The Minimalist Principle: Omit Needless Things

“Omit needless words.” – William Strunk Jr., The Elements of Style

While minimalist aesthetics and products and the minimalist lifestyle appeals to a lot of people, they find it easier to like it than to live it.

Minimalism is something people might strive for, but they don’t know where to start.

I’d start with the advice of William Strunk Jr. in his classic minimalist treatise on writing (quoted above), but apply it to life in general, and everything you do: “Omit needless things.”

I could (and probably should) stop writing there, because that’s really all the advice you need. However, the idea needs a little expanding. Strunk, for example, wrote:

“A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”

This is the addition to “Omit needless things” that is necessary: not that you have as little as humanly possible, but that every thing you do have counts.

Let’s apply this to various areas of life:

  • Possessions: Look around you, at work and home. Is everything you own important? Can you get rid of things, and keep only the things that really matter? Edit vigorously, until you’ve whittled it down to the minimum for the life you want to lead. Read: A Guide to Creating a Minimalist Home.
  • Buying: It’s a waste of time to reduce your possessions if you just buy a bunch more. What’s important is being content with life, not stuff, and thereby reducing your needs. If you don’t use buying to fulfill your needs, you’ll only really buy what you need. Or maybe you’ll be able to go without money.
  • Eating: How much do you really need to eat? Do you need the big plate of chili cheese fries? The fully loaded nachos? All those slices of cakes? All those cream-filled sugary coffees? Often the answer is no. Omit needless food, and make everything you eat count — by making your food nutrient-dense, fiber-dense, healthy and filling.
  • Doing: Do less. Make everything you do count. Look at your to-do list and see what’s really important. In fact, examine your work life in general and see whether you’re really making every day count. Omit needless activity.
  • Goals: Do we really need 101 goals? Can we do with just a few, or even one? By focusing on less, you can really pour yourself into it.
  • What you produce: If you produce something, whether it’s writing or music or software or clothing, see if you can simplify and keep it more focused. If you create a website, can you give it one single purpose, with one call to action? Can you do that with your writing or music? Figure out what that purpose is, and edit ruthlessly so that everything that remains counts.
  • The rest of life: In anything you do, see if you can apply these principles. There’s no need to get obsessive about it, of course, but it’s always useful to examine what we do, how we do it, and whether we really need to do it.

If you’d like some irony, here are a few blogs I’ve been enjoying, for those who want more minimalism:

  • Minima
  • Becoming Minimalist
  • Minimal Mac
  • Why the Minimalist Lifestyle Appeals to Me

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