How to live with less – the art of substraction.

We live in a world where we constantly have to make decisions; these are made even more challenging by the endless number of choices available. How we choose is important and affects the quality of our life, but how much we choose to surround ourselves with can also be draining. 

Individuals and businesses tend to solve problems by increasing the number of options or adding something to the situation. A company wanting to boost its sales will typically add new products, but these additions can lead to choice overload

Choice overload

A now-famous experiment that illustrates the demotivational effect of choice is the Jam experiment. In this experiment, participants were presented with either 6 or 24 flavours of jam at a stand. Participants with 24 options spent more time interacting with the stand but were less likely to make a purchase than those with only 6 options. As a business, this is counter-productive; you spend more time and energy to make fewer sales. 

This concept can also be applied to your personal life – think of how long it takes to choose what to wear daily. Unless you work in a uniform, you must choose your outfit daily; the more options there are in your closet, the harder it is to decide what to wear. 

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For the past five years, I have been living out of a pair of suitcases, which has been liberating. I have had to adopt a minimalistic lifestyle which has helped me understand my priorities and how to be happy with less. 

Know your priorities

Learning to live with less is about being selective rather than restrictive. Minimalism focuses on meaning. There is only so much meaning that you can derive from an activity when you are too busy to truly dedicate any of your time to it. In The Path is the Goal, Chögyam Trungpa writes:

“Set aside a time for sitting practice that is specially allocated for that practice [meditation] …something has to be given up somewhere… One stone kills one bird.”

Chögyam Trungpa

This quote applies directly to meditation but works for anything else you spend your time on. The more things you have in your life, the less space you give yourself to do the things you enjoy. 

Spend your time doing what you love

The more activities you fill your life with, the harder it becomes to choose between them and derive meaning from them. Writing this blog is something I have decided to prioritize, but working on it often gets postponed due to other things coming up during the week.

 I love writing, expressing myself and sharing what I have learned during my run-read sessions – more on that later. There are three ways to get more fulfillment out of the things you do and have:

  1. Have less
  2. Stack activities.
  3. Be more selective.
Photo by Paula Schmidt on

Have less – Less stuff, more meaning

I love cooking; I want the ability to cook what I want, when I want. I have read enough of Michael Pollan’s books to know that the best way to cook is from raw ingredients. Especially if you want to abide by the longevity diet. Cooking from scratch requires the right tools.

People often laughed at me throughout my travels when I pulled out my knife set or emulsion blender, but I never regretted travelling with them. Through my journeys, I have learned what is essential in my kitchen – knives and an emulsion blender.

Nothing is more frustrating – or dangerous – than working with dull knives. However, they are all that is available in most shared kitchens. Meanwhile, an emulsion blender is versatile, giving me the flexibility to make salsa, soup, whipped cream, pavlova and more in even the most desolate kitchens. 

Now that I have a permanent residence, it would be easy for me to start adding things to my kitchen. But I don’t want; I know this desire is the fallacy of consumerism. If I could live a happy and fulfilling life without these luxuries for so only. In that case, I can continue to do so. I try to think as the Amish do when adding things to my life.

Through my travels, I have learned what I need to be happy: books, cooking tools, a mobile phone and a laptop. Everything else is optional – except clothing in most places; I did live in Australia without shoes for a while, but I digress. Each of the above items is directly linked to something I am passionate about. Cooking and the flow of information either towards or away from me. 

Make good choices – be more selective.

Now that we live in a digital age, our gadgets can quickly become cluttered with unnecessary apps that act as time-sinks. We must make the right decision when it comes to these technologies. Less interaction with technology leads to a more fulfilling life, especially when social media is removed as it forces you to actually be social.

If you want help with letting go of social media, sign up for my newsletter below for a free 5-minute visualization meditation.

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Do as the Amish do

The Amish are often seen as anti-technology. While it may look that way from the outside, the truth is that they are very pro-society. Before they allow themselves to adopt any new technology, they evaluate how it will impact their society. If the net impact is positive – they incorporate that technology into their lives. Meanwhile, if the net effect is negative – they reject that technology. 

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To illustrate, they can travel by motorized vehicle but not own them. Travelling by car may benefit individuals while not disconnecting them from society. On the other hand, car ownership may lead to the car owner spending more time out of the community, which will inevitably distance them from the group. Thus, they are not allowed to own cars. 

Save time by stacking activities.

Habit stacking is a vital part of any productive life; it involves doing multiple activities in parallel or succession. This way, you eliminate things by combining them into lumps; how you lump these activities will depend on what they are. 

Two activities that are important to me are reading and running. As you can imagine, running with a book would be cumbersome – and likely painful. But running with an audiobook can be a great way to get some reading done while distracting myself from the agony being supplied by my legs. 

Another example is calling and walking. Though I am an avid meditator, I have difficulty standing still when talking on the phone with someone. As a result, I usually take the opportunity to go for a walk whenever someone calls me or the time difference allows me to call home. 

These activities can be done in parallel because one is purely physical while the other is strictly mental. Activities best done separately – like doing your taxes and talking on the phone – can be stacked in a parallel fashion. 

To stack habits in parallel, you simply tell yourself: “after this – do that.” Activities commonly done in parallel are those that encompass your nighttime routinemorning routine or any other routine you might have. These activities are mentally demanding and require your undivided attention.

Doing them in succession will save you time by eliminating procrastination. Doing things one after the other will take advantage of the feedback loop of motivation and help you accomplish more.

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The first step

You will have a full life regardless of how many things you have in it; difficulties arise when most of those things are meaningless. Take a critical look at your possessions and your habits to see if there are any that you would be happier to live without. And remember to sign up for my newsletter below if you want a free guided visualization meditation to help get you started.

As a first step, clean out your smartphone. With digital memory expanding faster than we can fill it, it is easy to collect digital nothingness that has long outlived its value. Take some time and clean out one thing at a time; trust me, you will feel liberated. You can start with photos, apps or emails – it doesn’t matter where you start – once you have started, it is easy to make it a habit and prevent things from accumulating.  

Key takeaways

  • Reassessing your habits and possessions can help you discover what is meaningful to you and what you would be happier without.
  • Lump activities together to decrease their individual burden.
  • Clean your digital space – purge the applications you don’t need from your phone and stop the notifications.

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2 responses to “How to live with less – the art of substraction.”

  1. Pooja G avatar

    These are great tips. I think I have trouble with making choices which I why I usually try to keep things at a minimum.


    1. Jessy Plante avatar

      That is the best approach to choices, then you can save your energy for more important things.

      Liked by 1 person

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