filling the space

I’d like to address an adage whose implication’s are as far-reaching as the implications of the law of gravity.

Historian and Professor Cyril Northcote Parkinson published an essay in The Economist in 1955 supporting his postulation that,

“work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” – The Economist

The significance in this idea expands to some ideas available for microscopic scrutiny (and I wouldn’t be me without over-examining these few).

Watching shows like House Hunters or Flip or Flop on home improvement networks, we can see themes emerge in how many people purchase homes. You always hear the criteria for timid couples shopping for their starter home to be, none other than, their budget. They ask “how much can I get with the money I have?” They provide a little wiggle room for renovations and emergencies, but put their life savings into the biggest and best house an over-eager realtor can find for them.

Ignoring the norm that most of the “budgets” shown include the largest bank loan that can be received by these couples (with interest), homeowners have already lost value by forcing themselves to live in spaces too large.

See the average sq. ft. increase in the last 30 years (CNN).

CNN and many more surveys show that in the 30 years before 2013, home sizes have increased by almost 1000 square feet. All this in spite of the fact that family size decreased from 3.37 members in 1950 to 2.5 members in 2016, so that we are living with, on average, one less person in a home and one thousand more square feet of space from person to person. The implications of this fact upon the family is massive and leads to more than just surface level problems.

Constraint: How we fail to appreciate the finite nature of land and energy resources. Jimmy Carter talked about the energy problems facing America, and our growing homes only contribute to this coming crisis. North America has a limited number of space and an increasing number of inhabitants who consume land in economically inefficient ways that will impact the future potential growth of our expanding nation.

The “tiny house” movement, often ridiculed or glorified for only the true minimalists or “new ageists,” it is not too extreme an option for those who are serious about using land and finances responsibly. (I remember a good portion of my growing up years wanting to live in a PODS storage shell. I think I wanted to be closer to the dog.) But more options exist for those willing to support reducing our ecological footprint and improving lifestyles, from designing and building their own conservative homes, to just buying smaller (which coincidentally amounts to cheaper).

Separation: A matter closer to the heart is the disconnectedness of families in homes whose halls echo the shouts of households stranded apart. Here is a huge contributing factor, I believe, to the destruction of family structure, whether you believe a desolation here is occurring or not. Given larger living spaces, even with working-from-home parents, a modern family can go about their day entirely at ease without passing another soul in their house.

Heat map of the “American Monster Home” by 5Kids1Condo.

Adrian Crook, owner of a video game consulting business and author of the blog 5Kids1Condo, examines how little of our home’s social spaces like dining rooms or porch sitting areas Americans choose to use on a weekly basis. The excess space in a home and the declined family size shows us a trend in an opposite direction that upsets family dynamics and cannot be positive for the future of the communities that are the lifeblood of our society.

Stuff: Here we put Parkinson’s Law, tweaked slightly, into use. “Things” accumulate so as to fill the space available to it. Joshua Fields Millburn, a co-writer of Everything that Remains, perfectly captures the social imperatives we believe to be subject to-

“… my first inclination was, of course, to purchase the things I still “needed” for my new place. You know, the basics: food, hygiene products, a shower curtain, towels, a bed, and umm… oh I need a couch and a matching leather chair and a love seat and a lamp and a desk chair and another lamp for over there, and oh yeah don’t forget the sideboard that matches the desk……….” (many things later) “… And a rug for the entryway and bathroom rugs (bath mats?) and what about that one thing, that thing that’s like a rug but longer? Yeah, a runner; I need one of those, and I’m also going to need…”

This is how we accumulate, not skeletons in the closet, but cardboard boxes in closets filled with “things” that we we had a use for at one point.

But wait… I gave up on learning how to cook the perfect Soufflé with this kit. And I guess I don’t use this elliptical now that I have a gym membership. And when did I plan on acquiring the accompanying speaker for this stereo system? (I’m not guilt-free here in the slightest) We think these thoughts and continue living the same cluttered lives in our ever-growing, but empty homes.

