All posts in Essentialism



May 2015

The Pursuit of Essentialism: Saying No

I set a schedule of Tuesday postings for our pursuit. Today should have been our one month postiversary, but I missed our date (I even let a scheduled, barely-started post make it to the internet and for that I am sorry). It wasn’t without a pang of sadness that I let the date slip by and, if I’m being honest with myself, if I had one more sleepless night I could have completed a post. Then I had to reflect on our second post and ask myself, “Would that have been the best use of my time?” Probably not. So here we are this week, back to becoming Essentialists and talking about the reason I can justify not posting last week.

The reason? I said ‘no.’

Just as important as recognizing how much (or little) time you have is understanding your ability to choose what to focus on during that time. There can be great internal and external pressure from your job, friends, and family that leave you feeling like you’re pulled in many different directions. You sorted out a whole day to support the people you love when all of a sudden your sister has an art show, a friend could use help moving, your significant other is hosting a BBQ, and one of your oldest friends is in town who you haven’t seen for ages. All that free time you worked so hard to gain has been hijacked!

In the real world, we are finite beings. That means there are inevitably going to be trade offs but the non-essentialist will try to fit in all of these activities. They believe they can help their friend move, bring their out-of-town friend to the BBQ and still make it to their sister’s art show. The problem is this logic isn’t sound. Maybe you’re late to the art show, or you miss the BBQ, or you half-ass helping your friend move knowing you have to be somewhere soon. That’s the reality of trade offs.

This is where we learn the difference between our options (external opportunities/uncontrollable’s) and our actions (internal choices/free will).

“In an insightful op-ed for the New York Times, Erin Callan, the former CFO of Lehman Brothers, shared what she had sacrificed in making trade-offs by default. She wrote: “I didn’t start out with the goal of devoting all of myself to my job. It crept in over time. Each year that went by, slight modifications became the new normal. First I spent a half-hour on Sunday organizing my e-mail, to-do list, and calendar to make Monday morning easier. Then I was working a few hours on Sunday, then all day. My boundaries slipped away until work was all that was left.”

Her story demonstrates a critical truth: we can either make the hard choices for ourselves or allow others—whether our colleagues, our boss, or our customers—to decide for us.”

Excerpt From: Greg McKeown “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.”

This means instead of asking, “How can I do it all?” you should be asking, “What do I want to go big on?” and ultimately that will mean turning someone or something down. You will have to say ‘no,’ and believe me, I get that saying no can be hard.


In this case, I went big on playing because that’s always a good decision.

I have huge FOMO (fear of missing out). There is also the fear of letting down your friends and family who you feel are counting on you. Worse than that though would be stringing someone along until you realize you can’t make it and, at the last minute, backing out. If you had said, “I would love to help you move that day, unfortunately an old friend will be in town and I’ve committed my time to them for the afternoon,” your moving friend would have the time to find other people to help them. It’s unlikely that your friend will hate you for saying no to something like this. Hopefully, after seeing how you stick to your other commitments, they’ll even recognize that you’re a solid friend and know when you do commit to them, they can expect the same great follow-through. If they get totally bent out of shape (and if that happens often) this may be a good time to revisit essentialism in your relationships. Drama is unnecessary, creates additional problems that didn’t exist before and solves nothing.

What does all this have to do with me skipping last week’s post? It all came down to the fact that I had some projects that I had committed to, including a music video for Greg Drummond we’d been working on (on and off) since July 2014 that was now in production and included a tight timeline. I made a choice. I could probably have produced the video as well as posted the article, but I chose to focus on making the video the best it could be and waiting until I had the time to do the same thing with this article.

So, what will you go big on?


  • by Brandon William Fletcher
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  • May 26, 2015
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May 2015

The Pursuit of Essentialism: The Capsule Wardrobe

This week in our Pursuit of Essentialism we’re going to tackle my closet. I’ve been reading about the concept of the capsule wardrobe lately and it began to resonate with me. Stefan Sagmeister once wrote — as well as created a personal typography project around — “trying to look good limits my life.” When I saw this, I both agreed and disagreed with this statement.

While here he was likely talking in regards to design, I’ve chosen to think of it in regards to getting dressed. Waking up to a closet full of clothes and being too overwhelmed, not knowing what to wear, it had become a time drain.

Back in February I followed some tips from “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” about cleaning my closet. I removed about 1/3 of the items I had in it but after a vacation and ‘helping’ a ‘few friends’ update ‘their’ wardrobes, I found I’d already run out of hangers in my closet by the beginning of April. This wasn’t supposed to be the plan. So what happened? In this way, trying to look good was limiting my life. During this time I remember one specific morning where I laid in bed for 40 minutes, staring at my closet, trying to think about what I would wear when I should have been making breakfast and getting my work day started.

I saw a way out when I came across Denaye’s article “Why I Got Rid of My Wardrobe” from the Dallas Moms Blog. Yes, I’m drawing a parallel between a yoga mom with an over-packed closet and myself, but it sticks. If you’re on Instagram or Pinterest you undoubtedly know someone with a set of immaculately curated images exhibiting their picture-perfect lives. Maybe someone you know shared a picture of a closet that looks like one of these?

