Minimalism

An Experiment in First Party Apps

Reflections on several weeks of using only Apple’s first party apps.

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Over the past couple weeks, and largely prompted by the releases of iOS 9 and OS X El Capitan, I’ve been trying an experiment where I used first party apps everywhere I possibly could. I had three main reasons for giving this a try: simply enjoying doing experiments like this, liking to challenge my assumptions about what I think I need to do my work, and being curious about how my computing experience might be better if I went all-in on the Apple ecosystem.

Without going through app by app I figured I’d share some of my larger learning points:

There’s a certain elegance or comforting state of mind to using all first-party apps.

I’m not sure if this is just my own broken mind or if others experience this as well, but when I was using first party apps across all my devices I felt calm about my setup. All the apps were made by the same company so ostensibly they should all work together extremely well, right? They all came pre-installed with the device I’m using so I’m computing in as minimal way as possible. No fussing over three different apps that all do basically the same thing — instead just using what’s provided and staying focused on the work. I liked the feeling of knowing that I was using my devices with almost no customization. I knew I could buy a new computer or borrow somebody else’s and I’d feel comfortable in doing the work I needed to do.

Some of the apps are just as good as what I was using before and I’ve decided to stick with them.

Early in this experiment I deleted Evernote from my phone and my computer and decided to try to use the new Notes app as its replacement. While Notes does not bill itself as an Evernote replacement and it’s not nearly as full featured as Evernote I quickly realized that it worked better for what I needed to do. Evernote had become bloated over the past few years and I no longer enjoyed using it. What I realized by shifting to Notes is that I didn’t need something as big and all-encompassing as Evernote to do my work. Notes is lightweight yet still powerful, syncs across my devices nearly instantaneously, and (this is where Evernote started to fail) is actually enjoyable to use.

You begin to appreciate apps that do the little things well when all you use are first party apps for awhile.

This experiment actually pitted two opposite sides of my personality against each other. The minimalist inside me loves the idea of using only the bare minimum tools to get work done. However, there’s also a very large part of me who loves to make sure I’m using the best tool in every situation. In many ways I have power user tendencies that result in trying out tons of new things and really making sure that what I’m using is truly best-in-class. While Apple has done an admirable job across most of the apps they ship with iOS or OS X, the aren’t necessarily aimed at power users. They aim to do the bare minimum. They do the bare minimum extremely well, but there were times I found myself longing for some apps that added that extra level of polish and functionality.

All in all, I’m glad I gave this a try over the past few weeks. Even though I’m shifting back to some of my beloved non-first party apps I now know that if I had to I could be perfectly productive using nothing but the provided apps. I may not choose to work that way right now but there’s a certain peace of mind knowing that I don’t truly need my fancy third party apps to get serious work done. And, as with any personal experiment, I learned a little bit more about myself and what I value.

If you’re curious about what I tried and what I decided to keep using I’m providing my current setup below:

  • I tried using Podcasts.app across my devices but I ended up going back to Overcast because of Smart Speed.
  • I tried using TextEdit on my Mac for all my basic word processing needs but I moved back to Byword because of Markdown support.
  • I tried using Twitter.app and the Twitter website and I’m still kind of undecided between sticking with it or going back to Tweetbot. Tweetbot is a delight to use but I’m worried about Twitter’s relationship with third party developers and I feel like I should get on board with how Twitter obviously wants people to interact with the service.
  • I tried using Calendar.app on my iPhone and on my computer but have decided to shift back to Fantastical. Quick adding events with natural language is a much better experience than adding events in Apple’s calendar app.
  • I tried using Notes.app instead of Evernote and I’m sticking with it. The new Notes app is top notch.
  • I tried using Reminders as a replacement for Things. Reminders is really not built for managing lots of complex projects so I very quickly realized it wasn’t going to work as a replacement for more robust task management software.
  • I tried committing to Mail.app on all my devices and I’ve decided to stick with it. I honestly don’t get very much email and it has been more than sufficient and enjoyable to use for my needs.
  • I’ve been using Safari across all my devices for a long time so no change there.
  • I tried using Numbers and Pages instead of Excel and Word. So far I’ve been able to stick with Numbers and Pages but I have a feeling there will be situations where I will need to revert to Excel and Word (particularly with my PhD work and collaborating with my advisor). However, I haven’t installed the Microsoft Office suite on my new work computer and I’m going to see how long I can hold out.
  • I committed to using iBooks over the Kindle app awhile ago. I didn’t like having my e-book collection spread across multiple services so several months ago I decided to go all-in with iBooks. I really enjoy it so far.
  • I tried the three month free trial of Apple Music when it first came out and decided to commit to it over Spotify. In many ways Spotify and Apple Music were basically identical for me so I decided to give the tie to the first party app. I suspect I’ll dip into Spotify from time to time to see how it’s being developed, especially if Apple Music begins to feel stagnant. For now I’m happy with it.
  • I committed to using iCloud Drive as my data backend wherever possible. I still have a Dropbox account because that is how my research lab shares data but for everything else I’m using iCloud Drive. So far it has been rock solid.
  • I tried using Safari Reading List as a replacement for Instapaper. I’m going back to Instapaper, though, primarily for the offline reading and the ability to “like” articles. I have a pretty mature workflow around sending things to read to Instapaper from basically anywhere and then sharing great articles in batches with Buffer. I couldn’t figure out a good way to replicate that with Reading List. Plus, Reading List doesn’t save the articles for offline reading and I like to use Instapaper when I’m on the subway.
  • I’ve been using Apple Maps for a long time but I’ve had a series of complications recently that are causing me to seriously reconsider whether this should be my go-to mapping service. It’s walking a very narrow line with me right now…
  • I’ve been trying Apple News since the release of iOS 9. I’m not sure if it will fit into my workflow in the long run but right now I’m trying to give it a fair shake.
  • Key third party apps I use all the time that don’t really have a first party replacement include: Day One, Slack, Instagram, and Paprika. Other first party apps I use regularly include Photos, Reminders, and Messages.

