The Complete Minimalist

©2010 Patrick Clark, reprint only with written permission of author

About ten years ago I could have written a book about how to be a complete slob: How to Do Everything Wrong and Be the Most Ineffective. Things like spread your books and papers all over the place, be late for every meeting, and not be able to find your socks or your keys. Instead, I decided to work on myself and spent the following years reading and obsorbing everything I could on clutter clearing, time management, and how to be effective. As it turned out this was just the thing needed to prepare for the tough economic times that lay ahead. In the process I was designing a new way of thinking about furniture and the office work station that would revolutionize people’s lives. And people who I admired because they seemed so organized or together now look a bit cluttered and lost with excess baggage and headaches in their lives.

These principles: thanks to a grant to learn Lean Manufacturing– have been put into use in my own manufacturing company to actually double the output and cut labor in half. This has allowed Carolina Morning Designs to remain in the same small building even though our capacity has grown 200%.  Carolina Morning Designs was considering moving to a larger building years ago but instead we went “lean”. The North Carolina Industrial Extension service was teaching and preaching lean as a way to make American Made products compete in the Global Market.

And these principles have been applied in home living settings with equal success.The idea of interior decoration takes on a new twist. So much room can be freed up easily and comfortably with these principles that many people could have an extra room or two to rent out. I have whittled down my own personal belongings to be able to pack almost everything I own (not kitchen and bath stuff) into a two door Toyota Tercell. I can go on vacation and set up the same arrangement as where I live. Alternatively, I could essentially move using a bicycle trailer and several trips. I told this to a friend who is an art collector and he was not impressed. I have spent 10 years getting rid of stuff and downscaling and some people just don’t get it. Okay, it’s not for everyone, but I see minimalism as an art form in itself. In a company it increases profit, in a personal life it increases time to enjoy the important things.

My approach started with my interest in backpacking. Backpacking or bicycle touring is perhaps the best exercise in the art of minimalism. Putting everything you will need for several days and nights into one bag that you will carry on your back makes you think of “stuff” in a new way. A well planned backpacking trip leaves no room for items that are not essential. You need the energy for walking. You economize in every way you can–shrinking things down to the bare bones of survival. Volume, weight, ease of access, ergonomics, calories all must be considered. Like Henry David Thoreau, you are uninhibited by needless complications –you can think about the important things. How could I be so together when it came to packing for days everything I would need for eating, sleeping, and wearing but I didn’t fit in too well with the modern world?

After decades of trying to fit in with no success, I finally reinvented the office with a work station and a system of organizing that would work for me. The philosophy of backpacking is minimalism, but the philosophy of the modern world at the time was overconsumption and excess. They just didn’t mesh. I had to find a way to integrate the backpacking philosophy into daily life.

However, the time has now come when minimalism is the new trend in society. People are cutting back on spending in every direction and efficient use of space and time is an important aspect of success. There is no room or time to waste and those who don’t consider this are falling prey to excess overhead. Few people know how to live and work with ‘lean’ principles. People were not preparing for this.

Now step out of the woods and into the modern home or office.

After reading at least a couple dozen books on how to get organized and tinkering with the “dynamic office” concept, I can now lay out my plan in a step by step approach. Engineers have been so busy designing satellites and laptop computers they haven’t had time to look at their own work station. The work station is where most of us spend almost a third of our lives. The effectivenes of our work station and home organizing system can make or break our success in life, which I found out the hard way. We no longer have the luxury of just plunkig down our stuff any old place. And even if we could there are inherent flaws in the design that cause other problems. How can we design our interior space like we design a backpacking expedition.

Principles of the Compleat Minimalist

1–Portable, Compact, Knock-Down

The main thing to keep in mind is “Go Light”. Most furniture is bulky and takes up more space than it needs to perform its task. When moving time comes it is expensive and a pain. If everything could just knock down in seconds and pack flat, relocating would be much easier.  It would be quick, easy and inexpensive to respond to changing needs. More people could fit in a smaller space. Spaces could be rearranged as needs and fuctions evolve. The untrained observer will not see all the wasted space I see. Couches with huge armrests that are completely unneeded, desks that take up half the office with free space in the air above, upholstered chairs where the padding could be detachable, fixed shelfs without adjustability.


One of the best examples of this principle is my new idea to lift weights while at my desk. This pretty much eliminates the need for an ‘excersize room’ or a bulky set of equipment that most people see as essential to stay in shape. I work out all day long and hardly sweat. I’ve talked to a few personal trainers who have told me slow and light and slow is the best way. My ‘gym’ (two iron bars which act as dumbbells) fit unter the two inch space between my desk and the floor. Of course other cultures like the Plains Indians and the Japanese are experts at multifunction spaces and minimalism.

The Tilt Seat is another prime example. It can be a desk when sitting on a bed or the floor, a chair when sitting ON it, or a work stant to put papers when using the Stand Up Eco Desk. (see illustrations)/ With all these uses out of one piece of furniture, there is a lot less space taken up. Wheels are often a real good idea to help move furniture out of the way or to wherever you need it. (see illustration of printer/assembly)

Furniture that is basically set in stone is unmovable to make the space available for other uses. Of course you don’t want to move everything, but to put the fixed furniture against a wall and streamlined as much as possible is the idea. Chairs and light tables could be moved when the floor is needed for something else. Also, most desks and tables could be much sleeker and narrower without compromising functionality.

[photo of Forest Millwork’s bar desks]

4–ergonomic (enhances human energy rather than zaps it.)

5–Use verticle space

6–A place for every item and every item in its place.

7–5 S System



Hierarchi of needs.


Cut out waste and excess.


Test and fine tune, make adjustments.


Clean, polish, maintain, put things away. Daily, weekly, monthly and yearly periods can be built into your schedule.

8–Design for Fung Shui and dust. Dust is a health hazard and erodes moralw.  A good design will make it easy to dust and clean so it is more likely to happen. General principles for dust managment are to containerize everything possible, even books and papers and to leave open floor space with no hard to reach areas.

9–Fire Engine Philosophy

Have your act together BEFORE an emergency/ before a deadline/ before a crisis. You will respond quicker and be able to run out the door and deal.

ur time and space could be engineered with at least a bit of the sophisticationidea into daily life.

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