What is Minimalism?

To me, that is an odd – and existential – question, along the lines of the eternal question “What is art?”

I answer this question this way: It is what you define it to be.

In redefining myself, I have begun to make some changes that contribute to my own definition of living in a minimalist way:

Reduce ownership. This is a first and easy to enumerate step. Don’t keep a hundred different types of clothes when just a few will do. Don’t keep twenty separate computers when you only need a couple. This is a constant battle, but it is worth it.

Reduce purchasing. The goal of business is to get people to buy – and buy and buy. Thus, when a business says you need to get something, think twice. This also holds for updates and upgrades. Buy things that don’t require constant updates or upgrades. Buy items that don’t force you to buy only one very specific item (such as room deoderizers that only work with a single refill item). See if you can last a week without buying anything.

Reduce usage. Don’t use the dishwasher or the clothes dryer if you don’t have to. These contribute to electricity usage, and thus increase your costs and your impact on the environment. (Just remember to use the dishwasher once in a while or it will require expensive repair.)

Reduce the unneccessary. Do you really need a couch? Or those extra lamps? Re-evaluate every item to see if you need it. Don’t rule out anything categorically – think. Do you really need it? Dump if you don’t – and before you change your mind: give it to Goodwill.

There are a number of blogs that cover minimalism:

One of my inspirations has been homes like Tumbleweed Homes. If a person can live in one of these, certainly the rest of us can reduce our personal clutter down a lot further than it is today. A counter-inspiration for me is also the current crop of homes that are still being built today – homes that are so big that cities and counties are passing laws limiting house size.

Most importantly, minimalism is what you make it. You define what it means to you.

Death via Design by Committee

I’ve always noted this in the past: those designs that are designed by a committee seem to be, more often than not, to be a conglomeration of ideas rather than something revolutionary. Smashing Magazine has an article about design by committee which seems very apt and on-target.

Examples of both design by committee and its contrast abound in the software industry, present and past. Revolutionary items written by one person include:

  • The Apple II. Designed by Steve Wozniak.
  • The Merlin Assembler. Written by Glen Bredon, and became the pre-eminent 6502 assembler.
  • BDS C. A one-man project by Leor Zolman which broke all the rules for compilers and bested them because of it.
  • Puppet. Written by Luke Kanies.
  • Linux. Written (then coordinated and directed) by one man: Linus Torvalds.
  • OpenBSD. Certainly not written by only one person – not even from the beginning – but OpenBSD has always been one man’s dream (and direction): Theo deRaadt.

Likewise, ideas that were designed by committe abound also. I love the quote from Michael Arrington of TechCrunch, from an article he wrote:

And when too many people have product input, you’ve got lots of features but no soul.

Consider these products by committee:

  • COBOL.
  • PL/I.
  • Ada.
  • CORBA.

Rod Johnson, the founder of the Spring Framework for Java, refered to this as the Complexity Industry. He spoke about the development of Java at QCon in December of 2009. Note that the Spring Framework is known for its simplicity.

If you are a Java developer, listen to Rod’s talk in its entirety; it’s wonderful. The talk about design by committee starts at about 27:00.

True revolution is done through the individual, not the committee.

For a more light-hearted look at design by committee, see this video about designing a stop sign…