What's In Your Backpack

This article originally appeared on my first blog, The Simpler Life, sometime in 2009. It has been updated and revised to be included on TheWorkologist.com.

In the movie Up in the Air, George Clooney's character is a motivational speaker that often gives a talk called, "What's In Your Backpack?" He talks about how each of us is carrying around a metaphorical backpack that contains all of our possessions and commitments. Our backpacks get heavier and heavier until they are so filled with "stuff" that it is nearly impossible to move. George Clooney's character argues that we should "set our backpacks on fire" and free ourselves from this burden. In terms of relationships, he makes the same argument but thankfully gives us permission to not set our backpacks full of family members, friends, and significant others on fire. Much like our backpack full of our possessions, our bag-o-relationships weighs us down and prevents us from being truly free and we should just walk away from it.

Up to a certain point, I was nodding right along with the talk as it was being given. I agree that we all carry around a metaphysical backpack with everything that weighs us down. Our possessions, commitments, relationships, responsibilities and our own goals overflow our backpacks until many of us have no chance of ever being able to move again. However, the point where I differ in philosophy from the movie is what we should do with our backpacks.

In my quest for simplicity and well-being, I am methodically removing everything from my backpack and asking myself if it is truly something I need to be carrying with me. In terms of physical items, this is why I am committed to living a more minimalist lifestyle with less, yet higher quality, possessions. I do not need the extra weight of a large wardrobe or a room full of video games. Most importantly, everything I decide to keep in my backpack is something I have consciously decided to keep around. I think many people have no idea what is in their backpack and yet wonder why it is so heavy.

In terms of relationships, I do not accept the philosophy of Clooney's character. He lives a life completely devoid of personal relationships because he thinks they tie him down. I prefer to fill my backpack with relationships that I care about-- to honestly ask myself what role they should play in my life. I'm not afraid to let friendships fizzle out that no longer make sense in maintaining. At the same time, I am fiercely committed to those relationships I deem worthwhile and important. I take the same approach to my relationships that I do my physical possessions; if I love it and it makes sense to keep, than I make it a point to cultivate it. If it is no longer important to me, then I let it go.

Think about the backpack you are carrying around every day. Have you consciously allowed everything you are carrying around to enter your life? If not, you might want to take a moment to stop, empty your backpack, and make some decisions about what you are going to put back in before you continue slowly killing yourself under the weight.

Clutter and How It's Ruining Your Life

recent episode of Back to Work got me thinking about the larger relationship inherent in all of the possessions we own. I’ve been a fairly vocal proponent of minimalism for a long time — even to go as far as committing a year and a half of my life to writing and maintaining a blog exclusively about minimalism. While my relationship with minimalism has been fairly unflagging for the last five years, I’ve tried to figure out what it means on a deeper level. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the title of “minimalist” for awhile but my actions have always been firmly set within that camp. In the aforementioned episode of Back to Work, Merlin talks about the effect clutter has had on his life. It was refreshing to hear his take on this subject as he has been unabashedly the anti-minimalism guy for awhile. It always felt kind of weird that he was who I most closely emulated in my own online writing ventures but I was positive  he’d despise what I write about.

I recently went through my apartment and took photographs of everything I own. I’m not really sure why I decided to do that — but I have some ideas. I don’t think it had anything to do with the minimalist pissing contest I’ve been critical of in the past. I didn’t count my possessions, only took pictures of them. Part of me has always been curious just what exactly I own. Taking pictures of everything made me actually think about my reasons for owning every item I touched. I’m fairly ruthless with how willing I am to let possessions go and yet I was still surprised by how much I had documented in my little photo shoot. It made me think about what it would have been like to do this activity if I wasn’t a minimalist and accumulated and retained items like a typical American.

