Applying the Four Laws of Simplicity

Wednesdays are simplicity days at SimpleProductivity blog.

Photo by jlz

I was reading through some old articles I had bookmarked and came across an article about the Four Laws of Simplicity on Zen Habits, and I started thinking about them. I found it remarkable easy to think about this concept in regards to stuff, but then I also started thinking about how I would apply them to productivity systems.

Today I will introduce the Four Laws and show you how to apply them to “stuff”. Over the next few weeks we will look at applying those same laws to productivity systems and their components.

The Four Laws

As Leo put it in the article, these are the four laws of simplicity:

  1. Collect everything in one place.
  2. Choose the essential.
  3. Eliminate the rest.
  4. Organize the remaining stuff neatly and nicely.

They’re very straightforward, no?

Applying This To “Stuff”

I want to take a look at two examples: one in the exact spirit of what Leo suggests, and then a small tweak.

Cleaning Out the Toiletries

If you are like most people, your bathroom probably has a stash of items you have tried and been dissatisfied with. Most people, myself included, hang onto these items, and so there is a place where there are half-used bottles of shampoo, abandoned soap, partially used cleaning supplies and medicines that didn’t work. We will apply Leo’s system as is:

  1. Collect everything in one place. Since everything is already living in the bathroom, I take this to mean that it should be all pulled out so that you can see what you have. Include things that are currently in use, such as your current soap and shampoo.
  2. Choose the essential. Sort things into two groups: the stuff you like and use, and the stuff you don’t.
  3. Eliminate the rest. If it is unopened, you can probably donate it to a homeless shelter. Otherwise get rid of it. In the garbage and recycling.
  4. Organize the remaining stuff neatly. Put your useful stuff back in order, in such a way that you can access it easily.

Simple, right?

The Kitchen Junk Drawer

I’m going to assume you only have one kitchen junk drawer, but this method expands to take care of all of them. :)

  1. Collect everything in one place. Since many of the items in your junk drawer are probably useful, but also exist in other parts of your home, this is where I take another interpretation of the law. I suggest that you focus on what belongs here in this drawer, and for those things that don’t, pull them aside for putting away in another area.
  2. Choose the essential. Do you really need 5 dead pens? 15 rubber bands? 20 bread clips? Choose the things that work and the appropriate quantity.
  3. Eliminate the rest. If something doesn’t work throw it out/recycle it. If it is useful, put it aside for donation.
  4. Organize the remaining stuff neatly. One of the reasons junk drawers become junky is because everything tends to be tossed in. Take some time, use re-purposed cardboard boxes or plastic containers without lids (I’m sure you have some of those, too) as ways to corral the things together.

By applying these four laws around your home and workplace, you can get rid of most of the stuff that is cluttering up your space and distracting you from your tasks.

Introduction to Article Series

Over the next few weeks I am going to look at applying these principles to

  • Calendars
  • Task lists
  • Reference material (both electronic and paper)
  • Projects
  • Someday/maybes

Check back next week for the first installment!

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Photo by jlz. Licensed under Creative Commons.