I was reading recently that when it comes to improving your life (or some aspect of it), people mostly default to looking for additive changes, ignoring subtractive ones. The feel like their life is missing something, so they look to add to it: Start doing yoga, get that fancy gadget, take that medicine, go on that vacation, find that special someone, apply for that promotion, and so on.

Only a very small group of people will default to looking instead at subtractive solutions. Add it to the list of ways I’ve discovered that I diverge from the typical person in my civilization.

I always look first to figure out what you can get rid of to solve a problem. If I feel like my life (or an aspect thereof) isn’t what I want it to be, I look for stuff to exorcise. Like cutting words out of a lengthy essay or a tumor out of your stomach, removing things generally feels like improving things to me.

There’s this joke where people use the term “retail therapy” to mean “when I’m sad, I buy myself something to cheer myself up.” But if I want to cheer myself up, I throw stuff away. If I need to be less stressed, I really just need to do less stuff.

Some people look at five objects and a shelf that only fits four and think “I need a new shelf.” I look at that and say “which of these objects am I throwing away today?”

Try it. The next time something feels wrong, try solving it by taking something away instead of by adding something. If nothing else, it’ll be a change of pace for most people and maybe lead to more creative thinking. But for some, it may just be exactly the change you need.

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