3 Reasons Entrepreneurs Should be on a Minimalism Journey

Marie Kondo, Author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
Marie Kondo, Author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

In 2 days, we start our Second Annual Minimalism Challenge!  What does minimalism have to do with entrepreneurship and woodworking?  Everything!  Minimalism is a movement to pare back on tasks and things in order to focus on what’s important in your life.  If those things that are important to you include entrepreneurship and/or woodworking, then minimalism is a tool to help focus on both of those passions.  We wrote earlier about our minimalism journey in What Do You Mean I Have to Move the Wood Shop???!!!??? Entrepreneurs Need to Be Flexible and will talk about a specific tactic (the Minimalism Challenge) to propel you on your minimalism journey.

So what is The Minimalism Challenge?  Very simply, you get rid of a number of things equal to that day of the month.  For example, on August 1st we will get rid of one thing.  On the 31st, we’ll each get rid of at least 31 things.  By the end of the month, we’ll each have gotten rid of around 500 things.  Our friends Josh and Ryan, The Minimalists, have written out the rules of engagement in their post Let’s Play a Minimalism Game.

So how does one identify the things to get rid of?  One method that was useful for us was to follow Marie Kondo’s example.  Marie wrote a New York Times bestseller called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up which has a multi-step process (she calls it the KonMari Method) for decluttering your house.  If you don’t have a starting point, Marie’s framework might be useful to you.  For example, one of the first steps is to focus on reducing your wardrobe.  First, you put all of your clothes together then decide what to keep and what to get rid of.  Anything that hasn’t been worn in the last 90 days is a prime candidate to jettison.  Mrs Woodworker and I did that last year and it was amazing how many clothes we each had when we brought every single piece of clothing we owned into one room.  It was a real eye opener.  As you need items to shed for the Minimalism Challenge, you can leverage Marie’s method to find more items.

There is at least one caveat, however.  Some folks are not great fans of Kondo’s method, so use it with your eyes open.  For more, read 5 Reasons I Hate Marie Kondo (Admit It, Deep Down You Do Too).

But why pursue The Challenge in the first place?

#1:  It frees up time for your passion

Stuff has to be tended to.  The larger the house, the more maintenance required.  The more cars, the more trips to the auto shop.  In our post Woodworking and Minimalism: If I Buy All These Tools Am I a Minimalist? we described the rationale behind it, but I’d to explore more about the aspect of freeing up time, one of our most precious assets.  Maria Popova, the writer of Brain Pickings who has millions of blog readers, gave a great overview of the value of time when she unpacked Seneca’s (Seneca is one of the great Stoic philosophers) letters regarding time (I subscribe to her weekly newsletter).  Here is a taste from Seneca:

“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.”

If you’d like specific ideas about stealing back more time, read our post Lifestyle Design: Tactics, Techniques and Procedures for Entrepreneurs, and Everyone Else.

For more insight into freeing up time, Ii you haven’t had the chance yet, you have to check out a documentary series on Netflix called Abstract (see YouTube trailer here) on multiple ground breaking makers/artists/designers.  If you watch very carefully, it’s fascinating to watch how they live their lives and put everything they have into their craft.  For example, one of the designers is Tinker Hatfield who designed the Air Jordan shoe for Nike.  These designers are all minimalists, so some degree.

One thing to be aware of, is that as you focus on your craft, you will start to see results.  As your enterprise becomes more successful, the demands on your time will increase.  See our post 4 Ways for Entrepreneurs to Manage Their Backlog: When the Cup Overflows for some suggestions in dealing with this.

#2:  It frees up money for your passions

Whether you realize it or not, your house or apartment is full of buried treasure.  Anything you haven’t used in about the past 90 days is fair game to be converted into $$$.  We follow the following protocol (in this order) for getting rid of stuff and generating dollars:

Sell on ebay.  This is the most profitable way to pare down your possessions.  One of the greatest advantages is that you can see what the real value of things are.

Sell on Craigslist.  Craigslist is a bit of  yard sale in terms of prices, but if you are patient, people will come to your house and actually pay you to take your things away.  It’s like having your own ATM, but you don’t have to go to the ATM.  It brings money to your house.

Sell at a yard sale.  This can be a real time suck, but if the weather is good it’s a nice way to spend a Saturday morning and you usually get to meet a lot of really interesting people and neighbors.

Sell from your yard.  This is a new technique for us.  If there is a garage sale down the street from us and the garage sale traffic will be passing in front of our house, sometimes we’ll put an item with a price tag on it in the front yard.  Everything we have placed in the yard this way has sold.  We were able to sell our oak dining room set very quickly this way.

