Why the minimalists do what they do

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I was 31 when I figured out breakfast, and after that life’s overall difficulty level declined a bit.

Every month I buy a bag of bulk steel-cut oats, a bag of trail mix and a six-pound bag of Royal Gala apples. Every morning I make a heaping half-cup of the oats and cut an apple into slices. About six months ago I added a cup of Ceylon tea to that.

That’s breakfast every day now. I used to keep my options open, figuring that going with what I “feel like” in the moment is going to naturally lead to a more appropriate, fulfilling breakfast experience.

After years of being confronted with a decision shortly after waking, I decided to be done with deciding what was for breakfast. My usual is now the only thing on the menu, and since I stopped deciding what’s for breakfast, mornings have had a significantly different feel. They are clearer and more spacious.

I thought my newfound clarity was a byproduct of having more whole grains in my diet, or the self-satisfaction of finding a breakfast that costs 11 cents. I now believe it has nothing to do with oatmeal at all, but rather with the fact that I have much more than 11 cents to spend on breakfast, and in today’s global food system that gives me way too many options.

As affluent Westerners we’re fortunate to have so many choices, but according to psychologist Barry Schwartz, having too many possibilities — which we do in almost every area: breakfast, clothing, careers, lifestyles and creative pursuits to name some major ones — makes it consistently harder to be happy with the options we choose. In his TED talk he identifies the ways too many choices erode personal welfare instead of serving it.

When we’re faced with a number of options, we’re always going to assume that one of them is better than all the rest. This means the more options there are, the more likely we are to choose one that isn’t the best one. We also presume it would take more homework to choose the right one. In other words, as options increase every decision becomes bigger, and so the more likely we are to delay our decisionmaking.

Facing any decision is to some degree stressful, whether it’s picking a menu item, or picking an investment vehicle for your retirement. Delaying decisions because you don’t want to make the wrong decision only compounds this stress. This trepidation is a fear of future regret, and the resulting paralysis can lead to procrastination, which in turn leads to self-esteem issues, which only compounds indecisiveness further.

Even once you make a decision, the more options you turned down the more likely you have lingering doubts that you missed the boat — or at least, some boat. Even if you make the best choice, you never really know that, and you’re likely to wonder what you’re missing.

If you went to a restaurant that only serves one thing, if it’s decent food at all, you’re much more likely to enjoy it because you know that among your options, there was no greener grass to be had.

With an increasing number of options in almost every aspect of life, we presume that our results in each of those areas should be getting better and better, because with each new possibility it becomes more likely that one of them suits us perfectly. Our expectations for perfection and total satisfaction are too high.

As freedom of choice grows, the perfect career, the perfect partner, the perfect schedule or the perfect salad dressing seem more likely to happen. Perhaps they are, but psychologically we’re less likely to be pleased with whatever we do choose, because our satisfaction with what we have shrinks as the number of things we don’t have — or could have — grows.

Schwartz on going shopping in a modern store:

“I had very low expectations when they only came in one flavor, and when they came in a hundred flavors… dammit one of them better be perfect. And what I got was good, but it wasn’t perfect. And so I compared what I got to what I expected, and what I got was disappointing. [...] Adding options to people’s lives can’t help but increase the expectations people have about how good those options will be, and what that’s going to produce is less satisfaction with the results, even when they’re good results.”

The other day at work, I became momentarily obsessed with the idea of finding how true North related to the road I was surveying. I pulled out my Android and downloaded what was rated as the best of the thirty or so compass apps. Within a half-minute I had it up and running, but the digital needle was pointing back to the city, which I knew was roughly south-east. I clicked through the settings and couldn’t get the damn thing to work right.

After a few minutes of frustration, I realized how ridiculous a moment it was, given the entire history of human struggle: a young man, out in a field somewhere, had become visibly annoyed that he couldn’t procure a reliable compass in 30 seconds.

As stupid as that story is looking back on it, my annoyance was definitely real and was definitely affecting the quality of my life in that moment. It’s an example of the truly ridiculous expectations that arise in a world with truly ridiculous levels of convenience and personal power. I wish it was unusually ridiculous.

Our options are probably going to continue to increase for a long time. You have, in most areas of life, a tremendous number of possibilities, and generally, the more there are the less happy you’ll be with that area of life whenever you consider what you don’t have. If the career, partner, creative outlet or meal you currently have were the only one that had been available to you, you’d probably feel extremely lucky that you had it.

Although I didn’t always know why, I know that the more I simplify my life, in terms of its moment-to-moment options, the happier I am. Owning fewer things made me immediately calmer and more grateful. Having an inflexible regular day for starting my weekly article drastically reduced my anxiety around writing. Cutting my monetary spending (almost) down to the essentials gave me an immediate sense of control and abundance I never had before. I also suddenly have more money than ever — the side-effects of voluntary simplification tend to be wonderful and freeing, at least when you’ve been living the Western consumer status quo your whole life.

The reason behind these breakthroughs, I see now, is the same. Each one reduced the number of decision points in my life. Every time I reduce the number of decisions I have to make just to move my life along, everything gets less difficult and I feel better about my direction. It becomes easier to be grateful and to get myself to do what is most important to me.

The minimalist movement isn’t frivolous or snobby, they’re on to something significant. Voluntarily having less, and less to choose from, delivers real dividends on happiness, particularly when it comes to its ability to reduce daily decisionmaking and the stress points that go with it.