While I’m definitely a fan of minimal aesthetics that my lifestyle leans toward, it’s not the main reason I’m so ruthless about restricting the physical items I own. I’ve become aware that each item I own represents more than just the simple physical object that it appears. Everything I own carries emotional and psychological baggage that may or may not be a positive contribution to my life. Getting rid of everything I own that I don’t find useful or beautiful clears my environment not only of physical items, but clears my head and my life of emotional and psychological detritus. It’s a very interesting feeling to look around my living space and let my eyes fall on the various objects and know that I made the conscious decision to keep it in my life. That sounds simple but have you tried looking at the things you own and asking yourself why you’ve kept something? Even me, Mr. Minimalist Guy, finds things that have wormed their way into my life without me noticing and need to be removed every couple of months.

Owning less makes me more aware and thankful for what I do own. I’m forced to take better care of my possessions because I most likely don’t have a backup if I break or lose something. At the same time, I can’t remember the last time I lost something. Considering I can fit nearly all of my worldly possessions into two duffel bags, it takes some major lack of awareness to lose something.

My favorite part of living this way, however, is simply for the personal challenge. That is a bit of a misnomer because I no longer find it to be particularly challenging, but I do like testing myself to see what I really need in terms of possessions to live a happy life. Before I decided to try this whole minimalism thing, I would have thought you were nuts if you told me I’d be living with as many possessions as I have now. What about all my video games? What about the rest of my clothes? What’s the point of working hard and making money if I’m not going to buy lots of things? Those were the questions I would have asked myself and these are the questions that people still ask me. However, now I know I don’t need a lot of what other people consider necessities and I have more flexibility and faith in myself because of it. It’s fun to challenge myself to see if I really need what society says I need to live and be happy. I’d much rather find out for myself and so far minimalism has been one of those activities that society says is weird but I’ve discovered is extremely exciting and liberating at the same time.

Living exactly like this isn’t for everybody, especially those of you with families. Being a student and unmarried definitely means I can make decisions about my environment that some of you don’t get to make. However, I don’t consider the end goal to be some magic number of things you should own. Instead, the metric should be whether you’ve consciously made the decision to keep something in your life. If you can look at something and immediately articulate why you have it (and are okay with those reasons) I think you should keep it. The problem arises when you begin looking at items you forgot you owned and/or aren’t sure why you even have in the first place. These are the items that represent a drain on your well-being and are prime candidates to make swift exits from your life. This criteria applies to me, the guy who owns almost nothing, and the most cluttered hoarder on the planet

There are certainly much more difficult and important aspects of living a good life than worrying about what your living situation or office looks like. However, spending some time to think about your physical environment is one of those tasks that seems unimportant but can actually have pretty big ramifications down the road. It only makes sense that the places where you spend the majority of your time should be as energizing as possible. Creating positive relationships, doing great work, and making a difference in the world are all difficult enough. Don’t let your environment drain the precious energy you need to take care of the bigger things in life.  

How I Used Minimalism to Jolt Myself Out of Complacency

In the fall of 2005 I started my undergraduate degree at Bowling Green State University. Like a typical college freshman that goes away to school, I spent a lot of time and money buying things for my new dorm room. I was going to be out on my own for the first time in my life and everyone wanted to make sure I had everything I could possibly need, and more. I had a hot water pot, a coffee maker, microwave, cases of convenient food and drinks, lamps, bean bag chairs, a futon and an array of other random things that you’re “supposed” to find in a college dorm room. It was definitely way more stuff than could comfortably fit in a 12 x 12 room with a roommate. Essentially, I was identical to your typical college student in every way.

DECEMBER 2005, NEWBIE MINIMALIST

Fast forward several months and I was beginning to wonder if there was a better way. I was tired of living in a tiny room that was packed to the gills with “stuff” that I barely used. Granted, everyone else’s dorm room looked basically the same - so what was I complaining about? In my angst ridden annoyance over being dominated by my stuff I found the blog Zen Habits. And thus, my foray into minimalism began.

This isn’t a minimalism blog. I’ve already spent plenty of time and effort writing about that. However, minimalism was my ticket out of complacency. I realized that I didn’t have to live like everyone else. I didn’t have to get through college, find a great job, and start acquiring the symbols of success like people expected. It took me years of thinking about the topic and experimenting with what felt right in my life but eventually I came to realize that I was more than my stuff. The whole process of thinking about my relationship to material goods spurred me on to more aspects of living consciously — but minimalism got the ball rolling. It made me start thinking about what I was doing and why I was doing it.

BREAKING FREE OF COMPLACENCY

I see a lot of value of trying out various lifestyle experiments like minimalism or vegetarianism. Doing something that removes you from what everyone else is doing forces you to think. I don’t particularly care if you decide to be a minimalist or a vegetarian, but I do care if you think about why you’re living the way you are.

Living a minimalist lifestyle forced me to think about my relationship to stuff, which made me think about my habits, and eventually led me to reevaluate my future. It helped me clarify my values and lead me down the path I’m currently traveling. If I’m not interested in accumulating stuff what’s my motivation to work? The work itself became the motivation and explains why I’ve stepped away from my original chosen profession of teaching and am embarking on a degree in positive psychology and a career as a coach.

