All Posts in Lifestyle

September 14, 2018

The Comparison Game

What happens when too much of a good thing turns sour?

My YouTube recommendations list is chalked full of videos about minimalism in all aspects—zero waste, intentional living, podcasts on the topic, and even things such as minimalist yoga.

Social media is something I don’t understand, yet am so entranced with. Without it, I personally would have never heard about minimalism or known what an impactful journey it would lead me on. The videos in my recommendation feed allow me to expand my ideas on simple living and get creative with the life I already have, which, of course, has been a good thing. But, what happens when too much of a good thing becomes a drawback?

The impact of social media on our lives is clear when doing the research—when we allow ourselves to mindlessly scroll through the media pages long enough, we begin to judge those on the media platform, their followers, and even ourselves. Though the idea of endless minimalism videos seems harmless (and some people’s dream), it can begin to have an impact on one’s thoughts as they take a deep look into their heart and possessions.

For me, almost all the people I am following on social media are minimalism enthusiasts, which has shaped the way I view my possessions and the frame of mind in which I consume now. While this has lead to the more intuitive, productive, and free person I am today, it has also caused some downfalls.

After feeding myself white walls, sand-beige furniture, and clear kitchen countertops through other people’s social media posts, I found that I looked down upon myself for owning more than I thought I needed to. I saw creators with all their possessions zipped up in a small backpack, ready to board their next flight. I thought to myself, “why am I not traveling with 45 items? I could easily do that.”

We tell our youth to be careful when consuming so much social media on a daily basis and to not compare ourselves to the people we see online. We understand that our lives are our own, and that the things we are scrolling through are merely a highlight reel.

Comparison is a silly game that we play with ourselves because we don’t fully understand the concept of another person’s life. We don’t see the behind-the-scenes of the photos we’re scrolling through, and we don’t have a single clue as to what their personal life is like. All we are seeing is what they want us to see.

Minimalism is not practical for everyone, nor is a pristine living room or traveling the world with 45 items in a backpack. The more we compare ourselves to the people around us—regardless of whether they are minimalists or not—the more unsatisfied we become with our own journey.

You are here because you are wanting to become the best version of yourself. Please do not let the comparison of others ruin the sparkle of that exciting adventure.

September 6, 2018

An Ancient Philosophy

What modern minimalists can learn from the ancient ideas of Stoicism.

For some, minimalism appears to be a relatively recent concept. Perhaps cooked up in a Scandinavian design studio or in Silicon Valley. However, minimalism actually has deep roots in schools of philosophy that are thousands of years old.

Whilst Buddhism is certainly one such source, possibly the most direct ancestor was Stoicism, an ancient Greek school of philosophy. Stoic ideas have greatly helped me refocus my ideas about the world by articulating wisdom that is true and valuable, regardless of time or culture.

One of the key foundations of the Stoics is to learn to fully appreciate the things that we already have and be truly grateful for their presence. If we learn to thoroughly value what we already own, then we will ease our desire for more.

Of course, in the modern world, full of advertising and sales, people are taught the opposite—to always want more. The problem with this is what’s known in psychology cycles as hedonic adaption. We work extremely hard to fulfill a desire, initially getting some satisfaction, but soon enough, we adapt to its presence and no longer find it as desirable as we once did. We end up caught in a loop of dissatisfaction with no expiration date.

The Stoics understood that in order to break free of this loop, they could practice negative visualization. They would imagine losing their most loved possessions. Their family, their money and their health—all lost.

Visualization of this kind can makes us bulletproof to any eventuality because, in our minds, the worst has already occurred. From then onwards, we can only see the positive actions and potential in the world. We are protected from the naive and at peace with our current situations. We can appreciate everything.

Do not indulge in dreams of having what you have not, but reckon up the chief of the blessings you do possess, and then thankfully remember how you would crave for them if they were not yours.

—Stoic Philosopher King Marcus Aurelius

August 30, 2018

Frugality and the Simpler Life

Is being frugal really necessary in order to lead a minimalist lifestyle?

When many of us hear words like simplicity and minimalism, we automatically think of frugality. Cutting back to the barest of minimums. Watching every penny. Worrying about all outgoings.

Well, my life is pretty simple, but it looks nothing like this. 

My version of living simpler doesn’t mean living frugally at all. In fact, I live a fuller life than ever. I have travelled more for pleasure in the last few years than at any other time in my life. In fact, as I write this, I have just spent the last three months travelling around Asia. 

