Mental space is a precious resource.


My family got our first computer in 1995 when hard drive space was a rare commodity. Back then, most people had to be vigilant about the programs they installed because each new program would eat away at precious space and fragment the disk’s contents, causing the computer to run more sluggishly.

There was a Windows utility called Disk Defragmenter that would help with this. When you launched Disk Defragmenter, it would play a real-time visualization of your fragmented system as it systematically scanned, cleaned, and reorganized it, byte by precious byte. I loved Disk Defragmenter. It was like spring cleaning for your computer.

These days, I no longer need Disk Defragmenter, but I have found my creative machine requires its own analog equivalent to help me operate more mindfully.

One of my challenges with art is that I love using a wide range of tools. This preference isn’t a problem when I’m creating at home, but as soon as I want to venture into the field, I’m faced with storage capacity limits and efficiency issues with each progressive tool I add to my kit. All those tools add up in more ways than just weight.

The Stoics understood the cost of an item isn’t limited to its sale price but what an item costs the owner to own with its potential gain in anxiety and loss of serenity. Knowing this helped them focus on the true worth of things, evaluating goods by their utility.

I try to apply this approach to all things in life, though I find it more challenging with my art kits, so to combat this tendency, I task myself with re-examining my tools often, asking myself what is essential and what can be removed in order to create an increasingly more intentional kit.

Part of a recent kit overhaul included me weighing each item from my kit both theoretically and literally to see if they were worth their mental and physical weight. It was a good exercise in challenging myself to be more intentional with my choices and monitor just how heavy all those options can become.

Most areas in life, however, are not as straightforward in evaluating value. We cannot place our worries on a literal scale to help us determine what fits us best, but we can devote intentional questioning to examine what other areas of our lives could do well from a good defragmenting. I’d wager all of them.

Afterthoughts: “Kit Defragmenter” (aka me) scanned, cleaned, and reorganized, tool by tool, and my kit is again optimized…for now…until another tool is added to the mix and the scan must be run again. My Art Toolkit watercolor palette has become a cornerstone of my kit, allowing me to bring along the rainbow in a tiny bag.

My revamped running kit (I have two kits; the has a few more tools in it). This kit weighs in at ~.75 pounds/~450 grams including the sketchbook.