Minimalism was the jolt that got me out of complacently accepting everything society told me I should be working toward. What is your jolt going to be? Can you try minimalism? Can you try changing your diet? Can you commit to some sort of 30 day challenge that will test the boundaries of what you think is possible? Whatever avenue you decide to take, waking up from complacency and blind acceptance is worth the effort and sometimes it takes something drastic like living with less than 100 things or eating only a plant-based diet to snap us out of it.

 

On Blogging Without The Internet

I've been a semi-professional blogger for awhile now and I haven't had internet access at my home for the last 9 months. Every time I mention this little factoid jaws seem to go slack and eyes get a little hazy. The follow up question is invariably something along the lines of, "Whaa...how?" or "Why would you do that to yourself?" A blogger without access to the internet -- is that really as strange as it sounds?

Here's what I've learned from 9 months of limited internet access and why I decided to get service last week.

  1. Blogging is done 98% offline anyway: First and foremost, I'm a writer. The internet just happens to be where I post my finished product. Writing is done most efficiently (for me at least) offline.
  2. My willpower was never even brought into the question: When I woke up in the morning I didn't have to exercise any willpower to not check my email or go waste time on Twitter. It wasn't even an option so I didn't have to worry about it. As a side effect, I've noticed my willpower has atrophied a little bit when it comes to regulating my internet access.
  3. My limited time online was usually very focused: I got in the habit of making lists of things I needed to do when I had access to the internet. Most of the time I only had an hour or two of access at a time so I had to make sure I got everything done that I had on my lists. This resulted in me using my time pretty effectively most of the time.
  4. I was always on the prowl for access: This is the main reason I decided to get internet access in my apartment. I always had my iPod Touch with me and was constantly on the lookout for free wi-fi. Since I never knew when my next chance to access the internet would be, I became obsessed with looking for access. This started to really bother me when I caught my social habits being affected. I began taking my iPod Touch with me anywhere and everywhere. That constant uncertainty was making me a pain to be around, I'm sure.
  5. I became Starbuck's bitch: "Tall bold, please." I said this so, so many times over the past few months. Starbucks has free internet (as long as you purchase a drink) so I found myself spending many a hour sipping a delicious coffee and using their wi-fi. I told myself that I was saving money by not paying for access to the internet, but when it comes down to it I was probably only saving $15 a month, tops.

I liked the productivity that not having home access to the internet gave me but I hated always being on the lookout for it as well. When I got my full-time long-term substitute teaching job I decided it was probably time to get the internet in my apartment. I wanted to be able to do research and preparation for my lessons on my own time and without having to drop $1.59 on a drink.

Now that I've re-entered the world of the connected, I'm very cognizant of not falling into bad habits. Just like you can't give a ton of food to a starving person without them throwing up, I'm afraid that my mind is going to throw up when it suddenly has access to the internet almost 24 hours a day after going without for so long.

It'll be an interesting case study in my own discipline and habits.

Have you lived without access to the internet for long periods of time? How did you feel about it? I'd love to hear your story in the comments.

 

 

It's Not the Tools, It's the Carpenter

This blog isn't about minimalism.

It never has been. Sure, I bandy the word about but I've never considered myself a "minimalist blogger". I write about living simply and consciously -- in whatever form that takes. Sometimes that is through the tool of minimalism and sometimes it's not. Despite the recent uproar (which I promised myself I wouldn't get involved in -- although, appear to be doing so now) minimalism can't die. Tools can't die. Hammers, screwdrivers and computers are nothing more than what people make them to be. Minimalism is made by the people who practice it -- and they aren't going anywhere soon.

I caution those of use who are lucky enough to make a full or even partial living on the internet to lose perspective of the larger world. Just because everyone you interact with on Twitter claims to live minimally and consciously doesn't mean the idea is mainstream. If you read this blog you're in the minority. If you've ever left a comment, sent me an email, or interacted with me in any way you're part of an even smaller minority. Your reality isn't my reality. My reality isn't yours. We risk running into problems when we project our own perspective on others.

Please don't let one person represent an idea for you. Proclamations are pointless when we are talking about the way we live our lives. Conscious living applies to every aspect of life -- especially when it comes to what you read on this, or any other, blog.

I'm not particularly interested in petty controversies between people who write on the internet. I'm just going to keep writing about how I'm learning to live a simpler and more conscious life. Minimalism will continue to be a tool I use. However, my tools don't define me. Nobody looks at a world-class sculptor and says, "That's the guy who uses that really awesome chisel! Check out how sweet his chisel is!" A carpenter is not asked to wax poetic about his hammers and his saws after a house has been built.

I'm not interested in being defined by my tools either; I'm building something that transcends what I've used to build it.

 

 

Out of Sight Minimalism

Minimalism usually evokes images of spartan living spaces, airy closets, and few personal possessions. In essence, minimal living is usually tied to physical items, or the lack thereof. That's an important aspect of minimalism, but it's not the end-all-be-all of what it means to live minimally. In fact, I don't think it's even the most important part. Minimalism can, and should, be applied to the unseen components of life, too.

