Minimal, not limited

A few years ago I made the decision to simplify my digital and analog tools. I decided to embrace minimalism in all areas of my life, but I focused mostly on the aforementioned tools. What else could I do with a closet full of the same black clothes and a pleasantly empty apartment?

I started minimalizing as soon as I could, which was the moment I made that decision. And I was merciless and relentless. I went almost exclusively with stock applications. I was already an Apple user, so those tools were fine, simple, but fine. And it worked for me for a couple of years.

Until recently. I realized that using Apple Notes for journaling was a great idea when I had fifty notes. Years later, when the number increased to thousands, it wasn’t a good idea anymore.

It was a time to reverse some decisions and rethink the whole system. I realized that I made some mistakes, but some decisions were good. I started to make all the necessary improvements and here is the summary of what I did and why.

The good

The most important decision I made was that I don’t want to pay for something I don’t need. It doesn’t mean that I’m cheap and I don’t like to pay for a tool that I use. The reason for this decision was strictly dictated by my minimalism. If the tool I have is good enough to do the job, there’s no need to buy another one.

I also rejected the idea of subscriptions for the tools I use. I don’t like the idea of renting my tools, I prefer to own them. I know there are different opinions about this, I know there are arguments that developers need to have a healthy cash flow. I understand that. My reason isn’t financial. It’s ideological. I want to open my files, notes, whatever, even if I don’t have cash to pay for the subscription. That’s all.

The third decision I’m glad I made was to try the stock apps. They have some limitations, they’re not best in class, they keep me in Apple’s walled garden, but for now I’m okay with that. I know the day may come when I leave Apple, but I’m ready for that. The most important things are my texts and my drawings. These are currently stored as files, backed up by Time Machine, and copied to another hard drive on a regular basis. What I could potentially lose are my notes and reminders, and… I don’t care about those. Notes are temporary, reminders even more so, I can live without them and I’m not afraid to use Apple applications for them. Even my journal isn’t something I’d miss much, I’ve had a lot of journals in my life that I’ve burned. Journaling is important to me in the moment of writing. It’s a tool I use to clear my mind, not to store the history of my life.

The bad

I rejected all but the most basic tools. I tried to use one app for all notes, one for all reminders, one for… well, I tried to limit the number of apps as much as possible. And I lost the whole idea somewhere along the way. As a result, I had a mess of notes where sketches of drawings were mixed with business notes, meeting minutes, and my personal journal.

The next mistake I made was… rejecting my own rules. At some point I forgot why I was rejecting subscriptions and started adding them one by one. The bad thing about subscription apps is that they often don’t use files, but proprietary databases. I realized that it’s almost the same case: apps that require me to pay a monthly fee are the same ones that don’t allow me to freely access my data with other apps. I ended up in a place where I had few applications with monthly payment. Not many, I have to admit, but some. And even those few were too many.

And another mistake. I thought databases were better than files. They’re not. As I wrote earlier, they are great for things that are ephemeral by nature, like (my) notes and reminders, but it was a terrible idea for things that should last.

The solution

The solution was simple. Stop for a moment, rethink what I need from my tools and what I use them for, and make some improvements. I did three things.

Cancel subscriptions

I canceled the few I had left. I exported all the data I needed, made some changes where necessary, and deleted those applications. I’d like to describe the reasons and what replaced those apps in a separate post.

Moving to the files

I took my works from the proprietary databases and saved them as files. Then I made backups and made sure that I can access those files from different machines and systems. I can, I’m happy with it.

Adding tools

The third thing was the hardest. I had to stop being stubborn and start embracing some tools that could help me. I installed an app for my journal and that was the first and biggest step I took.

Later, I added a read-it-later app, which helped me organize everything I wanted to read at some point in the future.

The last thing I added for now was an additional chat app. I decided to install Signal because it’s a good compromise between usability, security, privacy and design. It’s not perfect, it’s far from perfect, but it works. I decided to add a chat app just to be able to chat with people abroad who don’t use Apple devices.

Quick summary

No, I don’t want to make bullet points like some corporate bullshit article. I want to write a few words to underscore the most important lesson I’ve learned from the above actions. Minimalism is not about having fewer tools, it’s about having the right tools. That’s it. It’s not a bad thing to add one more tool, as long as it has its own purpose and its data can be easily moved to another application, or is ephemeral and can be lost at any time. The most important thing is to have fun doing things and not to struggle with limited tools.