What does it take away?

One striking difference in a chess game between amateurs and one between two grandmasters is the nature of the moves. In amateur games, pieces often spring into attack to pose obvious threats. In grandmasters games the moves are often most subtle, for an obvious idea would be of no use against a seasoned opponent. Instead, the threat is often concealed several moves down the line.

An amateur always strives to improve their attack, whereas the grandmaster already settles into a great position and tries not to weaken their defence. When any piece marches forward, along with increasing its attack potential, it creates several defensive holes that the opponent could exploit. While the amateur looks out for the attacking initiative he could gain, the grandmaster is more worried about losses – about his defences and the space he could left behind by moving a piece.

Henry David Thoreau, when he was 28, wanted to discover what was essential to him. He removed to a small cabin next to Walden pond, far away from society to live by himself. In this cabin, he ensured that he had only the barest of necessities. He did this as an experiment to find out how much work it took for him to sustain himself with the barest essentials.

The cabin took him a mere $28.5 to build (a little under $1000 in today’s dollars). He then realized that he needed to work for merely one day a week. With his leisure, he was free to take walks amidst nature, contemplate and write about what he learnt. He wrote about how most human beings could enjoy a lot more leisure if it weren’t for all the stuff they surrounded themselves with to be socially accepted. He even observed how walking was more efficient than owning a horse carriage, for the time one saved by riding a carriage was smaller than the numbers of extra hours one had to work to be able to afford it. Sure, Venetian blinds are nice to have, but they would, again, require a disproportionate investment of our time and effort for the incremental benefit they bring to our lives.

The inside of Theoreau’s cabin

In other words, Thoreau examined life like a grandmaster examines his position. He observed how anything he added to it would take away his valuable time and attention. By living alone in the cabin, he understood the value of things for not just what they give us, but also what they take away.

Minimalism is the intricate understanding of whatever is essential to us, and the disciplined rejection of anything that threatens it. When we add a new article to our house, a new habit to our day, a new app to our phone or a new account on a social network, corporations makes the benefits of their addition patently clear to us. But by including them in our lives, what do they take away from it that we value the most?

Consider buying a farm very carefully before signing the papers – Cato (Roman philosopher).

Inspiration: Digital Minimalism – Cal Newport

2 thoughts on “What does it take away?

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