Active Ownership vs. Minimalism

Minimalism is attractive. Clean lines, clean desks, and universal simplicity can be calming and the systematic removal of all but complete necessities can reduce distraction. A core goal of minimalism is that by removing everything ‘extra’, you may become freed by the constraints, dogmas, and physical implications they impose. Minimalism works to display the essence of something by removing anything but the purest basic form. Dependence is only placed on the base form of a concept, desire, or product. The output of this is less clutter in your apartment and your brain which demands less attention, less maintenance, and creates less of a cognitive deficit.

Cognitive deficit is caused by an overwhelming amount of stressors, open loops, and plain stuff on your mind and will reduce clarity of thought and impact mental capacity. The Wikipedia explanation gives examples of learning disabilities and drug-induced states as situations where a cognitive deficit exists but I think that everything in our lives—when not controlled—can combine to create a deficit. A cognitive deficit is caused when the cost of attention is greater than the returned value of something. Simplified, it’s when a thing costs you more in brain power by having it around than having it improves your life. Relevant to minimalism, reducing the amount of belongings to your name can diminish the amount of time you spending thinking about, caring for, and paying attention to them. That pile of stuff you don’t use under your bed is an open loop and commands more cognitive power than you realize. Minimalists recognize this and got rid of that pile.

Active ownership, which differs from minimalism, is about investing your limited attention, money, space, and time to what you value so that those things will thrive. Being vested in something makes you care more about it. You can’t do or have everything, so when you choose to take active ownership, it becomes a commitment to it and decisions and compromise have to be made about what commands your limited attention. As a result of the explicit choice you make in how you spend your attention, you reduce the things around you to what’s most valuable. What’s not valuable gets cut from your attention budget. You end up with less around you and are more focused on the basic forms of things, like with minimalism.

Active ownership and minimalism share values but are rooted in different theories. In minimalism, the focus is on removal, where having less leads to gaining more. Active ownership is about having the things that matter most to you and leaving behind everything that doesn’t. It’s not about having less because less stuff will simplify your path to enlightenment, but about taking an active role in what is around you, what you take in, what you believe and say, what you do and who you are. Active ownership assumes active responsibility where minimalism is dependent on the absence of everything extra—even what’s out of your control—to be effective. Having less of something doesn’t automatically mean that you’ll appreciate and value what remains but when you are making active decisions about where you invest your limited attention, you choose what to love rather than being forced to love only what you have left.

This process of actively owning, continuously editing what you do, and explicitly choosing what’s around you results in a deeper passion for those things and is worth investing in.