The Art of Subtraction

I remember subtraction being a big deal in first grade. There were dinosaur eggs on the classroom bulletin board with our names on them and, although I distinctly recall not liking subtraction (addition was so much easier!), I loved my teacher and school and wanted to do well. I don’t know what the dinosaur eggs were about, but I do remember that I got pretty competitive with a boy in my math class and desperately wanted to beat him. Conclusion? Subtraction was important–in fact, wholly fundamental to my six-year-old self’s sense of success.

Continue reading “The Art of Subtraction”

Dune Grasses

Droplets splat against the windowpanes and our bare heads as we hurried to pack the rest of the vehicle. Nearly every material thing I owned was jammed in this crevice or that: from an old pair of sneakers, a faded teal sweatshirt, and plastic tubs of books and papers ad infinitum; to Chinese scrolls and souvenirs from trips abroad, a Nutcracker figurine, iron dancers, and a cherished crocheted blanket, it was quickly becoming clear that I was only an aspiring minimalist, and not one in real life.

Thoughts of ultralight backpacks and regret swirled through my mind. I could have decluttered more, should have tossed the crumpled napkins and mountain range of post-its, would have donated the bags–so many bags!–… but ultimately, didn’t. Better to let go and move on to this new stage in my life, than to dwell in the past.

I jumped in the passenger side door, scanning the horizon–the storm was approaching from the south–just as the skies opened up. Release. How appropriate! Nature and I were finally in sync again. There was something cathartic about the rain, its steady rhythm, its fluid movement, its awesome, natural power.

Torrential rains poured down on and off for the next few hours. We drove and drove, and talked and drove, and then–uncannily–the process repeated itself at our final destination: unpacking, rushing to carry box after box inside as more storm clouds welled up outside, and a barrage of tears arriving only after the SUV had been emptied of its contents.

Why was I remembering this now, eight months later? A faint pumpkin scent wafted through the air. I had forgotten about the candles.

To be continued…


There has been an effort in recent years to quash inaccurate definitions of minimalism–to streamline, to declutter, to get to the heart of what exactly this movement and philosophy are all about. While extreme minimalists and ultralight packing lists may be awe-inspiring and provide shock-value, true minimalism is about one thing: getting rid of the superfluous in your life so that you can concentrate on what is most important.

Let us be clear from the beginning that this is not about owning a fixed number of possessions. Rather, it is about understanding what you value and why, from that thing underneath all that stuff that you haven’t seen in seven years and didn’t remember you had (the physical) to how you spend your time on a daily basis (values/principles). It can be delightful to rediscover an item that you haven’t thought about in forever, a buried treasure of sorts hidden behind that other thing you didn’t remember, but were you really treasuring it if it was stashed away and forgotten? The things you care about, you also care for: you take care of items if they are truly of value to you.

Minimalism, then, begins with physical decluttering: a tedious, painful, and eventually joyful process where literally everything you own is evaluated or “graded” by you, the Omnipotent Teacher. International organizational guru Marie Kondo proves your spirit guide here: “Does this spark joy?” While certain aspects of her books may be over the top for some, the focus on what to keep, as opposed to what to throw out, is refreshingly optimistic. Instead of losing yourself to a negative downward spiral of what to get rid of, focus on what you love and let go of the rest.

This letting go, this physical cleansing, allows–in feng shui terms–to begin to move the stagnate energy in your life. When you think deeply about what is important to you, you become more intentional and particular about how you are living your life. You step back to reevaluate how you are spending your days, your life. If you feel stuck, you probably are; but minimalism can help you to escape this Quagmire of Immobility–unless, of course, you are referring to immobility in the sense of not being allowed to leave your home legally. That, however, is an entirely different subject, ha!

In all seriousness, the process of minimizing everything you own is not exactly a walk in the park; it is tough work. Who you were ten years ago is not who you are today: your values and principles have changed, sometimes gradually, sometimes abruptly, dependent on personal circumstances and general life experiences, as you grow older and wiser. Taking time (our most valuable asset) to sort through our lives and evaluate what is of value to us now, in this particular stage of our lives, can prove both surprising (new values) and life-affirming (old values, or reinforcing staple principles that will stay with you always). We must be judicious but also not wallow for too long in the past, as objects conjure up memory after memory in the Time Capsule called You.

When we rid ourselves of the superfluous, of the clutter clogging up our lives, we define who we are and what is important; we see more clearly: our vision suddenly comes into focus. The realization that we have not had 20/20 vision all along can be jarring but also, ultimately, a welcome reboot and reset. Focus on what is valuable to you and let the rest go.

**Let me leave you with a curated (intentional!) list of resources to peruse HERE, should this topic interest or motivate you to begin. As always, thanks for reading.