J. Thomas J. Thomas Music producer & aspiring writer

Iron control

When all you want is to embrace the signal and avoid the noise

Last year, I went to Asia. At the airport, I was looking for a magazine to buy, and came across one entitled “Traveling light“. It contained stories of how people managed to live happily with very few possessions. Ever since, I have been trying to de-clutter my life, removing the excess, embracing the use of less.

In 2011, I traveled a bit. London, Amsterdam, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Turkey, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Holland, Paris, Lyon and Madrid. One thing it taught me (and somehow forced me to achieve) is how to actually travel very light. During my 2-week trip to Asia last year, I carried a 60L backpack. This summer, during my 6-week trip through Europe, my backpack was merely a 30L one. Though my trip was three times as long, I reduced by half the size of my backpack.

There is a rule of thumb considering packing:

You see that pile of stuff sitting on your bed, waiting to be stuffed into your suitcase? Take half of that stuff and put it back in your closet. Seriously.

That is why my new “suitcase” when traveling for less than a week is the following one:

Traveling is one (small) part of my life. But it helped spread the idea of clearing up my life from unnecessary items.

What it means is getting rid of what you don’t use, meaning literally throwing away what you don’t consider useful. A daily rule to follow is, whenever coming across an item you don’t use anymore or don’t even remember the existence, taking it and putting it in the trash. If you didn’t miss it then, you won’t miss it now.

What prevents us from doing so is the fear of removing something you might need. But if you haven’t already, will you? Most of our possessions are like internet bookmarks: you stumble upon an interesting page you might need someday, so you bookmark it. It results in an unbearable collection of useless bookmarks that only prevent you from using them correctly. Here’s my rule: if you can find it through a quick search, don’t bookmark it.

One other friction we encounter when facing the indecision of throwing an item away, is the fear of losing part of our identity. “So this thing may look useless and meaningless, but it defines me. It’s part of my personality”.
A cool toy, an unforgettable gift, a great bargain. These might look valuable to you but they’re not. As Paul Graham would say:

The value of some new acquisition isn’t the difference between its retail price and what I paid for it. It is the value I derived from it.

Objects don’t carry any memory. Your mind does. And nostalgia won’t get you far.

That is why I value experiences over acquisitions. I suspect my future house to be awkwardly empty looking, but full of promises. It will only carry stories and potential.

The only limit to my quest for accomplishments is time, a most valuable resource but constantly draining. That is why I need to make choices, and why I’ve been reading, watching, and listening to classics.

Focus on what’s best. What’s valuable. It’s the pursuit of one: one book, one film, one album, one wallet, one bag…

And one girl. But that is the pursuit of a lifetime.