All Posts in Lifestyle

January 17, 2019

Make Room

A nomadic lesson in appreciating space with fewer things.

College was so much easier. Living in a dorm room with limited space molded me into a minimalist… as if I really had a choice. I had two drawers and a small closet that could barely fit my guitar. Even if I wanted to own a lot of stuff, I didn’t have the space. I could complain about the lack of space, but the room was effective. I didn’t need much to live on—a few sets of clothes, my laptop, and my guitar. It’s all I owned. It was simple.

Five years later, moving from a dorm room to a three bedroom home began to change my mindset about owning items. Of course, during those years, the space gradually grew and the things I accumulated went unnoticeable until I moved again. It’s interesting to see that we collect things to fit the space we own. This realization couldn’t have been more clear than when I received a notification that I was going to be stationed in Colorado for my second assignment. You see, I was now in the Air Force. I had a family, more money, and more space. I did what most people do when they have more disposable income. I bought more stuff.

A big TV, power tools, sporting equipment, tech gadgets, kitchen stuff, and yard furniture. It was exhausting having to handle all that stuff when it came time to move. A funny thing is that after 4 years in that house my wife and I decided to unbox the last few boxes in our closet that we never got around to and apparently never really needed. Once the final box was unpacked, I made a Facebook post that said, “Now that our last box is unpacked, watch us get orders to another place.” Sure enough, later that afternoon I received an assignment to Colorado. Quite comical, yet at the same time frustrating.

The following week we began throwing things away and packing up only what we needed, as we weren’t sure what size our new home would be. If you’re aware of the housing market in Colorado, specifically Boulder, it’s quite expensive. We had to downsize to a two bedroom apartment which meant most of our stuff was going in storage. We kept the essential items for use and put everything else in storage. For almost two years, the items stayed in storage until we moved again. A year in our new home added up even more stuff. Fast forward another year and we still had boxes unopened in the closet and here came another assignment. Another move. Another purge. We downsized drastically. I think we finally learned our lesson.

All our memories from each move didn’t involve stuff. It involved experiencing new things. Eating new foods. Family trips. Getting ice cream. None of that involved items at our house. The true value came from each other.

On my next assignment, I only moved with one duffle bag, a carry on suitcase, and a backpack with my laptop and camera. I’ve been here for two months with quite literally the minimum. 

After learning my lesson from the previous three moves, I’ve come to appreciate the time I had in my dorm years ago. It was so much simpler with fewer things and even with less space. I now have a four bedroom house with more space than I’ll ever need, but there is no desire to fill it. Space feels good when it’s not filled.

Take it from a nomad that has learned what it’s like to live with less and what it’s like to live with a lot stuff. This is the fourth move in under nine years. Life is so much easier when you don’t have to manage things you’ll never need or don’t use. I’ve learned that stuff is not as valuable or important as we make it out to be. The things I might need are not worth keeping just in case I may need them. Don’t waste the room, get rid of the stuff. Make room for experiences. Make room for memories. Make room for what’s more valuable—people.

January 10, 2019

A Reluctant Minimalist

Why I’m slowly becoming minimalist, one step at a time.

I’ve always been a waster. I would waste money on stuff I didn’t need, waste time on things that didn’t matter. My life was cluttered, crammed full of possessions and side projects because I thought that’s what life was about. I thought that my growing accumulation was proof that I was alive.

Then something happened.

Earlier this year, I took stock of all this stuff that I’d been collecting and I began to realize that a great deal of it didn’t matter to me. It held no value. I’d spent all of my life hoarding every single thing I possibly could, and I ended up losing focus on what truly mattered to me. I used to crave each and every iPhone that came out. I’d spend my money on gadgets that I didn’t even use. I’d create numerous personal projects and lose interest within weeks.

I started to think about why I was doing all of this and I couldn’t provide an answer that made sense. I realized that I’d been conditioned all my life to constantly want more. As a young child, I was an avid consumer of TV, movies, and books and that consumption had spread like wildfire to other areas of my life, nudged along by the incessant babble of advertising.

We grow up believing that success is synonymous with owning as much as possible. You need more money. You need flashy cars and gargantuan mansions. You need to eat out all the time, have the latest gadgets, and go on holidays. This approach tells you that life is one big party and you should do it all. To excess!