I can’t believe I never noticed this pattern, but I will be taking full advantage now. An Elaine St. James book recently enlightened me to the idea of simplifying meals, making it obvious why my oatmeal, of all things, made my life better. Having well-planned “usuals” at home — two or three healthy options at most — reduces the daily burden of mealtime decisionmaking, the weekly burden of grocery-store decisionmaking, and reduces the amount of time we spend preparing meals, which is something that happens three times every day. This represents a lot of mental sticking points removed from life.

The options at mealtime are a microcosm of the lifestyle options available to the ordinary, free Western citizen. We have never been freer to live how we want to live, which is wonderful and empowering but simultaneously taxing and intimidating. I want to take advantage of the freedoms provided by the incredible time we live in without getting paralyzed by too many options and endless unmade decisions.

The best approach seems to be to give ample deliberation to the decisions that concern major aspects of life, such as career, family, relationships, high-level goals and creative pursuits, and don’t let small ones hang you up. The big ones determine what you actually do with your life — and it is their doing that contributes most to happiness, so it’s worth pruning out as many of the distracting minor decisions as possible so that you don’t cease the important doing because you’re caught up in unimportant thinking.

Technology and commerce produce so many minor decision points for the typical person that you have to be careful not to let yourself become convinced that any meaningful amount of happiness hinges on them. Nothing produces a steadier supply of these needless, distracting desires than television.

Happiness comes from the major things, and although our 21st-century freedoms give us a lot of minor preoccupations, they do give us more personal power to get those major things right.

I find the more I can see my possessions and options as luxuries, the more grateful I am to end up with any of them. When we think of all non-necessities as luxuries, it feels ridiculous to stress over the outcome of minor decisions. From now on, all salad dressings are luxuries. All cell phone features are luxuries. If it’s not a basic need, it’s icing. You can still make decisions about icing, but icing should not stress you out, and any icing-related details you can eliminate from you regular decisionmaking responsibilities, the better.

Now I’m suddenly considering going to the store to buy some cake frosting. This is why I don’t have a TV.

***

As requested, I’ve added a page with recommendations for life-changing books. Check it out here.

Photo by piotr


greg June 3, 2013 at 12:26 am

“Why do President Obama and I subject ourselves to such boring routines? Because both of us (especially President Obama!) make many decisions each day — decisions that are far more important to us than what we wear or what we eat for breakfast.”

Robert C. Posen — http://blogs.hbr.org/hbsfaculty/2012/09/boring-is-productive.html

Ryan June 3, 2013 at 12:29 am

David,

Wonderful article. Thank you for the advice.

I was wondering if you have ever read a book by Malcolm Gladwell titled, “Blink – The Power of Thinking without Thinking”? If not, it basically tells short stories about how the subconscious parts of our minds work much faster, and more efficiently than our conscious part does. He goes into detail to the point of saying that with larger, more important decisions, it is safer to go with your “gut”(subconscious) because it will be able to analyze factors more quickly and clearly than your conscious. Do you have any thoughts about this in relationship to your article and decision making? Basically, I’m just wondering what you think about listening to your “gut” in life’s many large and small decisions. Thank you for a wonderful source of information.

Regards,
Ryan

Vilx- June 3, 2013 at 1:23 am

In my experience “gut” feeling can be tricky to get right, because it’s easy to sidetrack it. It tends to prefer options that are… “shinier”. Options that look better on first glance, but may have glaring flaws upon closer inspection. Also, options that offer immediate gratification tend to be preferred over those that create long-term benefits. In other words, the “gut” may be able to evaluate factors more quickly, but it’s a shallow evaluation, and you should still compound it with some good-old-fashion deliberation. Just my 2c.

Dragline June 3, 2013 at 8:25 am

Yes, you would want to read “Thinking Fast and Slow” along with Blink. Gut feelings work best when they have been pre-programmed by practice and discipline in the area — professional athletes who don’t have time to actually think about their actions are a good example. They have pre-programmed their subconscious minds to make the right moves at the right times. Gladwell explores a little more of this idea in “Outliers” actually.

But the same can be true in almost any field of endeavor or activity. You can find a modern “how-to” manual in Robert Greene’s “Mastery”, although these ideas are of ancient origins.

Gustavo June 3, 2013 at 10:16 am

Gut feeling is not to be dismissed. Check the work of Antonio Damasio, especially the story about Phinieas Gage (wikipedia)

David June 3, 2013 at 6:20 pm

Hi Ryan. No I haven’t read Blink so I can’t really comment on it.

Kim June 3, 2013 at 2:08 am

Barry Schwartz’s talk is an old favourite, one of the three TED talks that I classify as life-changing, I’m glad you found it and decided to share with.

Happiness in restrictions, I think that is what people don’t get when they hear about vegans. They only see all the things we “cannot” eat anymore. What they don’t see is how 90% of choice in the supermarket doesn’t bother us because it’s not for us, anyway. There are two or three kinds of vegan chocolate instead of 30+ regular ones, that makes it easy to decide. When I bought vegan shoes or my vegan guitar straps, I was – and still am – super happy with them. Choice was limited and from the limited set, I’m sure I got the best option.

In short, if anyone is looking to subject themselves to voluntary restrictions, try veganism :D

PS: Ha, we share the same breakfast routine! (Well, almost, I’m still enjoying my one cup of coffee.)

