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Leo Babauta, “A call for simplicity in this age of chaos.”

Over the last month, I’ve been interviewing amazing bloggers about minimalism, location independence, financial freedom and more. Every Thursday, a feature interview is posted on RowdyKittens.

This week the feature interview is with Leo Babauta of Zen Habits and mnmlist. We talked about work-life balance, minimal moving, community and more.

I don’t think Leo knows this, but his writing has influenced my life choices tremendously. Thanks to the tips and tools in Leo’s blogs and books, I escaped my cubicle and am pursuing my dreams. Thank you Leo!

Enjoy the interview peeps!


Tammy Strobel: One of the best things about simple living is having the time to spend with family and work on projects you love. Can you recommend several ways that our readers can start to cultivate a work-life balance?

Leo Babauta: It’s as simple (and difficult) as figuring out your priorities, and then living them — building your life around them.

Several years ago, I knew that my wife and kids were my priority, yet when I looked at how I spent my time, I had very little time for them. Most of my time was spent at a job I hated. My life and my priorities didn’t match at all.

So I sat down, and made a list of the 4 things that were most important to me — that gave me joy. Then I started eliminating everything in my life that didn’t match these priorities, slowly getting out of commitments.

Once I cleared up my time, I dedicated the time I had to these things: my family, my writing, reading and running. Anyone can do this. It just takes a commitment, and it takes time.

Tammy: I love your manifesto, focus. Can you tell our readers a little bit about the book and why you decided to write it?

Leo: It’s a call for simplicity in this age of chaos, information overload, and distraction. It’s a call for finding solitude among ultra-networking, for disconnecting when we’re always connected, for focusing on what’s important rather than what gets our attention at this second.

I wrote it because I think it’s necessary in today’s world. I love our new global community, and embrace technology, but we cannot let technology control us. It should serve us, not the other way around. And so I’m advocating a step back, a rethinking of how we work and live, and taking back control of our attention.

Tammy: Recently, I finished reading The Story of Stuff. One of the reoccurring messages in the book is about the importance of connecting to community. Online connections are extremely valuable, however many of my friends struggle with finding a balance between their online and local communities. How do you navigate this balance?

Leo: It’s a balance that’s still up in the air for all of us. The very question of local vs. online communities is in question: what’s the difference? Where is the line drawn? Which is better than the other?

As online apps become location-aware, and mobile devices such as the iPad and iPhone become more ubiquitous, the line between the two communities blurs, and how and whether to separate the two becomes a more difficult question.

My solution so far has been to disconnect. I work and talk online, but then I disconnect, get away from the computer and out into the real world, and I don’t bring any mobile devices. It’s a wonderful way to find calm, peace, space to think, and connection with real people.

However, whether this is for everyone and whether it will remain a viable solution in years to come remains to be seen.

Tammy: You have a post titled, “The Creativity of Constraints“, which discusses focus, creativity and thinking outside the box. Can you suggest three ways our readers can start to cultivate creativity in their lives?

Leo: Sure — here are three things to get you started:

  • Read stuff by others who are creating great things, and about others who have succeeded, and allow yourself to be inspired by them. Limit your reading time so that you learn to read the best stuff in your limited time.
  • Disconnect. The best novels, paintings, music, and blogs are created when the creator is disconnected from the world. Creating is done, at its best, in isolation.
  • When you’re ready to create, limit yourself. Express yourself in just 400 words (for example), or give yourself a limited palate or feature set. Then learn to use those limitations, to force yourself to be more creative within them.

Tammy: Books have changed my life for the better and I’m a big book geek. I’m always curious about what other folks are currently reading. What books have you read recently and do you have any recommendations?

Leo: I’m absolutely a book lover. Recently I’ve read “The Blind Assassin” by Margaret Atwood and “Fortress of Solitude” by Jonathan Lethem, and both are absolute masterpieces. I’ve also read “The Associate” by John Grisham, “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall, both of which were decent but not at the same level. I just started Lethem’s latest novel, “Chronic City“.  Also, if you haven’t read “The Help“, “Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress“, or anything by Nick Hornby, Murakami, William Gibson, Ann Patchett, Kazuo Ishiguro or Terry Pratchett, go read them now!

