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How Minimalism Can Help You Beat Overwhelm and Be More Creative

“Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”

~ Charles Mingus

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Do you ever feel like life is just too complex?

There’s too much going on at once, too much we have to get done, too many things to worry about, people to please, decisions to make. And there’s not enough time to fit it all in.

Everyone feels like this from time to time.

And when it comes to art and creativity, we are faced with even more complications. What medium should we use? What subject should we paint? How can we make best use of the Internet to promote ourselves? Which project should we work on first? What if we do it wrong? It’s overwhelming, to say the least.

What if we could eliminate the complexity, the decisions, the distractions and the worries that cause so much overwhelm and stifle our creativity?

One thing that has really helped me to simplify my life in the last few months is embracing the concept of minimalism.

What is Minimalism?

You may have read a bit about minimalism, and you may think, as a lot of people do, that it involves selling all of your possessions, wearing the same clothes every day, and living out of a rucksack.

While some of these things can be part of a minimalist lifestyle, they are not requirements by any means. For more advice on what minimalism is not, Alejandro Reyes wrote a great article in which he debunks five common myths about minimalism.

So what is it?

According to Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus (The Minimalists), minimalism is a tool to help you achieve freedom. They say that minimalism is about stripping away the unnecessary things in your life so that you can focus on what’s important.

Colin Wright describes minimalism as a reassessment of your priorities so that you can strip away the excess stuff – the possessions and ideas and relationships and activities – that don’t bring value to your life.

For me, minimalism is essentially about simplifying. Simplifying your life by eliminating any unnecessary distractions and concentrating on the things that really matter to you.

The reason that doing things like selling your possessions is quite common among minimalists is that once you start to really think about what really matters, you realise that most of your possessions don’t really add value to your life, and that buying expensive clothes and gadgets won’t really make you happy.

Simply Simplify

Minimalism is about making the complicated simple, and this can be incorporated into all aspects of your life, including your creative practice.

For example, a good painting should use as few brush strokes as possible in order to achieve the desired effect. Instead of trying to reproduce the complexity of real life, we aim to capture its essence by simplifying. If you keep layering on too much paint, you will end up with a busy-looking painting, which loses much of its beauty.

Likewise, the key to a good drawing is to simplify wherever possible. We are taught to squint our eyes in order to simplify shapes so that it’s easier to see the form.

And I’ve written before about how we can potentially increase sales by reducing choice, essentially simplifying the buying process for our customers.

Minimalism and Creativity

I’d like to share a couple of my articles by two of my favourite minimalists, which will really help you if you’re struggling with the complexity of being creative.

I’ve always battled with perfectionism, which is a direct cause of procrastination, and the enemy of creativity. In his essay Imperfect is the New Perfect, Joshua Fields Millburn discusses his own perfectionism around his fiction writing, and how we can deal with imperfection, saying that life should be about growth and contribution, not perfection.

And finally, Leo Babauta of Zen Habits shares 11 ways that simplicity can help creativity, eliminating many of the complications and distractions that cause so much of our overwhelm when it comes to being creative.

Hopefully after reading this you have learned something about what minimalism is and isn’t, and how it can be applied to your creative practice, as well as your life in general.

If you’ve embraced a minimalistic lifestyle, I’d love to hear about how it has helped you focus on what really matters to you. Leave a comment below and share your story.

10 Comments on How Minimalism Can Help You Beat Overwhelm and Be More Creative

  1. kathryn says:

    i’ve learned through my spiritual practice…and getting older too has helped!! the things most important to me aren’t material…hiking in nature, playing with my animals, creating art, playing games with my family, hanging out with friends over coffee…those are the simple things that make me and my life very happy. but it takes consciously working at being happy and figuring out those things…it doesn’t just happen.

  2. Loretta says:

    What a wonderful article. And you are right to assume that some of us had the wrong impression about minimalism. I appreciate having my understanding expanded, and especially as to how it can help in my art.

    I dearly hope this doesn’t come off as critical, but your writing has one habit that makes it a tad bit distracting to read. It’s your overuse of the word “really”. I’m sorry… I truly appreciate this article, and hope you are not offended by that observation. Just MY perfectionism showing, I suppose. 😀

    • Dan Johnson says:

      Thanks Loretta! Haha, I guess you’re right, 8 reallys in 1 post is a bit much! I’ll really try to keep them to a minimum in future 😉

  3. Gina says:

    I am in the process of trying to minimize and also kick start myself into creating and not just “thinking” about it! As a huge procrastinator I am constantly disappointing myself on what I got done artistically today. I will continue to work on it though. Thank you for this newsletter. It helps remind me of what my inner self is wanting to do, create! And get off the dang internet, lol

  4. Joe Boyle says:

    I think a great way to view this is simple – as bloggers (or entrepreneurs, or webmasters, or whatever we’re calling ourselves today), we are trained to follow an almost ritualistic style of content marketing. We write the article, publish it, and then get down to the real meat of the marketing. Guest posts, social media, bookmarking, blog commenting, emailing, making connections. Then many people wonder why they don’t get traffic to the blog post. Most think, “It must be that I didn’t market it good enough”, but rarely do we see the people who say, “Maybe it’s because the content sucked”.

    The overall idea is that we need to strip ourselves from this evil mindset that we have to stick to a list of things to do. Instead, we need to focus on the bear ingredient to the success and be more creative. Great post, keep it up.

  5. pauline donohoe says:

    The articles on minimalism has come into my inbox just at a time when myself and my husband have been giving away everything that we no longer feel is useful to us. This includes, books, cds, clothes. Every cupboard in every room is being sorted into piles of what to keep and what to give away. This week our garage is going to be almost empty. All those ‘saving for later’ items are going to be given to someone who wants them. This decluttering applies to my art work too. I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by: what paper to buy, what medium to use, what ideas to use. I have so many, none get done lol. Procrastination is a big problem because of the overwhelmed feeling. Our plan is as the articles say, ‘to have what we feel enhances our creativity, our life and to not feel tied down because of ‘stuff’. Reading these articles at this time has reallly ‘clarified’ that we are on the right track. Thanks Dan for emailing these links and to the others for writing them. Pauline

  6. Jana Botkin says:

    Dan, great summary of the definitions of minimalism, and I appreciate the links.

    I used to only work in pencil because of the simplicity of tools. 6 years ago I made the business decision to oil paint. The way to keep it simple is to mix my colors from primaries, and paint all the edges instead of framing. Still feels like I’m overwhelmed by “stuff”.

    Personally, a number of years ago I decided to get rid of all “one function stuff” in my kitchen. If a tool doesn’t perform 3 tasks, it is OUT! (but couldn’t quite let go of my popcorn popper nor pry the coffee grinder out of my husband’s grip)

    Using the same principle, if an article of clothing doesn’t match 3 things I already own, it doesn’t get to come live at my house. (Pay no attention to my yarn stash – knitting is cheaper than therapy, it makes clothing, passes time and creates gifts, so there are its three reasons!)

  7. Emma says:

    I’ve recently begun to embrace a minimalist lifestyle and started by giving away some of my belongings to charity, after really considering it and realising, as you say, that they did not add value to my life. I am also applying this to my creativity by focusing on doing one thing at a time, rather than getting distracted by many projects at once. I think this will help me to avoid procrastinating due to feeling overwhelmed.

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