All Posts in Lifestyle

May 23, 2018

Applied Minimalism: What Athletes Know About Focus

To be great at sports we must focus on the essentials. But we must not miss the bigger picture.

Benson’s Law of Specificity is a classic lesson in minimalism. Benson understood that to achieve specific goals, we must practice the thing we want to improve in. To get better at sprinting; we must sprint. To deadlift more; we must deadlift more. A successful athlete must, therefore, say no to the 50,000 plausibly beneficial movements and focus on the truly essential few. Attention must be honed to a sharp edge and distractions filtered out. This requires discipline, order, and the mother of all progress—repetitions. Anything not directly helping to contribute to the overarching goal must be placed on hold. After all, saying no is the only way to fully say yes. 

Tunnel vision will take you places.

However, the athlete must eventually enter the off-season, either by conscious decision or from an inevitable injury or burnout. It’s now time to reject dogmas, reverse the rules and build a solid base, consisting of diverse activities (known as GPP or General Physical Preparedness). Learn how to hold a handstand, run a marathon, practice yoga, belly dance, skip—all perfectly valid options for growth. This is about widening the athlete’s perspective beyond the narrow window of their usual training conditions. It’s about leaving the tunnel. By becoming more of a generalist, the athlete can indulge in their ‘what if’s?’ 

What else can I do?
Is the grass really greener? 

However, with this approach, you cannot progress in anything to a high degree. You will be scattered, fragmented, and spread too thin. I mean, how many high performing sumo-gymnasts do you know?

Like in life, it’s a question of balance and compromise. Specialism comes with a price which must be paid. Choosing is always simultaneously an exercise in not choosing. But if you strike an intelligent balance, you can enjoy the harmony of being a well-developed athlete and human being.

May 16, 2018

Natural Disaster: Accidental Minimalist

A Minimalist’s journey amidst burnout and natural disaster.

Professionally smashed and suffering from burnout, in 2017, I resigned from a successful career in finance. I altered the trajectory of my entire life, moving to a remote Caribbean island in my mid-thirties.

My goal was to live a simple life; I needed to breathe.

Everyone (including myself) was blindsided by my seemingly sudden about-face. At 36 I was the first female and youngest executive at my firm. I had recently won a coveted international award in my field. From the outside looking in, albeit a few trials and tribulations over the years, I seemed to really have it all.

But something was missing. Maybe nothing was missing. Maybe there was too much.

In a slightly off base effort to simplify, I packed up my life into a 20ft container and shipped my belongings to the island of Anguilla. Note to self: 30 pairs of designer heels are not needed nor will ever be worn on a Caribbean island! My minimalist ideals were focused on my professional life and not my belongings, but that would change.

Out of Anyone’s Hands... A Natural Disaster

In 2017, the Caribbean suffered a historically devastating hurricane season which still affects Puerto Rico today. In the fateful early hours of September 6th, Anguilla was directly hit by Hurricane Irma—a category five storm with up to 208mph winds that we steadily endured for 12 hours. We lived directly on the coast, the roof was ripped from our home and our businesses sustained significant damage. An entire island was left to repair the emotional and physical damage that remained in the wake of Irma’s travels.

After a natural disaster, one must adapt to a simple existence, living with less than the basics. Without electricity until the day after Thanksgiving, with a generator providing six hours of power for every 24 hours, water being pulled from a cistern to bathe, limited food (beans are a main staple), and long gas lines—everyone is in survival mode. The entire island was living every aspect of life as a minimalist.

In the end, the island’s economy had suffered immensely, so after eight months post-Irma I returned to the United States feeling defeated. However, this time I packed two suitcases containing only the necessities and moved into a sparsely furnished flat—continuing my minimalist lifestyle, optimistic of my next adventure.

We as a society put so much meaning into “things.” As for my minimalist story, I survived a traumatic event with my life intact surrounded by those I love. One must realize things can be destroyed, but things are not alive. Things do not love nor feel pain.

Never put too much love into something that can’t love you back (including something that helps you carry buckets of water from the cisterns in order to bathe).