But of course, you’re never told about the things that truly matter. Having a loving family around you, enjoying the company of your best friends and finding a partner you want to spend the rest of your life with. Working a job you enjoy and doing hobbies you’re passionate about. All of these are the real essentials.

I’ve come to realize that a lot of the things we’re led to believe is important is just filler content, distracting us from what we should be paying attention to; ourselves and others first and foremost. But change is hard, and despite having the intention to live more minimally, it means reprogramming a lot of bad habits and changing the way I think—it’s not easy.

So when I call myself ‘A Reluctant Minimalist’, I think I’m essentially embodying what a lot of rookie minimalists are thinking. This is going to be hard, it might hurt a bit, and I’m not sure if I should even be doing it. I think the best way to overcome those barriers is to take baby steps. It doesn’t have to be a mammoth overnight change. I am not going to wake up tomorrow morning and throw away 90% of my possessions. Instead, I’ll steadily work at it, like a sculptor chipping away bits of marble.

And then, maybe one day, I’ll stop being a reluctant minimalist, and become a willing one.

January 3, 2019

A Lifelong Minimalist

How Bruce Lee’s practice of fundamentals allowed him to live a fulfilled life.

Anyone who has ever tried to practice a martial art knows that it is no joke.

Within the walls of the training hall, common advantages in everyday situations are flipped and become disadvantages. Traits and attitudes such as aggressiveness, size, strength, and intensity become burdens. You are literally a loose cannon—unequipped and underprepared.

Instead of muscling on blindly, practitioners must learn control, cultivate awareness, and build capability to progress. You must start from zero and be humbled. 

Bruce Lee, the renowned martial artist, actor, and philosopher, lived and embodied this attitude. He understood movement, fighting, and the fundamentals of learning. 

Consider the following:

“The poorer we are inwardly, the more we try to enrich ourselves externally.”

This quote applies to everything. 

If we have that internal control, we can be decisive, calibrated, and effective in life. We can help those who need it and more towards meaningful goals.

If we are internally powerless, however, we will forever be off-kilter, seeking that which cannot possibly make us happy or fulfilled. Science has shown us that additional income beyond simple arrangements does not correlate with more enjoyable lives and better states of mind. Luxury goods and an addiction to surplus cannot possibly sustain us successfully if we are deficient in our private worlds and thinking.

Bruce Lee understood the fundamentals. That is, to stand on the shoulders of giants, we must first understand. We must incorporate our origins. Only then can we build up from a position of integrity and enrich all around us.

December 29, 2018

Minimalism is a Lifestyle Template

How I’ve used minimalism as a template to design my ideal life.

Over the last eight months, I have been adopting the minimalist lifestyle to develop greater meaning and fulfillment in my everyday life.

I was triggered to start this journey after learning that the average person lives 1000 months. That’s just over 80 years of age. I became motivated to start living my life with a plan and I saw minimalism as my outlet.

I started this lifestyle challenge by eliminating the excess physical, mental, and virtual clutter in my life, and within weeks I had experienced feelings of greater freedom and happiness.

When I speak to my friends about my journey, I describe minimalism as a lifestyle template that anyone can use to design their ideal life.

Along with the benefits that have come from decluttering my things, minimalism is helping me gain the space and clarity to focus on the things that add value to me daily. These things being my goals and values.

Today, I’m taking action on side projects I had only ever dreamt of, I am spending more time with my family and friends, and I am less tempted to buy items outside of my list of essentials. Simply put, this journey is helping me become more intentional with how I spend my time, energy, and money.

To host and manage this lifestyle I’ve been designing for myself, I use a bullet journal. It’s a journaling system that helps me track my daily personal and work tasks, track my past accomplishments, and plan for my future.

The bullet journal helps me start every day with a plan. Not to mention it has helped me strengthen my word with myself and others. I am proactive, more productive, and less tempted to react to unnecessary distractions.

I find meaning in the daily tasks and future goals I set for myself and find great fulfillment when these tasks and goals become accomplishments.

I no longer feel like my life is passing me by.

December 20, 2018

Questioning the Norm

How can we design essentials that are versatile, durable, and timeless to contribute to a better planet?

Within the last few years, multiple branches of the minimalism movement have erupted in popularity, encapsulating many who recognize the benefits it has to offer. Simple living, nomadic lifestyles, and zero-waste living are a few approaches to minimalism that many are familiar with. Though there are many paths to explore in the world of living with less, the freshly curated trail of sustainability has caught many people’s eyes and is a branch of simple living that should not be ignored.

At its core, living sustainably means that the consumer can easily reduce the amount of time, effort, and money that they put into purchasing items, completing tasks, and generally living life. As with mainstream minimalism, the immediate benefits of a sustainable lifestyle can become addicting, such as knowing that you are doing the environment a favor by using reusable items, increasing the longevity of the items you use, and saving resources, time, and effort by only purchasing things that you love and that fit within your values.

I have a lot of respect for companies that fit within the values of ethical living, selling long-lasting items to customers, and being truthful in their marketing. While there are many companies that are dedicated to sustainability, QWSTION is one of the few that aligns their personal values and ethical sustainability practices in their products.

QWSTION is a young company founded in Zurich, Switzerland by a handful of graphic and industrial designers. Dedicated to sharing their passion of sustainability and ethical fashion through their products, they have created the ideal work bag for those who are aspiring to live with less.

Part of QWSTION’s unique approach to design and production is developing and sourcing almost all materials directly. Regular visits to suppliers enable the comfort of knowing who makes the product and allows for exceptional quality. While the largest part of today’s textile production involves plastics that negatively impact nature and humanity, QWSTION chooses to develop their own materials, using natural fibers whenever possible to achieve the highest sustainability.

These products can be used from season to season and through every design change that our culture throws at us. With the confidence of a durable and timeless piece as well as the freedom from judgement of the fashion industry, QWSTION’s products permit you to work well and travel well. As you continue to make progress within your work and personal life, remember that less is always more. Appreciate the quality of things, not the quantity of things. If we buy fewer products, but better ones, we tend to have more joy using what we already have.

December 12, 2018

Living with Less

How life on the road has been the best idea I’ve ever had.

Two years ago an idea popped into my head: to get rid of most of my possessions and leave my home of 27 years to travel full-time in an RV. This idea was so far out of my norm that I kept it to myself for months, fearing that my friends and family might think I’d lost my mind. I wasn’t sure where it originated but I decided to research as much as possible and find out if it could be done.

The more I learned and read about others leading this lifestyle, the more I believed I could pull it off. The fact that I’d never so much as spent a weekend in an RV didn’t faze me. I focused on the freedom I would gain, traveling to beautiful places. The opportunity to explore, hike, and fully enjoy nature. I resolved to continue planning until I encountered some insurmountable obstacle.

Spoiler alert... I never did.

I began looking around my house, making a list of items I would purge. My intention was to give away my furniture, appliances, and clothing to people in need. Things with a lot of sentimental value would go into storage, but the cost for that space was not to exceed what my monthly utilities had run.

Every box packed and trash can filled over the next few months brought me closer to my goal. When I got close to my exit date I contacted a woman at the local community college who coordinates services for students with children. Soon, trucks began coming down the driveway and grateful young people would cart off my stuff.

I had not anticipated how satisfying this process would be. And now, 18 months into my RV life, there’s not a single material possession I regret giving away. I have all the essentials right here, along with the freedom to move on or stay put wherever I choose. I spent three months last summer as a Forest Service volunteer at Mount St. Helens National Monument, camping in the back of a ranger-station-turned-visitor-center. I was surrounded by a  gorgeous forest with the Milky Way overhead and no sounds at night but owls. This, and other experiences have brought a depth and freshness to my life that I would have thought unlikely at my age.

When asked how long I intend to live this way, my answer is simply, “as long as it works for me.”

I hope that will be quite some time.

December 6, 2018

Simple is Not Easy

The challenge of simplicity may not be easy, but is worth the time and effort.

I was not looking for a change when I first stumbled upon the minimalist approach. I was preparing for a month-long trek across the famous Camino de Santiago in Spain. My plan was to travel as light as possible, so for obvious reasons, I began to research all things small. It was then that I found this new, exciting, and large movement. It influenced me to pack light and pack smart.

It wasn’t until halfway through my Camino journey that I saw the beauty in minimal living. I realized why living simply was so appealing to me—I could focus on what truly mattered. I could enjoy everything I had because I had them for a reason. 

Each day, I’d wake up early, pack my bag, and start to walk. In my bag, I had about 8kg of stuff. It didn’t look much, and still, I had not used all of it during my trip. I was amazed that I could survive on one soap bar to do all my self-washing and laundry. I was even more surprised that I could live with just three sets of clothes. Wash, dry, wear—it’s as simple as that. 

One of the biggest surprises was the makeup. I rarely go natural with makeup—I like my eyeshadows, eyeliner, lipsticks… but after a few serious conversations with my sister, the only items I took were mascara, eyeliner, and face cream. Even with my love for makeup, I only used these makeup items a handful of times on my walk. The sun kissed my skin golden brown, my freckles popped out, and I really didn’t feel the need to put anything else on me.

Upon returning home, I was overwhelmed by all the stuff around me, and I desperately wanted to hold onto this minimal way of living that I enjoyed so much on the Camino trail. However, holding onto this lifestyle was far from easy. 

Before traveling to Spain, I moved all my belongings into a storage unit. After finding a new studio apartment, I realized it is a few times smaller than my previous apartment, which meant that my belongs were crowding the space. If I ever wanted to start living minimally, this was the time. 

Even with the desire to live simply, throwing things out does not come naturally to me. I like my books, movies, and CDs, as they bring memories and ease. Excuses were made until I made a breakthrough. I had found a year 2000 Panasonic CD player, one in which I had not switched on for years and could not find a home for in my new home. I debated the decision for days, and in the end, it was placed in the bin bag and removed from my life. It felt so good!

Over the next few weeks, more items followed the CD player out of my life—some things I never would have imagined getting rid of. My apartment with fewer items began to look and feel like home. Everything that remained in my life had a genuine purpose. The space I gained was precious, the clean and airy room made me feel calm. Coming home wasn’t exhausting, and I enjoyed sitting on the sofa and simply just being at home. 

Of course, there are still things I can get rid of, but it’s a process that doesn’t need to be rushed. A clutter-free space not only created room for things that matter, but it also cleared my head. Getting ready takes me half the time, looking for things is easy, and cleaning is simple.

Simple may not be easy, but it does feel good. It also may not be for everyone, but it gave me a new outlook on my everyday life and what I want it to become.

November 29, 2018

How I Use Minimalism

Spending less than two minutes every morning choosing what to wear.

For the last four to five years, I have spent less than two minutes every morning choosing what to wear when I wake up. I don’t lay out my clothes the day before, I just get up and choose random items from boxes. That's it. For me, this was an important achievement.

Before making the change, I would waste time getting ready in the morning. The main issue was less about the minutes lost debating with myself about what to wear, and more about starting my days with a sense of doubt. I never really felt fully satisfied with the way I dressed.

So I started simplifying my clothes and gradually created what is commonly known as a 'capsule' wardrobe. To start with, I limited the number of different colors. Black, gray, and white. That’s it. I only kept styles that complimented each other and removed one-off pieces that never got worn. This is now a foolproof system for me that works without a hitch.

But, the real timesaver for me was how I organized my clothes. I have three boxes.

Every morning when I wake up, I take an item from box-set one (trousers), an item from box-set two (sweaters/long sleeves), an item from box three (hoodies/vests) if it is really cold.

I just pick one out and I know that it will look good. I don’t worry about wearing the same outfit ‘too often’ since I would rotate and simply pick the next item in the box. My boxes look small but in total, I have 11 trousers, 21 sweaters/long sleeves and 9 hoodies/vests.

This was my first Minimalism Project and my first experience with Minimalism in general. It has not only made me more efficient and dress better, but this project has also made me appreciate what I have—both in terms of physical possessions and time.

November 22, 2018

A Better Black Friday

How you can combat the consumeristic culture by placing contentment before capriciousness.

It’s that time of year again. Black Friday is upon us, beginning the last season of deals before Christmas.

A season in which we are smothered with advertisements for everything from electronic gadgets to fast-fashion. A time to stay up all night in order to receive the deals that will allow us to get cheap items for our friends and family for Christmas. A day in which we disregard what we have been grateful for, simply to purchase the ‘next big thing’ at a low price.

Now more than ever, consumerism is normalized and idealized in our culture. We see Black Friday Hauls on YouTube, advertisements are crowding our social media platforms, and the expectations of society justify the purchases. We throw our values and grateful minds behind us so we can jump ahead a little further in the line.

