Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Power of Less

I have written before about the power of environment and breaking free from possessions. Many people never get around to discovering this, and I'm astounded at the enormous opportunity they miss. 

Hello Al, is my letter to you in one of these piles?
One of my first lessons in this discipline occurred during a hot Texas summer, when I was 21. I visited a married couple in Austin and stayed a night in their small house. My hostess Akiko directed me to their guest room, which consisted of a bare floor with a futon folded against the wall, to make a low couch. Beside the futon was a metal cylinder that might have been designed to hold umbrellas. Akiko filled it with dead tree branches, reaching up to head level. On one of the branches, she clipped an xray image of her chest. I thought, "This room is hot and it could be oppressive, but Akiko has made it delicious, like a firm piece of fruit."

This week I read Leo Babauta's helpful book, The Power of Less. Babauta gave me another opportunity to work on my environment and gain new leverage. One constant imperative: Get Rid Of Stuff! It's the most liberating experience I've found. You have to fight the natural urge to hoard, of course, and that's not easy. 


If you can't bring yourself to throw clutter out, the next best thing is to cover it up. It's a temporary solution, but inexpensive and important, nonetheless.

For many years, my desk looked exactly like this. I despaired over the ugly scene. Finally I determined to do something about it. I went through several possible solutions before hitting on one that did the job for a decent price. Then it took a long afternoon to build the cabinet, place everything correctly and wire it up.

This is the final result, and I'm very happy with it. The cabinet came from the Home Depot bathroom section and cost about $90.

I have a small printer, so it fits inside the cabinet, too [top]. The network devices line up on the white shelf, then my work computer docking station and power strips share the bottom. I just left off the back board, so the cords could run out to the desk and the outlets. On the left door is a network diagram. This should allow my wife and son how to reboot the network themselves, but of course they'll just make me do it.

I can't fully explain how happy this cabinet made me. When I go down to work now, I feel that my work is under control. It looks under control, and that's 95% of the battle. Appearance is everything, and instead of fighting that, let's make it work for us!

A new idea I got from the book: Stop printing my calendar task list, and other working documents. For years, I carried a stack of these papers with me because I didn't want to miss something. I wrote on the pages, then highlighted them when in progress or completed. This gave me two Inboxes to deal with, the one in my computer and the one on paper. This duplication of effort made every task look twice as big. When I reached my desk in the morning, I had the screen AND the paper to face.

Now I just bring up my commitments on Outlook Today, no paper. Again, it looks like I'm caught up, so I feel more in control, even when I'm behind. 

About recent events in Japan

My son Max's drawing of a house fire in Japan.

Thank you for your emails about our family in Japan and the tsunami that reached the California coast, where we live. All of us and our relatives escaped injury and loss. If you'd like to help in the relief effort, you may check out opportunities at this link.

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