I go to my fair share of live concerts, seeing musicians and bands that I love, and I can still be found wearing the odd designer shirt and jeans. My choice of eyewear is certainly not the cheapest spectacles I could find.

I will always take you up on the chance to try a latte at the newest coffee shop in town. 

What can I say? I like a little comfort and adventure. Does that make me a walking cliché? I don’t think so, but I’m also fine if you think it does.

Simplicity is a Gateway to Living Well

For me, embracing simplicity into my life has meant stripping away from distractions and living more intentionally. Seeking a life with more focus, clarity and meaning. Living monastically isn’t part of my remit. 

I still consume, but I’m much more careful about what I consume. In terms of material possessions, I’ve realized that I need a lot less than once thought I did. 

I’ve become more comfortable saying no and turning down requests that don’t fit with my life priorities. This is such a simple concept, yet so many of us give up our ability to say no too freely. 

None of this feels frugal. I certainly don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything—far from it. These are just intentional decisions that support me living my version of a simpler life. 

The upside for me has been more focus, more purpose and more white space in my days for adventure, or just staying still occasionally. I feel like I dictate the pace of my life more than I have in the past. 

Comparisons are a Race to the Bottom

Too many of us get caught up spending time comparing ourselves to others, rather than getting in touch with ourselves and really uncovering what it is we want most. Once we’ve uncovered this, we can take steps toward supporting it. Our actions, plans and daily tasks can align and take on new purpose. 

Ultimately, living a simple life should mean living well and without depravation. What that means for each of us will have slightly (or very) different flavors. That’s as it should be. 

Live simple certainly, but live simple your own way.

August 18, 2018

Passionate About Nothing

Not having a defined passion is not necessarily a bad thing.

Can he do it on a cold Monday night in Stoke?”

This question is one often asked in England to measure a sportsman’s passion for football (or soccer). The thinking behind it is that if a footballer puts in a positive, heart-filled performance against the hard tackling Stoke City team, they must be passionate about the sport and the jersey they represent.

But what if you aren’t that passionate about football? Or your team?

What if you aren’t that passionate about... anything?

I always see the same repeated statement when it comes to minimalism; reduce the clutter in your life and you will have more time, money and love to dedicate to your passions. The situation for me though, as a recently converted ‘minimalist’ is that I don’t have a passion to invest my new-found freedom in. Obviously, I'm passionate about family and friends. That goes without saying. But other than that, there's not an awful lot that I put real time and energy into.

I certainly have a strong interest in music, but I wouldn’t call it a passion as I’m very uncommitted and often flit between different genres. I’m a football fan, but again I wouldn’t say it’s a big passion as I can give or take going to watch games. I like wine tasting and trying different types of cheese but I’m a long way from a connoisseur. What I guess I’m trying to say is that I do have interests, but none that I have the desire to cultivate into a fully-fledged passion.

I don’t see this as a negative thing though. When I was at school, I was asked what I wanted to be when I grow up. I didn’t know then, and I still don’t know at the age of 30. That indecisiveness bugged me for years. This, coupled with the fact I tend to be quite faddy with things, gave me a concern that I would never be truly happy, in either employment or my interests.

The lesson I have taken out of minimalism is the understanding that it’s okay to be indecisive. My life is my own. Removing distractions and pacifiers such as games consoles or social media have opened my eyes to the misaligned self-assessment I was making of my life. I thought I had to have a defined passion and that I was wasting my spare time. I thought I needed to hustle and progress in my job within X amount of years. Otherwise, I would be stuck and aimless.

In reality, none of these things matters to me. The important people in my life won't judge me, and those who do judge aren't important. I can pick up and drop interests as I choose. I can follow my curiosity. I don’t have to wholeheartedly commit to any of my hobbies, and as far as my working career goes, as long as my job isn’t detrimental to my personal life, then it doesn’t matter.

I STILL don’t know what I want to become. I’ve stopped feeling guilty about this. I don’t go out running in all weathers or force myself to play the guitar. I am ok with that.

Coasting along in a job isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you don’t know what you want to do differently. Neither is a lack of clearly defined passions. If you are happy and content with life as it is, don’t try and change it to keep up with other people’s experiences or expectations. Live yourself.

August 8, 2018

Life After Loss

Memories of our loved ones don’t live in material things.

As a kid, my brother would always give me a hard time because I choked on food easily. I wouldn’t be in danger or anything, and he thought it was hilarious. He would glare at me from across the table, smile, and ask, “You choking?”