David June 3, 2013 at 6:23 pm

>I think that is what people don’t get when they hear about vegans. They only see all the things we “cannot” eat anymore. What they don’t see is how 90% of choice in the supermarket doesn’t bother us because it’s not for us, anyway.

That was one unexpected advantage I experienced when I went vegan — it eliminated a lot of decisions. I had already made the decision about how I would react to many tempting foods, including donuts and cookies people brought to the office.

Hillary June 17, 2013 at 8:00 am

I had a similar experience doing the Whole30 recently. With so many food options eliminated I eventually just relaxed into it and tortured choices of “should I have a bit? I’ll just take a little bite” disappeared.

Maggie June 17, 2013 at 11:19 am

I love this comment about veganism! Eating out at non-vegan restaurants is surprisingly not very stressful for me – in spite of what people think – because I only have two or three things to choose from. Grocery stores are the same way: I can only shop in a few different aisles and areas, so I’m never overwhelmed by too many brands of chocolate chip cookies.

And ditto about the breakfast! Overnight oats for me. I don’t even really have to MAKE them in the morning… they’re ready in the fridge! Of course, if I forget to make them before bed, I’m paralyzed in the morning… “What do I eat?!”

Overall, love your comment!

Amanda June 3, 2013 at 4:04 am

The existence of too many options and the resulting stress, indecision, and disappointment is something I’ve thought a lot about. Thanks for articulating it so well and presenting a solution model of sorts.

Amanda June 3, 2013 at 4:06 am

Side note: I get stressed about which blogs I ought to take the time to read :)

David June 3, 2013 at 6:24 pm

Well I think one way of solving that is to just read this one, stevepavlina.com and mrmoneymustache.com. That’s what I do.

Carla June 3, 2013 at 5:30 am

This is a beautiful article. Thank you.

Maia June 3, 2013 at 6:40 am

Great article David, thanks! I agree with you about simplyfiying meals. I used to always think what shall I make today and look for recipes. But now I have a few options that I can always make from what’s in the fridge and it makes life so much simpler and cheaper too.
Also agree with you on the decision making, it’s so hard to choose from so many choices out there without wondering what you might have missed out on.

David June 3, 2013 at 6:27 pm

I am gradually moving towards having a static, unchanging shopping list. I kind of have that now, except instead of keeping a permanent copy, I have to ask myself what I usually get and write it down. But it’s always pretty much the same.

cj June 3, 2013 at 8:04 am

Marvelous post, again, David. Decisions use up valuable energy by having to deliberate, often times, nonsense. It is exhausting to decide on everything. Breakfast was a great place to begin. In fact, all of our meals are decided for the week on the weekend because they are the most delicious, healthiest and low cost we could invent (for now). On the weekend, we eat out a lot, but even then we know which restaurants will serve healthy, inexpensive foods and which ones to avoid. We miss out when we waste precious time and energy on deliberating nonsense.

David June 3, 2013 at 6:29 pm

Restaurant visits and other meals out add enough variety that I don’t get sick of my staples. During the week I eat to live and don’t want to spend too much time on it, but the regular meals I do make are good and nutritious.

Dragline June 3, 2013 at 8:15 am

Nice post. Reminds me that most people in our culture are constantly asking themselves what they can “add” to their existence to make it most satisfying when the question we probably should be asking ourselves most of the time is “what can I eliminate?” to make my life more satisfying.

JP Chartier June 3, 2013 at 9:14 am

Hi David,
I came across your blog recently and find it very intriguing. I’ve become a huge fan of the articulate articles you write and am delighted to have found someone who has an outlook on life that is in line with my own.

I watched a video by the Minimalists just last night that explained a very interesting way to determine if you really need to keep something that you own. They said to box up all of your belongings for something like 30 days, and as you need something, unbox it. At the end of the 30 days everything that is still boxed up should be looked at as possibly an item that could be parted with.

I became a minimalist back in 2006, before I even heard of the term. I decided to sell everything I owned and bought a small camper with the money. Then I traveled all over the United States. My life has never been better!

David June 3, 2013 at 6:30 pm

The transient camper life appeals to me, I have to say…

JP Chartier June 4, 2013 at 8:06 am

It’s a very enjoyable lifestyle I must say. And from what I know about you, it seems right up your alley. If you don’t like your neighbors, you just hook up and leave.

John June 3, 2013 at 10:01 am

There are so many approaches to achieving minimalism and so many places where I could start. How do I choose what to do first ?

David June 3, 2013 at 6:31 pm
Mike@WeOnlyDoThisOnce June 3, 2013 at 10:04 am

I have a defined breakfast routine as well (eggs made a certain way with toast)–helps me get off do a good start no matter what the other factors of my day may be.

David June 3, 2013 at 6:33 pm

Yes, and for me it’s not just the good breakfast, but the absence of decisionmaking in the first hour I’m awake. All I have to do is eat oatmeal, drink tea, and read a book, even on a busy workday. This heightens my sanity level all day.

Britt Reints June 3, 2013 at 10:14 am

“The best approach seems to be to give ample deliberation to the decisions that concern major aspects of life, such as career, family, relationships, high-level goals and creative pursuits, and don’t let small ones hang you up.”

This part is important, because while decisions and comparison may stress us out, research has also shown that novelty and variety make us happier.