May 1, 2018

Consumerism Is the Original Virtue Signaling

Our real values can be signaled only by our actions, not our things.

There’s a lot of talk about so-called “virtue signaling” these days. However, public expressions to demonstrate good character aren’t new: we’ve been virtue signaling with our sparkly new objects for decades.

Or perhaps value signaling is more accurate.

By showing off our fancy new toys, we think we’re communicating our values to the world, but we’re confusing our valuables with our values.

Our real values can be signaled only by our actions, not our things. And yet we continue to amass new bits and pieces, adorning an empty facade with regalia, hoping to impress anyone who sees it.

Emblem-laden handbags.
Nineteen-inch chrome rims.
Stainless-steel timepieces.

Consumerism encourages us to commodify our own identities. If we really want to dazzle others, though, we won’t do so via our possessions. Not in a meaningful way, at least.

So instead of trying to impress everyone with our valuables, let’s focus on impressing upon the world our values. And the best way to do that—make something meaningful.

Start a business.
Create a blog.
Write a book.
Record a song.
Build something tangible.

Creating is a better way to convey who we are. Flaunting our personal property signals that we care only about ourselves. But when our identities are shaped by creativity, our creations can be an honest way to signal to the world that we care about others, too.

“Here, I made this meal for you,” will always be more powerful than, “Watch me eat this in front of you.”

April 25, 2018

Letting It All Go to Regain Control

Life can be a wonderful adventure when you focus on the important things and let go of the meaningless.

I've always been the kind of person who collects all types of knick-knacks and trinkets. I was afraid to forget all the memories connected to the collection of objects. I wanted to remember all those pleasant moments and having something visible to hold on to helped me with that. At one point those baubles started to define me. In 2013, I moved to another country and started living on my own for the first time. At the beginning of this new adventure, it was a challenge as I couldn't take all the little moments with me. I felt like I was falling apart. I didn't know who I was without the sentimental things I had on the bookshelves in my hometown.

So I started making new memories, buying new things, more clothes, more shoes, and more jewelry—more of everything. Coming home meant coming back to them, remembering every second of the memory as it faded slowly away even though I had the object to remind me of it.

Finally it got me to a point in my life when I realized all these things had lost any kind of meaning, emphasized by my room, which was filled with so much stuff (much like my mind at the time). It was so messy that I couldn't just sit on my sofa without having to face a colorful shelf, my wardrobe overfilled with clothes that I resented, postcards and photographs on all of the walls, burned candles of passed romantic nights along with dried out roses from previous relationships. Although I didn't have a mirror in my room, I could see my reflection in everything. Home was not the tranquil, peaceful piece of paradise I could look forward to after an exhausting day at university. At that time of my life I was left hurt by boyfriends and close friends. I felt on the edge of taking my life, with severe depression and no desire to live whatsoever.

It all came down to one particular night when I came home from shopping again thinking I was happy. As I stepped inside my room I felt disgusted for one second. Then a quote from Kendrick Lamar’s single “Humble” popped into my mind: “You do not amaze me.” Yes, exactly! I didn't just dislike my life because I was emotionally unstable, but because I was also drowning in everything I owned.

At that time I've heard from some of my friends about the 90/90 Minimalism Rule and decided to give it a try. I ended up donating more than 50% of my things which at the beginning was such a struggle. I guess letting go wasn't so easy after all. After a couple of days and a 12-hour shift at work I came home, sat down on the sofa and saw only the empty desk, my favorite clothes organized by color, my black king-sized bed, and the black IKEA shelf with books.

I can't say that my head cleared instantly as I emptied my room of all the things that had a meaning a long time ago. It was a gradual process. I started to look after myself better, I stopped buying shoes whenever I felt under pressure, and I stopped buying jewelry whenever a guy disappointed me. I started traveling more, expecting less, and in a year my life got me to where I am now: in good health, depression-free, with a great partner, and sitting on my sofa in a minimalist and well-organized room with things that don't define me and my feelings.

