“…Once you know what pain point you’re trying to avoid and what benefits you’re trying to amplify, other approaches emerge.”
That observation, written by Cal Newport in A World Without Email, referred to the ways people and companies have chosen to combat relentless email overload. This essay isn’t about the email conundrum, however.
We all face problems, some mundane and commonplace, like email overwhelm. Others are momentous and consequential, such as a scary health diagnosis.
Regardless, our options to respond to any given problem span an entire spectrum. On one end, we can merely shrug our shoulders and accept that we can’t change our circumstances. On the other end, we can exhaustively hunt for the best solution. Somewhere in the middle lies Cal’s appealing response: sitting patiently with the simple, reassuring notion that “other approaches emerge.”
As a minimalist who attempts to choose her efforts wisely, the idea of patiently waiting for solutions to present themselves — as opposed to expending energy actively pursuing them — is very attractive.
I wondered, Where else does this notion apply?
1. Has a new approach to a problem ever found me, even though I had previously thought change wasn’t possible?
2. And the opposite: Are there places I’m stuck thinking there’s no other way?
I concluded that my house perfectly illustrates question #1. It’s a 2400-square-foot raised ranch in a wonderful, small-city neighborhood. I share it with my husband, Aaron, and son, Austin. It’s 50 years old and needed lots of TLC when we bought it four years ago.
After handing over our savings and pledging years of future paychecks to the house, we jumped in and did what we thought we were supposed to: We put elbow grease, our extra cash, and all our free time into slowly updating and repairing it. We did most of the work ourselves.
While updating the house, we also filled the rooms with comfy, low-quality furniture from Craigslist and Target, as well as a decade’s worth of possessions for each of us. (Yes, somehow even 1-year-old Austin had a decade’s worth of possessions.)
Then we became minimalists.
Clearly, the order of this was not ideal.
After going through several purges and finding peace in fewer possessions, we knew we’d be minimalists for life. Even still, there was always cleaning and maintenance to do in such a large home. I felt a twinge of resentment every time I spent Saturday morning cleaning the house or when we had to drop $6,000 to replace damaged flooring.
All the minimalists I followed seemed to reach that point and then downsize. Where conventional wisdom had once told us to repair and update a large house to build equity, conventional wisdom now told us to move to a smaller home to regain sanity.
For about 6 months, I once again closely tracked Zillow and our realtor’s emails, and we toured any house under 1600 square feet.
We found, however, that few other houses could match our existing home’s best asset: being easy walking distance to a micro-brewery, the ice cream shop, and two fantastic parks. No one in their right mind would give up perks like those! We also soon discovered how competitive the housing market was and continues to be for homebuyers. Our souls weren’t prepared to return to the melee so soon.
As I mulled over our options, I felt trapped by our circumstances. It felt like there was no good solution.
Cal Newport’s observation explains what happened next: “…Once you know what pain point you’re trying to avoid and what benefits you’re trying to amplify, other approaches emerge.”
Only somewhat aware of my thought process, I identified that I wanted to avoid moving (which would bring plenty of new issues), and I wanted to amplify my time NOT spent cleaning and maintaining a house.
That’s when the other approach emerged.
I read about a couple in a similar situation who opted to close up a bedroom of their house. They removed everything, shut the door, and pretended space didn’t exist. I immediately attached to the idea. Only I wanted to close up 50% of our house — the entire lower level, which is an elevated, open basement.
It felt ridiculous at first. Mid-Covid, we spent a lot of our lives there. It held our TV room, our guest bed, Aaron’s office, Austin’s toy racetrack and play fort, our laundry, and plenty more.
Through sheer determination, however, I created places for nearly everything of importance on the main floor. Everything else was given away. Our lower level now keeps only a chest freezer, the washer and dryer, and our home-canned peaches and green beans in a cool, dark space under the stairs.
For the past 5 months, life has been significantly better living in only 1200 square feet. The lower level, which had been high on the priority list for expensive updates to the very worn flooring and the very dark, dingy bathroom, is now simply ignored. We don’t need to fix what we don’t use.
As an added bonus, as many other minimalists may understand, we grew closer emotionally now that we’re closer physically.
The greatest benefit, however, was discovering a solution for a taxing problem, one that previously had no good solution.
This brings me back to question #2. Now, when I face different problems and feel there’s no way out — with time management, work-life balance, and prioritizing my health, for example — I sense that a solution is out there.
I wait to see what “other approaches emerge.”
About the Author: Andrea Morris is a small business owner and minimalist living a slow life with her family in Indiana, USA. She helps entrepreneurs bring the principles of minimalism into their businesses through intentional, values-driven, and consistent communication with their customers. Find her at aripemango.com.