This is an excerpt from The Simple Leader: Personal and Professional Leadership at the Nexus of Lean and Zen
Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.
– Antoine de Saint-Exupery
If you’ve removed the clutter in your life, then the last thing you really want to do is add something. Or so you’d think. Unfortunately, our culture has conditioned us to always want more. We like our toys. We buy impulsively. We take on too many projects. (Well, at least I used to.)
Zen teaches us the value of koko, or austerity. This doesn’t mean you have to live the life of a monk, having no real possessions and relying on the morning alms for nutrition, but it does mean challenging yourself to find the point where you have what you need and nothing more. That point is different for each of us, and an item or expense that is a toy or luxury to one person may be a valuable component of another’s life. The purpose is to become consciously aware, and to make a conscious decision before adding something new.
Most of us have seen the famous photo of Steve Jobs sitting in the middle of his living room on a mat, sipping tea, surrounded by just a single lamp and a couple of books. Living so frugally is probably not how most of us would choose to live, but consider the freedom—and focus—that lifestyle creates (not to mention the fatter savings account, which in itself creates more freedom).
You should have seen the look on my real estate agent’s face years ago when I told her I wanted a house with less storage space and not more. It was obviously the first time she had heard that request, especially from someone looking for a nicer house. After looking at several options that did not fit our vision of a nicer but smaller house, my wife and I decided to build our own. The project has created many new minimization ideas, and our architect is working on a design that minimizes doors and walls, reduces angles and unnecessary trim, and lowers the number of horizontal surfaces upon which clutter can be stacked. All these features will help us reduce our lives’ clutter and avoid the temptation to buy more things.