“One Word”, “100 Things”, and getting more from less…

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I have a friend who’s notoriously disorganized – while I consider myself, well, ‘organized’. “How do you keep it all together?!” he recently inquired. With all the snow this Winter (we’re near Boston), “snow removal” wasn’t fitting into his already hectic schedule. As I often do, I referred him to a book I was reading called “Essentialism – the disciplined pursuit of less“. Over the past several years  I’ve been on my own pursuit of “less, but more” and in this article I’ll share with you my experience and some of the books which have helped me…

A little back-story: I’m about to release my sixth solo piano album and practice every day. Some days I’m at my piano for 4-6 hours. In addition, I work 30+ hours a week doing music technology consulting for an Italian keyboard manufacturer (which answers the question “how I pay my bills?”). Add to this ‘husband’, ‘father’ of two children, ‘brother’, ‘son’, ‘friend’, ‘soccer coach’, ‘bill-payer’, ‘house-fixer’, occasional ‘dog-walker’, ‘cook’ – oh, and I’m training for a 1/2 marathon.

All this, AND shovel snow?

Over the past several years, I’ve figured out the only way I’m able to accomplish MORE, is by having LESS. This frees up so much mental energy – it’s amazing. So the quick answer to my friends’ question “How do you do it?” is: “I’ve simplified my life”. Based on my list of “hats” above, you probably think my life is anything but “simple”, but stick with me here…

One of the first books which sent me on my way was Thoreau’s “Walden“. I know I read the book as a teenager (even spent time hiking and swimming Walden Pond), but Thoreau’s “simple living” philosophy didn’t really impact me until I re-read the book at the end of 2013. From there, it was a short jump to my next book “The 100 Thing Challenge“. At the time, I had a pretty full wardrobe, maybe 10-12 pairs of shoes, and lots and lots of “stuff” (watch this hilarious video of George Carlin talking about “Stuff”). The challenge is to get all your “stuff” down to 100 things. Wow. Take a moment and think about everything you own and make a mental count.

Down to 100 Things

I took the 100 Thing Challenge and began purging like a fiend. At the beginning of last year I started going “Paperless” thanks to a lot of help from the book by David Sparks. I invested in a Fujitsu Scansnap Scanner and got rid of my file cabinets and tons and tons of old bills, manuals, receipts, you name it. Gone. I don’t keep *paper anymore – everything is stored in Evernote. I’m even converting all my sheet music to .pdf (using “ForScore” on iPad). I cleaned out the basement. Cleaned out the Garage. Every time I cleaned and purged, it felt like new space opened in my brain. It was exhilarating! If something was broken – it got trashed. I became an expert at selling stuff on Craigslist (even my beloved, but under-utilized back-country snowboard). Clothes were donated to charity. The crowning moment was when I convinced my wife we should become a “One Car” family (thankfully, she agreed!).

* Note: I did make an exception for my BOOKS – I just couldn’t get rid of my library!


The next step in my “simple living” quest led me to “One Word That Will Change Your Life” – which I read at the beginning of what I lovingly call “The Great Purge“. The book is based on a simple idea: New Years’ Resolutions are useless and every year we set ourselves up for failure (by the way, how are your 2015 resolutions? unfortunately the overwhelming majority don’t make it to February). The book walks you through some simple exercises to come up with ONE WORD which will guide you throughout the year. When combined with the “simple living” idea, it’s a winning formula. For 2014, my One Word was “Simplify”. ‘Nuff said.

The result?

Well, I’m not sure I’m strictly down to “100 things”, but all my clothes now fit in a 2′ wide space in a teensy closet. I have one pair of dress shoes, casual shoe, snow boots, and running sneakers. When one of these wears out, I’ll throw it away and buy a new pair. That’s one of the rules – you don’t just add new clothes – you must remove something when you buy something (check out this interesting article about people like Steve Jobs who wear the same outfit every day). The basement and garage are clean and sparse.  I do have a computer, smartphone and iPad, which sort of feels like “cheating” – however, I keep the “apps” down to a single screen and I reach “inbox zero” every day.

Ahh… NOW can I get things done?!

This is all an imperfect process. In particular, I still struggle with technology. I’m a sucker for anything which promises increased productivity (More TIME!!). Unfortunately these tech solutions never quite reach my expectations (and often, I sheepishly admit – waste time). Still, I’ve definitely become a “Getting Things Done” person (a very influential book by David Allen – and a great place to start). I’m also (dare I say?) super-organized. The final takeaway and key for me was becoming a Ninja at cutting out mental and physical clutter.  The real amazing result of this process is the extra “space in my brain” I talked about earlier. Having less clutter and “stuff” has freed my mind so I can be a more effective musician, composer, husband and father – and that is definitely worth it.

Please leave your comments below – I enjoy hearing from you!

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