Where do you live?

Fuck you, anyway.

Does your bedroom double as a retail storefront? Are you squatting in a shopping center?

This started to get me thinking; if I could reduce my wardrobe choices to what I actually need and wear, I wouldn’t have to spend near as much time getting ready in the morning. In theory, even if I were to dress in the dark, I should be decent enough to go straight to a nice dinner, a meeting, or even a night out.

So what is a capsule wardrobe and how do you set one for yourself? Caroline, the Austin-based blogger of Unfancy, describes a wardrobe capsule as:

A mini-wardrobe made up of really versatile pieces that you totally LOVE to wear.

She advocates for maintaining a 37 piece wardrobe: 15 tops, 9 bottoms, 9 pairs of shoes, 2 dresses, and 2 jackets. Obviously this is meant for a woman and 37 is a number that worked for her, but it was a great starting point. At first I thought “Jeeze, only 15 tops?” but then I ended up finding out I only wear 13 anyway, if I’m counting the 4 nearly-identical black v-necks I have as 1 item. She has some great tips for building your own and how often to update it. Find out about your own Capsule Wardrobe.

If you’re having a hard time removing pieces you feel you may want to wear in the future, McKeown’s “Essentialism” has great advice there as well.


Instead of asking, “Is there a chance I will wear this someday in the future?” you ask more disciplined, tough questions: “Do I love this?” and “Do I look great in it?” and “Do I wear this often?” If the answer is no, then you know it is a candidate for elimination.


Let’s say you have your clothes divided into piles of “must keep” and “probably should get rid of.” But are you really ready to stuff the “probably should get rid of” pile in a bag and send it off? After all, there is still a feeling of sunk-cost bias: studies have found that we tend to value things we already own more highly than they are worth and thus that we find them more difficult to get rid of. If you’re not quite there, ask the killer question: “If I didn’t already own this, how much would I spend to buy it?” This usually does the trick.

For more great advice, I recommend picking up his book.

It’s an incredibly liberating experience and I feel like once I started it got easier and easier. It was great to see our whole house get involved as well. After a while we had collected 6 garbage bags between everyone.

We mostly just run around naked now.

The best part is you don’t even have to feel guilty because you don’t have to throw it away. If you do some research in your area, you can see what your city does for old clothes. Charities or local organizations can resell them for a fair amount, or you can trade with friends and family as well. We already have enough rags so clothes that were too stained or shabby to donate I was able to take to H&M where they work to reuse fibers, keep material out of landfills and reduce energy consumption. For every old H&M/grocery bag I brought in I got a coupon for $5 — if you spend $30 or more — which is the equivalent of free black v-neck in case one gets wrecked.

Sagmeister himself “found that the utilization of good or appropriate style can be very important in communicating content. So I started to take it more seriously. I still don’t like stylish pieces that have nothing to say (in the same way I don’t appreciate well dressed people with nothing to say). But if dressing well gets you heard, why not do it?” Regardless that he was still mostly referring to graphic design, the literal interpretation rang true to me. Now I can dress well with minimal effort while gaining one our most essential and costly resources, time.


  • by Brandon William Fletcher
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  • May 12, 2015
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May 2015

The Pursuit of Essentialism: Finding Time

I was planning to jump into a different article, one I was overly excited to post, but as my week filled with activities, work and friends it became clear there was a more important article to launch this series: finding time. Because if we can’t find the time, none of the following adventures will have the space to breathe they require. So, how do you find time?

I’m busy. In fact, when I’m catching up with old friends and ask what they’ve been up to, the first thing most people say is, ‘Yeah, I’ve been busy.” We wear it like a badge of honour, as though being busy is the same as contributing to a full and happy life. I’m not here to generalize, it could be said that in some or many cases, this could be true. I know some painfully beautiful people working to make others’ lives better; caregivers, people working for non-profits in Zambia, people teaching adults who never learned how to swim some life-saving basics. I would not presume to say what I’m working on most of the time has this kind of effect but I am lucky to love my work and most of what I do.

But what are we busy with and how do we measure its value? The last time I really considered this was a year ago when I read a list of 5 Regrets People Make on Their Deathbed. I’ve spent a large part of my life living without regret — if something shitty happens, that really is too bad, but it’s happened and the only thing we can control is what we learn from it and how we move forward. I didn’t want to hypocritically claim a life free of regret but still end up mourning the same poor decisions. It was especially the second regret that stuck with me, “I wish I didn’t work so hard.” Or, as I’ll paraphrase it, “I wish I spent more time on the things that matter.”

For instance, I never regret amusement parks.

For instance, I never regret going to amusement parks.

I avoided getting a gym pass for years because of cost (even though it was roughly the same cost per month as one night of eating out), fear of commitment, fear of looking like an idiot in the gym, and time. I had a million and one reasons for sidestepping this particular activity until, one day, a jogger passed me on the street wearing a shirt that said, “Someone busier than you is running right now.”