COMMITMENTS

It doesn't matter how tranquil and serene your living environment is if you spend your life rushing from one commitment to another. I think it's interesting how many people who are interested in living a minimal life are also the type of person who is very driven and dedicated to personal development. Sometimes, the two values clash with each other. In the quest of self improvement it can be tempting to take on too much at a time. Start restricting yourself to only the commitments that speak most directly to your values. What you'll sacrifice in breadth of activities you'll easily make up for by becoming more deeply involved with your remaining responsibilities. The deeper you get into your commitments, the greater chance you have for impact, too.

SOMEDAY/MAYBE LISTS

A component of David Allen's Getting Things Done system (a keystone for organizing my life) is the idea of having a Someday/Maybe list. This is the list where everything that you think you might like to do at some point, but can't right now, lives. When these lists are up to date and truly reflect your passions and desires, it can be exhilarating to look at.

However, the longer something sits on this list and you don't take action on it, the more likely it is to weigh you down. I recently took a look at my someday/maybe list and had well over 50 things on it. Some of them had been on there for so long I couldn't even remember when I wanted to do it. I certainly didn't want to now. After I purged those lists and was left with the few things I knew I still wanted to do, I felt better. Unfulfilled commitments, even to yourself, can become draining. You have control over that, so don't let it happen.

PERSONAL WISH LISTS

I keep a simple list in my Evernote account of things that I want. It also serves double duty as a 30 day waiting list for significant purchases. It's easy to have a handy list to give someone who asks about birthday or Christmas presents and it keeps me from buying unnecessary things on impulse. Over time, though, the list becomes littered with 30-day-wait-items that failed to pass the test and items I no longer yearn for. Having a huge list of things that I wanted didn't feel very minimalist, so after I cleaned it up and purged the majority of it, I felt like I was closer to living my value of mindful consumption.

DIGITAL DETRITUS

How many gigs of music do you have on your computer that you never listen to? I used to have a massive iTunes library that routinely pissed me off. I couldn't listen to the entire library on shuffle because I had to keep skipping songs I didn't like. What the hell is the point of that? With Pandora and other streaming radio, keeping actual music files on my computer is almost redundant. I know this isn't true for everyone, but it might be worth looking at how much you're actually storing on your computer. Almost everything can be accessed on the cloud now. That means you don't have to store it plus you can access your data from anywhere. What about crappy photos that are mixed in with your good ones? Old work reports you'll never need again? That middle school paper you wrote 11 years ago? Why keep digital detritus around when you wouldn't dream of keeping a physical folder of old algebra homework in your minimal office?

An outwardly minimal life marked by unseen clutter is minimal in nothing but name. Minimizing the visual and concrete is only the first step that allows the space to minimize the more abstract components of life. Out of sight minimalism is just as important, if not more so, than visual minimalism.

Where are your out of sight trouble spots?

Living Beyond Books

I've considered myself a minimalist for well over two years. Before, I was a hoarder. A well organized hoarder, but a hoarder nonetheless. I loved to collect things. When I was younger my chosen poison was hockey trading cards. In fact, one of my favorite past times was to take my entire collection and spend the day reorganizing it. One day it would be by team, another day would be by name, and if I was feeling particularly motivated, I'd organized my massive collection by an obscure statistical category.

As I got older, I began collecting books. I was interested in anything that came in a series. Stephen King's Dark Tower series? Check. Lord of the Rings? Check. The entire Shannara series? Check. Any time I didn't have a complete series I felt like part of myself was incomplete. I dreamed of having a library that would fill entire rooms. But even that fantasy wasn't enough to assuage the emotional stress I felt about having as complete a collection as possible. Obviously, I could never own or read every book and for some reason that bothered me at a subconscious level.

Are you catching the crazy here?

Just in case it slipped by you, let me reiterate.

I was annoyed by the fact that I could never read and own every single book in existence.

Coming to accept that realization was the beginning of my minimalist journey. Since I couldn't have it all, I decided to see how little I could have instead. To my surprise, I discovered that it wasn't owning books that I loved after all. It was reading books that I enjoyed. Then, I realized that I wasn't even necessarily in love with the old fashioned construct of a book -- I just wanted to read.

I've lived quite minimally for awhile now. Quite minimally, that is, except for the two bookcases full of books. I always rationalized that an educated person such as myself needed an apartment full of books as proof of that education. I've also been holding onto various books that I thought would fill my classroom the day I became a full-time social studies teacher. Besides the narcissism inherent in keeping books as social proof of my own intelligence those books I was saving for my classroom were a constant reminder that I am not a full-time teacher. At first, that bothered me. Now, I'm happy that my plans have changed. Why keep the books, then?

This weekend I took the big step of giving away 95% of my remaining book collection. I'm giving them to the local library and a former high school teacher of mine. I'll let the library store, organize and care for them for me. I'll let somebody who is in the classroom already utilize the books that have been sitting on my shelves doing nothing but making me look cultured.

I love reading, not owning books. I love learning, not purchasing books.

I'm learning that minimalism is about focusing on the verbs in life: doing, being, reading, learning, growing; and a lot less on the nouns: books, stuff, collections, and clutter.

