Every few months I see articles about Steve Jobs’ turtlenecks, Mark Zuckerberg’s grey t-shirts and hoodies and Barack Obama’s dark blue suits. It seems that, likely coinciding with the start of a new year and a barrage of ambitious resolutions, we are reminded once again to focus on simplicity and to be inspired by some of the leaders in our modern society who simplify their lives as much as possible to deal with or avoid decision fatigue.
Psychology and Moving House
Ever since starting out in my Psychology degree in 2006, I have been fascinated by the human mind. I was probably intrigued by it earlier than that, but my studies put so much knowledge within easy reach and made it possible for me to have ‘aha’ moments every week, while also explaining human behaviour, traits, actions and emotions. I certainly learned a lot about the effects of visual, neural and other stimulation on human perception and performance.
This, together with moving house a couple of times within New Zealand – upsizing every time – before selling everything to start afresh in Australia, certainly got me interested in simplicity, minimalism and the idea of ‘less’.
Putting those two topics together has been a great influence on my own life as I try to streamline, simplify and minimise my possessions, wardrobe and daily task list. Not in an attempt to find ways to work more or cram other ‘stuff’ into my life, but rather reflecting my desire to spend my time more consciously on the things that matter to me, the things I enjoy and which enrich my life.
Focusing my career
Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.
Alexander Graham Bell
In my career, I started broad and slowly narrowed my focus until I attained a level of specialisation and expertise in an area which I am passionate about and which I truly enjoy.
This has meant that instead of ‘finding’ my passion in my early twenties and relentlessly pursuing it to turn it into a career, I picked a path, said yes to many diverse and challenging opportunities, enhanced my skillset, further improved my strengths and worked on my knowledge gaps to become genuinely good in one particular area.
Simplifying my ‘broad’ career to a focused one with increased specialisation, helped me not only find my passion but also means that I now possess a skillset and knowledge which is desirable in the job market and has given me a solid basis from which to plan out the next 5 years.
Pack up and go
But it doesn’t stop there. Ever since I had to fit ‘life’ into two suitcases to take on a plane from Wellington to Sydney, I realised that I needed less stuff. Over the years of living in New Zealand, I had accumulated a mountain of clothes, kitchen gadgets, decorations, sports gear, books and more.Our move to Australia was a great chance to keep our possessions to a minimum.
Some people find our approach rather strange because it means we have neither wine glasses in our cupboards nor mugs or cups as we don’t have any use for them. We have more spoons and bowls than forks and plates and don’t own a microwave, because the stove top works just fine.
“But what if you have people over for dinner???”, my parents asked. Well, our friends don’t judge us by our cutlery or dinner plates. They come to spend time with us, enjoy themselves and eat a good meal.
Reducing my wardrobe to the essentials has been an ongoing endeavour and difficult at times. I haven’t arrived at the ideal state yet, but I’ve made very good progress. ‘Capsule wardrobe’ being the key term – picking a base colour (navy blue) and a couple of accent colours (white, red and beige) allows me to combine every piece of clothing with every other piece of clothing. This means less time spent in the morning choosing an outfit, a very straightforward laundry process and the guarantee of looking appropriately put together at all times.
Eating simpler, not less
Over the last 8 years, my eating habits and overall diet have also evolved significantly. A lot of people look at me with disbelief when I answer their questions about what I eat all day (not eating meat seems to always trigger these questions).
I have had comments from ‘that’s weird’, ‘don’t you ever get sick of fruit?’ to ‘that sounds boring’ and more recently ‘that’s disgusting!’
I can’t find anything disgusting in the foods I eat, to be quite honest. I like the taste, I like the textures, I like the way they satisfy my hunger and support my athletic endeavours.
So what is this boring, bland, weird diet they all speak of?
I go through phases. Sometimes I mix it up and just have three meals of fruit in a day (and when I say meal, I mean meal: at least 700 calories per portion).
Or I have fruit for breakfast, followed by potatoes for lunch and dinner. On the weekends, I get a bit fancier and cook up some corn, peas and chickpeas, throw on some salsa and chopped up avocado.
Why? Well, keeping things simple is something I LOVE. I also enjoy the actual taste of the different ingredients I use. I want potatoes to taste like potatoes, not like creamy curry sauce. Just potato is fine by me.
