Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

Eliminate What's Not Essential

Whether we realize it or not, most of our lives are cluttered. That clutter isn’t just physical. It can be digital, too.

Whether it’s having too many possessions, too many apps or RSS feeds, too much software or hardware, clutter makes your life more difficult. It increases your stress and forces you to spend more time and expend more energy dealing with all of the things in your life than you should.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Eliminating that clutter can help you simplify your life — whether physical or digital. All you need to do is boil everything down to the essentials.

Eliminating what’s not essential is difficult. I know this from experience. As you may or may not know, my family and I moved abroad in 2012. Before doing that, my wife and I had to get rid of almost all of our worldly possessions. It was easy to decide to get rid of a lot of it — it was too big or too old to take with us. Other things, though, were a lot harder to part with. It took a lot of time and a lot of thought to do that. Even then, I think we took more than we needed with us.

The One Step to Eliminating What’s Not Essential

As I mentioned a paragraph ago, doing that isn’t easy. You have to ask yourself a simple but hard question. And don’t settle for a snap answer. Take as much time (within reason) as you need to mull your answer.

The question? Do I really need this?

That question has a few layers. Maybe you have two of something, be it a pair of mixing wands or a couple of smartphones or several apps and pieces of software that do the same thing (more or less). The easiest way you can determine whether or not you need something is to ask yourself when you last used it. If it was three months or more ago, chances are you aren’t going to use that item any time in the near future. Or at all.

Avoiding the Contingency Mindset

Maybe you’re holding on to that extra something just in case. In case of what? Loss? Breakage? Breakdown? You run into a situation in which your other tools or software or apps, the ones you use regularly, aren’t quite up to the job? You might run into that situation once in a proverbial blue moon. And chances are you’ll forget you even have that tool or app when (if?) it comes time to use it.

The contingency mindset is the biggest obstacle to clearing away all of your physical or digital clutter. Once you let that mindset take root, it will add to the difficulty of answering the question Do I really need this? You’ll constantly find excuses not to get rid of something that you really should get rid of.

And that’s where taking the time to think about what you need to eliminate and what you need to keep. I hope that by thinking the matter through, you’ll be able to tell the difference between what you need and what you don’t.

Final Thoughts

Eliminating what’s not essential in your life isn’t easy. It takes a lot of effort, a lot of thought, and it takes the will to break with the familiar. You may even find that you regret getting rid of something.

But if you act with your mind and not your heart, you’ll be able to clear the clutter from your life. Once you do that, a lot of stress and a lot of distraction will vanish. You’ll wonder how you ever did with not doing without all the things that you eliminated from your life.

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