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Issue #17

Disability and Minimalism

John Loeppky

September 6, 2023

Two people are engaged in a pinky swear. The background of the photo is a brick wall. One person’s fingernails are painted red
This image is so minimalist that it’s missing people’s bodies/ Cheryl Holt from Pixabay

Does this Wheelchair Make Me Look like a Maximalist?

There’s a line in poet and teacher Taylor Mali’s piece “I Could Be a Poet” where he says, “I can think of incongruous images like a Marxist with a trust fund/ a Porsche pulling a Uhaul/ a lobsterman in birkenstocks, sipping a cappuccino, his pinky pointing towards the sky.” And that, my friends, encapsulated my entire thought process when it came to disability and the concept of minimalism. It had, to my mind, an inherent contradiction. Most years, when I go to check in with my insurance company, they ask me why I need so much coverage. My answer? Wheelchairs are fucking expensive. I am not exactly the poster boy for a singular wardrobe and a bare cupboard, as Matt D’Avella has playfully pointed out on his own channel, but I do feel a bit of a cheap thrill from throwing stuff out. That was my context.

I would, however, love to be a minimalist—or at least to integrate some of its teachings. I stopped listening to the Minimalists podcast—hosted by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus—a few years ago because it got to the point where I felt they were shoehorning minimalism into every facet of the day. I get that this is a productivity newsletter, but I’m also aware that some things deserve to be messy, they need to be overloaded, they need chaos, like my dearly departed friend Arley’s garden did to thrive.

This isn’t to say disabled people can’t be minimalists. My former teammate (and bajillion-time Paralympian) Lisa Franks spends a fair amount of her time travelling in a wheelchair accessible home on wheels. That takes, as far as I can tell, a fair bit of inventory culling. I tried a minimalist wardrobe for a while, but I found it sensorily overwhelming to wear the same fabrics over and over. Me? Neurodivergent? You don’t say.

But last week I clicked on a video hosted by Tiago Forte—you can read more of my thoughts about his work here—and The Minimalists. They discussed a number of concepts related to minimalist productivity, but one stuck out. One of the participants said that he frames his work around where he is promised.

Taking their lead, here’s where I am promised today, in both the abstract and the real. 

  • I have promised an article to an editor
  • I have promised edits to two other editors
  • I have promised you, the audience, this newsletter
  • I have promised myself an hour of business development (if you want to work with me click here, by the way)
  • I have promised to cook dinner
  • I have promised myself a half hour of self care

That, to put it bluntly is too many things. I think we can often think, as I probably did, that minimalism is just about things and stuff, the menagerie of shit we surround ourselves with, but within cripping productivity I think it can be valuable to pare down these promises and expectations to see how we can build from them instead of build around them. And so, a question for you: Where are you promised and how can you scale those promises back?

Until tomorrow!


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I've decided to shift CRPL to a 5 times a week newsletter about productivity as I am fascinated by the topic, am in the early stage of writing a book about it, and want to have a place to think, and write, and create work about this vital area of thinking. Click below to join the daily newsletter and/or to help financially support this project.