Your Life is a 4×4 Inch Box Why subtracting things from your life makes you happier

More is better. 

These three words form the basis of all human striving. We strive for more people to meet, more gadgets to buy, more events to experience. The question is mainly: “What more could I add?”. 

But more is only better when the value you get is greater than the cost you pay. The question we often forget to ask “What is the cost?”. The reality is that all things have a cost, even those things which are free. You always pay in time.

Imagine you are invited to the world’s largest all-you-can-eat buffet. As you walk into the restaurant you see endless tables with more dishes than you can possibly count. The buffet represents life’s limitless options. You are then handed a 4×4 inch lunch box.

This tiny little box is your limited time.

Each day you are invited back to the buffet, but you can only fill your box once per day. Some dishes you can choose one day and forgo the next. Other dishes, like schools, jobs and relationships, require you to commit to them over a long period of time if you want to enjoy them at all.

Like this buffet, your task in life is to select whatever combination of activities that you enjoy the most. Once your box is filled, you can only add something by taking something else out. But when adding something new we often forget to ask this crucial question: 

“Is it worth my time?”

Imagine that your lunch box is 90% filled with 10/10 activities and 10% filled with 4/10 activities. Now imagine you are offered an activity you value 6/10. Should you add this activity to your box? 

It depends on what you decide to take out

Replace the 4/10 activity and it is a good trade. Replace one 10/10 activity and you just traded down to a lesser life. Whenever you add something new to your box, just must know what you take out. 

There is also a second option: just cut the 4/10 activity and give more time to the 10/10 activities you already enjoy. 

Finding a new activity to add assumes your time is unlimited.

It isn’t.

All you got is this tiny 4×4 inch box. Keep adding new activities and you soon end up diluting your life with low-quality clutter. Remove this clutter and you will experience more joy and success again.

Do you have a piece of clothing you no longer use? Why not donate it and free up space for better clothes? Do you receive a weekly email you never bother to read? Why not unsubscribe and free up your inbox for more enjoyable reads? Do you have a relationship that gives you little value? Why not see this person less and free up time for those you would move heaven and earth for? 

Subtraction is not about limiting your life. It is about freeing up your limited time for even better things.

My goal in life is to one day survey life’s entire buffet and then, cheerfully, say: “Thank you for all the offers, but my lunch box is already perfect as it is.” 

What could you subtract from your life to free up time for something better?