All you minimalists out there, where are the last remnants of your former self hiding? I was hiding in my books. What about you? Shoes? Photos? Computer parts? What would it feel like to finally let that go?

This Is What I'm Teaching

I recently had the opportunity to speak to a group of students at the university where I coach hockey. I was asked to talk about leadership, finding your passion, and figuring out how to live after graduation when you can't find a job. I wasn't really sure what the format of the presentation was going to be, but it ended up being a great conversation that covered many different topics. I wanted to briefly summarize a few of the main points that I made during my talk.

  1. A college degree doesn't equal a job: I thought that because I was a top 10 high school student and a 3.97 GPA college student a teaching job would fall into my lap. It didn't. Instead, I took my seemingly narrow degree (social studies secondary education) and applied the skills I developed at school to a new activity, blogging. Going through the classes and getting good grades isn't enough. You need to find a passion (or passions) and pursue them on your own time.
  2. You get to decide what matters to you and what doesn't: Just because most people buy a new car with a pay raise or buy the largest home they can barely afford doesn't mean you have to as well. Just because most people don't cook at home and are content spending thousands of dollars a year eating out doesn't mean you have to as well. You are the master of your attention, money, and focus. Figure out what actually matters to you and spend as much of your time and resources doing that. Everything else? Do what you have to do to get by but don't feel like you need to follow the crowd.
  3. We all get 24 hours in our days: The difference between people is the way in which those hours are used: Abraham Lincoln had 24 hours in his day. Albert Einstein had 24 hours in his day. Why are some people so much more successful and productive than others? There are a ton of different factors at play (obviously) but the bottom line is that we're all working with the same limitations. You decide how you want to use the time you've been given.
  4. You can either reduce your wants or increase your income: I've found it's much easier to reduce my wants: Both have the same effect of helping you live below your means. However, unchecked wants seem to have a way of always outstripping income. If you can reduce the amount of stuff that you desire you can free up a ton of money to do some really awesome things. For example, you can work part time while pursuing your passion (like I'm doing). You could save your money and travel the world or give yourself a number of other amazing experiences.

I'm very thankful for the opportunity to get to speak about some of the ideas and concepts that I've been writing about for a long time now. I hope this is only the first of many, many forays into public speaking on this topic.

Living a conscious life is an important message and if you agree, I hope you find the work I do here inspirational.If you do, please consider sharing my work with a friend so we can help people live healthier, more conscious, and more meaningful lives together.

Living In the Midst of Your Mistakes

As I've evolved as a minimalist (or should I say "conscious maximalist") I've tried to move beyond the low-hanging fruit mentality. One of those easy to grab fruits that I've criticized before is the focus on the practical how-to aspect of decluttering. Decluttering as an activity is fairly straight forward and easy to do. My criticism of the minimalist movement in the past has been on the fervor over decluttering "tips and tricks". There are only so many ways to say; "Take everything out. Throw stuff away. Donate/sell other stuff. Place remaining stuff back. Repeat."

Boring.

However, one thing I don't get tired of exploring is the motivation and thinking behind what people do or don't do. I've recently applied that concept to the idea of living with clutter. Most of the time, clutter is the physical manifestation of negativity. Think about how often a piece of clutter represents regret, unfilled commitments, remorse, and/or a piece of a less-than-perfect past.

Look around your most cluttered room (or garage) and see how many of these questions pop into your head:

  1. "I should really do something about this."
  2. "That doesn't belong there. I don't even know what that is."
  3. "I never should've bought that."
  4. "I don't use this enough considering how much money I spent on it. I need to use it more."

These are only a few of the questions that are likely to wiggle there way into your mind as you look around an environment filled with clutter. Each question taken on its own may not be enough to alter your frame of mind too much. However, if they are popping into your head 24 hours a day over and over again you begin to have a problem. Why would you want to live in a place where such negative questions are always lurking just under the surface? Clutter breeds negativity.

What kind of mindset is your environment breeding?

I see decluttering as much more than reducing the sum total of my possessions. Decluttering is about removing negativity and putting the past behind me. It's about making room for positivity, growth, and opportunity.

What do you want your life to be filled with? Are your possessions getting in the way?

 

 

Simplifying Isn't Easy

It drives me nuts when people interchange the words "simple" and "easy". I also understand why people do it. Before I started this blog, I never really thought about the difference, either. But there is a difference -- a difference so great it defines the very basis of what it means to live simply.

Let me explain.

My definition of simplicity involves the removal of all excess, all superfluousness, in favor of the true essentials. The world we live in today means that most of us have a lot of excess in our lives. We have an excess of possessions, an excess of information, an excess of commitments and an excess of distractions. We live in a society of too much and too fast.

For those of us that have made the decision to simplify our lives and therefore live more consciously, a lot of our time is spent identifying the excess and getting rid of it. Anybody who has spent an afternoon purging a closet or making phone calls to end various commitments knows that it's not easy. Simplifying is hard.

Simplifying your life will lay you bare. It's easy to hide behind a mountain of stuff or point to your packed schedule and say, "I would follow my dreams, but look!" When you begin to peel away those layers of fat, those layers of excess, then the true person underneath has nowhere to hide. What if you aren't smart enough? What if you aren't brave enough?

Being laid bare means eliminating what society has told you to do, to become, or to desire.

You become you and most of us really don't have any idea who that person is.

And most of all, it's certainly not easy.

 

 

Rethinking Necessity in a World of Abundance

As I strive to become more conscious in the way I live my life I find myself rethinking what I think is necessary. When you are surrounded with abundance of wealth, information, distractions, tools, and services it can be easy to start thinking that all these things are truly vital. While some of them may be, most of them are not. Figuring out what is truly required to do your best work or be your best self is what living consciously is all about.

I think what really caused me to start to question my needs is the move I made to my new apartment a couple months ago.

WHAT DO YOU NEED?

Every type of work has certain tools that are truly vital to executing the job correctly. Carpenters need all of their hammers, drills, saws and other building tools. Seamstresses and tailors need fabric, thread, needles, sewing machines and whatever else is inherent to making and adjusting clothing. Jobs like this are pretty clear-cut with what tools are truly necessary. It's these "information worker" jobs where the line starts to get a little fuzzy.

What does an internet marketer need to fulfill his job requirements? What does an IT worker need? What about a blogger?

Remember how I said I moved into a new apartment a few months ago? At the time, I decided to not sign up for internet service. I was super poor and decided that I could use my parents' house, the public library, and other free wi-fi hotspots for my internet needs. I figured I'd conduct this little experiment for a month or so before caving in and getting internet hooked up at my apartment.

That was 5 months ago.

INTERNET-LITE BLOGGING

I'm a blogger and I do not have home internet access. What I thought was absolutely necessary to my career as a blogger turned out to be much more of a luxury than I thought. Rethinking what you believe to be necessary is truly at the core of living a conscious life. Try these steps to help break out of the advertiser and society induced fog that is currently clouding your vision:

  1. Pick an area of your life to examine: It could be your job (or even just an aspect of your job). You could try looking at your routines (like what you do after work) or even the way you eat. Almost any area of your life is open to examination.
  2. Write down what the absolute core of this area is: If it's your job, what do you actually have to DO on a daily basis to complete your work? For me, even though blogging requires access to the internet to post articles, almost ALL of the true work that goes into blogging, the writing, brainstorming and creation of products can be done without the internet. If you're looking at an area of your life other than work, think about this question: what would the "ideal" you do/act/look like in this situation?
  3. Honestly look at how you currently approach the situation: How do you currently behave? What is distracting you from focusing on the core essence of a specific area in your life? Is it a bad habit (or a series of bad habits)? Is it unnecessary distractions? Is it a lack of clarity of what needs to be done? Try not to pull any punches with yourself at this step. You want to have as clear a picture as possible about what is keeping you from your best.
  4. Identify what's truly necessary and boot the rest: In step 2 you figured out your core action or responsibility and in step 3 you figured out what is keeping you from that. It's time to use that knowledge to get rid of all that unnecessary "stuff" that is keeping you from your best. Be ruthless. Although, if you're worried you might eliminate something that you will truly miss, try just putting it away in storage for awhile. That way you can have a test run without it in your life. Chances are you won't miss it. If you're eliminating bad habits or trying to build new ones, commit for just a week at first. Give yourself permission to go back to your old ways if after a week you hate it. Again, once you start seeing the positive change I don't think you'll be going back to your old ways.

TRUE CONSCIOUSNESS REQUIRES ONLY THE TRULY NECESSARY

Necessary is not what the marketers tell us. It's not what the T.V. commercials berate us with, what our friends insist upon, what we see on billboards or in the newspaper. Necessary is only decided when you take an honest look at your own life and make some decisions. You get to decide what's necessary. Most people don't realize they have that power. You truly do and it is one of the most important realizations to living a conscious life.

Have you decided what's necessary yet?

Moving Beyond the Low-Hanging Fruit of the Simplicity Movement

I've mentioned several times that one of my core values is Growth; I am always looking for opportunities to grow in every aspect of my life. With that end in mind, I have turned my attention toward my own practice of simplicity.

I've been living a simpler life of varying degrees for at least four years now. I've gradually reduced the amount of stuff that I own to the point where I could definitely be considered a minimalist. However, the visual entrapments of life are not the only, or even most important, area that needs simplifying.

I like to call decluttering and physical-possession-minimalism the low-hanging fruit of the simplicity movement. For most people, reducing their stuff is the first step. It's a great first step, don't get me wrong. I'm very grateful that I've learned the benefits of having less stuff. However, simplicity shouldn't end there. In fact, if it does end there I would argue that your newly decluttered and organized space will not stay that way for long. Cultivating the more difficult habits and actions of simplicity is where the largest opportunity for growth lies.

How much have you addressed these hard to reach yet vitally important areas?

