Value Less

Minimalism has become a 21st century cliche. Marie Kondo’s tidying sensation epitomizes the trend. Kondo’s journey from basic cleaning & organizing to joy-only ownership is the coming of age story of radical efficiency. Her point is that cleaning up becomes pretty easy when you don’t have enough items in your space to create disorder in the first place. Systems that process less are more convenient to operate.

Convenience and efficiency are not positive values in themselves, however. A temptation of minimalists is to make minimalism a life priority, an identity. Minimalism is a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. Having less leaves space to have, think about, and do more important things. Clarity and focus are both born from uncluttered minds and spaces. It’s easy to forget why having less can be useful, so it’s important to return to the personal reasons why reducing the amount of items around is valuable, rather than just accepting the culturally propagated norm.

The principles of physical object minimalism also apply to values. If everything is concerning, worrying, or important when it flashes through the mind, the ability to control life is lower. Identifying what is important and unimportant is not as straightforward as it sounds, and even more difficult to put into practice. Other people’s voiced concerns, the information that reaches you through any medium, and the feelings that come up unbidden all conspire to make you feel as though many different things are worth your attention. Each of these incoming messages influence your values (if values are expressions and actions of preference & ranking).

Why not take our valuing cues from the wide, unfiltered, all-enjoying eyes of happy newborns? We beings of advanced age have experienced consequences, bad feelings, and memory. Values are generated by the interplay between individuals and the environment over time: valuers develop closer relationships with values that support pain evasion, pleasure achievement, and other better outcomes and come to reject momentary preferences that result in painful outcomes. As decisions and actions can only be guided by so many values at once, and as there are manufactured & propagated values swimming all over the place trying to win better outcomes for other people, the responsible valuer holds tight to a small set of values.