April 18, 2018

How Travel Helped Me Change My Life

Taking a step back from routine to travel the world and learn to live with less.

When I left my job last summer I entered a strange state of loss and lack of direction. After four years at my school I had made good friends, taught fantastic students and my teaching was becoming pretty solid, and what’s more the job was getting easier. All the pieces of a good life were in place; I recently married my best friend and business partner of 10 years. I had a great group of friends and the financial stability of a London mortgage. I could’ve continued with my nice life but felt it wasn’t right. I worried about endless work, 30-year debt and wasting away the creative passions of my teens—it seemed inevitable this would be my life. Or so I thought. After a life-changing trip to Patagonia in 2015, I decided on a new plan to make big changes. I’m still in the process of making that plan a reality but it’s been the best decision I’ve ever made.

Leaving school last summer wasn’t just leaving a job but leaving the life that I expected to grow old living. I stepped off the treadmill and into the unknown, free from work, routine and a normal stable life. My wife and I saved as much cash as we could save in a year, combined with gift money from our wedding and boarded a flight to Norway in July 2017. It’s been a rollercoaster of unforgettable experiences, cool people, foods, sunsets, and ideas. As the end nears I have found clear motivations on how to continue this free, happy, and inspiring way of life. But how will I achieve this?

Traveling the world on $40 a day for two people means you’ll need to live like a local person. That means queuing up to use the same transport, eating in the same restaurants and shopping around for a good price. It’s fun, once you get better at haggling and putting on a front. I learnt that to be happy I didn’t need all the luxury we were used to at home. If I could scale down my spending abroad then why not do so the rest of the time? The first part of my plan to balance my lifestyle is to cut spending to what I need rather than want. This reduces my day-to-day costs and ultimately I’ll have to live with less. In comparison to the majority of local people I met traveling, I could see that life at home in London was not balanced, quite excessive actually and sometimes wasteful too. So living minimally is one of my goals.

Next, I want to be more creative in my daily life and return to London and start using my creative skills. I have developed this attitude by meeting many makers around the world who work hard at their passion. I left our website Studio Mali open to grow and so I feel driven to make creative projects the centre of my new life by making objects that I hope people will enjoy. This goal could have only come from having time to think about it, talk about it and gather the confidence to actually do it. Traveling has given me that time and led me to people making beautiful products in all corners of the globe. It’s not about becoming mega rich by selling products, but about proving to myself that I can survive independently doing something I love.

I setup our Studio Mali blog with my wife because we wanted a project to keep us busy on the road—an output to remember our trip by. In just seven months of traveling we feel like new people, excited about what’s next and driven to inspire others to think about changes they can make to their lives. It might be that you want to work less, or explore new places, develop a skill, start a new hobby, or return to a sport you once played. These little changes or activities can help you to be happy, live in the present, and grow as people. Is a full-time, debt-laden life worth the money that you’re paid? If the answer is no then what can you do to cut down your spending and live with less?

With two months until our return day, I’ve been considering what returning to a structured life will be like. Ultimately, I don’t want a five-day working week so my plan is to work three days supply teaching. I’ll be planning to spend less, enjoy free fun like nature more, cook the foods I used to get takeaways of, and be active and healthy. We hope to sell our apartment and find something smaller, which is perhaps the biggest irony of our mortgage debt. The apartment we purchased four years ago seems to have grown in equity in that time. I may be able to buy something small without a mortgage. I may be able to live a low-cost, debt-free life where I can concentrate on doing things I love, building a balanced lifestyle in the process.

April 11, 2018

Minimalism: More Than Stuff

There has been no better tool to opening my eyes to freedom than Minimalism.

For me it was about reclaiming my time, confronting parts of me that were hidden under the “stuff”, feeling more in control of my life. It was naturally working on my anxiety, spending more time with my family, embracing self care living authentically, the list is extensive.

Minimalism has become my personal protest against consumerism. Seems obvious, right? Own less, buy less. Take a stand. Just like veganism has become my personal protest against the meat and dairy industry, it is my own personal stand against the consumerist society we live in.

