Choose Subtraction, Not Addition

It is not a daily increase, but a daily decrease. Hack away at the inessentials.

Bruce Lee

In math class, I always appreciated addition more than subtraction. It seemed easier to wrap my mind around adding more rather than taking away, especially when taking away brought the total into negative numbers.

Apparently, I am not alone in this– and our preference for adding rather than taking away doesn’t just happen in math class, either. It actually happens in our decision-making and problem-solving.

We Lean Towards Addition Rather Than Subtraction

Recently, there were multiple studies done in which participants were given the task to improve on a design, or change something about the given situation. For most people, their first reaction was to add something to solve the problem/make a beneficial change.

When thinking through the process longer, they were able to arrive at possibilities that included subtraction or taking something away– but many did not think longer, and went with their first reaction to add.

This tendency to add rather than subtract means that we are missing out on so many options to improve and change our lives for the better through subtraction. Always adding rather than subtracting keeps us from truly experiencing what taking away can do to help us improve and solve issues.

Taking the Time and Energy to Subtract

These studies show us that, when we are going with our first thoughts, we seem to be hardwired to add on rather than take away. It’s often the faster and easier choice.

But if we consistently go with our automatic gut reaction to add, we are trying to solving our life’s problems by actually adding to our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual clutter. It takes more time and energy to subtract, but it means having a life free of excess and space to breathe and think.

We can combat our initial reaction to add by reminding ourselves to consider the option of taking things away. Simply taking the time and energy to consider subtraction possibilities can help us to rewire our own addition tendencies.

Progress is achieved not through addition but through subtraction.

The Minimalists

Subtraction Means More for Others

Not only does choosing subtraction over addition help improve our lives and free us from excess– it also helps us to help others.

Jesus tells the crowd (and us) exactly this in the Gospel of Luke:

And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”

Luke 3:10-11

Consumer culture tells us that we constantly need to add more. Jesus, on the other hand, invites us to share with others when we have more than we need. When we subtract material possessions, time commitments, continuous impulse spending, etc., we have more resources and are better able to share with others in need.

Choosing subtraction over addition improves our own lives, and helps us to help others as well. How is God inviting you personally to choose subtraction to better your own life and share with others?

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About 
Becca Ehrlich, AKA The Christian Minimalist, is striving to be a Christian minimalist in a consumer society. She currently lives in Philadelphia, PA with her husband Will. You can read more about her story and how her blog came to exist by clicking the website link above.

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