Jean-Daniel June 3, 2013 at 10:50 am

Excellent blog. This is very inspiring. There is one point that you don’t really develop, which I find important: while a self-imposed frugality is indeed a sure way to increase one’s sense of satisfaction – after all the equation is simple: expect less and simplify and you will be more often satisfied with what comes your way – it is somewhat different if the frugality is imposed by external circumstances. People living in Haiti, or in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, or in the flood prone areas of Bangladesh, etc. (the list unfortunately is a “cornucopia” of endless poverty and disasters) are struggling not to define their own happiness, but merely to survive. They have no choice whatsoever. The real luxury that you describe comes from the fact that as persons living in developed economies we have an irreducible choice, and we can exercise it in more or less wise ways – what you suggest is focussing on spiritual values rather than material ones to avoid all sorts of material clutter that clogs the mind. But the fact remains that we have always choices that most others don’t have: while you limit your breakfast to oatmeal, you could always choose something else as you sole morning option . . . and that possibility is not irrelevant in this equation. The fact remains that your frugality is the result of your own choice, not imposed by circumstances regardless of your own preferences! In short we can tailor our own frugalities to our own preferences, and that is the crucial difference, the real luxury.

But this being said, I find that the self-imposed frugality is actually the most ethical way of living in a world where poverty and need are still rampant: if one uses less, one hopes there should be more available for others. “Trickle-down economy” always presupposes that there are people below oneself to receive the manna dropping down from our own table. On the other hand self-imposed frugality should keep us grounded in the realities of life, and hopefully more prone to empathize with those who have even less than us because our lives are not so different: if one’s day is ruined by a failing i-phone app, how is one likely to appreciate someone else’s struggles to simply find a job, or earn enough to pay the rent and put food on the table . . . But I am very glad for penicillin, the telephone, airplanes, computers and internet and all the other wonderful things that allow us to increase our reach and offer us possibibilities that would have been unthinkable not too long ago. The real lesson is simply: it is not because one could, that one necessarily should!

David June 3, 2013 at 6:38 pm

Yes, and I think this is clear in the article. I stress that this type of simplicity is voluntary, and the intended audience is clearly affluent westerners.

Teresa June 8, 2013 at 7:12 am

David,
I’m a relative new-comer to your blog, which I find very intriging. My comment is in relationship to your voluntary minimalism. I have been a practicing minimalist for quite a long time. I have never bought into the whole American consumerism attitude. My chosen lifestyle has led me to be a bit of an outsider in society, which really doesn’t bother me. My issue is with the continuing pressure being applied to maintain this disposable lifestyle and it’s effect on society as empire begins to disolve. I agree with Jean-Daniel “that one should” adopt this ideal. People aren’t going to have a choice in the not too distant future. Affluent Westerners are in for a rude awakening.

Amanda June 3, 2013 at 11:11 am

What decisions relate back to (in many ways) is the amount of willpower that we use in order to decide – things like eating healthy, exercise etc. I think calling it minimalist is the other side of a coin known as ‘routine’. Which is how it relates to willpower. If what we need to do is part of a routine (or simpler as you say), then it doesn’t consume willpower to accomplish, leaving that aquifer to be drained by other more important tasks.

Definitely something to think about.

David June 3, 2013 at 6:39 pm

I guess this is why routines are so powerful — more doing and less deciding.

Brenda A. June 3, 2013 at 12:22 pm

While I agree with the overall concept of this blog and currently live a pretty minimalist lifestyle, I do have one problem with it. If I were to limit my meal plan like you do, I would lose out on the joy that I derive from being creative in the kitchen. It is great fun for me to play with different ingredients and cooking methods. I genuinely enjoy trying new foods. Occasionally I fall into food ruts when life is stressful. But when I’m happy and relaxed I naturally turn to expanding my menu.

David June 3, 2013 at 6:43 pm

We all choose what’s most worthwhile. I really like shrinking the thought and time involved in weekday dinners, because it lets me transition from my day job to my self-employment endeavors without a big interruption in my energy. It really works for me, but that’s a function of my personal routine. We can all find places to apply routine and batch-decisionmaking to our own lives.

Terri Lynn June 3, 2013 at 12:34 pm

That was very useful and timely for me. Thank you. I have only one recommendation. Consider adding some nuts, seeds, hemp hearts, and/or chia to your oats.

David June 3, 2013 at 6:44 pm

I do! The “trail mix” I mentioned is made up of sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeks, almonds, raisins and sometimes dried cranberries. I am going to get a big thing of hemp hearts next time I go to costco.

Edward June 3, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Great article, David! Agree wholeheartedly. I’ve always been a minimalist but things have a tendency to grow unnoticed. And when that happens, I scale back once again. I just killed my cable. I’ll have three channels now to choose from. My life happiness level will remain unchanged. …Likely even ameliorate.

Like Brenda A. (above) sometimes I see making my dinner as an art. a bit of a stress relief itself to try new things and be creative. Like doing a painting or drawing. Very often I don’t stress over dinner, but I get excited over all the possibilities of what I might be able to put together. (Usually with limited ingredients.) Sort of like that feeling when you travel without a set agenda. It’s a world of possibilities and every direction could lead to something new and exciting.

David June 3, 2013 at 6:47 pm

Cutting cable was a major existential event for me. Suddenly I had to consciously decide what to do with myself. The place was so quiet. I became a lot more conscious very quickly and felt a growing angst about putting my life to use. Even today I think the upsides to quitting TV are understated.