Years later, after his death, I looked around my messy, crammed apartment and imagined him asking me that question again. Yes, I was choking. But this time, not on food… on stuff. I was choking—feeling smothered and overwhelmed by all my possessions.

After he was killed, my family and Jeremy’s friends came to the house and we each took the things that were most meaningful to each of us. I ended up inheriting a lot of my brother’s belongings. All of these things filled my house, but his death still left me with a deep, profound sense of emptiness. I wanted to find a way to both manage and express my grief. I did what I thought would make me whole again: I bought things and busied myself with a personal project to tell the world about Jeremy.

I wanted to make a film about Jeremy’s life, so I bought all new film equipment. I upgraded my lifestyle by replacing old furniture and filled my closet with new clothes. Retail therapy was my coping mechanism. In addition to the material things I bought, I acquired a new group of friends and set myself up with a very active social life. By all outward appearances, I was getting over my loss and living a great life.

Years later, after graduating and getting engaged, I took a hard look at my financial situation and made the tough decision to sell my outdated film equipment to pay off debt I had accumulated. I didn’t even have a film to speak of.

Then, my mom died. I was a different person and grieved her loss differently.

I then saw how much time I had wasted after Jeremy’s death, focusing on superficial things to make me feel better but did not actually make me feel better. When I tried to dress up my grief, I just kept adding to it. I did not face the real issues underlying my desire to acquire so many things.

So, how do you become a better person after tragedy? When you have so much in your life, life begins to weigh you down. It’s hard to move, much less move on.

I was happy with very little in my life. Then one day, I came across a documentary about minimalism. I learned about a community of people who seemed a lot happier with less.

The movement to live with less really struck a chord with me. I started getting rid of the stuff I didn’t use or find joy in. Saving an item “just in case” didn’t have a place in my life.

I learned from that documentary that memories don’t exist within things. They exist in your mind. If I get rid of my brother’s clothes, I won’t forget him. As long as I still exist, and as long as I keep remembering him, he is remembered.

Since I embraced a simpler, less materialist life, the noise in my head went away. I became a better husband, a better son, and a more focused person. A less cluttered life means a less cluttered mind, and a happier one. And that’s what our loved ones would want for us. It may sound like a very difficult, if not impossible task—to get rid of personal belongings of a loved one. But I promise there’s value in not attaching yourself to things or the physical manifestations of your memories of that loved one. We’ve accumulated memories and experiences with our loved ones that live with us in our hearts and memories; donating his jacket or shoes is not going to take that away.

August 1, 2018

Learning That The Best Way to Grow is to Subtract

One young woman’s journey from organizational hoarding to a life of minimalism.

Nearly eight years ago, my parents and my two older sisters shoved the last of our over-packed boxes into the moving truck, said our tear-filled goodbyes to our house, and slumped into the car to begin our long journey. We had made a family decision about a year beforehand to move from our comfortable shack of a house in San Diego, California, to a real house in the heart of Utah. We felt that it was right to go—with my dad’s ministry work—to live the life we all wanted.

As an eleven-year-old, I didn’t think I had that much stuff. However, as my memory serves, half of the boxes in the moving truck were mine. Now, I’m not sure how true that is, but I do know that when we unpacked our boxes in our individual rooms after the 800-mile drive, my room was overflowing with things.

This new room was twice as big as it was in California, and I couldn’t wait to fill it. I had a large closet that was well past its capacity to hold clothing items, most of which I didn’t even wear. A bookshelf was placed in the corner with books upon books upon books, most of them I didn’t even know I had. There was also a six-drawer dresser and two nightstands that were completely filled.

I must have assumed that this was normal because nothing was done about the surplus of stuff that I possessed until many years later. I had done decluttering sessions here and there, but the space that I had emptied would always be filled back up again with on-sale items from the local thrift store or items that had been handed down to me from my older siblings. It wasn’t until my freshman year of high school that I realized… maybe this isn’t the world I want to live in or the narrative I want to keep.

My minimalist journey did not begin easily. At least once a week for three or four months, I did a ruthless purge of my things. If I had not worn it in the last six months, or if I hadn’t thought about the item in six months… it was gone from my life. I had vowed to myself not to purchase anything for a few months while I used and fully appreciated the things I already owned (spoiler alert: it felt incredible).

The purge sessions became obsessive. It felt so good to give things to people who needed them more than I did, to live with a more value-aligned life, and live with only the essentials. Cleaning, organizing and reducing is still a major part of my life, but it’s no longer a necessity. I have newfound clarity in my thoughts, a spring in my step, and a radiant sense of joy that could have never been attained had I not found minimalism.

