For us, minimalism is our ethos, and our approach.
For me, minimalism is all about pruning away the inessential, in order to allow you to maximize the essential.
For example, a simple act is wearing the same all black everything outfit every single day, thus, one less thing for you to worry about or think about first thing in the morning, and allows you to jump directly into what you care most about. This was Steve Jobs‘s approach, apparently he had 100 of those iconic Issey Miyake long black turtlenecks in his closet. The same goes with Mark Zuckerberg, and his simple great T-shirt approach.
But don’t we care for individuality?
Always the danger and the fear is becoming a lemming. Nobody wants to become a herd animal, and just follow the herd.
I had a funny realization when I was at a hipster coffee shop in Berlin: everybody in the coffee shop was wearing all black everything. At that moment, I knew I had to switch up my wardrobe.
However, upon deeper reflection: for me, perhaps the purpose of minimalism isn’t to be different, but just to strive towards the most simple and Zen approach. If that means just wearing whatever is in your closet on the day of, without worrying or thinking too much about it, perhaps this is a good thing.
Empty your mind
For minimalism, 99.9% of the obsession is about stuff, and getting rid of stuff. However, perhaps a better approach is to think about your mind. Your clothes and stuff is important, but should maybe only comprise up of 10% of your life. 90% of your life should just be towards your mind, and your body.
I discovered that the most productive mind is an empty mind. The irony: once you empty up your mind, then you could fill it up with interesting thoughts, which come from within.
Let us say that you like to write, or do some sort of creative work. A very simple one is to not check your email first thing in the morning. Ideally uninstall email or work email from your phone. And just do it on your laptop once you get into work.
Reading paperback books at night
Another thing I’ve also discovered is this: reading too much is actually not good for you. Reading in small doses is helpful, helps stimulate or relax your mind, but, I don’t think the purpose of life is to just read ad infinitum. Reading is more of a luxury than the end goal.
Even when I think about it, thinking about the countless number of hundreds of books I’ve read: there might only be about three or five books which have really helped me in my life. Like Seneca said:
Better to just have a handful of books in your bookshelf, and to always reread the same books over and over again, rather than having a huge library and reading every book only once.
For myself personally, the only books which have really helped me include the meditations by Marcus Aurelius, the letters of Seneca, and books by Nietzsche. For entrepreneurship, Zero to One by Peter Thiel, Antifragile by Nassim Taleb, and the Walter Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs. For poetry, Horace. For bravery and courage, the Iliad by Homer.
I’m currently housesitting for a friend, and when I have a little bit of excess energy in the evening, I just want to relax my mind, I’ve actually discovered that reading paperback books at night, is far superior than reading books on Kindle or iPad. Why? If the purpose is for you to relax your mind in the evening, a paperback book doesn’t keep your mind stimulated. For example, when I read a book in the evening on my iPad, I’m always looking up new words, and searching random things. A book helps you just focus. I found a copy of “Twilight of the idols” by Nietzsche on my friends bookshelf, and have been reading at the night, with great delight.
Uninstall it all
A technology minimalist thing I have done is simple: it was my long-standing practice to every day uninstall at least one app from my phone, iPad, or laptop. This helped me prune down to my essential applications, which all include production. For example, IA Writer for writing, Safari for blogging, procreate for sketching, Zen brush 2 for calligraphy, and Apple photos for photography.
Even something I’ve done is whenever I get a new device, let’s say a new iPhone, iPad, or laptop, I always do a fresh install. I don’t import old stuff. This helps me think carte blanche (blank slate). And like any good IT person, I always start off by uninstalling all of the bloatware, and then only reinstalling the truly essential apps.
No subscription services
Something simple I’ve discovered: rather than having unlimited media, it is better to just pay for your media as you go. For example, I have purchased all of the John Wick films on my Apple TV account, each film individually for 10 or 15 bucks, instead of paying some stupid $10-$15 a month for HBO max, Netflix, etc. The reason is this: if there is something you really really want to watch, just pay for it. If you always have the streaming services available for you to watch, it is rather a boredom seeking device, rather than an information seeking one.
For example, let us say that I am walking around, and suddenly the thought of Spartans comes to me. Then it is wise for me to purchase the movie 300 by Zack Snyder, and watch it, instead of randomly jumping on a streaming service.
Subtraction is addition
One of the critical flaws of minimalism and zen is that the thought is the apex state is nothing, and nothingness. However, this is not a good idea. For example, the Spartans embraced frugality in their lifestyle, dress, and speech, not to be virtuous for the sake of being virtuous, but rather, a hugely practical one. They wanted to prune away the inessential to just focus on training, combat, and their personal freedom.
For the last decade, I made it fun game to see how much stuff I could get rid of, and how men was that could become. There was a certain point where I did reach apex minimalism; no laptop, only iPad, only one outfit while living in Vietnam. This was great because it allowed me maximum focus, and productivity, and maximal artistic and creative thriving. But the problem is once I reached that state, I wanted to see if I could become even more minimalist, which actually ended up hurting me more than helping me. Therefore a simple thought is this:
Once you think you have reached about 80 to 90% minimalism, don’t strive towards further further minimalism.
For example, let us say that you are trying to lose weight. To chop off an arm in order to lose weight on the scale seems ridiculous. But sometimes this is what people do. It is like how Ricoh got rid of the flash, pruning away an arm just to lower their footprint and size.
