The idea that a simple life is a happier life is not a new one. But for me, as a web designer and a guy who is hesitant to selling all my possessions and going to live in the World’s Tiniest House somewhere, I have to admit: I wasn’t sure this whole minimalism thing was for me. That is until the day I got rid of my sidebar.
I’ve been designing websites for years. I’ve seen all the trends come and go. I’ve done a little bit of everything. But I’ll never forget the day, several months ago, when I thought to myself: you know, what if I just got rid of my sidebar?
In the web design world, sidebars had become something of a necessity. It’s where bloggers and authors would put links to their products and books for sale; it was where people would share ad space; it was where you would put your “subscribe now” button. If we got rid of sidebars, wouldn’t that be like getting rid of websites?
You would think … but here was the catch.
Research was showing that more and more people were viewing websites from their phones anyway, which meant thanks to mobile responsive websites, the “sidebars” we saw as indispensable, were actually being pushed to the bottom of the page anyway. So when most users visited websites, they didn’t even see the sidebar.
This got me thinking. What was it that made us think these sidebars were so indispensable? Was there a better way for websites to function?
So I started experimenting. At first, I really wasn’t sure if it was going to work, but being the creative mind that I am, I had to give it a try. So I designed a theme without a sidebar. And when it was all said and done, I was pretty impressed. It looked good, if I did say so myself.
But here’s where the catch came in. Because my aversion to minimalism — or at least the way it is sometimes talked about — is the idea that we would pursue a simple life at the expense of functionality. That was something I just couldn’t get behind.
In other words, the website couldn’t simply look great. It had to work as well.
Removing the Sidebar
My friend Joshua was the perfect “test” for my new theme for so many reasons. First, he’s a blogger at Becoming Minimalist. How much more perfect could you get than that? Second, he’s a good friend with a laid back personality who was brave enough to let me run a risky “test” on his website.
The test was going to be this: if we took away his sidebar — where all the links to his books lived (basically everything that earned him money) — would his revenue streams die? Could his minimalist website survive technological minimalism?
I wasn’t kidding when I said this was risky. But we pulled the trigger on it and I’m pretty sure I was more nervous than he was.
The results of this experiment were shocking. I think the new design made the user-experience more enjoyable, drew more attention to the content, and ultimately moved a visitor to a reader to a supporter much quicker than with the previous design. Turns out I wasn’t the only person who was feeling tired of clunky, cluttered websites. And when you give people a simple look, they’re drawn right in.
What we learned from our experience with Joshua was two-fold. First, the things we think are indispensable in life usually aren’t. And second, sometimes we get so attached to our old way of doing things, we lose creativity for how we could win moving forward. The only way to stay sharp and innovative is to continually be testing things we never thought would work and letting go of the status quo.
Packing Light — A Life of Minimalism
The best part about this is it isn’t just true in web design. It’s true in every aspect of our life … less is more.
You don’t have to sell everything you own to become a minimalist. I live in a nice house in the suburbs of Chicago with my wife and our son. We have a few extra rooms in our house — an office for myself and my wife, who both work from home; a finished basement for my son and his friends to play.
There are bigger houses in the world than mine and there are smaller ones. That’s not the point. The point is there isn’t a part of my life minimalism hasn’t touched.
A few years ago, I read a book called Packing Light by my friend Allison Vesterfelt that challenged me to think in new ways about where I was headed with my career.
She asked the very minimalist question: “What would you do with your life if you didn’t have to worry about money?” What happens when we strip away all the expectations is we find incredible clarity in our lives.
When it comes to career, maybe you need to take some time to strip away all the noise and focus on what is important to you. Do you even know what that is? Or have you just been trying to keep up with what is going on around you?
Do you feel like you have control over your career progress, or like you’re just barely keeping up? Bringing simplicity to your career and career goals can help you establish a laser-like focus. That’s what the “no sidebar” life is all about.
And what about your relationships? Do you need to strip away some of the friendships or relationships that are really taking a toll on you and invest deeply in the relationships that bring you joy and life? Or, maybe you’ve never even really thought about what it looks like to be intentional with your friendships.
Maybe it feels like life is so busy, the most important relationships in your life are slipping away. The no sidebar life can help you get some traction here.
Most importantly, think about your internal life — what I call your “soul”. Do you feel cluttered and stressed all the time? Do you have things you’re worried about that keep you awake at night? Maybe stripping away the unnecessary is the way to go.
You might have to take a risk to get there. You might have to test something risky, like I did with my friend Joshua — but you just never know.
Maybe simple is better. Maybe less is more. Maybe it’s time to give it a try.