Tony@WeOnlyDoThisOnce June 3, 2013 at 4:59 pm

Man, I am totally with you here. I am a member of the minimalist movement (moving slow, but making progress). The irony here is that America allows us to make these choices about our lifestyles by having a shitload of choices. We need to be careful to not make this a political issue. A longer story for an even longer post…

David June 3, 2013 at 6:49 pm

It is a strange irony. We have so much freedom to choose how to invest our time that somehow we end up overcommitted, losing our sense of freedom.

Kathy @ SMART Living 365 June 3, 2013 at 5:07 pm

Great post David. This is an excellent perspective on why so many of us feel that going minimalist or “simple living” is so important for those of us who strive to live a peaceful, happy and meaningful life. Your food example is also great because it explains why so many people don’t invite friends over for dinner or companionship–I have so many women friends who get so overwhelmed because they make dinner so complicated. Food and/or meals DO NOT need to be complicated to be amazing–but what happens is that some end up overcomplicating it so much they don’t have any fun or enjoyment so they end up not doing anything. So much better to do simple and uncomplicated and then enjoy the experience! Thanks for making that so clear! ~Kathy

David June 3, 2013 at 6:51 pm

For sure. I remember one time I got it in my head to make this tofu lasagna. I went out and bought all the ingredients, then realized I didn’t have a lasagna pan, and at the end of the day I had spent four hours and forty dollars and it was such an awful recipe I ended up throwing it out.

Phillip June 3, 2013 at 6:05 pm

Good stuff. The next logical step: stop eating breakfast.

David June 3, 2013 at 6:51 pm

I don’t follow.

Paul Esche June 3, 2013 at 6:40 pm

Simplicity and gratitude. Your blog is icing on my Internet experience.

David June 3, 2013 at 6:52 pm

Man I should never have mentioned icing at all. I can’t stop thinking about it.

Vanessa June 3, 2013 at 6:56 pm

I can really relate to this! I eat a yogurt and teaspoon of peanut butter every morning. I love having the time as well as gaining the brain power of thinking about something that matters. Preparation and constantly worrying about what to eat feels like such a waste of time in my life. I believe america focuses on food way to much. Eat to live and be healthy not live to eat. also the emphasis on society is constantly bigger and better , although the trend of minimalism is catching up some. We trade everything in for more. It’s very debilitating and unhealthy to constantly think of all of the material things we want , it turns into addiction quickly. thanks for the great insight, david !

John Krygiel June 3, 2013 at 8:15 pm

I particularly like your point about the smart phone compass David. I often like to evaluate conveniences like that in my life. We have grown much too accustomed to having the world at our fingertips and if it doesn’t work right now, it is a p.o.s. by golly! Keep rocking the oats!

mariavlong June 3, 2013 at 8:34 pm

No foodie or cook would ever speak like this!! Lol. I guess a farmers’ market in the middle of August is like an adventure/expedition to some of us and a chore for others. :)

Tania October 11, 2013 at 3:19 pm

I love food experiences and events as well but I’m looking to simplify my food experience at home and have a more minimal pantry and fridget inventory. But, I will still attend local farm to table events and try new dining experiences on the weekends because that is how I enjoy socializing and getting out in my community. I consider myself a foodie in that respect as meeting chefs and farmers is something I enjoy doing. But on a daily grind basis, I look forward to being more minimal in my nutrition on work days. Not every single meal needs to be an event. However I do change it up week to week but on a daily basis I do limit my choices and will usually eat the same breakfast each day. If cooking is the way you unwind, you could still apply the minimal living principles discussed in other areas of your life or just on one meal a day so that you can focus your energy on what you enjoy, cooking.

Jeremy June 4, 2013 at 12:13 am

I noticed another improvement in life through the simplification of food

Historically, birthdays, anniversaries, and major life milestones were celebrated with special foods: cake, ice cream, a glass of wine or champagne. In the modern world, we can (and often do) have these things everyday.

When the special becomes normal, it seems to lose meaning; and then how do you celebrate? Is a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner still special if you eat turkey and pumpkin pie everyday?

After abstaining from many of these celebratory foods for awhile, and then only enjoying them on special occasions, I regained an appreciation for them. After eating oatmeal for breakfast everyday, birthday pancakes taste amazing

rjack (Mr. Asset Allocation) June 4, 2013 at 6:43 am

I eat eggs and bacon for every breakfast and a big-ass salad for every lunch. Oddly, I never get tired of eating the same thing at both meals.

Isaac Hayes June 4, 2013 at 7:39 am

Another superb article my friend.

Thanks,

Your Friend Isaac Hayes

Terri Lynn June 4, 2013 at 8:58 am

I have been contemplating this article since yesterday. This whole concept showed up in my painting. I have always been overwhelmed by choices. Limit myself to achieve freedom. I love the paradox :) Choosing structure is choosing flexibility. I used to see it as being rigid, and I guess it still can be, depending on the space the choice is made from. This was very useful and timely for me and is taking me quite deep. Thanks. :)

David June 4, 2013 at 6:40 pm

Imposing voluntary limitations on creative

Esther Nelson June 4, 2013 at 1:47 pm

This creepy looking know-it-all in shabby clothes knees is a typical know-it-all liberal with utter contempt for his audience, as well as the biggest advocate of conformity I’ve heard in a long time.

Many years ago child psychologist Haim Ginott said parents should introduce choice to their children very slowly so that the child learns to make choices. He suggested the age in years of the child might be a good guideline on average, although level of choice would vary according to the individual. A one year old child would have one child at his/her birthday party, since socialization at that age is still in the narcissistic period. At a restaurant, h/hr would be asked “Would you like some fries?” At age two, the ideal birthday party would include a little friend, and at the restaurant the parent might ask, “Do you want fried chicken or a burger?” At three . . . 3 kids, 3 menu options, etc. By age six, the child can handle more choices and more playmates.

