Essays & Thoughts

Minimalism: Balance, Process, and Prioritize

Minimalism :: Part 003 by Justine Allread

Several articles have drawn a correlation between mess and genius–messy desks, sleepless nights, poor handwriting–all are indicators of genius. I would like to suggest a reversal: mess does not indicate genius, rather genius creates mess. The reversal is important because the initial statement is an excuse to maintain an unsatisfactory status quo. Too often I’ve heard people say, “Oh, my handwriting’s not neat, but it’s not my fault you can’t read it.” or “Mom, I can’t clean my room. You just don’t understand its organized chaos.” or “That’s why we have cleaning people.”

Genius is not an excuse: it is rather the invariable, significant gift that actively works again excuses. Genius tramples over the status quo in order to bring about change, good or bad, and that change is, well, messy. Any DIYers, or cooks or bakers, or architects or surgeons know that the middle of anything is awful. There’s blood and dust everywhere–the process of creating and/or repairing requires mistakes and Post-it notes stuck to every surface and strings attaching one clue to another. It is impossible to have a polished final presentation without making some missteps along the way.

As I noted in Part 002, minimalism can help bring about Peace of Mind but I suggested modification when its most popular tenets prohibit instead of encourage. Cleanliness is not that close to godliness and, one more time, messiness is not genius. The line dividing perfection and imperfection is about as real as the borders dividing countries: more practical necessity than natural occurrence. The beauty of clean, empty desks is the possibility to be filled. And the beauty of messy desks are the possibilities to be discovered. Tidy or clean, either should be expressions of, not barriers to, your creativity.

We all want to create, but are intimidated by the glorious creations that already exist. Arrogant enough to think we could create something better, but too sheepish to try. The key to minimalism is the balance of arrogance and sheepishness. The balance of chaos and peace: too much mess, there’s no room to work, but too much space and there’s little to no guidance or inspiration.

We all want to create and it is in that balance we can find just enough flexibility to process what is done and what needs to be done; to prioritize tasks instead of repeat them. Practicing and modifying minimalism has taught me how I work best (for example, one loud, upbeat song on repeat), what usually keeps me inspired (a jaunt outside), and where I can collect and easily access all my ideas (a bullet journal).

With this balance in mind, neither messiness nor sterility will prove too intimidating to work; to be. Instead, both become viable canvases. In fact, the ability to work and to be in any condition is almost as impressive as the ability to fall asleep in any position. It’s not about controlling the situation, but controlling yourself. It’s about adaptability: you may have to plant yourself like a tree in the face of oncoming change, but your roots must spread out for nutrients and deeper ground in order to maintain the stability for which trees are infamous.

So, dust your shelves. Stuff your closets. Inspiration, like your work, must be unique because you are unique. “There’s already a bajillion tutorials for this!” Honey, the Internet will be able to handle one more. You must start somewhere.

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