For the last couple of months I’ve been using my Instagram account to document the most mundane aspects of my life. Such riveting photos as a sink full of dirty dishes, an empty fast food container, and a bag of garbage sitting by my front door waiting to be taken to the dumpster. Truly boring stuff.
I don’t remember the exact moment of inspiration for the project but I do know the basic feeling I was reacting to when I decided to take my first exquisitely boring photograph. The slow accumulation of my friends’ exotic vacations, 5-star meals, and truly “I am having the time of my life” social events — all captured in high-fidelity (promptly pushed through a filter to make them look low-fidelity…) — eventually broke me. What used to be amazing had become mundane.
I’ve always loved learning about the boring details behind how people live and work. I love books like Mason Currey’s book Daily Rituals and I used to even run a website where I collected quotes from historical figures talking about their own working processes (it was called Getting History Done and it was awesome — but now defunct). I love the mundane.
Beyond my own kind of weird obsession with things most people don’t even think about, I think my love for the mundane was further ignited when I read Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. In it, he talks about the conditions for optimal experience and the idea that the quality of our lives is dictated by the overall quality of our attention across each moment. While he first investigated the flow experience in people participating in leisure activities like climbing, it isn’t a state of mind reserved for the obviously fun aspects of our lives. In fact, there’s no reason that we can’t learn to find flow in everything we do, including the incredibly mundane.
I love this idea. I think it’s incredibly powerful. The idea that regardless of what is happening in your environment you can still control the way you interact with it and the way you make sense of it. It’s inoculation against boredom! It’s a superpower that lets you be highly engaged with the world regardless of what you’re doing.
I think my little Instagram project is a tiny exercise in finding flow in the mundane. It helps me look at situations that otherwise would be so unremarkable as to not even enter my attention and engage with them in a semi-artistic way. Plus, it gives a more honest sense of what my life is really like. I think we could all use a dose of mundane honesty in our social media feeds and maybe recalibrate our sense of what it means to live a full and meaningful life.
If you want to follow along I’d love to have you join me on Instagram.
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