Donation tax break.  If you can’t sell something, take it to the nearest donation center.  We’ve been using the Vietnam Vets donation site in Woodbridge for years, because you drive up, they come out and take your things away.  It’s very fast and convenient.  You can also get a break on your taxes IF you are itemizing deductions.

Give it away (don’t have to pay to move it again).  I don’t believe in Karma, BUT you’ll get a good feeling from giving something away.  Freecycle is a very easy way to do this and they also have an app which makes it easy.  Visit www.freecycle.org to learn more.

#3:  It frees up your mind

Before I took command of my first squadron, we had to attend a pre-command class.  One of the lessons that really stuck with me was given by a three-star general.  He said “only do what only you can do”.  That was very profound and I had to mull it over for awhile.  He told us to take a look at our to-do list.  I had over 30 items on my to-do list that day that I planned to tackle when I got to the squadron.  He told us to consider how many of those items could be delegated.  In my case, it was just about all but a half dozen.  There were a half dozen tasks that only I could do as the commander.  The others could be delegated.  He also make the point that by delegating we were creating teaching opportunities to develop our subordinates in the squadron.  His comments were a revelation.  Now I could really focus on the few things that were necessary to lead the squadron.  It freed up my mind.

Along those lines, the French philosopher Montaigne said “My life has been full of many misfortunes, most of which have never happened.” We spend so much of our mental bandwidth thinking about low probability things and can free up a lot of that bandwidth by thinking about more constructive and positive things.

Try the minimalism game for yourself and see if it frees up your time, frees up money, and frees up your mind.  If not, you at least had some fun in the process.  Follow me on my personal twitter feed @jttraughber for daily tweets on what we are jettisoning and our progress.  The hashtag will be #minimalismgame

The RSS Hack, or How to Curate Your Favorite Woodworking and Entrepreneur Blogs

Feedly RSS feed aggregator
Feedly, an RSS Aggregator App

How would you like personalized information that gives you only the blogs you’d like at your fingertips?  With an RSS feed, you can have exactly that.  But what is this RSS feed thing all about?  It’s only the coolest thing ever and acts like your very own newspaper front page.  Newspapers used to be these arcane things made of paper that were delivered to your front door every morning, that had the news actually printed on them.  Now we have something just as radical as that newspaper, but updated instantly on your smart phone, tablet, or computer.  It’s made possible by something called RSS, formerly called Rich Site Summary, but now commonly called Really Simple Syndication.  But before we get into the “how to”, let’s first ask “why?”

Garbage In, Garbage Out

Why should we bother curating our information flow?  One of our most valuable assets is time and there is only so much of it.  This is all part of optimizing our lives (see related post on making and managing) and focusing on sources of information that add value.  For example, I was a long-time subscriber to the New York Times, but cancelled my subscription the day after the election.  I had liked nothing better than to have a cup of coffee and read that physical newspaper in the morning.  There was something about the tactile sense of a newspaper that was better than reading online.  However, I felt that given the results of the election, I was not getting objective news and that something the paper had totally missed what was going on in the country.  In fact, the editors of the newspaper were actively campaigning for one candidate and wrote many editorials about why that candidate was the right one.  That’s not what I want in a newspaper; I want one that at least attempts to be objective.  That’s part of the beauty of RSS aggregators.  You can assess blogs and other sources and add or trim them from that aggregator to receive the best content for you.  Speaking of curating things…

How to Set It Up

I’ve been using an app called “Feedly” which is a free app available in the App Store.  There are Android equivalents and Web-based versions, but I’ll zero in on how to set up Feedly, for now.  Once you’ve downloaded Feedly from the App Store to your smart phone, walk through the start-up screens provided by Feedly.  To add a favorite blog, type in the search terms then click on the magnifying glass in the upper right of your screen, then hit the plus sign when Feedly finds your favorite blog.  One of my favorite features organizes the blog posts on my smart phone in chronological order starting from the most recent to oldest.  Click on the parallel lines in the upper left of your screen, then click “All.” That will organize your incoming blog posts from most current to oldest.

Some useful blogs on my Feedly app and what they are about

Colby Aviation Thrillers (terrific blog by new author & Amazon Best Seller, see our interview with him here)
Horicon Marsh Nature Photography (absolutely beautiful photography)
Mr. Money Mustache (financial independence guru)
Pure Living for Life (how to homestead from scratch)
The Blog of Tim Ferriss (lifestyle design & traits of successful people)
The Minimalists (how to simplify)
Traughber Design (where woodworking and entrepreneurship meet)
The Wood Whisperer (probably best site I’ve found for learning WW)

Well, I hope that was useful for you.  What blogs are you following?

