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Kevin Meyer


The Liberating Lessons of Less

It’s your life; set it free

Published: Monday, February 22, 2016 - 18:05

My lean journey of more than 20 years has changed my life in many ways, perhaps none as pervasively as recognition of and disdain for waste.

Along with respect for people, waste awareness has changed my career, leadership style, and personal life. Observing waste has led to a life of increasing minimalism, which isn’t necessarily a bare-bones existence but one where every activity and object creates value or joy. Let’s take a look at some specific areas of impact.

In the home and office

We’ve all seen the photo of Steve Jobs in his extreme, minimalist living room. I’ve long been 5S-ing my garage, desk, and so forth. Of course, I should be asking myself why I have to do it multiple times—somehow I am not (or, ahem, others in my household are not) implementing the “sustain” step very well.

After recently reading Marie Kondo’s bestseller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Ten Speed Press, 2014), I’ve been devoting more time to this. Kondo goes a bit nuts with her approach, but it works, and it’s addictive. I thought I was a minimalist before, but the 20 or so bags of clothes, unused boxed food, books, and tchotchkes that left the house over the past few weeks has been stunning—and liberating. We are approaching the point where the house almost looks too empty, which leads me to my next point.

The home itself

For the last 15 years my wife and I have lived in a very nice, average-size house with an ocean view, unique architecture, and wineries all around. Like most people when their careers progress, we occasionally think about a new house, which almost led us to move to larger, even nicer homes over the years. Luckily we never pulled the trigger, as we’ve come to realize, especially after the last couple years of minimizing, that we need and want less. We want less storage and less floor space.

But there’s a problem: The nicer the home, typically, the bigger it is. With the help of an architect friend, we’ve been toying with new home designs. How little space can we get by with? How many fewer doors, walls, angles, and other “blocks” will lead to clean, usable space? A simple focus on minimizing doors creates some incredible designs, and that can feel liberating, even just on paper. I’m down to four interior doors in the latest design, and those are pocket doors to avoid consuming space. I’m obsessed with getting it down to three. Now to find some land in California with the ocean view we love.


Like most folks entering their 50s, a few pounds have crept up on me here and there. I’ve made the occasional effort to work it off, and have actually been fairly fit for a long time thanks to CrossFit and daily strength training. But the pounds remain. Then my friend, Paul Akers, wrote the book, Lean Health (FastCap Press, 2015), about his journey to lose what is now more than 50 pounds, all from a lean perspective. The concept of me being the customer resonated, and I soon realized that my concept of portion size was way, way off. Four months later I’m down 25 pounds, lower than I’ve been in 30 years, and have a lifestyle that can sustain it. Liberating—and it liberated a bunch of old clothes out of my closet for others to use!


My wife and I love to travel and have been to more than 60 countries. Travel widens your perspective well beyond what sound-bite television will tell you about the world. It’s scary how different reality is from commonly held opinions. Along the way we’ve become pretty good at traveling, perhaps because we like to plan a major part of our trip after we get to the destination and talk to locals, so we have to be flexible.

A couple years ago we spent a month bouncing around southeastern Africa with just a small carry-on bag each. This was partly driven by the limitations of small bush planes, but also because we simply didn’t need much. I can’t think of anything that we might have wished we had. In fact, there were some items we dragged along that we didn’t use. Not having to check bags and being able to quickly change the itinerary is liberating.


Up until a few years ago I chased every interesting project, every shiny ball, that came my way. In addition to my job, I was juggling all kinds of side projects, personal and professional, and not doing a great job at many of them. Then I started to make a concerted, mindful effort to reduce projects to just those that I was truly excited about.

A catalyst happened two years ago when I read Gregory McKeown’s Essentialism (Crown Business, 2014). He described the power of saying “no” politely and with respect for both yours and the requesting person’s time. Admittedly it’s still a struggle, but I’m pretty good at saying no. Being involved with fewer projects has given me more time, and also more success with the projects on which I am engaged, which is liberating.


It’s always been very easy for me to make decisions, sometimes too much so. I do trust my gut perhaps more than I should, which has served me well in the past. Of course, there’s less gut now, so perhaps I should be more careful! But I realize I’m a bit unusual that way (my wife would say in many ways), which became clear when I helped my mother in-law during the final two years of her life. Decisions became increasingly difficult for her, eventually to the point where she couldn’t decide which episode of Oprah to watch on her TiVo. Simple decisions completely paralyzed her.

I realized that decisions “take up space” in your head. The more decisions being juggled and contemplated without resolution, the more difficult it is to make them. Two approaches are needed to reduce this problem. First, make decisions, especially simple ones, as quickly as possible. Be mindful of exactly what information is needed to make the decision, get it, and make it. Also think about the potential downsides. The fewer or less impactful decisions are, the more you can trust your gut and make them quickly. Second, minimize decisions in the first place. Allow or empower others to make decisions, or simply don’t get into situations requiring decisions—perhaps by saying “no,” as I mentioned earlier. A head free from decisions is liberating.

There are obviously many other areas that respect for people and waste awareness will affect. I know someone who gets by with just one car for his family. It takes some initial work, but is liberating on many fronts. The CrossFit gym I go to is very small, intentionally. It has the basic equipment necessary to create a holistic, simple fitness experience for a small number of clients (mostly surfers).

Liberate yourself with less!

First published Feb. 7, 2016, on Kevin Meyer’s blog.


About The Author

Kevin Meyer’s picture

Kevin Meyer

Kevin Meyer has more than 25 years of executive leadership experience, primarily in the medical device industry, and has been active in lean manufacturing for more than 20 years serving as director and manager in operations and advanced engineering, and as CEO of a medical device manufacturing company. He consults and speaks at lean events; operates the online knowledgebase, Lean CEO, and the lean training portal, Lean Presentations; and is a partner in GembaAcademy.com, which provides lean training to more than 5,000 companies. Meyer is co-author of Evolving Excellence–Thoughts on Lean Enterprise Leadership (iUniverse Inc., 2007) and writes weekly on a blog of the same name.