Addition by Subtraction

October 27, 2020

Life can be complex, overwhelming and stressful.  A flurry of things may be going on in every category of your life:  career, family, health, finances, social life, love life, mental state, and your home.  Sometimes we feel so much pressure, anxiety, or depression that we either implode or give up.  Life can be overwhelming.

We work so hard to build our life up, but sometimes we just never take out the trash.  It just keeps piling up creating more and more stress every day.

It is no wonder people have nervous breakdowns or mid-life crises.

I am going through a phase in life now where the children are leaving the nest.  I am staring at all of this stuff in my home that were representative of things in my youth, young adult years and the two decades of raising our kids.  Plus, we gathered stuff passed down from parents and other family members.  Holy moly there is a lot of stuff.  It is not like we are hoarders.  We regularly donate our unused items.  But still, it can accumulate.

So, I am in the middle of a huge Addition by Subtraction project throwing out, recycling, and giving away things in my closet, my garage, and my shed… and it feels so good.  While I am reliving my past as I go through all of these things, it is rewarding to acknowledge those times in my life where I had great achievements or overcame huge obstacles.  In the end, I am doing the “Marie Kondo thing” and thanking these possessions for contributing to my life, but now it is time for them to go.

I have huge momentum.  I am aggressively minimizing many aspects of my life.  Less stuff in my house, but also less stuff in my business and my mind.  Each step I am taking I can feel my emotions relaxing and lightening up.  I can think more clearly.

Addition by Subtraction is a fantastic stress reliever.  Less is more.

Here are 10 categories where you can apply Addition by Subtraction in your life to achieve less stress, greater simplicity, and a fulfilling sense of independence.


#1: Unused Clothing

Take a look in your closet and drawers and ask yourself: what can I get rid of?  If you have not worn it in a year, it is nearly certain you will never wear it again.  If you gained weight or lost weight, you are not going to want to return to your old clothes, so get rid of those too.  How many t-shirts do you have that were fun to wear a few times, but you would never wear again?  Shoes that are heavily worn can go too.  Those clothing gifts that you did not like but were too guilty to give away can be given away.  The love of the gift giving has already occurred, so the gift itself can move on to someone else to enjoy.  How much of this do you really need?

I am working to dramatically shrink my own clothing inventory.  There are only about 3-4 pairs of pants I wear, not counting my business suits.  There are countless shirts I no longer wear.  I have eliminated 75% of my clothing and everything is fine.  I do not need it all.  Someone else can get use of it.  It feels good to purge.  My closet and drawers can breathe.


#2: Unnecessary Storage

How much stuff do you have in your garage, a hallway closet, a junk drawer, or an outdoor shed?  Children’s toys, bicycles, sporting equipment, and books.  OMG, so many books that you have read and will likely never pick up again. Old vinyl albums, cassettes, and DVD/VHS videos that you will never play again, assuming you still have the player itself.  Tools that were necessary for a one-off project or that are duplicates of what you already have.  Old musical equipment, memorabilia and hobbies that are tucked away and not used any longer.

It is also easy to accumulate old electronic stuff that you no longer use.  Computers, monitors, keyboards, DVD players and gaming consoles are just a short list.  We are always upgrading to the newest version, but sometimes we keep the obsolete technology and store it someplace in our office, garage, or a closet.  You do not need it anymore.  Plus, there are so many other people that would enjoy it.  So, give it away at your local Goodwill store.


#3: Non-Productive Portions of Your Business

If you are an entrepreneur, especially a creative one, you may have a range of different business initiatives you have launched that are either never finished, never profitable or never really worth it.  The business author Steven Covey said, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing”.  So, if it is no longer the main thing, then why do you still have it?  It is time to simplify.  It is time to prune your business tree of old products, services, and systems so you are leaner, meaner, and more focused on the really important parts of your business.  No need to waste brain cycles on these old initiatives.


#4: Toxic People

You know the type.  They are either complainers, pot stirrers, gossipers, pessimists, or drama queens.  Toxic people want to drag you down to their level.  In both sports and business, certain workers can be a cancer that can negatively affect the productivity of the entire team.

I have even implemented this on a personal level.  I have subtracted so-called “friends” from my life, and I find that my stress levels have decreased.  Sometimes it has been painful as it has cost me relationships with some good friends as part of a package deal, but overall, I am better off for it.

I walk away from people who do not value me. They might not know my worth, but I do.


#5: Jack of All Trades, Master of None

Are you trying to do too many things across a range of disciplines where you do not really have a high-level skill in any one category?  If so, it is time to start subtracting many of these weaker categories, so you can focus on your strengths.  If you cannot be the best in the category, then you really should question why you are doing it in the first place.  Find ways to outsource your weakest categories while becoming a master in a short list of skills.


#6: Quality vs Quantity

It is better to have fewer high-quality things, then a large collection of low-quality things.  You will get greater self-esteem from focusing on quality and often a greater return on investment.

The classic example for me were dress shoes.  Quality is superior to quantity.  Quality shoes, when taken care of, last much longer and offer better value even at a higher price.


#7: Less Commitments (Learn to Say No)

Sometimes we just have too much going on.  We are spread too thin.  We do not have the ability to find calmness, focus and the highest quality execution.  If you feel like you are scrambling from one thing to the next, it may be time to start doing less.  Consider creating a Stop Doing List.  What can you eliminate?  What can you subtract for your regular routine so you can gain time and control of your life?  What can you do to simplify?  There is no time like the present to get started.


#8: Clean Your Desk

This is one of my favorite exercises.  When I am feeling overwhelmed with my work, I will first clean my desk.  This therapeutic process simplifies what is in front of me and at the same time gives me the necessary time to decompress and see things more clearly.  When the desk is clean, my mind is clean, and I am ready to go.


#9: Turning the Page on the Past

So often we fail to live in the moment.  Instead we find ourselves reliving, recycling, rearguing, and restressing about the same old situation over and over again.  Our mind is clouded and stuck on incidents in our past where we no longer have control.  You have to find a way to gain closure on those incidents and then devote yourself to what fulfills you.  Focus on the present.  Focus on productivity.  Focus on self-awareness.  When you do, the stress of the past just melts away.


#10: Business Paperwork

If you own a business, you probably have files of client notes, client invoices, vendor invoices, receipts, contracts, and many other documents.  You do not need them all, especially in the 21st Century when so much is easily accessible online.  Get started sorting through your old files and start shredding the old documents you no longer need.  Check with your accountant for advice on the time required to keep paper documents available.  Certain documents like mortgages, deeds, tax records, etc. you need to keep forever.  But there are many categories of documents that can eliminated after 1 year, 3 years or 6 years.


Speaking from personal experience, this exercise of Addition by Subtraction has had huge positive impact on my life.  Less is more.  Simplicity is golden.