Every week on Far Beyond The Stars I interview an important person on the subject of being minimalist. Last week I spoke to Colin Wright about what you take with you when you work from anywhere. Next week I’ll be speaking with Chris Baskind of More Minimal.
This week I spoke with the minimalist legend Leo Babauta. For those who don’t know him, Leo writes the top-100 blog Zen Habits and has another smaller blog called Mnmlist. He’s the author of a slew of books on living a simple minimalist existence, including his e-bookA Simple Guide to a Minimalist Life, and his print book The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential…in Business and in Life.
We spoke about doing less of the unimportant, the illusion of control over life, and a few ways you can be more minimalist today.
I’ve decided to release this interview under an uncopyright license. This interview is copyright free, which means that you can distribute, republish, source from, even profit from this article without any permission from me. If you enjoyed this interview, please share it with as many people as you can. There’s no need to link back, but I’d love it if you could.
On to the interview!
Everett Bogue: When you first started on your journey towards becoming minimalist what was the most profound change that you made in your life?
Leo Babauta: It was the realization that all the crap in my life that I’d been buying and building up and treasuring … just wasn’t worth it. It’s the stuff that’s advertised and hyped, that we think makes us happy, but that really doesn’t. I’ve learned that I don’t need any of that — all I need are a few essentials, and the time to do things that I love doing, to spend with the people I love most.
Everett: Do you have any current goals that you’ve set for yourself in regards to living a more minimalist life?
Leo: No. I no longer focus on goals — I think people are too focused on destinations and not on the journey itself. That doesn’t mean I don’t try to do anything important — it just means I’m focused on doing something important right now, something I love doing and that excites me.
That will lead to something amazing, I’m sure, but what it leads to, I have no idea. There’s actually no way to know … the idea that we can control the outcome is an illusion. We cannot predict or control the future, so I’ve given up trying.
However … to answer the question fully … minimalism for me is a learning process, and I’m continually realizing that I don’t need things I thought I needed. For example, when I move to San Francisco in June 2010, I plan to go carless, because I really don’t think a car is necessary or desirable. (Note: I now live on Guam, where I walk and bike to most places but it’s much harder to go places with kids without good public transit, which Guam lacks.)
I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning about minimalism, or get to the point where I’ve perfected it.
Everett: Occasionally I’ll tell someone that I’m striving to be minimalist and they’ll say something like “Isn’t that boring? How do you stay busy and entertain yourself?” Assuming you’re talking to a stranger, how would you answer that question?
Leo: Minimalism isn’t about having or doing nothing — it’s about making room in your life for the things you love doing the most. In this way, by getting rid of all the clutter in our lives — physical clutter and commitments — we are freeing ourselves, so that we can focus on what truly matters, and not all the extra crap that people tend to do and have for no good reason.
Everett: I believe one of the fundamental aspects of being a minimalist is working less, and on more important projects. I know that you’ve had some experience pursuing this goal for yourself. What choices and changes have you made in your life towards this goal?
Leo: It hasn’t exactly been a goal, but more something that I’ve learned to do better with time. I try to focus on one (or two at the most) projects at a time, so that I can really pour myself into it. I’ve changed my life and my work so that I can do things I really love doing, and not a bunch of other work that I hate. When I find myself being distracted or consumed by unimportant stuff, I stop and question this and change my routine so that I can focus on what’s important.
I’m getting better at all of this but am by no means perfect. Again, I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning.
Everett: Can you recommend one simple way that our readers can start to cultivate a minimalist work schedule?
Leo: Start each day by asking yourself: what’s the most important thing I can do today, that will have the biggest impact on my life? Do this first, before you do email or meetings or read stuff online or Twitter or anything else. Only when you’re done should you consider other things.
Slowly reduce the number of things you do each day, but make each one count more.
Everett: You have a post on Mnmlist titled “On Owning Nothing” which imagines a minimalist society which revolves around shared resources and starts to move away from the idea of private property. If you could recommend one simple step that our reader’s could take to start making this world happen, what would it be?
Leo: There are millions of things, but a good start would be to participate in some kind of shared service — car sharing is available in many places, for example, as are ways to lend and borrow things like books or bicycles or CDs or what have you. Freecycle.org is a good way to give away stuff you don’t need and find free stuff you do.
Over the longer term, I think we should start getting together, informally, to talk about and organize associations that allow us to share things as a group rather than horde them individually. This could apply to housing, food, computers, clothing, work, and more. And these associations should be free (as in not restrictive), democratic (with no authoritarian control). Cooperatives are a good example.
Everett: In your explorations of being minimalist, have you encountered any unexpected benefits that you didn’t initially imagine?
Leo: It’s truly liberating. I can’t even begin to describe how freeing it is to finally get rid of stuff, to break free from the dependence on stuff, to get away from having to do everything and be everything and buy everything. It’s an exhilarating feeling, really, and I never would have imagined it to be so until I gave it a try. I hope anyone reading this experiences some of that liberation.
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