The internet is a clever network. The players most savvy have figured out how to optimize algorithms, email addresses, studying what sites you browse, what you click, creating online presence profiles all to shove “stuff” into virtual shopping totes. Items you thought you needed because they figured out how to “subliminally” weave these items into your online experience. I live and purchase intentionally. I buy what I want, when I want and only when I need it.

The best part, it is so easily identifiable. I see it, recognize it and deliberately refuse to play into it. Browse a yoga site, and now it shows up on my Facebook feed. Not falling for it, Zuckerberg!

Furthermore, I no longer spend vacations wasting hours in the mall. I no longer waste time browsing online shopping sites with no purpose. I no longer subscribe to emails of non-stop sales. Because you know what, things don‘t go on sale because you need them, they go on sale because more often than not, nobody wants them. I’ll pass—on purpose.

We live in a society where status is increasingly determined by material things. It is a place where riches are determined not by the quality of life, but by the quantity of things. A world where greed and aggression is rewarded because outwardly it portrays stature. Is this really what we have become?

I've found some of the people I respected the most no longer placed on that pedestal and I realize it all comes down to my views on Minimalism. Not everyone has to be a Minimalist, but we should all work on our relationship with “stuff” and to what extent we let it define us. I realized many people I thought successful had lost the fulfillment of life simply as life‘s purpose. They worked to acquire things, they needed some tangible “trophy” to show their success because the time required to obtain it prohibited them from experiencing life. There is so much more to life. Minimalism is so much more than stuff.

It has truly opened my eyes to freedom, helped me to define myself and also those that I surround myself with. I have so much more in store.

March 28, 2018

Removing My Social Media

How do you know if someone has left a social network? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.

I used to use social media, a lot. I’d check it as soon as I woke up and right before I went to sleep. I wouldn’t go anywhere without checking in and I’d constantly post updates and pictures throughout the day. If I was ‘offline’ for more than an hour, I would be worried I’d miss something. I was the guy who’d relentlessly share holiday snaps every day of being away (completely highlighting the fact my house was empty) and I’d also kindly share images of every meal I ate.

Unlike others, I didn’t land upon minimalism as a result of a personal tragedy or a sudden realization I had too much stuff. My journey into minimalism started with me initially addressing my Digital presence. I’ve always had a slight OCD tendency to try and keep aesthetically pleasing social media profiles. I’d go through previous posts deleting those that didn’t fit in with the ‘style’ of my images. I’d re-post certain ones that I feel didn’t get as many ‘likes’ as I thought it should, or I’d hide and delete status updates that were not in line with the way I felt I’d like my personality to appear. I’ve done that for as long as I can remember which really makes me question why I posted those things in the first place. Why didn’t that picture of my glass of Pinot complete with witty caption clear 20 likes? Why did I post that status about football that nobody really cared about and why did I get into an argument with a 12 year old on Twitter over the dab?

What kick-started my digital clear-out was the news my wife and I would be soon welcoming a baby into our lives. New parent paranoia kicked in almost instantly when it came to my media usage and history of life-logging.

How do I protect my social media content? Who will be able to see pictures of my child? How did I obtain over 500 friends without meeting at least 50% of them?!

I decided that the self-indulgent side of my personality needed a reality check and that it was time to readdress. No longer would I post pictures displaying every angle and possession in my home, nor would I ‘check in’ at every location I visited, mapping out my movements for all to see, and I certainly wasn’t going to be one of those parents that uploaded photos of their babies covered in food all over the web. I’d decided on that mantra, and going forward wouldn’t be a problem. What I did have to contend with however, was 10 years’ worth of excessive posting.

My 4,000 post Instagram account went first. I felt a total sense of liberation. Facebook soon followed, which prompted responses of “you’ll never get rid, you’ll be back in a week” and “how are we going to see pictures of your baby if you delete your social media?” which only further justified to myself why I was doing it. Mandy from a totally different office at work who I'd never met in person doesn’t need to see pictures of my child. It was a long process of false dawns, finding myself logging on and off again, getting no value whatsoever from the endless scrolling, but finding I was doing it out of habit. I eventually stuck with it and, despite the urges to let everyone know I’ve not disappeared, I’ve remained logged off and feel so much lighter for it.

The declutter mind-set has now seeped into other areas of my life that, without me realizing, I was unhappy with. I’ve started eating better and drinking less. I spend less money on material goods and I find real value from the things I do purchase, because now I do it with intent. I make time for my wife, son and friends more (one of them was sure I’d joined a cult) and I find it so much better having no distractions drawing my attention away. There are a lot of people I’ve lost contact with, but I’ve realized that the people who are most important to me are the ones that still find time to contact me and hang out. After all, I still have an iPhone and live in 2018—I'm not asking for pen friends.

I’m not completely damning social media; it does have its benefits. My mother lives at the other end of the country, and I’m sure she’s not as happy with my logged off stance as she doesn’t get to see me often. I just feel there’s so many split second moments in my son’s life going forward that I feel I would have missed if I hadn’t made this change—I’m glad I realized in time. I’ve learned to put my phone down and look up more.

March 21, 2018

Clearing the Path

A personal reflection into the journey of minimalism.

Since the middle of last year, I've been really interested in the journey of minimalism.

Before I started examining it, I always thought it was about people living in barren rooms. One set of cutlery per household. White walls. A table with a single chair. On that table is a single white vase and one flower poking out of it. It was the stuff of odd personalities and high-brow 'artists' beyond the reach of us ordinary folk.

I’ve discovered that is not what minimalism is about at all. It's a journey. It's a lifestyle. It's making room and making time for the important things. Room not just in the physical sense but room from a mental perspective. When we talk about removing 'junk', that doesn't just mean the old VHS videos and cracked CD's in the attic, or 6-sizes-too-small piles of t-shirts you're convinced you'll wear again one day.

It's about removing toxic relationships and toxic people from your life, removing distractions that serve to waste your time, and focusing on the things that make you a better person—allowing you the time and space to best serve those who are important to you. It's all about making things (and aligning people and relationships) as fit-for-purpose. It's about clearing the path for a more meaningful and intentional life.

So far, I've removed 50% of my old clothes, 90% of my CDs and DVDs, and I'm currently working on removing lots of music gear—including bass guitars and a piano—as well as reducing the clutter around the house. It's incredibly liberating. I've also minimized my digital clutter, removing the majority of my social networks, turned off all phone notifications, deleted apps, and cancelled subscriptions. This is helping clear the path for focus.

The next decisions to be made are how I shape my life going forward. How can I maintain and build relationships with people? How can I let some of those relationships go? What are my real passions? What adds value to my life?

I feel like I've always 'ended up' in situations rather than forged my own pathway. So this is the next stage of the minimalist route for me. The clutter is going... so what next? How can I best use my time?

I'm looking forward to the journey, and continuing to clear the path along the way.

March 14, 2018

Living with Non-Minimalist Skin

Can I be a minimalist and a tattoo collector at the same time?

I look around my room but there isn’t much to look at. In 2018, I live with less. For me, living with less means living more. My life has no clutter and so neither does my mind. I am paying attention. I am here, now. I look down at my body and in complete contrast, nothing about it is minimal. Almost every single square inch of it is covered with ink. I can see over a hundred different images collected from over thirty different artists. I started getting tattooed over ten years ago, and today the result is a living canvas of my memories, experiences, dreams, loves and fears.

Over the last few years I’ve re-evaluated many different areas of my life, such as my health, career, relationships, and spending habits. I have made positive changes and now live a life that it is more meaningful. I try to spend and live consciously. If something doesn’t bring value to my life, I don’t give it my time, attention or money. Of course I fall down, but I don’t beat myself up. I learn, stand up again and move forward.

