lotus flower among lilly pads

Recreating the Universe

My Musings

As part of the Nonfiction Bingo 2018 challenge, I am reading segments at a time from a book in Spanish (Menos es Más), to satisfy the “Language” category and practice my learned-in-high-school-but-atrophied-over-the-years language skills.

While I have tried this with many books in the past (mostly fiction or children’s books), this one has been the most successful. And here’s why:

This time, I’m reading about a subject (minimalism) that I am already passionate about and have researched enthusiastically in English. The concepts and strategies are already familiar to me, which helps me fill in the gaps, as I try to muddle through vocabulary words I wouldn’t otherwise know.

The vocabulary is also quite practical — real life stuff that I can and would use when discussing things with other people. (Attempting to read Harry Potter in Spanish, for example, was far more challenging, due to the made-up words and wonky names.)

I’m excited to have discovered this hack, and curious to see what other nonfiction books could help me work towards (eventual) fluency.

But I’m also really enjoying reviewing these minimalist ideas in a second language. It feels like solidifying what I know, via a different channel. It’s as if my brain is hearing it in a new way… which, I guess, it is!

Last night, I came across the following quote, roughly translated:

“In the pursuit of a minimalist lifestyle, we must resist the temptation to recreate the exterior world inside our own living spaces.”

This has been a slow-coming but important lesson for me. When I was younger, I succumbed easily to the desire to accumulate. If I thought something beautiful or enjoyable in the world, I wanted to replicate that goodness in my own space. To appreciate it, I had to own it.

At first, doing so brought me joy. But soon enough, I had grown used to seeing the item I’d brought home, and I was captivated by something else in the external world, that I wanted to replicate in my own wardrobe, apartment, or life… and I’d acquire the next thing.

Of course, each of these trinkets had a slight hold on my identity. Even though they weren’t actively providing joy on a day to day basis, if I turned my eye on them specifically with an intent to prune them out, I’d remember how their style is still a part of me, or this item showcases an aspect of my design aesthetic, or how useful this tool could be in a future context. And so, the accumulation accelerated, without any sign of stopping or culling.

Somewhere along the line, I realized that the clutter and clash of all these things together had a net result of stress, rather than support. In trying to “collect” everything I admired in the outside world, I had made a mess of my own space.

What I’m about to say next should be tempered with the idea of moderation: no, I am not suggesting we abandon ALL our things or hobbies, or strip our living spaces down to the barest of necessities. I am, however, suggesting, that there might be some areas in which a little pruning can generate more happiness, and create more space for the items and activities that mean the most to us.

It dawned on me one day… rather than try to purchase and cultivate my own garden piece by piece (when it was expensive, time-consuming, and not particularly interesting for me to do so), I could instead take more trips to parks, walk through neighborhoods with beautiful yards, and visit unique and interesting gardens. In this case, someone else has handled the significant expense, and the great amount of effort needed, to cultivate and maintain something supremely beautiful, which I can enjoy for free (or a very small fee, by comparison). Moreover, I don’t have to store the tools needed to tend to the garden, further reducing my clutter. And to round out the awesome — I get to experience a wider variety of stimuli by taking myself out and viewing multiple gardens, rather than growing accustomed to (and potentially taking for granted) my own.

Another aspect that became clearer as I followed this train of thought is the trade off between the beauty of focus and the opportunity cost of choosing. If I were to select one particular style in my garden, to achieve its full effect, then I would have to give up the others permanently. (And I like them all!) If, instead, I were to combine aspects of all the desired styles, the overall effect would be somewhat muddled and less powerful. Yet, by leaving this process to others who can complete it to the fullest extent, each in their own space, I can enjoy different environments depending on my mood — go for a hike among the trees, visit a Japanese koi pond or a Chinese garden, walk among the roses, visit the desert wildflowers in bloom, or stroll among the changing colors of autumn’s leaves.

Now — if you ADORE gardening, and doing it is one of your great pleasures in life, obviously this is not the place of application for this principle in your life. It just so happened to be a very clear/obvious example from mine, since the hobby of gardening was interesting enough, but not significantly compelling for me.

There are plenty of ways to implement this idea:

  • Instead of buying fancy cappuccino makers (that require storage, cleaning, setup, etc… and in many homes go ignored and unused), enjoy and celebrate the *experience* of going to a coffee shop every now and then. (The same could be said for ice cream makers, fondue kits, etc…)
  • Instead of collecting art and hanging it on your walls (where, as Don Tillman from The Rosie Project would point out, your brain will soon ignore it anyway), take yourself out and enjoy strolling through museums and galleries more often.
  • Instead of bringing home beautiful trinkets that catch your eye in the store, pause and appreciate them as if they had been a display inside a museum of items that are not for purchase. Then leave them behind, having soaked in their beauty.
  • Instead of purchasing and storing a grand library of DVDs, pay the couple dollars to rent whatever you’d like to see (from a store or online) when the urge arises.
  • Instead of buying home workout equipment in hopes of building a habit (as many of those props go unused), sign up for a free yoga class in the park (the accountability of your RSVP may help your success!), get a low-cost gym membership (allow someone else to pay for the upkeep of your fitness tools!), or use bodyweight exercises such as planks, pushups, and pull-ups (your equipment is always with you and ready to go!).

My favorite application? Checking out boat-loads of books from the library, instead of filling (what would literally be) countless bookshelves with all my reads, to house them and force them collect dust while I read other books.

Of course, any of these ideas can be countered: the couple who makes their own cappuccinos every weekend to celebrate their time off work together, the artist who regularly draws inspiration from the art on his walls, the movie aficionado that rewatches and shares her favorites so many times that owning becomes cheaper and more efficient than renting, the self-disciplined gymnast who uses their at-home rings and bars to practice, etc.

The idea isn’t that any of these individual examples are bad, inherently.

The goal is to see where you’re unnecessarily recreating elements that you appreciate from the outside world, inside your own space.

This culling is not intended to rob your life of all hobbies or self-applied skills. The idea is to notice what you actually spend time doing –and enjoy doing– in your home, and then build your environment to support those activities, by stripping away ones that don’t deserve the amount of physical space you’re currently giving them. And you can do so with confidence, knowing that you always have the opportunity to experience them elsewhere.

Not only will this free up space in your place, but it will also encourage you towards more adventures and engagement with the variety and excitement of world outside!

And, by culling the secondary, and focusing your attention towards that which most supports you in your own space, you create room for those primary things to bloom.

Essentially, you’re honing and perfecting your own little universe.


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Featured image by Xuan Nguyen on Unsplash

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