Minimalism and Creativity

In the book Steal Like An Artist, Austin Kleon writes:

” It takes a lot of energy to be creative. You don’t have that energy if you waste it on other stuff.”

“Steal Like an Artist” by Austin Kleon, page 119, para. 1

While I have written about that in the past, about eliminating the unimportant to liberate your time to focus on the important, I have never went into the details about how minimalism truly applies to creativity.

I must confess that the reason I’ve not covered this in depth was because I didn’t understand it myself.

I’ve always used minimalism as a tool to liberate my time and money to focus on things like success and family. Whenever I liberated a chunk of time, I used that time to clean my house, care for my kids, or study subjects that I believed would contribute to my long-term success.

This round I decided to do things a bit differently. When I quit my job I knew I was burned out, completely frustrated, and more than a bit disillusioned. I needed to step away from my normal habits and routines entirely just to recover.

So I gave myself permission to play. I tinkered with the television that the kid gave me. I allowed myself to read novels. Instead of banging my head against a keyboard every evening I made it a habit to play video games and watch a nightly movie. Instead of trying to force myself to write, to read and study and continually improve myself, instead of tinkering with Word or other writing programs to figure out how to format and use the programs to build better books, instead of reading books to improve my writing craft and search for ideas, I stripped it all away.

I literally said “fuck it.” I picked an ancient text editor and focused upon the words instead of the formatting. I allowed myself to write about whatever instead of trying to force myself to focus upon a single subject. I gave myself permission to use my time in ways that I’ve always considered wasteful and allowed my mind to wander.

I didn’t allow myself to think about what I could really write that would be helpful or make money. Aside from my daily goal of writing a single blog post, I allowed myself the freedom to do as little as possible. I used my minimalism, my freedom to spend my time however I like, to do just that for a change.

Which is why I skipped posting yesterday.

I made a pledge to write about the first thing that came to mind each morning, every morning, regardless of subject matter. I didn’t censor myself which is why I’m sure you’ve noticed that my language has changed. Instead of thinking “what can I write for somebody else?” I asked “what is something that I would want to read?”

Yesterday morning I awoke with a story playing in my head. It’s about a grandma who loves her kids, her dog, and her movies. While pursing these passions she discovers what she believes to be the Mother Lode of movies – only to realize that she’s uncovered something evil instead. Now she’s got to decide what she’s going to do about it.

The story was so vivid I could see it from the woman’s eyes. I could feel the things she felt and even smell the things she smelled.

So I started writing.

I didn’t do a single thing on my house yesterday. I didn’t check my email, work on this blog, or even feel the desire to take a break. If not for my kid making me, I doubt I would have taken the time to eat.

All that existed was the story, and I felt driven to get it out of my head. I went to sleep thinking about that story and was awakened with the same passion.

That story would have never came to me if I hadn’t allowed myself to eliminate the things that I had previously considered essential. If I hadn’t allowed myself to “slack,” if I hadn’t allowed myself to read novels, watch movies, and play video games, if I hadn’t allowed myself to “goof off” instead of work, I wouldn’t have given my mind the freedom it needed to imagine.

Sometimes we need to cut ourselves some slack. We need to stop worrying about what we “should” be doing and allow ourselves to relax and have fun instead. And at its core, this is what minimalism is about. By eliminating as much stuff and as much tasks and as many obligations as we can, we allow ourselves to get bored. We give our minds the freedom to wander.

And when we do that, amazing things can happen.

I don’t know what is going to happen with that story. All I know is that I’ve written over 3,000 words this morning alone. I feel a passion, an aliveness that I haven’t felt since I was a child when I would fill notebooks with stories and doodles instead of doing my homework. And I am going to embrace that sensation.

We have become so wrapped up in duty, we have become so sucked in to chatting with friends and updating our timelines that we’ve forgotten who we are.

And minimalism can help us regain that.

Turn off your computer. Cancel your appointments. Change your routines. Eliminate everything you can eliminate. Allow yourself to become bored.

Because that is when the magic happens.

Have you ever allowed yourself to completely mix up your routine, to eliminate everything that you can eliminate in order to truly experience boredom? What happened? Please share your stories in the comments below.

And if I miss another post, you will know what I’m doing. I’m busy getting this story out of my head.


If you happen to find this post helpful, would you consider sharing it with a friend or on social media?  Thanks!

I’ve written a lot of books sharing my odd view of life in hopes of helping others. My most notorious book is titled The Shoestring Girl: How I Live on Practically Nothing and You Can Too, but The Minimalist Cleaning Method is pretty popular as well. You can find them at the following places:

Barnes and Noble
Apple iBooks
Smashwords (non-DRM)

Thank you for your support!

8 thoughts on “Minimalism and Creativity”

  1. Your post made me think about the ways in which “busyness” brings a kind of mental dullness with it. I just think about the next thing I’m going to encounter on the treadmill. As a woman and a mother, my home is part of that treadmill, so I find that being away from it can offer the best space for thinking. I’d like to be able to get off the treadmill at home too. I think you’ve cracked it.

    1. Hello, Deborah.

      My success has been limited, I must confess. I struggle to allow myself to even write on my story sometimes because…I don’t exactly know. I’m not certain if I will be able to craft this into a saleable story, so I feel as if I’m wasting my time. But the story is stuck in my head so I’ve resolved that, if anything, getting it out of my head will be a good thing so that I can move on.

      With that in mind, I am beginning to limit how much I allow myself to go online. I try to check my emails once per day, respond to messages from friends during that time, and remain offline for the rest. I intend to continue that experiment and write a report on my success or failure at a later date.

  2. What a breakthrough, Annie! That is totally amazing. Congratulations!! You really took a huge risk in quitting your job but, had you not, you would not have had this awesome reconnection with your creativity.

    I have a long way to go in permitting myself the experience of minimizing the distractions I allow in my life. I still have the puritanical mindset that if I am not working at something, I am wasting time.

    Your blog post today is very inspiring! Thank you.

    1. Dear Essie,

      I still wrestle with the thought that if I’m not “working” that I am wasting my time. Yet during the period when I allowed myself to do nothing to decompress from that job and the situation I had fallen into, my creativity skyrocketed. I am taking steps to deal with that. For instance, during the evening I make it a point to pick a random movie and watch it. When I’m not in the mood for that, I’ll allow myself to read a novel or to play video games. I have to make myself do this sometimes even now. Last night I failed in my resolve miserably. I ended up reading a nonfiction book about writing until I dozed off instead of allowing myself to play.

  3. A few years ago friend of mine gave himself permission to quit his job and start writing fiction. He now makes more money from his writing that he did from his job and he’s enjoying it a lot more. I wish the same for you.

    1. That is wonderful, Linda! I am so thankful that your friend found his path! I have a young writer friend who managed to do the same thing. When I was younger I shared the same dream so I suppose that the discouragement I received from my family discouraged me from that pursuit. Even now, as I experiment with my fiction, I conceal the titles I’ve written under pen names. I started the practice after a family member looked me up online and read one of my fiction titles. It…wasn’t a pleasant experience.

  4. Being myself and being p/c are not interchangeable. We are creatures of our up-bringing and what was p/c when I was going up had little to do with todays p/c.
    Conforming to p/c stifles ones creativity and energy. I strive to do what I damn well please everyday, some days I can some days I can not but I try to find a balance I can live with.

    1. Good for you, Sam! I strive to find this balance myself, yet I find myself censoring my words and topics out of concern sometimes.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: