The Expansion-Reduction Cycle

The Expansion-Reduction Cycle
This post was written by Arne Dörries


As a minimalist, for a long time, I found myself in a dilemma situation.

On one hand, my inner minimalist always told me to not add too much weight to my life knowing that it would wear me down and take away from my inner peace and balance.

On the other hand, the explorative side of myself kept running around finding new metaphorical shiny objects in this vast world, pushing me to try out new things and to jump into unknown waters.

Eventually, I came up with a solution to satisfy both of these needs without sacrificing on either of them - the Expansion-Reduction Cycle.

In this post, I am explaining what the Expansion-Reduction Cycle is and how it is allowing me to freely explore and make changes to my life without getting overwhelmed in the process.

This post covers...

  1. 🔻 The problem
  2. 🔁 What the Expansion-Reduction Cycle is
  3. 🛠️ What it looks like practically
  4. 🌍 Conclusion

The Problem

Personally, I find that life is significantly more stressful, more tiring and just less enjoyable if I am trying to keep up with a million different things at the same time. Even though Voldemort looks kind of badass, having my attention and energy split up as much as his soul just doesn't give me much of an enjoyable life experience.

And the reason for that is simple: With too many things pulling on me, I have little room to breath because I constantly have to shift from one activity to another. As a result, it becomes difficult to really focus on one thing, it becomes difficult to put real intentionality into the multitude of things I am dealing with and it also means I never really get to really enjoy any of the many things on my plate.

The solution to this problem seems obvious: cutting down.

As a minimalist, I am well aware of this solution. Nonetheless, I sometimes struggle to follow it.

Especially when I have successfully cut everything down to the bare minimum of fundamental activities, projects,l possessions etc. and have managed to arrive at a place of peace, I often quickly find myself longing for new things again, physical and none-physical.

What the Expansion-Reduction Cycle is

The Expansion-Reduction Cycle solves this problem by acknowledging the value of both of these opposing approaches and phases - cutting down (Reduction) and adding (Expansion)

Like the name suggests, the Expansion-Reduction Cycle is a cycle consisting of an Expansion phase followed by a Reduction phase.

In the Expansion phase, you try things out, you sign up for things, you take on new projects, you test that product or service - in other words, you bulk up activities, projects, possessions and responsibilities and whatever else there may be.

In the Reduction phase, you cut back down on all of these things and reduce everything in your life back down to a more sustainably manageable amount of activities, projects, possessions and responsibilities.

In doing so, you cut the majority of the things you added in the previous Expansion phase and leave only the usually very few things from that Expansion phase which you genuinely consider worth keeping.

These gems left from the Expansion phase might substitute other things from before the Expansion phase. Or they might genuinely be additions to your life meaning your total amount of activities, projects, possessions and responsibilities might have actually increased a little bit.

Either way, after having gone through a cycle of expansion followed by reduction, you have made meaningful and intentional changes to your life (i.e. satisfied your explorative drive) whilst still having a really good grip on your life and not being in an overwhelming position of trying to uphold too many things at the same time.

What it looks like practically

Like always, there is no one way to go about practically implementing this concept of the Expansion-Reduction Cycle.

Personally, I like to not overly obsess over specifics and so I don't track my Expansion-Reduction Cycles with specific time intervals.

For me, having in mind these two types of phases (Expansion versus Reduction) and making myself aware of which one of them I am currently in and why, is sufficient to me to get all the benefits.

It gives me a sense of peace knowing that even when things do get messy or start becoming overwhelming, I know the next Reduction phase is just around the corner.

Equally, when I notice I am getting bored of my current circumstances, I know I can always move into another Expansion phase knowing that it'll give me the freedom to just explore without having to worry about overdoing myself.


Managing life can be a challenge. There is simply so much going on in every direction.

The Expansion-Reduction Cycle allows us to sustainably explore this vast mess of activities, projects, people, objects etc. by combining the benefits of both exploration and reduction.