behavior is helpful to me. 

But if it is solely a behavioral adjustment, I do become a caricature of the movement because this sort of behavioral regulation is based on an imposed, and sometimes arbitrary, set of rules.



Simplification isn't just about rules. It's about eliminating the unnecessary, and sometimes being ruthless in what we give that title, so that we can see the truly important things. It's about our trajectory through life. When all relationships, opportunities, and ideas share the same level of importance, when it is all speaking to you at once, it is impossible to discern the voice of the necessary. This is why we simplify. In the acts of removing the unnecessary distraction of too many possessions, the temptation to pursue opportunities that aren't right for us, and limiting time with certain people (that's right--not everyone is entitled access to our time!), we begin to discern our purpose and embark on our mission. 


where are you going?

Is what you are doing on a daily basis contributing to the trajectory you want? Or is it distracting you from the direction you want to be traveling in? With a trajectory mindset, we can begin to sort out the unnecessary masquerading as necessary. We can eliminate the clutter of things and possibilities. We can simplify our minds and our mission. Simplification is a single-minded attraction to what is necessary.

If the sound of your life is a robust, warm, jumbled combination of work, relationships, and necessary tasks, don't mistake that for the cluttered clamor of the unnecessary. We should all strive for a life bustling with purpose and people. We eliminate distractions to make our lives as purposeful and people-centered as possible.

Examine your own trajectory. Are you using the principles of simplification and minimalism (or any other buzzy idea) to try to put a fix on your unhappy life?

When our everyday purpose and mission and decisions are in congruence with our trajectory, when having enough is enough, when we can refine the category of important to mean absolutes and feel the freedom to say no to the rest, that is when we have really heard the unnecessary speak.



This post was originally published on Kate's blog. You can read more of her thoughts here.

(Astral Nebula by Hans Hofmann)