What Schwartz suggests is that we revert to childhood where our choices are limited “for our own good.”

And who does he propose will reduce the choices for all of us? Government, of course (with complicity by the government-controlled education system). Let’s shut down and merge clothing manufacturers or tell them what they should produce. Eliminate designers (that leads to snobbism and envy). Tell restaurants what they must and cannot put on their menu. We’re already well on the way with Bloomberg’s Big Brother dictates about sugar and salt and limitation on drink sizes and which drinks should be so limited (diet drinks can be served in larger cups than sugar drinks, and “juice” drinks are OK even though the sugar content may be higher than a soft drink).

Schwartz is also ignorant about the psychological needs of individuals. Some folks (including most autistics) like living in monkish surroundings. At a group home facility I once led, an autistic boy would remove curtains, blinds, pictures on the wall, and even sheets because they disturbed him so much. We had to let him sleep on a bare mattress so he could sleep.

Other people like clutter. They are comforted by stuff. At the other extreme are the hoarders who consider what we might call trash as their friends, who will not part with anything and even end up sleeping in the yard because they can’t get into their homes.

Most of us are at various points along this line, and for Schwartz to fail to recognize this shows what a moron he is. Are there any standards for psychologists in his state, or can anyone project what works for him/her on the rest of humanity?

Some people don’t mind eating the same thing every day, others are adventurous eaters. Some read only fictions, others only non-fiction, others a mixture. Some people are recluses, others love to travel, as attested by the huge tour industry.

If the other commentators like being restricted, fine. Crawl into your pad and stay there in your jeans or naked. Let freedom-loving people eat, sleep, read, dress as they please, let designers express their creativity, and consumers enjoy themselves eating, dressing, traveling, building, landscaping, decorating, writing, painting, buying, selling, worshipping as they damn well please. If Schwartz has no respect for my right to “pursue happiness” in my own way, let him go to China or Cuba. When I was in Moscow in 1961 I was astonished by the lack of options at the GUM department store, for example the choice in men’s overcoats: greyish green and greyish brown. People gathered around tourists and offered high prices for the clothes on our backs, the shoes on our feet. This was especially true at the university, where anything from “the outside” was coveted. They would trade a valuable Persian lamb hat for a couple of jazz recordings. A battery operated reel-to-reel recorder (provided it wasn’t taken from the tourist on entry) brought a high number of rubles. I’m sure some people felt safe and protected by not having choices. Or perhaps they were merely afraid to express their discontent.

Our Founders established as our principles the God-given rights to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. They did not define how one must experience these rights. Other nations have established Equality as a principal; but where there is liberty there can be no equality. And equality can only be achieved HYPOTHETICALLY by the restriction of liberty. I say hypothetically, because those who determine the mode and manner in which citizens will be equal are obviously not equal to those who must conform to their dictates.

Beware, people. Once Freedom is lost, you won’t get it back in your lifetime.

To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin,

Those who trade Freedom for Security will soon have neither. And those who do not defend the freedoms of all, include those with whom they disagree, deserve to lose it for themselves.

David June 4, 2013 at 6:42 pm

Whoa… Everything in this article concerns voluntary simplification of one’s life. Not sure what’s triggered this angry libertarian rant.

Tina June 4, 2013 at 8:00 pm

People just need to rant…I think it has to do with lead such complicated lives.

Leticia June 28, 2013 at 2:07 pm

Probably the need to defend the liberty to be frozen in indecision in line at Starbucks every morning.

I will also defend the freedom to freeze in line at Starbucks every day, only to go home and have my usual – instant coffee and milk and a sandwich.

;)

I remember when I first started learning about minimalism and how the sterile white gallery like apartments bothered me. It took me a while to get the VOLUNTARY part of the equation.

elizabeth June 4, 2013 at 7:16 pm

i go through five year cycles on my breakfasts …. for the simple reason that in elementary school i realized that having the same thing every morning was just easier … i’ve now done it to lunch too …. i have a spinach, feta, cranberry, protein salad for lunch most days …. protein changes only if i had salmon or beef for dinner and have leftovers the next day … otherwise it’s chicken. it’s just easier. i’ve never thought about it as minimalist, only easy….and i like knowing what i’m having and not dithering and deciding….

i also think i have a similar mindset to you in that i frequently, when helping my kids with decisions, say “you’ve narrowed it down to no bad choices, whatever you pick will be fine” …. pick and move on …. the relief of being done choosing is way better than the stress of dithering.

i said dither twice, now thrice … how odd.

David June 4, 2013 at 9:46 pm

Dither!

Tina June 4, 2013 at 7:47 pm

David, I love this! I have been feeling this way for a while due to a couple of things. One, I have become somewhat of a travel snob. I recently went to Nicaragua with a non-profit and we were dedicating land purchased for a village of folks who really needed to move somewhere other than where they had been living. Our showers were cold, the food was ok, there were bugs and the air conditioning in the room was not reliable. And yet, we were in the nicest places in the area, which were “dumps” compared to what I have gotten myself used to. This really made me think a lot about what, like you referenced, luxuries vs. necessities were. Also, I am in the process of relocating and, fortunately or not, I can pretty much go wherever I want to go! Exciting! Well, it’s been difficult because I am soooo judgmental of every place I check out and none of them seem to measure up to my expectations. I totally get what you are saying, thank you!!!

