Less is more. We all know this saying, first popularized by minimalist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, which has been transformed into a platitude by advertisers, TV shows, and even corporate America as it right-sizes people out of their livelihoods (“We’ll have to learn to do more with less around here.”). But is less really more? And if so, is the opposite true? Is more actually less?
Questions like this may be more important than you think.
The two of us enjoy taking commonly accepted truisms and trite stock phrases and flipping them on their axes, exploring the obverse side of cliches and hackneyed phrases, shedding light on the opposite sides of supposed facts.
For example, what moniker does our culture often assign to a well-adjusted, ostensibly successful person? We often say that these people are anchored (“He is such an anchored person.”). We heard this term frequently during our late twenties: we were regularly described as anchored people, and for the longest time we took this as a compliment.
Then we stopped taking it at face value and asked, “What is an anchor?”
That question led us to an important discovery about our lives: an anchor is the thing that keeps a ship at bay, planted in the harbor, stuck in one place, unable to explore the freedom of the sea. Perhaps we were anchored—we knew we weren’t happy with our lives—and perhaps being anchored wasn’t necessarily a good thing.
In the course of time, we each identified our own personal anchors—circumstances keeping us from realizing real freedom—and found they were plentiful (Joshua catalogued 83 anchors; Ryan, 54). We discovered big anchors (debt, bad relationships, etc.) and small anchors (superfluous bills, material possessions, etc.) and in time we eliminated the vast majority of those anchors, one by one, documenting our experience in our first book, Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life.
It turned out being anchored was a terrible thing: it kept us from leading the lives we wanted to lead. Not all our anchors were bad, but the vast majority prevented us from encountering lasting contentment.
Are you an anchored person? Is that a good thing? What are some of your anchors? And what other axioms might you want to question?
Which brings us back to our original set of questions: Is less really more? If so, is more actually less?
We suggest the answer to both is yes.
Owning less stuff, focusing on fewer tasks, and having less in the way has given us more time, more freedom, and more meaning in our lives. Working less allows us to contribute more, grow more, and pursue our passions much more.
Having more time causes less frustration and less stress, more freedom adds less anxiety and less worry, and more meaning in our lives allows us to focus far less on life’s excess in favor of what’s truly important.
So, more is less? Yes, more or less.
Read this essay and 150 others in our new book, Essential.