Simplify, simplify, simplify!

I think this is fast becoming my new maxim.

We’re in the process of designing and building a brand new site for Dizzyjam, and throughout the process we’ve been keenly spotting opportunities to remove a paragraph here, strip out a step of the sign-up process there, and just delete pages altogether. The simpler it is, the better for our users and customers.

But it’s something I’ve been trying to install into my life as well. Yesterday I was in a really crappy mood. I was tired anyway, but I just had too much to do, and as a result ended up doing very little of it. For the last few months I’ve slowly been dealing with the aftermath of moving house, getting rid of unwanted stuff, changing address on accounts for things I’d forgotten about etc etc. And over the last few days I’ve had the quadruple whammy of having to sort out the MOT for my car, get a new tyre, inform the DVLA of the address change, and start getting quotes for insurance. Partly due to my inefficiencies, and partly due to the inefficiencies of the systems used by those organisations responsible, the whole thing has eaten up a considerable chunk of my week.

And all for what? A car. One solitary possession, albeit a fairly major one, had taken up all that time just to maintain. Imagine what all the other myriad possessions are doing to my time in terms of storage, upkeep, renewal, disposal etc etc. Never mind the environmental and ethical implications of every purchase. The emotional baggage with each possession is enough to drive most of us into the ground!

I gave a talk a while back about my desire to simplify my life, and the last few days have been hammering it home again. Could I rely on public transport, and hire a car when I needed to? Maybe.

But I stumbled across a great article about fell-running, which explored the themes of risk, the wilderness and personal challenge. The following few lines really made me sit up straight. I read them over and over again. And yes, apart from the challenge, this is EXACTLY why I love running, mountain walking and exploring off the beaten track. Some of the wisest words I’ve ever seen written, and all tucked away in the online archives of a newspaper….

“Later, taking a last peek out of our tent door in the hope of discerning a star or two in the cloud-black sky before sinking into the sweetest of exhausted sleeps, we concluded that this was the nub of the matter. We are richer now than we were in Brasher’s day, richer than our parents or grandparents were; but we are also more stressed, more deeply in thrall to the addictions of getting and spending. We have more possessions, and they tyrannise us. Each new mod con must be shopped for, maintained, insured, upgraded; each new thing must be stored, kept track of, kept secure, tidied; each new debt must be serviced; and the whole package is paid for in overwork, time poverty, 24/7 availability and 24/7 insecurity. We have more, and we have less.

In such a world, freedom is both more precious and more elusive. And one of the few surefire ways of liberating ourselves from the tyranny of the consumer society is to put ourselves beyond its reach. This is one of the attractions of all long days in the hills: you escape from all those things”.

And the thing is, we constantly strive for more. For the next thing, promotion, acquisition… And when we get there? The target moves or changes. The grass becomes greener just over that hill. We constantly have a target. And we’re never going to reach one that completely satisfies us, are we?

As an entrepreneur my life is a constant set of targets and goals. But I do them for the challenge and the excitement, not so I can acquire more stuff. But it’s an interesting dilemma. Entrepreneurship is so often about the acquisition of wealth. I want it to be about the acquisition of life….

Photo Credit: “Sunset Runner” joshjanssen @ flickr. Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.

8 responses to “Simplify, simplify, simplify!”

  1. Good post Neil.

    Earlier today I went to my 8 year old daughter’s school assembly which was all about Money.

    They did a ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’ skit with the final question, ‘What is most important? a) The World Cup, b) High School Musical, c) Happiness, d) Money. Of course when asked all the kids in the audience said Happiness, but the dad next to me murmurred ‘Yeah, right. If they were honest they’d say money’ which got me and Jo chatting about the fact that one of the main reasons for making money seems to be just to spend and spend; more conspicuous consumption; more disposable tat.

    I’m not naive; not having enough money doesn’t make for a joyful existence – poverty’s no joke, but neither is being buried beneath the mountain of possessions you’ve accrued to prove how much you’ve made.

