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Friday, February 14, 2014

The Dead End of Minimalism

This post from Ross Enamait reminded me of this.

A couple of years ago, I got fascinated by the concept of minimalism. Read a few books, did a bunch of decluttering (it's probably time to do some again). It was interesting, and kind of useful, up to a point. After that point, however, I think it's a bit of a dead end.

The definition of minimalism I found most useful was that of doing or having "enough". No more, no less. For managing "stuff" (physical goods), I still find it a very useful concept, and one that has helped me break out of some unhelpful or unproductive habits.

For training, I think it can have it's uses, but ultimately, it's limiting.

Minimalist training to me makes sense when you have things competing for your time. When my son was first born, a minimalist routine made sense (calling what I did a "routine" is probably generous, but you get the point). If you are constrained to doing no more than 30 minutes of training, three days a week, you better get very efficient about how you use that time.

But no one ever got really, really good at something by putting an hour and half a week into it.

This is what I mean by a dead-end. There's a point where "enough" may not be "enough". I suppose you could argue that if your goal is to be a world champion, then the amount of work it takes to get there is "enough", but that just seems like hiding behind a tautology. If the amount of time I spend on something is "enough" no matter what, then I'm always a minimalist.

I think the act of removing the unnecessary from your life is a worthwhile one, but at some point, it's worth asking what you're making space for. Is it just to have space? Are you freeing up time just to have free time, or are you freeing up time to do something with it?

Coming at this another way: people seem to be fond of trying to apply the Pareto Principle to damn near everything (I am not entirely convinced this is a valid approach). For those not familiar, this is semi-infamous "80/20 rule". People make the argument that if you get eighty percent of the results from twenty percent of your training, you can just do the twenty percent, and still get that eighty percent mark.

Which might be true, but if you want 100% of the results, you need to 100% of the work. Greatness doesn't come from doing "just enough".

[Side note: as Maija observed recently, you cannot be great at everything. The utility of a minimalist training approach is probably here. You can't be a world champion powerlifter, marathon runner, and MMA fighter all at once. Something's got to give.]


Lu Zazou said...

Like you, I got excited when minimalism got a hype, and kinda surprised to see it take in U.S.A. I remember thinking why was it so hard for some people and so natural for others. And I think the answer is scale. I remember receiving an exchange student from U.S.A. and the one thing that was mind-boggling was that here in my country everything was tiny. In some European City the streets are narrow and apartments are small (in NYC too) so minimalism is not a dead end is almost natural.

Jake said...

I see what you're saying about scale, but I don't think that having less because you don't have space for it really qualifies as minimalism. It's still possible to stuff that small space with lots of stuff (I've seen some very crowded apartments), fill up storage lockers and other places, and own more than you really need.

I think minimalism has to be a choice. A considered decision to own less than the capacity of your space.

But again...once you do that...what then? That's where I think the dead end lies.