Another big benefit is that this simplicity helps my body unlock the nutrients more easily. Rather than having to digest 30 different ingredients including vegetables, pulses, oils, spices, herbs, fruit etc., I prefer to give my body a maximum of 5 different things to handle at any one time.
This ensures that after a meal I actually feel energised and ready to tackle whatever comes next, rather than descending into a food coma and trying to combat the 3pm slump with chocolate and coffee.
Simplifying my diet also means I spend minimal time in the kitchen during the week. Generally, I spend around 30min every evening preparing ALL of my food for the next day. And if I feel like cooking or actually trying out a new recipe to bring to a party, I can fully savour the time spent preparing food and putting together a yummy dish.
Lastly, it saves a ton of money. A lot of people say that a plant-based diet is expensive, but rice, oats/grains, beans and potatoes are among the cheapest foods you can find. And I don’t even mind spending my hard-earned money on food because it is the basis for every aspect of our health, so it’s kind of important.
By eating a simple, nutritious, healthy and very affordable diet, rather than eating out every day for lunch as well as buying 2 takeaway coffees and breakfast plus regular restaurant dinners, I have more money left to spend on experiences, travel, triathlon races and other fun stuff.
The impact of ‘simple’
If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things, then this is the best season of your life.
Overall, simplification has helped me focus on the essential things. It has given me answers to the questions:
- ‘What do I want to spend my time on?’ – Family, Friends, Cycling, Swimming and Travelling
- ‘What are the essentials I need to live a comfortable life?’ – an uncluttered city apartment close to work to avoid a lengthy commute and free up time for fun stuff
- ‘What do I need less of?’ – Social media drama; shopping; distractions; material possessions and clutter to look after, store, clean, maintain and replace.
- ‘How do I achieve this?’ – One step at a time. It’s not a matter of waking up to a massive change one day, but a constant development to improve myself and my surroundings
All aspects of my life have benefited from this approach. The topics I usually write about on this blog – Tableau, Travel and Triathlon – have been enabled and impacted by my simplification process.
Tableau in my career and professional life has been a result of specialisation and focus. Using Tableau and visualising data for me is always a process of simplification and eliminating all unnecessary clutter to show what’s important, to let the data speak for itself.
Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Travelling has become simpler over time thanks to overhauling my wardrobe and packing light when I go away. I have also become more interested in experiencing a different culture by being there, rather than tackling all the sights and attractions in the guide book.
Triathlon and racing in this sport, has also taught me to focus on the essentials. What is going to make me faster? That is the key question, especially in a race, and to find the answer I practice not just swimming, biking and running during my training, but also focus on the all important transition.
How do I best run out of the water, take off my wetsuit, goggles and swim cap while running to my bike and shave off seconds here and there? Working with a triathlon coach has been invaluable. He is an expert at what he does so I can trust him to figure out the right program for me. This means I don’t need to think about the next training session, worry about balance, load, strength training, intervals, hilly rides and swim sets. I just open his email, look at the plan and head out the door. Easy!
Ours comes every Friday, lets herself into the apartment and spends a couple of hours cleaning everything. When we come home, ready for the weekend, we step into a spotless apartment, with clean benches, a fluffy, freshly vacuumed floor and go to sleep in a bed with fresh linen. When someone makes your bed, even just once a week, it almost feels like you’re in a hotel :).
Yes, it isn’t cheap but it’s one of my favourite ‘investments’ for us to feel content, relaxed and without the need to spend half the Sunday cleaning. Every Friday night when I get home, I am glad I spend money on a cleaner and I literally say ‘wow, it looks perfect!’
Simplicity and Minimalism – in other people’s words
Simplicity involves unburdening your life, and living more lightly with fewer distractions that interfere with a high quality life, as defined uniquely by each individual.
Linda Breen Pierce
Simplifying has been a game changer for me and the idea of minimalism is very attractive and something I continue to work on.Let me leave you with a couple of book recommendations if you’re interested in it for yourself. Please note, these are purely my recommendations, not affiliate links, I don’t get any payment if you click on them. I just genuinely like them 🙂
There are also a number of outstanding blogs, my favourites of which include:
I hope that you will find these resources as helpful as they have been for me.
If simplifying and finding your focus is something that excites you and that you have been working on, let me know as I’m always on the lookout for tips and tricks to improve what I’m doing :-).