Tammy: We recently moved to Portland and had more stuff to transport than we expected. I know you’ll be moving to San Francisco soon. What are your thoughts on minimalist moving?

Leo: Bring as little as possible. We’re selling or giving away everything, and bringing a handful of clothes (3-4 days worth) and my laptop. We’ll find a place when we get to San Francisco, and stock it carefully and sparingly with (mostly) used stuff. It’s hassle free!

Tammy: You recently went from owning 100 things to 50 things. When do you think you’ll be done eliminating your possessions?

Leo: When there isn’t anything left to give up — when I’m down to the essentials.

However, this is a moving target. For example, for me, my running shoes are essential — at this moment. But I’m learning to run barefoot, and soon I won’t need the running shoes anymore. There’s always things that I can learn to do without, eventually, as I learn to need less and less.

I hope never to try to become nudist, or homeless, but other than that, there’s nothing that’s sacred.

Thanks Leo!

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  • Mohamed Shedou April 22, 2010, 8:06 am

    The best idea I came out from this interview with is this:
    “So I sat down, and made a list of the 4 things that were most important to me — that gave me joy. Then I started eliminating everything in my life that didn’t match these priorities, slowly getting out of commitments.”

    I too find pleasure in a few things that I want to have more time to do, reading, writing, walking, and thinking of ways to make the world a better place. It’s insane to waste 40 hours a week (plus commute!) doing something we don’t believe in! After some time in any job, once I learn everything and find that most of my time is spent doing and re doing the same things, I get into depression and start hating my job. It’s not easy, but we have to make the decision to get out of this prison, and one sure way is to stop worrying and spending money on things we don’t need, because this will just prolonge our enslavement to our paycheck!

    • Tammy April 22, 2010, 2:50 pm

      @Mohamed – thanks for leaving such a thoughtful comment. I couldn’t agree more. If you stop buying things you don’t need, you’ll be able to exit your current job and pursue your true passion. Keep me posted on how things go for you! 🙂 Thanks for reading RowdyKittens.

  • Loganenator April 22, 2010, 8:48 am

    Fantastic interview! Great questions that were addressed with thoughtful, succinct, and articulate answers. This was a wonderful post and I really enjoyed it. 🙂

  • Jane Rochelle April 22, 2010, 5:45 pm

    Tammy and Leo,

    Many thanks to you both for the great interview. In getting ready for my upcoming move I’ve minimized alot, but it isn’t easy, and I still have quite a ways to go. I get really excited and inspired when I read your success stories, and tips that keep me moving forward.

    It has also been my experience that exploring the outside world stimulates my creativity. Sometimes when I’m out hiking I’m desperate to remember the creaking of the trees or the smell of the moss until I can get home and write it down. Then the trick is to find a quiet time and place to turn that writing into a post or story.

    One step at a time….I’ll get there one day really soon.
    Take good care!
    Jane PS, Leo, I’m worried for your feet….be nice to them! 🙂

  • Tyron April 22, 2010, 10:01 pm

    Leo’s life and philosophy is the reason for me becoming a minimalist and pursuing the stuff that makes me happy:) A great inspiration! Thanks Tammy for another great interview!

  • Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell April 23, 2010, 3:51 am

    Great interview, Tammy! I love Leo’s line of thinking.

  • Zengirl @ heart and mind April 23, 2010, 3:34 pm


    I love your interview series here, Leo is someone who has inspired me like many others, so I am always amazed to learn something new from his writing and interview and that is the case here as well. Congratulations on wonderful interview.

    Good luck on move and thank you for being an inspiration!!

  • Brian August 19, 2010, 5:01 pm

    I am reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett right now (with about 100 pages to go) and second Leo’s recommendation. For those that like The Help, I’ll also recommend Mudbound by Hillary Jordan and Serena by Ron Rash.