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Teach a Man to Fish and He Can Eat for a Lifetime: Lessons for Woodworkers and Entrepreneurs

custom baseboard molding
Custom Baseboard Molding

We’re putting the finishing touches on the kitchen after having painted all three floors of our house in preparation to sell it and downsize. One of the minor projects in the house was to install a small piece of baseboard molding near the refrigerator (see picture). Unfortunately, the original piece was missing and not to be found around the house. A few years ago I would have driven to one of the big box home improvement stores to try and find a match. Now, I just cut my own. A woodworker with a good router table, a selection of router bits, a miter saw, and table saw can knock something like this out in a few minutes. That’s the joy and beauty of learning new skills in woodworking (or learning to fish). We don’t have to buy pieces like baseboard, but can create any length, with any pattern at the top, with any angles at the end.  We didn’t get there by accident, though.  We had to learn to fish by continually building new skills, insourcing, and enjoying the ride.

Continually build new skills

How does one learn to fish in woodworking (or entrepreneurship, or life for that matter)?  There are several methods such as taking a short class, watching YouTube videos, listening to podcasts, or being mentored by someone else.  With explosion of the Internet over the past several years there are so many different ways to accelerate our journey up the learning curve.

Several years ago, a very popular business book came out called the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.  One of the habits Covey talks about is sharpening the saw.  His analogy is that you wouldn’t spend all day trying to saw down a tree with a dull blade.  You’d stop, sharpen the saw, then quickly do the job.  Why don’t we always do that in business?  Sometimes, we need to just step away and sharpen that saw (or build new skills) before moving on with a project.

That skill to rout a baseboard didn’t come about by magic.  I got some hands on training at the Festool Ubershop in Beltsville, Maryland from Brian Graham when I bought some of my Festools.  Another great way to spin up quickly is to take a class at Woodcraft.  Typically these are night classes and only last 4 hours or so.  I’ve taken great classes on pen turning, raised panel cabinetry, and bowl turning.  If there is something you always wanted to learn, or something that will help you build a business, set aside the time to learn via a class, video or podcast.

Speaking of mentorship, I’m working my way through the massive biography of John D. Rockefeller by Ron Chernow called Titan, The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., and there are several examples of J.D. learning to fish. For those who aren’t familiar with Rockefeller, he was the head of Standard Oil in the late 1800s and early 1900s. At one point he was the richest man in the world.  His long road to riches started as a humble assistant bookkeeper. Someone mentored him on bookkeeping and he said in an interview that bookkeeping skill was the bedrock for his future success because it gave him insight into how well (or poor) a business was doing.  The numbers didn’t lie when he evaluated businesses to acquire.  There are so many great lessons learned for woodworkers and entrepreneurs from John D. that we’ll have an upcoming blog post on him.

Insource

In our travels around Asia for work, a colleague of mine, Rich Davis, pointed me (thanks, Rich) to a blogger named Mr Money Mustache (aka “MMM”) whose blog is about financial independence.  I can do without MMM’s F-bombs, but he does have sage advice for those striving for early retirement and one of his tenets is to do the work around the house yourself rather than hiring it out.  This is contrary to the current rules of engagement that say we should hire everything out that we can.  Is this a contradiction with the last post about only doing what only we can do?  I don’t think so.  During my command tours in the Air Force, I delegated tasks and mentored my Airmen because it built their capacity.  In addition, I couldn’t possibly do everything myself.  At home, by outsourcing I’m supporting a local business, but I’m not necessarily building capacity of someone who has done that skill for a very long time.  On the flip side, if I do the work myself I am definitely building capacity because I am not as skilled in as many trades.  I’m pretty comfortable with carpentry, but have a long way to go in installing electrical wiring, or installing plumbing, for example.  Insourcing is building my family’s capacity.

A great example of this is in the book by Ashlee Vance that came out in 2015 about Elon Musk.  Musk owns Tesla, Space X, and Solar City.  One of the striking things about Space X is that Musk decided to insource much of the work that normally would have been outsourced.  He would tell a young engineer that the engineer needed to design and build a particular part and give him or her what seemed like an impossible deadline.  Why?  Think of the incredible capacity in that one engineer that now not only knows how to design a part on paper or on the computer, but can actually manufacture it.  Incredible.  Another reason is that it gave him much more control over the design and precision of the part.