***(Update– 17 June 2019: I fail to even mention the emergence of the $3.8 billion self-storage industry over the past 20 years that holds even more of our junk as the amount of “things” we own increases year by year)***

Playing devil’s advocate, one could cite the growing number of telecommuters who work from in-home offices and workspaces like some articles suggest. A brief glance at the history of telecommuters, though, reveals that with only 4.5% of Americans currently telecommuting and using space in homes, an increase of only about 2.5% since the 1980’s when the mode of working emerged.

I hold a deep conviction that the “stuff” we own amasses to the amount of space we let it have and a true belief that it is not “things” that add value to our lives, but purpose, connection and furthering our identity as humans. For this reason I write: not to hurl stones at those who have built walls in their comfortable American Dream homes, but to plead with the few ready for change. Those sick of falling into the societal norms that tell us how to live. The speech of commoners is what drives a movement to become a revolution.

minimalists examined (no.1) Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter, 39th President of the United States of America, has been the strongest advocate of the last century for minimalism as a lifestyle in the US.

Bold claim? Yes, but I believe that this undervalued exemplar (in word, act, belief and agenda) in our country vocalized the core values of the true minimalist movement with urgency, heart and integrity.

*I will primarily be examining his Crisis of Confidence speech, televised to the nation in July of 1979, and his 2005 book, Our Endangered Values, linked here.

The democratic Georgia native served as governor in his home state for four years before being elected president in 1976 amid the conclusion of the Vietnam War. Carter may best be known for his strong humanitarian efforts after he left office as his time in office yielded mixed opinions from both sides of the political aisle. His second act in office was to pardon draft-evaders of the war and would go on to highlight, not the battles waging across the sea, but a different battle on American soil.

On July 15, 1979, Jimmy Carter delivered one of the most misgiving addresses to the nation made by a President in his “Crisis of Confidence” speech, often called his “malaise speech” that managed to call out a nation for problems with its overconsumption and wastefulness. From the address:

“In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption.

Carter’s two biggest legislative moves in his term centered around energy and oil as major players in commerce and production that (literally) fueled a consumer-driven culture. He believed he could wield these two powers to direct society away from the idea ingrained that “human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns” (Crisis of Confidence). In his book, Our Endangered Values, he talks about how the “new economic philosophy in Washington is that a rising tide raises all yachts,” expressing frustration to a nation not willing to give back and support societal efforts, favoring investments in personal gain and material wealth.

…we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.

In this line, Carter strikes upon the feeling that so many, myself included, have discovered within themselves in their lives. He stresses the core struggles that push many to become minimalists as a world dominated by advertisement and alluring Amazon purchases disenfranchises those who truly seek meaning in their lives.

Not as often as it praises the benefits of the lifestyle does minimalism degrade the culture that it is so counter-intuitive to in this time. Carter’s, “premonition” (my own term) of where our country was headed is rooted in the idea that we have begun to lose our identity in things that do not add value to our lives.

One needs look no further than Black Friday shopping spree videos (‘spree’, an understatement defined as a “sustained period of unrestrained activity”) or the increasing sizes of homes and spaces we fill with our “stuff.” Generational and technological change have created a culture that has lost confidence in who they are. We put societal “value” in things that are cheap and easy to come by, if one spends enough credit. Identity is devalued and misplaced in the things we own instead of who we are as a people. We have unified around ideas like greed and competition that create a culture of fear and fraudulence.

I am hesitant to write so despondently, but as we look ahead at the future of our children and country, Carter’s words are needed to be heard more today than ever…

This is not a message of happiness or reassurance, but it is the truth and it is a warning.” ~Jimmy Carter

similarities in Stoicism

An interesting supplement to developing a minimalistic lifestyle I have found is the ancient philosophy of Stoicism. A Grecko-Roman methodology adapted today to be a framework for making better decisions and training oneself to be less reactive, ancient Stoicism spawned from many teachings of Socrates on ethics and rationale. Stoicism directly informs a minimalistic lifestyle in its adherence to simple living ideas, its focus on one’s self rather than one’s “stuff” and its goal in reconnecting people in community through shared bonds.

Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants…


Simple Living: Seneca said that philosophy (specifically stoicism as he held to it) “calls for simple living” and “conformity with nature” (Letters from a Stoic). In the same way, minimalism today is “simple-centric” (my own term) and some habits I use to try and reconnect soul with nature by first directing the mind out of distraction pair very well with stoic mindfulness teachings. Practitioners of both minimalism and stoicism use meditation as a way to slow oneself throughout the day and find peace of mind about the chaos in the world. As I have paired down the number of things in my life, I have tried to hold to many stoic precepts about the importance (or rather unimportance) of “things.” Marcus Aurelius said, in his published diary, Meditations, “how swiftly all things vanish away.”

Identity: Likewise, Seneca spoke of our identities linked to our belongings saying, “anyone entering our homes should admire us rather than our furnishings” (Letters from a Stoic). This can be seen to an extent in Minimalistic architecture and design, but also in how people practicing Minimalism build their lives. By designing my life around the things that truly matter and will not fade so swiftly, I am able to lead an intentional life with less clutter and more freedom.

Reconnection: The final kinship shared between these two methodologies is in their emphasis on reconnecting with the people around us in the truest sense.“The first thing philosophy promises us is the feeling of fellowship, of belonging to mankind and being members of a community” (Seneca, Letters from a Stoic). As Joshua Fields Millburn of theMinimalists says, “Love people, use things. The opposite never works.”

“And this you will only achieve in one way, by convincing yourself that you can live a happy life even without (riches), and by always regarding them as being on the point of vanishing.”


One final word about the duality of these two applied lifestyles that are adapting to our evolving culture: Stoicism is a philosophy and minimalism is purely a lifestyle that has no established connections to the antiquated worldview. While supplementing Stoicism in parts of my personal life has been effective, it is not something that created the part of my identity that is being a minimalist. It simply helps me organize parts of the chaos…

on writing briefly

The act of starting to write here is a challenge. Even the writing of just those 10 words took all of 5 minutes, 6 to 8 revisions and many last minute polishings, not to mention the 4 other times I attempted writing and was not content.

(The exaggeration here should be palpable, but still not far from the truth.)

Writer’s block is not the problem here, but something along the lines of perfectionism. I have never considered myself a perfectionist as I care very little about cranking out the last 15-20% of a project if it’s passable as is. Since I’ve begun writing these posts, I’ve come to understand why I’m having this struggle and its root in the very thing I am writing about. I have become nearly obsessed with the idea of minimalistic speech and writing. Developing these thoughts is where I catch myself doing the exact opposite of my intentions.

Being precise in my speech has been a task where I have found this principle most influential, because while I am conflicted in the hesitation of the ideation to existence that drafting a post allows, I am forced to craft words much more rapidly in conversation. Less is more, right? I believe this is especially true in communicating a point and so, in the future of writing the College Minimalist, I will be striving to pack as much substance into the words I choose and convey my thoughts briefly for your pleasure and mine.

minimalism: the exposition

“Minimalism is a tool that can assist you in finding freedom.” This quote, from the website of TheMinimalists, helps me begin to unpack this word often inaccurately affiliated with things like downsizing and being a hippy or nomad. The truth about minimalism that makes me so excited to share here is that it can be defined in so many different ways. So long as it abides by a few components, pursuing the same end goal, minimalism can truly be what you make it. 

Being a Minimalist isn’t measured by how many things you have to live with, but by how you live with the things you have.

In college, I have defined my own version of this. The purpose of my being a self-proclaimed minimalist is to clear the clutter to discover the important parts of my life and live them to the fullest. I try and reimagine what my life would be like with less and pursue that ideal. This ambition takes many forms in my life from the number of clothes and books* I have, to the way I schedule my time and commit myself. By not getting caught up in the “mess” of a busy and scattered life I’m able to more easily (while still imperfectly) live my life with the freedom that I find daily in the simple things.

***(Update– 16 August 2019: I feel the need to admit the status change in my relationship with books- I have recently “overindulged”, one could say, in my ownership of books and find my collection growing to a sizable amount)***

So to recap minimalism:

  • It is not cultish, boho, “hipster” or a fad
  • There is no one way to define a minimalist (hence the “self proclaimed”)
  • As a lifestyle, minimalism can bring about change to your home, mental, digital and work life
  • And living intentionally with less _______ (insert almost anything) can enable you to live more freely