Manly minimalism begins with goals

“The things you own end up owning you.” — Tyler Durden, Fight Club

In high school I became a collector of stuff, mostly decorative objects found at garage sales or hauled out of trash heaps. This practice was in line with my architectural (slash interior design) aspirations, but after a year in college I realized the vanity of so many objects.

So early in my college career I began to cultivate a minimalist aesthetic that has largely stuck with me since graduation. It’s difficult to pull off, though, in a materialistic culture supersaturated with advertisements and run by Washington bureaucrats whose idea of good times seems to revolve solely around the health of a consumerist economy.

Materialism, stuff, a minimalist aesthetic remains on my mind after our move of three months ago. We went from 1,500 square feet of living space to around 500, not including a shared kitchen, bathroom and office. Every so often I find myself looking around again, wondering what we might be able to do without. A multitude of dishes and decorative items remain in boxes. How much of this stuff is worth schlepping around? How much of the unpacked stuff is worth keeping around?

It seems to me this is a more difficult question to answer for craftsmen and women. We are wired to create objects, thus objects potentially have more meaning for us than, say, accountants or fishermen. Furthermore, we often own a slew of tools related to our craft. In some ways these objects are in a different class than what we put in our house, except for the fact that many of us don’t have spaces outside of our home for a shop or studio.

This morning I read a good article on a blog called The Art of Manliness titled Go Small or Go Home: In praise of minimalism. The author quotes Leo Babauta’s answer to the question “What is the minimalist lifestyle?”

    It’s one that is stripped of the unnecessary, to
    make room for that which gives you joy.

    It’s a removal of clutter in all its forms,
    leaving you with peace and freedom and

    A minimalist eschews the mindset of more, of
    acquiring and consuming and shopping, of
    bigger is better, of the burden of stuff.

    A minimalist instead embraces the beauty of
    less, the aesthetic of spareness, a life of
    contentedness in what we need and what
    makes us truly happy.

    A minimalist realizes that acquiring stuff
    doesn’t make us happy. That earning more
    and having more are meaningless. That
    filling your life with busy-ness and
    freneticism isn’t desirable, but something to
    be avoided.

    A minimalist values quality, not quantity, in
    all forms.

The first and last points in Babauta’s list resonate with me. These are things I’ve realized, that overkill kills the potential for joy and quality is more important than quantity. Overkill I’ve yet to get control of in life, but the value of quality is already present.

So what is unnecessary in my life right now that needs to be done away with? What is truly important? I’ve already culled a number of blogs from my feed reader in an attempt to refine my daily news and reading time. In place of that I’ve been trying to go through part of the Daily Office every morning.

Before doing away with too many things, however, I probably need to focus on setting some attainable short and long-term goals. I’ve never been good at this. I’m much more a live in the moment type of guy. I have come to realize the value of setting a certain direction for your life though. Our culture presents us with never-ending distractions that must be tamed. It also steers us into a certain kind of workaholism; productivity becomes a cult we’re expected to aspire to.

Setting [realistic] goals will help me determine what is unnecessary.

The author of the Art of Manliness post concludes by giving us

    Leo Babauta’s Principles of Living the Minimalist Life

    1. Omit needless things. Notice this doesn’t say to omit everything. Just needless things.

    2. Identify the essential. What’s most important to you? What makes you happy? What will have the highest impact on your life, your career?

    3. Make everything count. Whatever you do or keep in your life, make it worthy of keeping. Make it really count.

    4. Fill your life with joy. Don’t just empty your life. Put something wonderful in it.

    5. Edit, edit. Minimalism isn’t an end point. It’s a constant process of editing, revisiting, editing some more.

    I would add the following:

    6. Hold on loosely. Even to your prized possessions. At the end of the day its relationships, not possessions, that make life worth living.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

7 Responses to Manly minimalism begins with goals

  1. jim janknegt says:

    Here is another link for praying the divine office: It is also available for iPhone.

    I do the morning office but I use a prayer book. I can’t get use to praying in front of a computer.

    • pcNielsen says:

      I might prefer a book (we have two Books of Common Worship we bought in the past year), but having the liturgy already laid out means that I actually give it some attention. One of the books we can’t make heads or tails of anyway. Seems like you need a degree just to figure out how it’s organized.

  2. jim janknegt says:

    If you have the Catholic Divine Office, I agree, it is extremely hard to figure out. I found that once someone gave me a brief education about the book I could sit down with the Universalis site, which puts everything in the proper order, and it would confirm if I was doing it right in the book. I can now do morning and evening prayer with confidence. The thing I like about it more than the Anglican book of common prayer is that there is a lot more variety in the prayers. Where as the BCP is pretty much the same thing every day. I wish the language of the BCP could be magically moved over to the Catholic Divine Office. You can’t beat the Anglicans for the proper and poetic use of the English language.

  3. Julie says:

    My hat is off to you, sir. The opening quote’s always given me pause. Dance lightly, hold loosely, drink deeply – if I may say so, myself. I look forward to giving your entire post further well-deserved thought.

  4. Tim J. says:

    Can’t believe I hadn’t added The Art of Manliness to my blogroll before, but I’ve remedied that, now.

    That was a terrific article. I think we Christians badly need to figure out how to live a lifestyle distinguished from the cultural consumerism around us, and we need to make our lives different enough for it to be clearly obvious to anyone looking. There is something to the Amish simplicity, but we needn’t follow their pattern.

    BTW, I’ve been praying the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and I had to order the book… just couldn’t get used to the computer.

    • pcNielsen says:

      It’s not in my feed reader yet, although I don’t think this is the first time I’ve run across The Art of Manliness blog. I’ve been very selective with what I’ve added (and kept) in my reader as this post suggests.

      And FWIW, you and Jim and Julie are still there, and will so remain!

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