Essays on Technology and Culture

The Great Unburdening

In the waning days of 2014, I seized upon two words for 2015: “Simplification” and “Focus.” They’re concepts that are intertwined. It’s easier to focus on something simple, and the more simple I make my life, the easier it will be to focus on what’s important. Simplification is a process, and focus is the desired result of undergoing said process. I know that my life has become much busier and fraught than I would prefer—and this is coming from a full-time employed, thirty-one year old man in a long-term relationship with no children. It wouldn’t be so bad of those things that make life fraught were things I chose to undertake. Instead, it’s often a lot of stuff I’ve fallen into, or baggage I’ve carried from my past. Time to unburden.

The process begins with unloading (some of) the piles of stuff I’ve accumulated over the years. I’m not about to go all Minimalist Hipster here, choosing to live with some arbitrarily low number of things just to say I can. That way lies madness, and frankly, I don’t want to part with my collection of books, music, and DEVO Memorabilia. These things make my life measurably better to have, as I discovered during two years living with all of that stuff in storage. [1] But there’s other piles of stuff I could get rid of: clothes in my closet I don’t wear (or are so worn out that I can’t wear them), DVDs of movies and TV shows I’ll never watch or can stream, CDs of computer games I’ll never play again, and empty notebooks I’ll never write in—ones that I bought in college.

Okay, it’s largely symbolic, but I’m beginning the process of simplification by just unloading as much of this extra crap as I can. Every single physical thing in my life that doesn’t belong is taking up clock cycles in my brain that are keeping it from other, more important things to think about. This includes my work, my relationships, and even my health. No, the extra, cheap plastic shoehorn that came with a pair of dress shoes isn’t going to kill me, but how many shoehorns does someone even need, anyway? [2] My goal is to have a greater degree of intentionality about the stuff I allow into my life, not just to get rid of stuff I don’t want for its own sake. Honestly, until now, I didn’t even see myself as much of a pack rat. I’m not like those nuts who keep all their old iPhones—and the boxes.

Part of the inspiration to simplify came from Patrick Rhone’s recent talk at SimpleREV. In short, there’s three questions one should ask themselves about the things in their life: “What problem does this solve?”, “How little can I get away with?”, and “Where does this belong?” These go a long way into sorting out the stuff we have in our lives, physical and otherwise. I’m also asking myself a fourth question: “Is this making my life better?” It’s why I’m not parting with any physical media—save for DVDs and old computer games. Having music in a tangible form makes my life better.

What’s not making my life better is what I’m getting rid of. These are the burdens on my back that I’ve carried with my through a decade-plus of adult life. The physical ones are the easiest to remove: hock it, donate it, or trash it. But there’s other burdens I’ve been carrying, and for a lot longer that I have to deal with. That step comes next. Wish me luck.

  1. To that point, I just purchased a new record player, since the one I kept in storage died a brutish death due to being a cheap piece of crap. I could just buy all my music digitally, like I did when I had most of my things in storage, but there’s something wonderful about tangible records and CDs.  ↩

  2. Answer: two. One for home, and one for travel.  ↩