#31 – Simplification through Subtraction

I recently completed an experiment in minimalism.

I donated, gave away or threw out 465 personal items from my ecosystem.

I don’t miss a single thing.

My wife, Traci and I watched a documentary called Minimalism: A Documentary About Important Things. It explored the central theme that life is about experiences and not about possessions. Joshua Fields and Ryan Nicodemus had well-paying jobs, big houses, fancy cars and all of the accoutrements that supposedly factor into your personal score on the happiness and fulfillment scale. Unfortunately, none of these things provided those desired results, and in fact, when coupled with 70-80 hour work weeks to support their consumption habits, they found their breaking point. They quit their corporate jobs and headed toward simplification through subtraction. After publishing a few books on minimalism, they produced and released their documentary film, which was the #1 indie documentary of 2016.


The minimalism elevator pitch from Joshua and Ryan:

“Minimalism is a lifestyle that helps people question what things add value to their lives. By clearing the clutter from life’s path, we can all make room for the most important aspects of life: health, relationships, passion, growth, and contribution.

There are many flavors of minimalism: a 20-year-old single guy’s minimalist lifestyle looks different from a 45-year-old mother’s minimalist lifestyle. Even though everyone embraces minimalism differently, each path leads to the same place: a life with more time, more money, and more freedom to live a more meaningful life.

Getting started is as simple as asking yourself one question:

How might your life be better if you owned fewer material possessions?”

Months after watching the film, Traci suggested that we try the 30-day challenge.

minsgame challenge

Here is how it worked:

Each day for 30 days, you pick items that you own and get rid of them.

Take them to Goodwill, give them to a friend or throw them out.

Day 1 = Pick one item.

Day 2 = Pick two items.

Day 3 = Pick three items.

Continue until you complete 30 days and remove 465 items from your ecosystem.

I’ve gone through phases of decluttering in the past, but the consistency of this process was very enlightening. By thinking about simplification through subtraction every day, I was constantly reminded of the truly unnecessary noise there was around me.

I walked past the same four shirts in my closet for years never pulling them off of the hanger. My shed was so full of unusable junk that even the most dedicated packrat would have pulled me aside for a delicate intervention. The same four microphones continued to gather dust in my studio, until I gave them to a friend who was beginning to build his own studio.

I really didn’t struggle with this challenge until I came upon items that were given to me by friends or family. I initially thought that by giving that item away, I was somehow giving away a piece of that person. On more than one occasion, I selected an item and staged it in the garage, only to bring it back inside saving it from banishment. It was a pretty visceral experience that was finally conquered by my commitment to the process and the realization that my relationships were not defined by those items, but cultivated over time through a collection of experiences and interactions.

For accountability purposes, I documented the 30 day experience on Instagram:

Day 1

View this post on Instagram

Day 1 #minsgame

A post shared by Jeremy Gilbertson (@jeremygilby) on


Day 8

Day 9, 10 and 11 (Video – MY PERSONAL FAVORITE)

Days 20, 21 and 22

You can check out the rest of the journey on Instagram.

A younger me …

A floor full of dirty clothes, a sink full of dirty dishes or anything lacking organization never bothered me when I was younger (cue the virtual snickers coming from my friends and family here). Either I had an uncanny tolerance for these explicitly noisy conditions, or my appreciation for simplicity hadn’t yet been cultivated.

Well, the experiment is over …


#1 – The reduction of noise is important.

Noise is not just auditory.

Noise is visual and mental.

Noise can manifest as inefficiency and friction.

I’m a music guy … let’s look at an audio example.

The frequency spectrum for the human ear ranges from roughly 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz.

Frequency is how often something happens. In this case, it is defined in Hertz (Hz).

The middle C piano key creates 262 vibrations every second when struck.

Middle C = 262 Hertz

While mixing a song, an audio engineer is given multiple audio signals (or tracks) that need to be organized into a budgeted time frame and frequency spectrum.

The first step is to make sure all of the tracks deserve a place in the song.


After making sure all the right people are at the party, the engineer helps those deserving participants find their place in the audio environment.


Diving further into the analogy, bass guitars and kick drums tend to occupy similar frequency positions, which means their sounds cause a similar amount of vibrations each second. With both instruments occupying the same space, our ability to experience them as individual sounds is limited. Carving out windows in the frequency spectrum for the kick drum at a specific frequency (80 Hz) and the bass guitar at a specific frequency (100 Hz) can give them both room to breathe and the space to interact.

Thoughtful allocation of your available 1,440 minutes within a single day has been a common theme in 52Musings. The concept of your personal frequency spectrum takes it one step further. Within a period of time, there are available sonic pathways for information to travel. Within one second, there are between 20 – 20,000 possible pathways that an audio signal can travel for the human ear to process.

So, there are over 1.7 billion individual paths available each day?

No. Every second.

Wait … that’s not simple.

Simplification is finding the right frequency paths for the deserving sounds.

Subtraction involves removal of noise that doesn’t serve the song.

We are the chief audio engineers in control of our personal frequency spectrum.

We decide what elements are important to our songs.

We determine how and where they fit in.

#2 – My relationships are not defined by things.

To be clear, I don’t throw out all of my gifts. I do have gifts that I treasure greatly.

During this process, I did find it difficult to remove items that were given to me.  The minimalist experiment helped me to approach this challenge from a different perspective. A gift is a physical representation of kindness. The beauty is in the act of giving and not the gift. Like time, thoughtfulness cannot be harnessed, locked up and stored in a physical medium. The memory of someone thinking more about you than they were themselves is the true gift.

30 day challenges always have takeaways, even if they do not represent the answer you wanted or expected. Like any good scientific experiment, any information related to the hypothesis is a move in the direction of discovery. If it proves the hypothesis is wrong, you can always refine your question. If the hypothesis is validated and proven, its time to find a new question.

Through the reduction of noise and proper allocation of my personal frequency spectrum, I will continue to find further clarity. While I’m not quite ready to take my family of six into a tiny house, I find myself even more aware of the priorities of “health, relationships, passion, growth and contribution”.

Freedom is the reward of simplification and subtraction.


For more on Joshua and Ryan



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