I have gone from a stuff-obsessed, bitter and moody teenager to a radiant, value-aligned and loving young woman—all because of my perspective on stuff. It’s still interesting to me to see how material items—or the lack thereof—have changed my life.

If you are feeling stuck or unhappy with where you are, perhaps look around and see what you could change. Could you declutter the negative thoughts in your head? Or could you dive into that chaotic corner of the house that remains stoically unkempt? Maybe there are relationships that you need to re-evaluate but haven’t gotten around to yet?

Minimalism, in any aspect, might just change your life forever… for the better.

July 25, 2018

Minimalist Travel: Less Luggage, More Substance

A seasoned traveler’s recipe for low-stress, high-impact international adventures.

I once heard that the average American spends more time planning a vacation than the actual duration of the getaway. And perhaps, I too was part of this statistic in my youth. But today, after 33 years and 33 countries visited, I have developed a rough-but-yummy recipe for travel success:

Pack Half

The journey begins at home. If you’re like most people, you stress about needing items ‘A through Z’ while abroad. But, also like many people, you probably won’t be using most of your clothes, toiletries, and other tchotchkes that you stuffed into your now-bulging luggage.

I challenged myself to packing at most half of my normal haul. It wasn’t easy the first time around, but once it was done, it felt like a milestone achieved. And once I enjoyed how carefree it was to travel with fewer pieces of luggage, I doubt I’ll ever go back to my old ways.

Book Buffers

I don’t overstuff my schedule, either. While abroad, things happen. Planes experience mechanical troubles. Trains are late (okay, maybe not in Germany or Japan). Travel companions fall ill, tired, or moody. Weather does not cooperate. Plans change. If my itinerary were ever jam-packed, I was constantly anxious and running on adrenaline the entire time with little chance of unwinding or de-stressing. And wasn’t that the whole point of the getaway?

Spend an Afternoon Like a Local

In between my planned adventures, I always carve some time to do… nothing. Well, not exactly nothing. I’ll spend an afternoon meandering the lesser-known neighborhoods, usually away from other tourist hordes. I’ll often sit at a café and people-watch or go see a movie (subtitles or not). In the evening, I’ll attend a comedy show or music/jazz club, or whatever the local flavor of entertainment might be. In essence, I do everything to NOT feel like a tourist. And it makes the entire trip that much more pleasant and memorable.

Resist Over-posting on Social Media

This is a tough one. Especially for me, a former semi-pro photographer (my Instagram is @itakemanyphotos, which I hope one day becomes a misnomer). Whenever I go on an international adventure, I usually wait a few days before posting about my adventures. This helps me process, and more fully cherish, my own experience instead of worrying about social validation, likes, or retweets from my friends back home. It reminds me to spend less time taking photos, and more time using my eyes to enjoy the beautiful scenes in front of me (although, in my defense, I take a lot of photos back home, so when I travel, it feels natural to continue doing the same). To get my social fix, I talk to as many locals as I can. Not in a speed-dating sort of way, but to a degree that makes me forget I miss home, even if for just a few days.

When I do post photos online, rather than posting 18 photos of that amazing sunset, I pick my best one or two—especially if they’re wildly different. I think about curating the experience for the person on the other end. Who wants to see fourteen videos and ten pictures of the same one-eyed lizard, cute as he may be? No one. Less is more.

Realize the Obvious

None of the above is rocket science. It’s common knowledge, but like all common sense, it’s rarely practiced. So next time you’re planning your next adventure, consider carrying less, doing less, worrying less… and experiencing a whole lot more.

July 12, 2018

Simple Sustainability

Incorporating sustainable practices in a throw-away culture.

When I began my minimalist journey, I found it hard to hold myself back from diving head-first into the wide variety of lifestyles that minimalism presents. There are so many to choose from—a nomadic lifestyle, zero-waste living, living with only essentials—just to name a few. Though there are many paths to explore in the world of living with less, the freshly curated trail of sustainability caught my eye and I began to tread softly into the benefits it had to offer.

In my eyes, living sustainability meant that I could easily reduce the amount of effort, time, and money I put into purchasing items, completing tasks, and generally living life. There were immediate benefits to incorporating sustainable living into my everyday life, such as knowing that I was doing the earth/environment a favor while swapping things out for more sustainable items, increasing the longevity of the items I was using, and saving myself so many resources by only purchasing things I truly loved and fit within my values.