There was that word again.

So, how? How are people who are so busy able to fit these things in. Sure I could reduce my sleep to 3-4 hours a night (at busier times of the year this would already be redundant) but is that really value-added to my life or taking away from other aspects? Namely my ability to think and how much I snuggle with my cat. So it really became about completely re-thinking how I spent my day and how much time I spent on other activities.

I’ve always been someone to recognize patterns and have used that to my advantage. I’m not sure how many people are aware of this pattern identification in themselves, but I’ve read a number of times how large a roll it played in our evolution and progress as a species, so we must all have it. Recognizing and exploiting patterns is a great way to make yourself more efficient at time-suck activities. When I get out of the shower, I dry off using the exact same pattern every-time. So much so that now if I start drying the wrong leg I’ll miss an arm, forget to put on a sock later, and put the box of cereal in the fridge. That’s how important my auto-pilot has become for these little tasks. Admittedly I have minor OCD, but you get the idea.

Ok, great. Little rituals are good for sneaking an extra few minutes here or there. What about getting hours, days or weeks back? I’m afraid to say there’s no easy answer here: it will require sacrifice. It all comes down to valuing your time and how it’s spent. Saying ‘yes’ to something you kind of like may mean saying ‘no’ to something you may love down the road.

In “Running the Gauntlet” by Jeffrey W. Hayzlett, he recommends establishing ‘Conditions of Satisfaction’. Here he is referencing business, but the takeaway is these conditions are very specific needs. If they are not being met, you pull out of whatever you’re working on STAT. His conditions were 1) grow professionally, 2) have fun and 3) make money. Your conditions can be anything that’s important to you, but in the end they are what you come back to you when you find yourself questioning wasted time at work, watching TV or surfing the internet.

“If you end up with a boring miserable life because you listened to your mom, your dad, your teacher, your priest, or some guy on television telling you how to do your shit, then you deserve it.”
― Frank Zappa

Happy people spend the most time possible doing the things they love the most. They “make the highest possible contribution towards the things that really matter.” Maybe that means starting your own business, spending more time with loved ones, exercising more, even spending more time at home. If you’re telling yourself that you have no time to learn a new language but are still watching 4 or more hours of TV a day then there’s probably a disconnect there. You do have the time but you’d rather spend it catching up on Downton Abbey. If something is important to you, you’ll find the time. If binge-watching Netflix isn’t providing quite the stimulation you’re expecting maybe it’s time to list your conditions of satisfaction and consider how to better use that time.

Someone busier than you is running right now.


  • by Brandon William Fletcher
  • 1 Comment
  • May 05, 2015
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Apr 2015

The Pursuit of Essentialism

I have a hard time thinking when my kitchen is cluttered.

As an admitted procrastinator — something I’m trying to work on, but also not — if I have a full day’s workload in front of me and there are dishes on the counter or a carpet to be vacuumed, guess which ends up taking priority? Over time I’ve learned to appreciate it, I turn cleaning into a zen-like experience. After constantly working on thought-heavy and creative projects, the odd repetitive or menial task can be a great time to center oneself or work through opportunities. This little time-out can be hugely beneficial and pay off in spades later; when I finally do get started on my work I’ve organized a plan of attack, minimized outside distractions and can focus completely on the task at hand.

When life around me is unorganized, I am unorganized.

It’s something I’ve known for years and have spent the last 6 years trying to hone in on and learn to minimize. Minimize stress, minimize belongings, minimize work, all to maximize what little time I do have. That we all have! It was December, over the course of a couple flights, when I got around to reading a book recommended to me by one of my housemates, Joe. We’d been chatting about what was absolutely necessary in life and what isn’t. I was looking forward for my business to 2015, trying to figure out what I wanted to do this year and what I would give up in order to achieve that. Joe had begun reading “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown and based on what he’d read so far he thought I would enjoy it.

From the description of the book:

The Way of the Essentialist isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s about getting only the right things done.  It is not a time management strategy, or a productivity technique. It is a systematic discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so we can make the highest possible contribution towards the things that really matter.

The way McKeown explains essentialism using real-word examples spurred a renewed interest in minimizing the non-essential. It’s helped me refocus on what is necessary, and more importantly, how to discern what is not (which, it turns out, is most things). Essentialism has begun to influence everything; how I work, my personal relationships, organizing my closet, grocery shopping, even nights out.

Seriously. You get one life, better make it count.

Seriously. You get one life, better make it count.

I am at the dawn of 30. This September I will be saying goodbye to my 20’s in the best way possible, building on the promise I made myself when I first went freelance back in 2013; be the absolute best me I can be. So here I am minimizing distractions, finding time for what’s important to become a healthier, happier, more productive self and to radiate that back into the world.

There will likely be something along my journey for everyone as I minimize my closet, media, mind and life. I’ll be posting on Tuesdays until I feel I’ve reached my essential.


  • by Brandon William Fletcher
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  • Apr 28, 2015
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