Why Less is More: How a (Former) Metrosexual Bachelor Destroys Clutter and Turbocharges Productivity
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This is a post about using the concept of minimalism to reclaim what we should prize the most: time.
Bachelors or not, we all need a clean, organized living and work space to maintain a certain level of productivity. My living space of the past have been typical of the bachelor, on-the-go types: crowded clutter and nothing short of chaotic. The result: stress and tardiness which put strain on relationships and a hamper on achieving daily goals.
Fast forward to this past summer. Backpacking across China alone was a trial by fire of making do with less to produce more. Carrying your life on your back in a foreign country, zipping in and out of airports, hotels and train stations, the difference between being 100% organized and not could a trip to the Canadian Embassy without a passport and a cent to my name. Here’s the kicker: in the two months I spent in China, traveling, partying, interning at a business firm, training and competing in Muay Thai, I only had a maximum of 30 pounds of physical possessions with me at any given time.
This led me to a deep realization: I really don’t need that much sh*t!
Upon returning home, I decided to give my living and work environment a minimalistic overhaul. Minimalism is the term describing the distillation to the most fundamental and essential, commonly associated with art and architectural design. Hoarders beware: it involves throwing away 25-40% of stuff you think you need. Here is the run-down:
There are a few basic and important principles I keep in mind when tidying my place:
The Snowball Effect: If you’re not particularly motivated like myself, start by organizing one part of your space and the momentum of cleaning will carry you through to the rest. It often helps to begin tidying areas from the “less messy” to “more messy”. Also, and this maybe me and my OCD, but few people can stand the inconsistency of having a spotless kitchen but a trashed living room.
Eliminate before Organizing: This is crucial. Never attempt to clean a room without first throwing the crap away. Be as liberal and ruthless as you can be. Form two piles, keep and not-to-keep. Do you really need that hula girl ornament you impulse bought in Hawaii 3 years ago? Misplaced sentiments be damned. The not-to-keep piles goes immediately to your preferred community donation box or trash, no nostalgic glances allowed.
The Rule of Multi-Function: This rule goes hand-in-hand with the last. If you are on the fence about a certain item that is taking up a lot of space, consider its quality and purpose. Ask yourself the following questions: Does this item serve more than one function, if at all? Do I currently own or can acquire something that can better replace this item’s function? If your answer was a no to the first and yes to the second question- you’re probably better off without it.
One caveat: the Rule of Multi-function applies as much, if not more, to buying things as it does to throwing them away. Make a habit not to buy anything that duplicates in functionality. Less really is more.
Closet Management 101
Here is perhaps the most liberating part of “minimizing” for anybody with chaos for a closet. “Minimalism” does not have to compromise your sense of style, but may in fact open you to more possibilities. Aim for a small, timeless and well out together collection rather than a large, disorientating volume. In my experience, less clothing volume = less chaos = more style possibilities.
Here is my personally tested process that cost next to nothing to implement:
First, eliminate. Throw out all of the ill-fitting, worn and torn pieces, and faded ninja turtle underwear from 4th grade from your wardrobe. Emotional attachment usually creates hesitation in deciding on what to throw away. I use a simple but effective system of “proving” to myself what needs to go. This wardrobe “diet” is as follows: Take all of your clothing pieces on hangers and hang them on reverse (hook facing out). Every time you replace something after they’ve been worn, hang them regularly. After a predetermined time, usually three to four seasons, review your closet. The reverse hangers carry the “excess fat”. Done.
Second, understand what an organized closet looks and feels like. An organized closet system should be simple and intuitive to use. It should cut down on the time you need to be ready in the morning. Jae, image consultant and incubator at Kinowear.com, suggests organizing your wardrobe into professional, casual and athletic sections, clothing type (pants, dress shirt etc.) and colour groups. Never hang sweaters. Accessories like belts, ties and scarfs should be organized in an accessible and well-displayed manner, preferably in small, separate compartments by type. You may decide to store seasonal outerwear separate from your regular wardrobe to cut down on volume.
Finally, remember that the upshot of having an organized closet system is the prevention of overbuying, introduction of more style possibilities and making your space more women/guest-friendly. Keep these reasons in mind and maintain your closet system. Make it a habit to tidy up as you go. Mess breeds mess. It is easier to be tidy 100% of the time than it is 97%.
Personally, I have reduced my closet volume by approximately 30% and clothing budget by 50% so far. Minimalism FTW.
Ruling My Paperless Kingdom
Credit card bills, pay stubs, tax returns, business cards, notes… to file or not to file? I have been filing my own paperwork since the age of 16. Hole punching documents into big hulking file folders- not fun. Paper is messy, and as I discovered, often unnecessary.
I currently use the Fujitsu Scansnap S1300 Scanner with Evernote software on my Macbook to eliminate 80% of my daily “to-file” paperwork into an easily organizable and searchable system. I’ve talked about the application of Evernote in creative production before, but this adds an entirely new level. By scanning documents into OCR (Optical Character Recognition) format, I can, with one search function, look up every relevant piece of document in my Evernote notebook. The Scansnap takes document of all sizes (up to A4) and even scans business cards. Need to look up a business contact but forget his name? Search company name or title. Looking for reports, articles and notes? Ditto.
Here is a quick look at Evernote, Scansnap and how the system is implemented*.
The scanner creates a PDF file, and sends to the Evernote software on my laptop. Evernote syncs with its servers, and allows any one of my computers to access the same document. I use Evernote’s “tagging” function to quickly categorize and disseminate information. My most used tags include Bills, Tax, Receipts, Business Cards, Personal Reports and a variety of note subjects. This system has saved me from enough clutter to pay for itself many times over.
The OCR function also recognizes neat hand-written text, and all of my loose leaf paper notes are scanned. In digital form, with data redundancy in both your local hard drive and Evernote’s servers, your scanned documents will likely last forever. Welcome to paperless bliss.
For business cards, payment notices, hand written notes, bills and other non-legal documents, I simply trash the physical copy. Caution: Do not throw away any physical copies of legal documents such as lease agreements, sale contracts etc. Err on the safe side- if you’re not sure, file it.
Taming the Work Desk Monster
What does your workspace look like? Your mecca of creativity and production? Or the proverbial pigsty?
The current “expert” consensus on the matter is that either way may be efficient. As long as there is some method to the madness. My take? Having been in situations where my work desk was in such cluttered state that I resorted to working in coffee shops and libraries full-time – I advocate a clean space. There is also something inherently satisfying beginning a day’s work on a clean, unobstructed desk space.
I have three main items on my work desk: Laptop, LCD monitor, and file separator (for incoming and outgoing documents). I have a zero tolerance policy for loose paper on my desk when I am not working. OCD? Yes. Productive? Hell yes.
Is Facebook taking over your life? Download Leechblock to your Firefox browser. Leechblock prevents access to domains you decide to be the biggest “leeches” to your time. You can configure the plug-in to “protect” your most productive times by blocking certain URLs. I guard my peak productive hours which are between 11am – 3pm and 10pm – 2am on weekdays.
*For an in-depth look at how to set up the ScanSnap scanner with the Evernote program, go here.
Questions to readers:
What does your work desk look like? Have any personal strategies on becoming more productive? Share with us on the comment section below!