Going back to the household example, if I can do it, why wouldn’t I?  I spent many summers painting to make money for college.  Why would I hire someone else to paint my house?  I can do it with just as high a quality for probably less than a tenth of the cost, especially when I leverage the free teenager labor in our house.  They love to work on Dad’s projects.  Ask Mitch about tiling the basement if you see him ; )

Enjoy the ride

The last main point is to enjoy the ride.  A couple years ago I read a book called Shop Class as Soulcraft:  An Inquiry into the Value of Work by Matthew Crawford.  Crawford writes about how we have lost the experience of working with our hands.  He’s not talking about experience as in gained knowledge, but experiencing the joy of working with our hands.  Crawford got his degree then started working in Corporate America.  He realized the cubicle life was not for him, quit, and started his own motorcycle repair business.  Talk about guts.  I think Crawford is on to something as we wrote about in our post about getting in the zone and “flow state.”  In addition, most entrepreneurs realize they are in for a long gritty slog, but need to step away from time to time and enjoy the successes they have achieved so far before returning to the salt mines.  Along those lines, I think this entrepreneur is going to enjoy the ride by going downstairs to have some of that lunch Mrs Woodworker just made.

Consider learning how to fish before you start eating that fish in front of you.  It will help you in woodworking, entrepreneurship, and life.

Woodworking and Minimalism: If I Buy All These Tools Am I a Minimalist?

minimalism tools
A Minimalist’s Set of Tools?

Mrs. Woodworker and I have been on a minimalism kick for a long time, way before it became “a thing.”  Our military moves (called Permanent Changes of Station, or PCS’) were terrific opportunities to get rid of things we hadn’t been using.  For example, we’d unpack boxes at our new duty station and say “I didn’t use this at the last house, why do I even have it?” then get rid of it.  We also have had a regular run to the local donation center for quite a while and are long-time users of eBay, Craigslist and Freecycle to get rid of things.

Can you be a minimalist and also a woodworker?  Some might say no, because of all the materials woodworkers use and the myriad of tools in our shops, but I’ll argue you can be a woodworking minimalist for a few of reasons.

First, I think the question needs to be asked why are you being a minimalist?  Josh and Ryan at www.theminimalists.com write about their focus on finding meaningful lives and the things that add value.  We’ve been following their podcast for some time now and just watched their new documentary.  Minimalists get rid of things and extraneous tasks so they can cultivate their passions.  They are aligned with their goals and passions.  If you are passionate about woodworking, then a minimalist would strip away everything that’s unnecessary in their lives so that they can pursue their woodworking craft.  It’s not about minimizing woodworking, it’s about minimizing in order to work wood.

Second, woodworkers can pursue their craft in a minimalist way.  One of those ways is to use sustainable materials and purchase lumber harvested from fallen timber.  Another way is to create our pieces using the minimum amount of wood possible.  That’s one of the reasons a cut list is so important:  to plan every piece out of the larger piece in order to minimize waste.  Along those lines, sometimes you can make something with scrap wood versus buying new wood.  A good example of this is the fairing stick project we wrote about in another post.  That project was made with leftover pieces from other projects.  A third way to pursue your craft in a minimalist way is to buy the minimum set of quality tools required to cultivate our passion.  Do you really need multiple power drills, for example, or can you buy one quality drill that does that job?  I purchased a core set of Festool that does about 90% of what I need to do.  Do I drool every time the hardware circular comes in the mail?  Sure.  But do I really NEED what they are selling?  Most of the time the answer is “no.”  A fourth way is to run a clean shop.  How many times have bought a part or piece of wood and didn’t realize you already had what you needed?  An organized shop will prevent a lot of those redundant buys.  Think about the best way to store your tools, hardware, and lumber so you can easily see what you already have.  Speaking of seeing what you have, it’s probably a good idea to survey all the tools in the shop on a regular basis and see which ones have not been used for a while.  It may be time to pare down and sell some of those tools on Craigslist.  Keeping a tool “just in case” is probably not a good reason to keep it.

Third, woodworkers are generally making custom pieces that are more solidly built than cheap furniture from the big box stores which minimizes the amount of furniture that needs to be produced. Since the pieces last a long time, they can be passed down from generation to generation and enjoyed over a longer period of time, not needing to be replaced as often.  This is a more sustainable model since it requires fewer trees and the large logistical tail to bring additional pieces of furniture to market.  Not only that, purchasing custom-made pieces supports the local economy which is more minimalist than having items shipped halfway around the world.  For example, for most pieces I make I’m buying wood, supplies, tools, etc. locally which help pay the wages of people in the local area and support local businesses.

My ultimate minimalist vision, though, is to harvest fallen wood on our own land and mill it for use in the pieces that we make.  We’re on that road now and are planning to downsize to a smaller house (and wood shop) next year then plan to eventually buy some land with a tiny house and wood shop.  We’ve learned a lot about small personal saw mills from sites like Pure Living for Life.  Check it out if you get a chance.  I’ll share more on our journey and the wood shop move in later blog posts.

I hope I’ve convinced you that we can be woodworkers and minimalists.  Chime in below.  What do you think?