This topic is something that has been on my mind a lot recently. My wife and I live in a small European flat and our books and analog note taking tools take up the most space after the various paraphernalia our daughter has.

As we’ve been cleaning out recently, I’ve been reevaluating my use of digital and analog tools; one of the frequent debates I return to.

To some people, this will seem like a closed debate

“Books, pens and paper take up more space than a computer, phone or ebook reader. Plus digital notes are backed up in the cloud. Of course analog notes are incompatible with minimalism.
Live with less, man.”

But I think that is a reductive view of minimalism.

What actually is Minimalism?

One of my favorite quotes on minimalism came from Cal Newport when he was discussing his book “Digital Minimalism”. I can’t find the exact original quote but it went something like.

“At the heart of every minimalism movement is a focus on intention.”

In this perspective, more isn’t always bad (but neither is it inherently good). If using “more” matches your goals, then you should use “more”. The real issue is defaulting to more when some or little would be better.

This reflects a similar idea that the minimalist, Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus, share.

Remove what you don’t get value from, focus on what you do get value from.

Accordingly, the main evaluative question of a minimalist shouldn’t be “How can I show I have less than other people and so ‘win’ the minimalist pissing contest” but rather something akin to “Does this bring me value?” Or perhaps “meaning” instead of value.

Getting practical with paper

While hypotheticals can be useful, they can end up vague due to their need to be all inclusive.

Looking at the practical issue of paper and books again it’s easy to see how more can be bad. Having a lose pile of papers which you never look at again and just get in the way might be annoying for you.

At the same time, more might be good for you. That pile of paper may have a long list of ideas and prompts which you return to when you need inspiration or ideas.

One person’s too much is another person’s enough.

Finding your enough

There are many stages in between and it’s even possible to combine the benefits of analog and digital tools by scanning paper or using styli on a screen.

From that perspective, if you value something, keep it, but don’t keep things that you don’t value but “feel” you should have.

For me, my analog tools and notes fall into my “valuable” list. But for other people, they become clutter and should be removed or digitized (though be careful, books outlast bytes).

Minimalism as an evaluative tool

I really enjoy putting on the “minimalist” hat as a critical perspective on my activities and stuff. As my wife and I have been going through our things and selling items the questions of “Could I get rid of this? How bad would it really be to downsize?” “Do I actually value this?” and “How likely am I to ever use this again.” have been good guides.

In the process, I’ve rediscovered some of my older notebooks and pieces of paper. It’s been a great experience to find an old idea or silly little doodle from a specific moment in time.

But I don’t “live” in minimalism. I don’t constantly look for stuff to remove and focus on owning fewer items.

Although my pens and books take up a significant portion of space in our flat, I don’t view that as Inherently bad. A physical object is a clear reminder of the associated actions or ideas.

  • Seeing a book on your bed side table is a reminder to read.
  • A pad of paper is a prompt to write.

Most of time, I find these tools match my values. I just wish It was easier to store them.