Becoming a minimalist is a challenge

Column by Michael Norton


Have you ever considered yourself to be a minimalist in any area of your life? Becoming a minimalist takes work and needs to be done in moderation, at least for me.

For the past few years I have started the slow migration to becoming a minimalist. I have gone from carrying newspapers, magazines, books and a small Bible with me in my briefcase wherever I went, to downloading all of my reading materials onto an e-reader, and now have made the move to an iPad where I can store and access more from the cloud, including my music, notes, contacts, and all of my reading materials.

The problem that I have is this: I really miss my “real books.” You know, the hardcover kind, the paperbacks and even the magazines. I do enjoy the simplicity of downloading a book or magazine, but I really miss the time I would spend in the bookstore. The bookstore for me was one of my favorite places, my sanctuary. I could spend hours browsing, reading, and getting lost in a book. I even enjoyed the smell of the books, and there is nothing like being in a place with thousands of new books.

Here is the other problem I encountered while attempting to become a minimalist: too much access to too many things and too much information all in one location. Maybe it's my lack of focus, but I am literally a less productive reader than when I was reading just one book at a time. So many people know that I am a voracious reader and recommend books for me to read. So I research the book, and if it sounds interesting I download it. Before I know it, I have left one book and moved on to another before finishing the first one.

I convince myself that I will be back to finish the previous book, but it never happens. As a matter of fact, it only got worse. More people refer more books and I lose my self-control and download more books. The cycle repeats itself and I end up where I am today, partially through a half-dozen books. If I am to become a true minimalist when traveling, I have to discipline myself and limit myself to one active book at a time.

I wish that was the only challenge I had. You see, I read a lot of reference, business, faith-based and history books. I like to write notes in the margins and highlight and underscore the text. I know I can do that on my e-reader or iPad, but nowhere near as fast and as efficiently as I can with my pen and highlighters.

Lastly, as I sit in my office and make calls, write proposals, write columns and coach clients, I can look at my bookshelf and see all the titles right in front of me in one location. My eyes can scan my shelves while talking on the phone and I can immediately pull a book off the shelf and look for the dog-eared pages or sticky-note tabs and find what I am looking for right at that moment of need. When I thought about boxing up all of my books and when I imagined the empty shelves with a lone e-reader or iPad, I knew I had to find a happy medium and that going “all-in” with a digital solution was not the answer for me.

So I am back to the bookstore, back to carrying one book with me in my bag, enjoying the feel of the book, the smell of the ink (It's almost like that new-car smell, you know what I mean?), and the sound as I turn each page. And I also carry my iPad where I keep just a couple of active materials. I downloaded an awesome reference Bible and I use my reader for the magazines I enjoy and need to keep up with trends in my industry.

How about you — are you a virtual reader or do you enjoy reading a book you can touch and feel? If you have mastered the minimalist challenge when it comes to reading, I would love to hear all about it at I wish you all a better than good week.

Michael Norton, a resident of Highlands Ranch, is the former president of the Zig Ziglar organization and CEO and founder of


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