    (As an aside, in between the recorder solos, one kid kicked out a storming version of Sweet Home Alabama on guitar too. Best assembly I’ve ever been to!)

    • Thanks Ed. Interesting points!

      And yes, we live in a comsumerist western country – it’s fairly difficult to live our lives without consuming. And I’m as guilty as the next man. But it would be nice to find that balance.

      When I make my fortune I won’t be amassing cars and houses and yachts (well, maybe just the one Aston Martin), but using the financial independence to visit the Harbin Ice Festival in China, and trekking through the Grand Canyon, and spending NYE in Sydney etc etc.

      It’s difficult getting that balance. In a moment of mild desperation I bought a pair of jeans from Tesco for about 15 quid a while back. Had middle-class guilt about it ever since.

      Interesting what you say about poverty – did you see Kevin Macleod’s 2 parter on the slums of Mumbai? Despite horrific lack of sanitation, and 15-to-a-room sleeping arrangements, there is much to be said for their quality of life….

  2. Yes, yes and yes. Since selling 98% of everything I own (no house, no car, only a backpack and some luxury Apple equipment…) I have to say I haven’t missed anything yet (though it’s only been a little over 3 weeks).

    I have all I need to work, have fun and enjoy the beautiful surroundings and people. I do think that ‘freedom’ is a luxury though; I’m certainly privileged to have a job I can do with quite a bit of freedom, and enough money to keep me going (at least, in the short term!).

    It sounds so easy to live with little, but ironically those who don’t choose to do so – those that are forced to live with little – are often those that have it the hardest. So let’s all be thankful for being able to enjoy our minimal freedom lifestyles out of choice.

    • Thanks Dan. Interestingly, you’re doing exactly what I’ve been steadily gearing up to for the last few years. Just a case of engineering things so I can work from anywhere in the world. I was lucky enough to travel all over the world as a DJ and see everywhere from Tokyo to Melbourne to Berlin to San Francisco. And I fell in love with them all, but had criminally short periods of time in each. I want to live and work in a handful of these cities over the course of a few years. I’ll definitely be picking your brains about your “sabbatical” at some point in the future.

      As for your last point – amen!

  3. Hi Neil,

    I went on a simplifying kick last year and sold my car; initially it was a year long experiment from june 1st and I’ve kept track of costs to compare when I get chance to write up the whole thing.

    Forgetting the time/money side of it, it has been an incredibly liberating experience, just simply selling a car. If you can, do it.

    I’ll be blogging about it in the next couple of weeks.

    • Hi Luke,

      I’ve thought about that. 20-30 quid a week on petrol, approx 600 a year on MOT, repairs, tax, insurance… A modest estimate puts the running costs at £1800, plus all the associated stress of getting all that sorted.

      Of course, i don’t *need* my car. I live about 5 miles outside Cardiff, and about 7 miles from the Dizzyjam offices, and have to drive around quite a bit for various projects. Public transport & hire cars are so much more hassle, and that’s the way I justify it to myself. Pure convenience.

      Definitely give me a nudge when you write it all up. Would genuinely be interested to know the results! Aside from the environmental implications, I wonder what financial premium we pay every year just for having the ability to drive anywhere at the drop of a hat…..

  4. This is a great post, Neil. I really enjoyed reading it.

    I have moved around a lot in the last two years. Between Cardiff, Porthcawl, Berlin, Porthcawl, Paris, Porthcawl, Cardiff and am about to move to a new flat. It’s weird how much you accumulate. In fact, it’s a great test to see if you can fit your life into a suitcase.

    I only used one suitcase, a backpack and a guitar case last year. Managed to get all my favourite clothes, laptop, favourite books and my guitar in. That’s all I need in terms of material stuff – and yet, when I look around my room now, there’s so much ‘stuff.’

    Let me know how you get on,

    • Thanks Marc. Moving house is definitely a great “cleanser”, huh? Or “de-crapifier”, to give it its technical term…. I’m jealous of you living in Berlin. It’s on my list of places to live soon. Spent a lot of time there. Awesome city!

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