I soon began to look for companies that fit within my values and allowed me to spend my money wisely, knowing that the item would be long-lasting. While there are few companies that are dedicated to sustainability, Modern Essentials is one of the few that allows their personal values and minimalist journey shine through their products.

Modern Essentials is a New York-based clothing brand that is dedicated to sharing their passion for minimalism through their products. While living in a throw-away culture, they bring together minimalism and sustainability in order to create the ideal closet for people aspiring to live with less. As minimalism transitions from being a trend to a lifestyle, CEO Michael Frattaroli and his team are dedicated to bringing a simple, minimal, and modern touch to clothing in a world of fast-fashion.

Modern Essentials combines what we need to strive for in our fashion industry today—minimal style, simple, and modern designs, and sustainability at an affordable price. Unlike the fast-fashion industry, Modern Essentials carefully curates each item of clothing and ensures that it passes an intense quality control line before it ever reaches the boutique doors. 

Times are always changing, which means that the fashion industry is constantly releasing new ideas and clothing. Modern Essentials has created their product to be timeless in a society of ephemeral joy. These essential pieces can be worn from season to season, and through every change in the fashion industry. Without being weighed down by the industry, these products allow you to be more free in thought and action as you enjoy the more important things in life: realizing the true color of the sky, hearing your partner laugh, and being in touch with reality—the life that is happening right before your eyes. 

As you continue to make room in your life for the important things, 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.

July 4, 2018

Lessons in Branding at Twelve

How a spoiled twelve-year-old learned a lesson in popularity and branding.

I grew up lower-middle class. I always had more than I needed but not as much as my peers. Going through middle school with the cutting-edge technology of Myspace and MSN Messenger was tough. For the first time, what others had was not only on display during school hours, but whenever one got home and logged on.

I remember the trends when I went through school: Hollister shirts, Abercrombie jeans, Sperry shoes, and Coach purses. Imagine a twelve-year-old carrying a $300 handbag. There was a trend with these popular items—a name. No, it did not matter how beautiful the piece of clothing was, its quality, or where it came from.

I have always been a bit of an outcast—known to dance to the beat of my own drum—but while wearing the same as everyone else. I remember one day in particular, I asked for a pair of Sperry shoes and a Coach handbag for Christmas. What I received was a pair of Aloha Island’s that looked identical to Sperry’s but cost $20 at the Shoe Show and a Coach bag that was clearly not authentic.

For about a week, I was furious with my mom. How was I going to go to school wearing knock-offs when everyone else had the real deal? At the time, I wasn’t concerned with the fact that my mother couldn’t afford the real items or the thought and the time that it took her to find the best she could afford. 

However, before school went back into session, I found a philosophy that I carry with me to this day. Do my peers like the product or the name? If they truly liked what they were wearing, the price tag would not matter. Now that I have grown in my beliefs, I no longer look for names. In fact, I spend time finding items without branding on the piece. Instead, I look for quality and ethically made pieces that will last me through every trend and every season. Before indulging in the name brand piece, I ask myself: “would I buy this if it were an unknown brand?”

June 27, 2018

How I Became a Peripatetic Minimalist

Why I merged travel and minimalism to find balance in my life.

Travel and minimalism are perfect companions. The less you own, the fewer things can weigh you down, which in turn allows you to roam freely.

How I came onto the path of minimalism was out of my control. Turning nineteen years of age, my family decided to make a move to Peru. As soon as I left secondary school, my father sold our house. The number of things we found that once may have bared significance to us, was staggering. I think it may go without saying that moving home is stressful.  What makes the situation even worse is the obligation to move and package a million little things, many of which you can’t remember how they even came into your life.

The task of having to sell, throw out, and donate possessions made me think. How much money did we throw away with all these little trinkets? How many hours have we worked to buy something that held value for maybe a week? More importantly, imagine all the cool places we could have travelled to instead.

Now that I take travelling the world more seriously, I do not want to be tied down by possessions, contracts, and excess money. I want to travel, inspire, and help others—not flex and impress everyone.

Possessions used to mark our status as humans. But does owning more materialist things—the latest smartphone—make us happy? Not me. I find much more value exploring nature, spending time with other cultures, and inspiring people to see what they are missing out. Spending doesn’t have to involve a transaction.

Two years on, my love of travel is growing deeper by the day. I aim to live with only the essentials, and the small number of things that I do have, bring a smile to my face. Living this way, I avoid the pitfalls of mass accumulation, allowing me to hop on a plane with my backpack and go wherever I desire.  The world is my home. That is why I aim to own little but see much.