Procrastination

There’s always something to do first. Something that needs to get done before I can get to the meat of what I really want to do. Should I find the perfect album to put on the stereo before I start painting the walls in my house? Should I buy a house so I have a comfortable place to write? I can’t write until I have that done. Maybe I should go get some lunch, and when I do that I’ll start that book I was planning on reading.

This has always been a big hurdle for me. Usually my daydreams aren’t about wild success or traveling to interesting places. They’re about finding a perfect grassy field, hanging my hammock from a tree, and laying down to read a book. I think that’s really what I want: a comfortable existence with no stress. Just time to lay around, maybe write, or go surf some, or sit in a bar and generally be lazy.

Laziness has its merits, too. I’m an engineer by trade, but I’m convinced that most good engineers, the ones who are really talented and can see the world for how it should be, are some of the laziest people ever. Engineering gives them an outlet through which a machine, process, or program can do work FOR them, instead of having to do it themselves. “If only I could get something to do this piece of work for me,” they say, “then I won’t have to do it myself.” The time they free up allows them to lay around in a grassy field or work on a more complicated project (or write!). (For this reason, if I’m ever a manager and a prospective employee tells me that one of their strengths is laziness they’ll be hired on the spot.)

What I’ve noticed, though, and probably shouldn’t be shocked by, is that I spend more time thinking about doing something, and what I can do to put off doing something, than it would take to simply do that thing. So I’m going to work on doing it, whatever it happens to be.

Or building a machine that can do it for me. But either way, I’m doing something. Whatever you want to do, just make sure you’re actually DOING that, and not just thinking about it.

Photo: From a drive across Florida last summer, from West Palm Beach to Tampa. Florida has wonderfully minimailstic terrain. 

The Beginning

About a year ago I lived alone in a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house in a town in South Florida full of retirees. The house had a sunroom and a two-car garage. I needed the garage, I said, because I’m an engineer and I like building things, working on cars, and having large side projects. Immediately the house and the garage were full of… stuff. I had a piano and an electronic organ as a side project. I had two beds mostly because I had so many bedrooms. I had three or four stereos in various states of disrepair. I had two TVs, and one of them was in the bedroom. I had more video games than any girl would ever want to see in her date’s house (although most were in boxes). Shortly after I bought the house I took out a loan and bought a two seat convertible. Everything I had was interesting for a time, but after I stopped using it, it stuck around. Taking up space in my house and in my life.

There have been moments in my life that, looking back on them, make me think I should have come to this point before now. Like when my freshman roommate saw my extra computer monitor and big stereo and mentioned in passing that I seemed to have two of everything. Or when I spent $500 to trailer my old, weary car to my first job in Tennessee behind my nice truck that would have been just fine as my only vehicle.

The biggest kick in the pants, however, was the Christmas after I bought that first house. I flew up to Virginia to get the rest of my furniture and belongings from my parents’ basement and I rented a UHaul to drive it down to Florida. Something was nagging me at the back of my mind though, since I hadn’t had this stuff in a few years, why did I suddenly need it now? Was it worth the plane ticket and truck rental and fuel to bring it all to sit in my house with me? I already had a bed, clothes, stereo, and everything else I needed back in Florida. Did I need more stuff? But I quietly pushed these thoughts to the back of my mind, like I always had, and pretty soon I had a giant house that was full of everything I needed to be happy. Only I wasn’t.

I don’t remember how I stumbled across minimalism, but I do remember feeling very disconnected with my life a year ago, like I was watching a movie of someone else’s life. A lot of people have a defining moment that brought them to minimalism, but mine slowly crept up on me. A pretty drastic change occurred in my life as a result. I put almost everything I owned on craigslist and cleared over two thousand dollars in a few months. I started selling more valuable (and easily mailed) things on eBay. I sold my other car and put my house up for sale. Who needs three bedrooms to themselves, anyway? It was creeping me out at night.

My house sold and I moved to a smaller place a little further south in a city that I love. I have less things, but my life is more full than it’s ever been. I try to live more deliberately, and I actually finish projects that I start. I’m still working on paring down the excess, but I’m an engineer who still likes to work on cars and electronics and who occasionally lets things get out of hand. I’m a work in progress, though, just like everyone else. I’m hoping this blog will be somewhere that I can be accountable to myself, and maybe some others will get value out of the things that I learn.

Photo: My real, former garage. I actually parked my truck and car this way to make the picture look better, because at the time time I felt like I should have been proud of my accumulation of stuff. How much could I fit in there?