The Problem of Plenty

In the last two years, we've produced more information than that was produced in the entire history of mankind before that. This is incredible. While it is an absolutely amazing thing that more people are creating and sharing their work than ever before, it also poses a problem of what to consume and what to focus on. There are thousands of ways to spend your time with. New videos on YouTube everyday, more movies released every week, and millions of blog posts like this one, released regularly. What you follow and what you do with the things that you involve yourself in, thus becomes critical to the quality of life you lead and the satisfaction you derive from it.

Recently, I started noticing my consumption habits which I take the liberty to presume is common with a lot of folks around. Even before we finish reading an article, we are thinking of ways to share it. Before a song ends, the mind starts wondering which one to listen to next. Or the video you clicked on and the witty comment you are going to make on it. Or the picture you just took, and your brain starts processing all the possible tagline you'll post it with. All this sharing and consuming leaves little scope for actually incorporating the lessons you've learnt from it. 

And it is not just with sharing things online. Even if it just consuming for personal use, life seems to become a checklist. That movie your friends said you have to watch. Or this incredibly funny video someone shared on Facebook that you have to see. But, hold on. What if, you do not click on that? Would it be too extreme a step? Would you be missing out on something important? Maybe, but probably not. Perhaps, you can live without watching another funny video, another movie trailer. 

We click multiple pictures during our travels but never see them again. How about clicking only a few? Pictures are definitely a good way to record memories but how about skipping just this one particular sunset? A picture will remind you of the good times you spent somewhere. But, what if you don't have a memory of it in the first place since you spent that time clicking pictures. 

One of the things that are at play here are our fear of missing out. This in itself is the biggest reason for our passive consumption. We all want to feel like we belong somewhere, and thus we involve ourselves in things that everyone else is talking about. But, it is for us to realise that whatver is happening is right there with you in that particular moment. 

Realise that you are never going to finish even a tiny bit of all the articles you want to read or all the movies you have saved in your hard drive. So, isn't it wiser to make the experience of whatever you already have a little better? How about growing deeper rather than wider. This of course doesn't mean you should restrict your experiences. But, whatever you are doing in that moment, immerse yourself in it completely.  

In my life, for instance, right now I have about 25 posts which are in draft. Before, publishing this, I couldn't decide on which one to finish. But, unless I finish one, I can't move on to another one. I recently purchased a Kindle, and I found my reading habit go down instead of increasing as I had presumed it will. The thing is, that even though I had multiple options, I couldn't decide on which one to finish now. Thus, I now have more than 10 unread books in various stages of completion. I couldn't derive pleasure from my reading as much as I used to earlier. 

The simplest way is to start with one and finish it if it interests you. Instead of running after the next shiny thing, finish off the one at hand now. Create simple rules like an hour of leisure browsing. Take time to sink in what you've consumed. Let it digest much like food. Form your opinions around it. See how you can use it to make your own life better. If not, just notice how you feel after reading it. Are you more energised,  happier or perhaps just a little entertained. If so, take stock of it. The thing is when you don't so this,  chances are you are going to move from one to another post and eventually get tired of all the jumping around and switching of context. But, if you feel happy with this moving around, by all means. 

Take 30 seconds - that's it - no more. Think about what just happened. Or after coming out of a meeting with someone, take a minute to record what you felt. Or don't even record it, just think it over. Of course if you are doing it for entertainment, that's fine and you can ignore this suggestion. But, make a deliberate difference between your entertainment habits and learning habits.

Pick a few things and pursue them. There would be distractions for sure but ignore them. Otherwise, you would be left after a year of all half done things and stuff you haven’t completed. We can never do it all - the number of things to indulge ourselves in are too many out there. Choose wisely. Even if you can't do that, immerse yourself in what you have at hand. Do things that matter - there is the very popular 80-20 rule. 80% of your life is shaped by just the 20% of things you do. So, it is better to choose that 20% wisely. 

I am a compulsive consumer thus I have had to devise some strategies around my consumption patterns. One is I read much lesser when on the move. I just like looking outside instead. Some of the best things in the world have come out when the mind is wandering aimlessly. Or sometimes like it was for this post,  I write most of it on the move. I started simplifying my reading habits and my decision makingGradually, I am beginning to move into simplifying my wardrobe. The basic colors - whites/greys/blacks. And things which team up well with multiple items.