Mudit June 5, 2013 at 1:50 am

After reading & enjoying several of your articles, I have a feeling that you might have mild “Asperger Syndrome” & I am sure, being you, you’d have definitely searched about it at some point in your life & felt the association. Not that it’s a bad thing, by making a few changes in lifestyle & including meditation in your daily routine, you can eliminate all the negative effects of Asperger & I know you are doing that & hence the feeling of missing something in life or something eating your calm comes when you are not meditating regularly. What say ? am I correct ? or am I the only one ?

David June 5, 2013 at 6:44 am

I think you should probably at least meet me before you start offering amateur psychiatric diagnoses. I don’t exhibit any of the typical signs of Asperger’s.

joanna June 5, 2013 at 11:09 pm

I have never met him either, but I think you are way off!! I am pretty familiar with Asperger’s syndrome and have read many of David’s articles. Honestly, I’m just confused by your suggestion. I keep thinking about it and can’t even come up with one thing that may have led you to this conclusion.

A regular reader of your blog June 6, 2013 at 2:31 am

Heh …

That comment recalls Sheldon (The Big Bang Theory) solemnly limiting his food choice by generating random numbers and assigning them to serial numbers in the cafetaria menu, to free up his mind for more important things …

I suppose, David, when you get famous, you can’t help subjected to all kinds of interpretations and analyses, including weird ones and unwelcome ones (and some funny ones as well) …

It’s the price of fame, you pay the price of fame, So don’t be feelin’ no pain!

(Sorry about that anonymous — and therefore underhand I suppose — jab. I’ve myself gone anonymous of late when I’m online due to a spate of troll jobs, and I suppose I’m guilty of mild trolling here myself. But you won’t grudge your regulars an occasional joke at your expense, will you?)

Britta June 5, 2013 at 12:38 pm

Your food planning reminded me of this, and I thought you might like it: http://www.salad-in-a-jar.com/how-to-make-salad-in-a-jar-2
You can prepare salad up to a week in advance if you keep it in a vaccum-sealed jar (I have managed almost two weeks once; and it was still fine).

Kate @ herenowbrowncow.com June 6, 2013 at 9:08 am

Nice post. The simple breakfast makes perfect sense. Most meals in our house are pretty simple and predictable at the moment… but that has more to do with energy levels and small children. There is definitely too much choice everywhere we look. It helps to just know what we need (not much).

AnnieKate June 7, 2013 at 3:19 pm

I’ve been thinking about this post all week, David. It puts into words the direction I’ve been very slowly moving in for the past couple of years, still with a long way to go. Like some of the others who’ve responded, I wouldn’t choose to eat the same thing every day because food preparation is creative for me, but there are plenty of other areas of life, such as the number of clothes I possess; the stuff I’m gradually “unaccumulating”; the pattern of my days; not multitasking but focusing on the immediate task; working towards a more clean and spacious look in my house, in which I’m on the way to greater simplicity. I’m a lot older than you, and I wish I’d realised the benefits of this approach to life sooner – I’d have much less to sort out and would have saved much time, energy and money. But regret is also a poor use of time and energy…Thankyou for such an inspirational post.

George Gurdjieff June 8, 2013 at 7:24 pm

Traditional Japanese interior design seems to embody the meaning your post. It’s minimal to the point that none of the impressions impinge on the state of presence, that the decor itself promotes. Very nice essay.

Tammy R June 9, 2013 at 10:07 pm

Thank you for this post, David. I am living a much happier and simpler life these days. I eat the same breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day of the week – all healthy and simple to prepare. Instead of arguing with myself over whether or not to exercise on any given day, I walk five miles every day. I don’t take one off unless I’m deathly ill which is next to never because I eat well and exercise. I have few outfits although I make more money than I once did. Actually, I make less, but paying down debt and simplifying my life has made me richer!

Steve June 11, 2013 at 7:57 am

Great post! Being happy is all about how you view life and your surroundings. I also have the same breakfast every day. Not only is it cheap, but it eliminates a decision in the morning like you said. Even though I embrace spontaneity, I do like to plan and I cherish some things in my life that always stay the same – like breakfast :)

Vilx- June 12, 2013 at 2:05 am

I know this is a bit late for a comment, but it took a while to digest this article. :) On a whole I agree to it, but I feel that I need to add a little caveat. After all – what would be a good rule if it didn’t have an exception? :)

What I think is this – yes, less choice on the general equals more happiness, so making the choice once and then sticking to it (like your breakfast) is a good strategy. But, as usually, there will be problems if you take it to the extreme.

There are two ways in which this can go wrong – for a single choice if you never reconsider it again, it can become a problem in time. The world changes and choices that were valid 10 years ago might not be so perfect anymore. So, I’d suggest – every now and then go back and question the choices you’ve made earlier. Things that you “take for granted” and never think about – they can lead to disaster before you realize it. Never stick so tightly to a routine that you cannot change it anymore.

The second way this can go to extreme is if you try to make every aspect of your life pre-decided. It seems like a lucrative proposal – just make all the choices once and then shut off your brain and enjoy the ride. It’s never a good idea to shut off your brain. You will not see the approaching cliff and won’t be able to change direction in time.

