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Take Things Away And Get More Than You Started With

When we think about ways to improve and make changes, adding more seems like the obvious solution. We want to add more things, in more places, and with more people. We add more stuff. We add more options. We add more ingredients.

We rarely consider the possibility that taking away might offer us something more.

We rarely consider subtraction for its own sake; it's more likely that someone informs us of the possibility. And even when we do envision something negative being taken away, our natural response is to like what’s left over.

Why do we pay more attention to addition than subtraction?

Thanks to billions of years of evolution, thousands of years of society and hundreds or so year-old economic system, we think about improving things by simply adding more.

  1. Evolution: Our ancestors were hunters and gatherers, and they developed an instinct for acquiring resources. Food once played a major role in the lives of human beings. But as they solved that issue, other needs arose—such as making clothes, inventing devices to make life easier and accumulating knowledge about how things work.

  2. Society: Our society is built on MORE. We need more money, more food, more land, more clothes. We strive for it in our careers and in our relationships. We want to be better than we are. We want to be richer, thinner, taller, smarter. And there's nothing wrong with that! It's great to want things, but we shouldn't let wanting "more" become the only thing we can think about. We should also think about how we can make our lives better by paying attention to what makes us happy right now—not just what will make us happier later on down the road.

  3. Economy: We all know that the economy is a case for more. Your home is worth more if you add square footage, and the more you consume, the better for society. So it makes sense to keep buying more stuff, right?

Because we have lived for so long in an environment that focuses on expansion and growth, most of us tend to see improvement as a matter of adding something rather than taking away.

It’s more mentally taxing to become aware of opportunities for subtraction—but once you do, the benefits will be obvious.

We’re all about products and services that add value to your life. But when it comes down to it, there are a few things we just don’t need.

How many times has someone said something like “Don’t worry about the cost! This is an investment!” or “You can afford it—you just don’t want to spend the money!”? And how many times have you bought something because of those words?

When we think about cutting out unnecessary purchases and expenses, our minds tend to go straight to things like cable TV or eating out instead of cooking at home. There are other areas of your life, however, where you might be able to save some cash without even realizing it—and once you start looking around, you may find that these areas offer even more opportunities than those we usually consider first.

Subtraction happens when you stop doing something that is not a requirement in order to make room for the things that are more important. Many of our actions are self-imposed anyway—we do them because we think we should, but often these actions aren't necessary to achieve what's most important to us.

Subtracting is not the same as emptiness. Subtraction means actively taking away from an original state, whereas emptiness suggests a passive absence of what was there before. So be careful to enjoy subtracting for its own sake—not because you're striving toward some preconceived end state (less).