But, I am not very good at this myself. Even while finishing this article, I took a break for a few minutes to have dinner which then got extended to watching a movie (a pretty cool one by the way) and then a complete one day delay. Each of these small things add up and take away minutes/hours/days of your life. Your life then becomes a journal of what all you've finished doing and what else is pending. If you have a technique to sort this out, please add in your comments.

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A Primer On Minimalism

1. a movement in sculpture and painting which arose in the 1950s, characterized by the use of simple, massive forms.
2. an avant-garde movement in music characterized by the repetition of very short phrases which change gradually, producing a hypnotic effect.
3. deliberate lack of decoration or adornment in style or design.

Minimalism, as a philosophy has attracted me for quite some time. I have been a follower, reader and if my friends are to be believed, a vocal supporter of the minimal way of life. First started as a movement in art and music, it is now found in almost every aspect of life you can imagine. 

Minimalism can have different connotations for different people. For me, it means hoarding less stuff and doing more with less. It also means removing clutter and waste from my life - things like stress, bad influences, poor connections. This leaves me with only the things that matter, which add value to my life. 

If you are interested in exploring about this philosophy, here are a few points which might come in handy to get you started.

1.Buying less stuff - Let’s just get this out of the way. Minimalism by definition means making do with lesser stuff. It might sound cynical to say but we’ve been conditioned to consume. A visit to the mall yesterday reminded me of the lure of buying more stuff. I was impressed by all the shiny stuff on display around me and felt like buying things I didn’t need or the ones I already have. Now, there is not a problem with that per se. But, the problem arises when this ‘stuff’ doesn’t add value in your life and takes away valuable time, energy and money from things and experiences which actually matter, which brings me to my next point.

2. Spend on experiences, not things - There is a brilliant 5 minute clip of George Carlin where he talks about our hoarding culture. We spend our lives hoarding stuff and buying more of it wherever we go. We have to do that because we can’t carry our stuff everywhere we go. Whereas, your experiences travel with you wherever you go and help you grow as a person. Stuff fades away but the memories of great experiences linger on. 

3. Removing excess baggage - Realise that you are a tiny part of something huge at play. The stress you carry, the worries that you have, the emotional baggage that bogs you down and your problems are of no consequence in the grand scheme of things - not only on the scale of universe but on the scale of your own life. Worry itself is wasteful but if it is actionable then it could be good - so choose your battles carefully. You only have so much energy, spend it on contemplating about the things that matter a lot to you.

4. Deeper rather than wider - There is way too much stuff in the world for us to consume. Too many books to read, so many movies to watch, many places to see and a lot to learn. My idea is that there is a bigger joy in immersing yourself completely in one single thing rather than superficially scanning tens of them. The world is designed with plenty for each to learn in her own path of choosing. The knowledge from one book is equal to what you get in 100 books together or from one each of them. It is a matter of how you perceive it. A moonlit evening can be romantic to the heart which is full of love or can feel lonely to a troubled mind. It is a matter of how you look at it. 

5. Focus - This has become one of my favorite words recently. Focus on only the things that matter. Our tiny attention spans have a way of moving us about in different directions. Give more to one single activity, you are probably going to enjoy it more. Read less but deeply engage with it. Watch a movie and imagine yourself becoming the character. Project yourself how it would feel in the stadium while watching a match on the screen. Immerse yourself, become them.

6. Prioritize - We are all capable human beings who want to do a lot in our lives. I, for one know that I want to do multiple stuff - write, cook, click pictures, play guitar, learn Spanish and a host of other things. But, the structure of our lives doesn’t allow us to do so many things all at once. So, learning to prioritize helps. Saying ‘NO’ to things is as important, if not more, to choosing which ones to say ‘YES’ to. And if these priorities change over time, that’s fine. 

Leading a minimal life has helped me reduce stress, become more fulfilled and be happier in general. I am not an accomplished minimal guy but am getting there. So, this post is to remind me how to get there as much as it is to inform you. I hope these steps help you get started on your path to minimalism if you like to. And, if you do, I hope it brings you as much happiness in your life as much as it has in mine. 

Further Reading:

What is Minimalism by The Minimalists

Minimalists FAQs by Leo Babauta 

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