This is, by the way, the thing which I believe plagues most religions of today (and past). Too much “dogma” and too little “karma” (don’t remember where I read this phrase). All (or most) aspects of your life are written in the Holy Book and you are not allowed to make any different choices. Well, not if you are a Truly Devoted follower anyway. Those who don’t fully comply are considered to be in need of more “guidance”.

Authoritarian regimes employ this too. Charismatic leaders tell their followers what to do (like kill all the Jews or something) and they follow without question – because it’s easier than to think for yourself. There have been psychological studies that explore this; there seems to be some sort of predisposition in our brains for following leaders and turning off the judgmental process. Making a decision once and then not thinking about it anymore falls very closely to this (except that in this case your “past self” is the authority who made the decision which shouldn’t be questioned).

TL;DR: Don’t forget about common sense and don’t fall into a routine which you cannot get out of. Life changes – your choices will need to change too, in time.

Adam June 13, 2013 at 12:20 am

(Note:Not a rant)
Where is the line drawn between conformity and Minimalism? They both appear to be optional and both make things easier but at what cost? I am not sure I have the best logic but I am just a little bit sceptical towards not making a ton of decisions. I like the idea of simplicity but I also sort of enjoy the stress that having decisions brings.

Vilx- June 13, 2013 at 6:10 am

The best answer probably is – “do whatever makes you happiest”. That’s the goal of it anyway. Sometimes dropping choices will make you happier, sometimes choosing will make you happier. For example – in a typically male fashion when I need to buy something I can spend hours upon hours looking at gadgets, but I really hate shopping for clothes and I just pick whatever the first passable thing is that comes my way. I truly enjoy comparing electronics but I find comparing clothes extremely boring. For my wife it’s the other way round. These are very pronounced examples of course, others in your life (like what to eat for breakfast) might be more subtle. There are choices that you don’t even realize that you’re making because you’re so used to making them. And, depending on whether you enjoy making those choices or not, they will give a subtle effect on your overall mood. Our “background emotions” mostly consist of many such tiny components. Little events and little emotional modifiers that accumulate through hours, days, weeks and years. You need to carefully pay attention to them to notice them. And if you wish to change anything about them, then the change will also need to be en-masse. Also known as “lifestyle change”. Minimalism is one such lifestyle change that affects a whole bunch of tiny emotional factors. Choice making is one of them. Reduced clutter is another, and I’m sure there are more. There are also drawbacks, and it’s up to you to decide what makes most sense to you and your particular “emotional scenery”.

Vilx- June 13, 2013 at 6:14 am

P.S. Did you notice that choosing to make less choices is also a choice? Yo dawg, I heard you like choiceception… XD

Katherine Emmons June 13, 2013 at 12:42 pm

I might be late to this party, but couldn’t agree more with the less is more take on options.
Last year my husband and I did a voluntary downsize move – not typical in an uber-upscale neighborhood (or culture, for that matter). We cut our square footage, possessions, household maintenance chores, and financial footprint IN HALF. Super liberating — frees up time, $$$ and most importantly, psychic energy (spend way less time thinking about or otherwise dealing with extraneous “stuff”). Highly recommend this.
Also a big fan of the limited menu program … For the past 20 years, I have had the same general thing for breakfast and lunch and then one of 5 or 10 favorites for dinner. No big deal. It’s really good, healthy food and all ( … or sometimes it’s really bad, unhealthy food, which is also good) … but it isn’t something that I want to spend tons of time and energy thinking about, planning, preparing, cleaning up … etc.
Great post — great lifestyle choice!

Mary in Birmingham June 15, 2013 at 7:30 am

This is such an excellent post. I can’t even pick one line to use to post it to Facebook. Thank you so much!

Hill June 17, 2013 at 8:20 am

I like how I found this blog and this one: http://bosanchez.ph/live-from-the-core-of-your-being/ today. :-)

Melissa June 18, 2013 at 11:41 pm

First time here and nice post! I’m a wife and mom of 6 and we lead a very simple life. As a mother of a child with Aspergers, I think that person who suggested that to you is NUTS! Sooooo many diagnoses being thrown around nowadays by IDIOTS. I agreed with many of the points that you made in this post, however, one made me laugh! In the middle of listing many luxuries you mentioned phone features. To me just HAVING a cell phone period is a luxury! One I’ve had and not had at times. :-) Not being critical, just saying….it made me laugh!

Genevieve Hawkins June 26, 2013 at 7:29 am

It’s good to simplify (I drink coffee for breakfast and that’s it, so I might even be more minimalist). But to the two comments regarding the situation in third world countries, I think they’re looking at them through an affluent western lens. It wasn’t that third world nationals made less money than Americans–they in many cases didn’t make any money at all. The entire label was placed by outsiders to secure an economic system where there was none. Think about it this way–why would somebody living in a hot, tropical climate need a four bedroom cement house with fresh paint when a thatched palm hut will do? Why would they need to buy processed convenience food from 7 Eleven when food grows out of the ground year round? Why would they need to buy a truck and then put gas in it when their friends live in the same village? I am routinely amazed by how much third world poverty and affluent by choice western minimalism look similar–they have organic gardens, pick their food from trees, everyone knows how to cook and fix things. The bigger question is whether you are happy…that’s always the big question!

Meaghan July 17, 2013 at 10:26 am

You’re beautiful. Thank you for explaining my chosen asceticism to me.

Linda September 5, 2013 at 7:15 am

I love this post. It eloquently states so many things about my (simple) life. Thanks for writing it.

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