Of course, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with shopping on Black Friday. The issue is when we become too wrapped up in the idea of immediate gratification while purchasing things that are harmful to our wallets, environment, and values.

It’s time we look past the advertisements and grab hold of the things that matter most.

This Black Friday, consider combatting the consumeristic culture around us by setting your heart in a peaceful and prosperous position to carry you through the rest of the year. For example, if you were planning on waking up early to shop (online or offline), consider waking up and sitting with your thoughts for a few minutes before beginning your day. Perhaps instead of shopping, beginning a passion project could be a more productive use of your time.

Furthermore, while others are sitting in traffic and spiking their stress levels by rushing to the store, it might better to go for a walk or a hike and get your heart rate elevated in a way that calms your mind and spirit (and doesn’t include you going into debt).

As cheesy as this may sound, setting your heart in the right place could mean spending your time on other people. Volunteering your time to those who may need it is a surefire way to set your intentions on a good path and set the tone for the rest of the year.

Finally, if you do decide to venture out into the stores this Black Friday, ensure that what you are going to purchase aligns with your values. Have a plan before you go into the store so that you don’t fill your cart up with meaningless items. If possible, consider supporting local, independent businesses instead of sweat shops.

This holiday season, we can combat the consumerist culture and put ourselves into a situation in which we are loving, present, and genuine humans. Your time and energy are two of the most precious resources you have. Don’t allow the advertisements to grab ahold of your values and run away with them.

November 14, 2018

Don’t Throw Away Your Kindness

Declutter your stuff, but don’t get rid of your compassion and understanding.

Something I have noticed in the minimalist community of late is judgement. I have seen comments online from people moving towards a minimalist lifestyle that have made me feel sad and disappointed. Perhaps the message of minimalism isn’t clear enough.

Minimalism is about what matters.

Living a life with less has always been, for me, about getting closer to the things that matter. I want to be able to devote more time to relationships and experiences, rather than just living day-to-day on a treadmill of earn-buy-consume.

I also want the freedom and energy to pursue my goals in my spare time, rather than being so depleted by daily life that the only thing I can manage is another evening sat in front of the TV.

Getting rid of all the excess in our lives is a great way to get closer to ourselves and to what we hold true in the world. It’s also fantastic for freeing up time and energy that would otherwise be consumed in a myriad of ways by the seemingly limitless things that we can own.

What if you’re not a minimalist?

When I first discovered minimalism, it was a bit of a weird thing that hid in dark corners of the internet. Today, the popularity of minimalism is more mainstream, but it has also gathered devotees who think that other people are somehow stupid, or less worthy, because they are not minimalists.

I have seen horrible comments online, made about other people’s spending and lifestyle choices. Ordinary folk have been called “idiots”, “dumb” or even “sickening” for buying what was judged to be an excess of things. I read a story written by a woman who decided her co-worker was stupid for buying a charm to attach to the zip on her purse. These are things that most of us would never say to someone’s face, but online it seems that we can be much ruder in an attempt to get our point across.

Minimalism is a great solution to the excesses of life, and the conservation of our planet’s diminishing resources. However, it is not okay to stand on a self-erected virtuous podium, looking down at the “consumerist masses”. How will that change the world for the better?

Minimalism is not enlightenment.

Minimalism may feel like a revelation when you finally get the hang of it, but traditionally the enlightened lead those that are yet to learn—they do not judge them.

None of us know what strangers and colleagues are dealing with, and no one is perfect. Few of us grew up as minimalists and many of us are reformed hoarders ourselves. How can we judge those that are walking the same path that we once walked?

Minimalism is so compelling to me for many reasons, but one thing that stands out is that it allows us the space to be more compassionate. Having less means we are not so wrapped up in ourselves.

There is a difference between being passionate about a way of life because it works for you, and feeling superior about your way of life because you think it's better than everyone else’s. As you continue your minimalist journey, don’t fall prey to the mistake of throwing your compassion and kindness out, along with everything else.

What the world needs is minimalists with kindness in their hearts to lead the way.

Minimalism can create communities and networks of acceptance and giving that will benefit everybody, even the people who still want to keep a charm on their purse key.

As the Dalai Lama said, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”