Avoiding clutter and stress

Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do. Truly good things are quite often very simple, maybe even too simple for most of us. The art of simplification is hard for me, so I work harder to improve my skills. For more information please check this infographic and also here, here, here, here and here.

The obvious solution

It happens to me quite often. I instinctively know the solution, and yet I cannot say it because it looks too simple. So I look for a more complex solution and fail to find it. Eventually, I understand that my original impulse was right, quite often too late to change anything.

I know I am in a good company. Most people do not have enough confidence to choose a solution if it appears to be very simple. Some people have so much confidence they choose the wrong solution because it appears so complex they cannot find flaws in its logic.

We make things more complicated than they are. Probably dealing with complex subjects makes us feel smarter and more important, so we dig complex subjects wherever we look.

Another way to feel important is being busy. Nothing can complicate our life as having many things to do.

Too many details

When our students start visualization, they often spend too much time visualizing every object. They add details to the object. Some of the details are contextually correct and inspired by the text, but most of the details are unjustified. When we visualize something long enough, we start daydreaming and losing focus, so our mind adds details to keep us occupied.

When we get such a student, we ask him to time his visualization, to 2-3 seconds. A visual association should be fast, split-second fast. I think, that I can generate about 10 visualizations per second. Never measured it, but at least it feels this way. 2-3 seconds are more than enough to come up with a visual association and embellish it with all contextual information we can find. Spending more time means either a mental block with no valid association or daydreaming with too many details and loss of focus.

More things more stress

As we add objects, information, and tasks our stress levels usually rise. We need to monitor more aspects, and we have a higher chance of ruining something. Usually, we are quite clumsy and need to focus so we do not break things. This is not an easy task. Take an elephant into a glass shop, and you will have more than enough stress.

If we have more posessions, they take spac, they clutter our sight, we stumble upon them, we need to clean them, and we need to justify to ourselves owning them. Having more tasks, we spend more time managing tasks. We have less time to rest and procrastinate, ask questions and daydream about big things. And if we mess upbig time, we need to monitor and manage the damage, which is hard.

Why simplifying is so hard?

Having a simple life requires clear focus and priorities. It is much easier to take yet another task or buy yet another thing than it is to apply discipline and avoid unnecessary spending.

When we have a limited window of opportunity and uncertain results, it is very hard to pass. Even harder is quitting something we are deeply invested in.

It is much easier to throw away something broken or something we did not use for a while, but then we may probably purchase something new and put it in the same spot.

Quantity vs quality

When we have few really great things, we try to get better in what we have and do not mind that we do not have many things. Cowboys used to say “Beware the man with one gun, he knows how to use it.”

As we have several great things we start to feel that other stuff is simply useless junk, and we remove it…

The same goes for the activities. If we do something we truly love, we will ensure we have very few other things to do.


Buddhist monks have very few posessions, and their life is the opposite of stressful. Colledge professors also report low stress level, but it has nothing to do with what they have. Soldiers have very few posessions, yet they are usually quite stressed.

Its not just what we have, or what we do, but also how important what we do is. Medical doctors are very stressed, because they work with human lives and need to race the clock. Treasurers in museums have lots of items around them, yet they have enough time, focus and leisure to navigate the mess, so they are rarely stressed.

When we simplify things it is not just quantity, but also the quality of the things we need to deal with.

Embrace empty space

I dislike empty spaces. All of my walls used to be covered in artifacts. Then I discovered the concept of “negative space”, so when I generate “negative space” by contrasting empty spaces with filled spaces, I do not feel emptiness.

Other people hate embracing empty time. What do we do when we have nothing to do? We can always meditate or watch TV, but if we are creative there are many other options. We can remniscent past events, strategize about the future, listen to great music, read a book and so on.

When we start appreciating the emptiness, we stop trying to fill it with stuff.

Losing control

Control is stressful. Once we do not need to control something, our life gets easier. Simply hiding something away from our eyes, or delegating a task we release control.

If we do not care about the reward for our work and focus on here and now, we release the control even more. This is definitely a hard trick to master.

As we increase the complexity of the task, limiting the resources or increasing the requirements, we are likely to get in the “flow” state. While in the flow we do not have resources or focus for anything except what we are doing, and then we do not need to control anything else.

When to say no

There are several scenarios when it is save to say no.

We can through away things of low priority, without which we do not feel worse.

If we procrastinate and do not want to do a task, or do not use an object, we can probably remove it from our lives.

Occasionally we are simply not equiped to handle a challenge. We may not have enough resources or experience or focus. In that case it is better to say no right away.

Highly risky projects can also be avoided with low penalty.

There is a saying “do not keep all the eggs in one basket”. Having more baskets than we can watch is also not the best strategy. It is better to keep the eggs in few baskets and watch them well.

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