mnmlist: addition by subtraction

Oftentimes when we have a perceived need, we look for something to acquire in order to meet that need.

We want to lose weight, we buy weight loss books, workout equipment, diet pills, nutritional supplements, a fitness program. We sign up for the gym or a class or a trainer.

We want to travel, we buy a suitcase, a travel pillow, the perfect carry-on luggage, maybe even special clothes or equipment for traveling.

We want to start meditating, we might get a meditation pillow, or sign up for a class, or buy a book, or get a timer, or get the perfect meditation clothes.

You get the picture — any new endeavor might not only require the new clothes that Thoreau warned us about, but new equipment, books, DVDs, gadgets, software.

But adding these things to our lives brings problems, not just solutions: they’re often added expenses, sometimes adding to our debt or financial problems; they’re more clutter in an already cluttered life; they must be dealt with and tracked and maintained and stored; they each extract a high environmental cost; it takes transportation to acquire the new things; and so on.

And often, these new things bring problems without being the solutions we desired.

Another thing to consider, rather than adding, is subtracting.

If you think you need a new notebook in order to write, maybe the problem isn’t your lack of a notebook, but your desire for a nice new one. Subtract the desire, and you can write without acquiring.

If you want a new iPhone (as I often find myself doing), consider whether this is a true need, or just a desire that can be eliminated. If you want new workout equipment, consider whether you can work out without any equipment.


An empty room (or the outdoors) contains all you need, other than food and water and basic clothing. In an empty room, you can meditate, sleep, pray, think, compose, do a workout, talk with a friend.

What you already have beyond an empty room — books or access to a library, a computer or access to one at a library, pens, maybe some paper, and all the other possessions in your life — are way, way more than you need.

When you subtract the desire, you can subtract possessions, and leave your mind, heart, and life free. Then the possibilities are endless.