As a result of these life changes, I was able to re-evaluate the money spent on tattoos in recent years and have ultimately cut back on decorating my body (that, and I’m running out space). Looking back at those decisions and down at my cluttered skin, I wondered; should I feel regret at these permanent collections that decorate my body? We can re-evaluate and donate our physical belongings, but collected tattoos will be with me ‘till death do I part. Did I see this collection as something positive or negative? Could I continue to collect ink consciously and mindfully?

As someone who has been reflective about every single tattoo decision I have made, I knew deep down that every new addition had been created with consideration and understanding. Whether it was to connect with a memory, image, artist, idea, dream or intention, each tattoo session meant something to me on a deeply emotional and spiritual level. Tattoos weren’t aesthetic additions to me—they meant so much more than their visual identities. They weren’t distanced concepts, or pretty things. What they were, and are, could not be described in words. They were born in my soul and therefore I realised, that is where they would always live.

Living minimally and meaningfully is being aware of how you are living your life and how you are making decisions. For me, getting tattooed brought me that same level of reflection. ‘Purchasing’ tattoos has made me the person I am today—the person who has embraced minimalist living and is now sitting here today peacefully. Having the opportunity to ink important things onto my body has allowed me to consider the meaning of life and ultimately how I live it.

In a contradicting fashion, as well as giving my tattoo collection an importance, I also wholeheartedly accept that it has no importance whatsoever. Our bodies are temporary shells and as long as we look after them on the inside, however we decide to decorate the exterior walls doesn’t really matter. By denying my tattoos a status, I can give them a focus but never be distracted or led by it. The life I live outside of my skin decorations is the one that matters. I am me, with or without the tattoos.

Can you be a minimalist and a tattoo collector? The answer is yes, you can be anything you want. If there were ever two strong communities in the world that have taught us that we are so much more than our labels, they are tattooing and minimalism. We also cannot live within the constraints of any category, and can only live in the truest possible sense of ourselves. Living a minimalist life will mean different things to different people.

Earlier I said that if something didn’t bring value to my life, I didn’t give it my time, attention or money. I touch my inked memories and can confidently say that they have a value higher than anything I’ve every purchased in a shop or owned in my house.

Tattoos and minimalism have both separately encouraged me to never stop asking questions. They have both reminded me that this is a journey, there is no final destination. We will never stop learning, and all we can do is enjoy and give passion to the short time we are here. But more than anything, they have reminded me to embrace one important idea: to be true to yourself.

I may not collect physical objects, but I am happy to continue collecting life.

March 7, 2018

A Social Minimalist

How owning less freed up my time, money, and confidence to do more.

As we left for a rare two-week break, I heard the dreaded snap of my holdall handle. I was faced with a choice: re-pack and pay for a larger suitcase or, reduce to the essentials to fit within a backpack. My minimalist mindset took over, and in five minutes we were in the taxi, leaving behind spare shorts, flip-flops, and of course, toothbrush.

So began my journey into minimalism, shifting what holds greatest value, from things I own, to things I do. Ten days of not over-thinking about what to wear, or looking down a camera lens, made more happy memories than any extra outfit could have done. By bringing this simple ideology back home with me, it was my social life that surprisingly transformed.

No longer did I compare myself with my peers, for there was less to analyze. It’s easy to contrast two objects; my car is faster than his, but my phone’s older than hers. Instead, it became much harder to compare my new experiential purchases. No doubt my camping trip cost less than my friend's spa break. Yet, both brought equal happiness. Each experience is unique to us, and nobody can compare that. This new fascination with people’s stories began to expand my previously introverted social skills. ‘What do you enjoy doing?’ and ‘What do you do?’ often lead to very different conversations.

In my pursuit of owning less, and do more, another delightful presence was on the rise—my smile. Happy thoughts grew from both the anticipation and participation of enjoyable experiences. These lasted much longer than if it were for the purchase of a possession. After all, we don’t reminisce with each other about things we bought, but about things we did. I found my smile was noticed more and became infectious amongst friends.

Owning fewer things has freed up my time, money, and confidence to do more. And now more than ever, I look forward to sharing my adventures with the important people in my life.