Once you have reached an optimal level of minimalism, don’t think about minimalism for the sake of minimalism. Rather, I think the end is for you to keep streamlining or optimizing your life, for your own greatest personal benefit.
For example, let us talk about owning a car, or having a car. Depending on your situation, having a car may help you or hurt you. The point isn’t to not have a car for the sake of not having a car, but rather, what is best for you and your lifestyle. For example, in some scenarios, owning a car does simplify your life. And not not owning a car makes your life more complicated.
Strive to make your life more simple, less complicated.
Minimalism in photography
Out of all of the practical domains out there, perhaps minimalism in our photography is what matters the most, instead of minimalism in our lifestyle. Why? Lifestyle is only a means to the end, not the ending itself. I see photography as an end. For example, having a minimalist lifestyle in order to make more photos.
Some very practical thoughts about minimalism and photography is this: the best photos are the most minimal.
For example, the reason why I prefer black-and-white is that it is the most minimalist aesthetic for photography. Certainly you can make minimalist color photos as well, but for myself personally, monochrome is still simpler.
I like the idea that no matter what my scenario or living situation, I can always discover things to photograph. And this is the great thing with black and white:
Black and white broadens my vision, whereas color restricts my creative vision.
When you’re shooting color photography, you’re always looking for colorful things to photograph. When it comes to black-and-white, I am more interested and focused on shapes, things, and concepts. Black-and-white offers you more creative optionally, whereas color photography limits your creative optionality.
Reduce your compass
Another thought I have is that it is better to keep photographing the small same area over and over again, and milk every single nook and cranny, rather than to just keep exploring huge spaces of land, and being less efficient with photographing the space.
For example, one of my favorite places to photograph is the fashion District in downtown Los Angeles. I would rather just keep visiting the same neighborhood over and over again, and looping around the block 1 million times, and milking the maximum out of that small square block, instead of trying to travel the whole world.
Currently, I’m housesitting for a friend in the iconic North Park neighborhood in San Diego. I really love the neighborhood. I’ve looped around the small neighborhood a 100 times, and I always discover more interesting nuances to photograph.
Or let us say that you live in New York. Rather than trying to photograph all of New York, maybe it is best for you to just choose a neighborhood you really like, and stick to it, rather than always looking for something new.
When it comes to composing your photos, I prefer the most minimal ones. Why? I like the idea that you can minimize your composition, but maximize the emotional impact you get from the photo.
For example, the critical error that lots of beginner photographers make as they try to photograph everything. However, if you try to photograph everything, there is not one single thing your eye can anchor onto. Better to have a single thing for your eye to anchor onto, and for your eye to maximize and discover the interesting nuances of it, rather than a photo of too much information.
A simple way to do this is shooting macro mode. For example, I really love the Ricoh GR 3 and the Ricoh GR 3X, because the macro mode is so great. You can focus so close onto anything, and in focusing very very close, you discover beautiful nuances in it. This is why now, I prefer Ricoh at least 1 trillion times more than any Leica camera, simply because of the close macro ability.
Currently a new aesthetic which is dominating photography and street photography is this notion of adding infinite layers for the sake of layers. However upon much reflection, I’ve discovered that this new aesthetic is more about flexing how clever you are, rather than being something truly substantive. Example, a lot of people want to shoot epic layers in street photography as a form of elitism, rather than thinking:
Do these layers actually add anything substantive to my photo?
The thought first came to me when it came to clothes: the best clothes are the most minimal clothes with the fewest amount of layers. Ideally, topless, in short shorts, like the Spartan 300s. They had a bare chest, bare legs, and all they had is their iconic Crimson red cape, helmet, shield and spear.
Therefore, I would actually encourage you to flatten your compositions, and get rid of layers. For example, I’ve actually discovered the new 40mm focal length on the Ricoh GR 3X is great for minimalism. It adds more compression to your photo, similar to a 50mm lens, like which Henri Cartier Bresson used, yet is still wide enough for your natural eye.
Therefore as a simple thought: when in doubt, get rid of more layers.
Also a simple thought when it comes to workflow is this: rather than thinking about how to make your workflow “better”, strive to make it flow better.
For example, the notion of optimization is a mostly nerdy one, in which nerds try to make things more technical, more detailed. For example, adding more meta-data, captions, tags, notes. But, a better workflow idea is this: what is the most minimal amount of flagging you can do, in order to maximize utilize 90% of the desired output?
For example, I’ve discovered Apple photos as a superior option to Adobe Lightroom. Why? Deeper integration with the whole Apple ecosystem, and also, the only thing you really need to do with your photos is to flag the ones you like. Then filter your favorite photos, and just export them.
Or with the writing, IA WRITER with markdown as 1 trillion times superior to Microsoft Word, or even Google Docs. Why? All you need when it comes to writing is the raw text, and the syntax for header, bold, links, and italics. Fewer options for formatting means more focus and output for your writing.
Pursue a few things in life, but do them very very well.
Like a child, I think it is good for you to dabble and experiment in everything which personally interests you. But once you find the few things which you really really love, strive to maximize them.
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Think less, shoot more:
- Before buying something, think about it for a long time. Maybe 3-4 months.
- When you buy something new, get rid of two old things.
- The point isn’t to make your life “better”, but less complicated and more streamlined.
- Iliad by Homer
- Basho zen haiku poems
- Beyond Good and Evil by Nietzsche
- Antifragile by Nassim Taleb
Id this helped you streamline any of your thoughts, feel free to forward to a friend!