Trimming the Frills

Every six months or so, I freak out a little bit. I feel that I am too busy, that my life is too full, and that I need to cut things away. Simplify. “Hack away the unessential,” as Bruce Lee would say.

I like my life calm and quiet. Peaceful mornings. Few meetings. A handful of bigger, longer projects rather than a million uncorrelated tasks. The calm life makes me happy, but it also enables focus, and in a world where focus gets rarer by the day, it’s also increasingly valuable.

But calm is hard to find and harder yet to maintain. Whether we start with an empty calendar, phone, roster of habits, or all of them, they inevitably fill up quickly. You begin a project, but daily operations get in the way. An enticing proposal lands in your inbox, plus you have another idea, and soon, you find you have no time for the job that was supposed to be the only job. You subscribe to one channel on Youtube, then another, then another, and suddenly, you watch videos for 45 minutes every day. That’s why, from time to time, we need to trim the frills.

One morning, I’ll wake up and realize: “I feel overwhelmed.” I take action immediately. I’ll stop tracking some habits. I’ll delete some apps, change the wallpaper on my phone, and close all the browser tabs I’ve had opened for weeks that I’m not going to act on any time soon. I might delete some notes with ideas that I know I won’t (or shouldn’t) pursue, and I’ll likely also cancel a subscription or shut down some efforts related to a project that’s not going anywhere.

This kind of “spring cleaning” is neither very sophisticated nor very organized, but it gets the job done of making me feel better. Lighter. Calm again. In the end, not much will have changed. I’ll still do most of the same routines, work on mostly the same projects, and use mostly the same tools to do it — but I’ve trimmed the frills, and that makes my life feel a lot smoother. There’s less clutter around the edges. Usually, it’s that clutter that makes us feel overwhelmed.

A full life isn’t a bad thing. Many people wish they had a vocation to pursue or deep friendships to nourish. It’s the bells and whistles we slowly attach to these causes that eventually get in the way of pursuing them, and that’s why, every now and then, a good frill-trimming is in order.

If you only need to calibrate your life once and then can maintain the same setup for a decade, hats off to you. But if you can’t, know there’s no harm in realigning. Just whip out your scissors, and start trimming the frills.