  1. Living mindfully and patiently: Being in the moment instead of lost in the unalterable past or the unknown future is where I should be. Too much attention on anything but the present is a waste of energy and effort. I plan on beginning a ritual of meditation into my daily routine that will help me in this aspect of living a more patient and mindful life.
  2. Cultivating long-term motivation: Everybody knows what it's like to have a burst of motivation at the beginning of a project. My aim is to funnel that burst into a long-term slow burn that allows me to finish large and time intensive projects. I'm currently working on a very large research based project for this site and am training for a half marathon in October. Both of these activities will develop my long-term motivation and persistence over time.
  3. Developing rock-solid self discipline: Discipline is the bedrock in which most long-term changes are founded. Discipline allows me to continue to work toward my goals and make the correct decisions even when I don't "feel" like it. Even though my previous point was cultivating long-term motivation, I don't think it's possible to be 100% motivated at all times. Self discipline is what you fall back on when the motivation just isn't there.
  4. Articulating and living by values: My recent guest post on the blog becoming minimalist does a better job explaining this point than I can do here. Basically, the whole point of living a simpler life is to live life according to your values-- not to have less stuff. I think the underlying motivation can get lost in the euphoria of decluttering and minimal living. Once you've moved beyond that point, what's the next step?
  5. Developing the ability to focus: Developing focus and an autotelic personality is absolutely key to living the simpler life. Focus allows you to do better, more efficient, and more meaningful work. Focus is the basis of developing your autotelic personality, or, learning how to enjoy nearly every aspect of life.

These are the attributes I am trying to develop. Other than occasionally purging my possessions that have built up over time, I'm done worrying about how many things I have or whether or not I can fit it all into a backpack. My concern is with mindfulness, focus, discipline, and values. This gives me more than enough fodder for a lifetime of growth and I'm excited to master each of these areas. I'm sure you've noticed by now, but all of these disciplines are interconnected with each other as well. Focus is part of mindfulness. Self discipline is connected to motivation. All of these are a part of my values. It is impossible to improve in one area without addressing all of the others as well.

Have you mastered the low-hanging fruit of simplicity? What can you focus on now to round out your own practice of simplicity?

Paradoxical Simplicity

It can be tempting to think that life is built around universal principles that are devoid of any fallacies or contradictions. Unfortunately, as we all know, life is full of paradoxes and I've recently come across one in my own quest for a simpler life.

One of the benefits of living with a more minimalist mindset is that the concept of "quality over quantity" suddenly becomes much more attainable. Instead of buying more of a mediocre object I can buy less of a better product. I've written about this before and it is nothing earth-shattering.

However, the paradox comes into play when you think about another core principle of living a simple and happy life, being content and grateful for what we already have. Much of the suffering and complications that arise in our lives seem to be centered around the attainment of more "stuff." The desire to have things that we cannot afford is the basis of many people's financial woes and psychological unrest. Breaking the cycle of consumerism and learning to be content with what we already have is a huge step in the direction of simplicity.

With that being said, does anyone see the contradiction between these two principles? On the one hand I'm arguing toward having better stuff and on the other arguing for being content with what I already have. What gives?

To resolve this conundrum I advocate the idea of "responsible upgrade" of physical items in your life. The first step would be to identify where in your life you would want to apply the quality over quantity principle versus being content with what you have. I would recommend that anything you use on a daily basis or more regularly should be purchased and maintained on the quality over quantity principle. For example, I wear a watch everyday. I could have purchased a very low quality watch that might break after a couple years or, I could have one watch that will last for a LONG time that might be initially more expensive.

On the other hand, anything that is not used a lot or maybe isn't that important to you can be centered around the idea of just being grateful for what you have. For me, clothing and fashion is not incredibly important. I have nice looking clothes, but they aren't designer labels or expensive because that is not something I care about. If, however, I decided that I wanted to upgrade my wardrobe the "responsible upgrade" would be to start setting money aside now so that when the time comes I can apply the quality over quantity principle and not be financially ruined.

Navigating the contradictions and paradoxes in our lives is a very tricky thing to do. Unfortunately we do not live in a world where everything is always clear cut or black and white. As you begin to live a simpler life keep in mind the principle of quality over quantity while also holding close the idea of being content with what you already have. If you can resolve these two ideas I guarantee that you will be living a simpler-- and happier-- life.

 

 

The Essentials of Simplicity, Part 2: Purging

In part one of this series I talked about the principle of using all you have. To begin living a simpler life, it is necessary to use as little of something as possible at at time. I talked about the example of chapstick and pens, but this principle applies to anything that is used up over time. The necessary focus that it takes to accomplish this principle is also a useful exercise in mindfulness. Restricting yourself to one pen at a time or stocking your pantry only with food that will actually be eaten requires you to be more aware of yourself and your actions.

The second essential of simplicity is purging. Simplification requires the expulsion of everything that doesn't matter, materially, psychically, spiritually, etc. in favor of what does. Depending on the amount of stuff you own right now, this step could vary in difficulty and time to achieve. When I first started thinking about living a simpler life, I had a multitude of things to purge. I had to reduce my wardrobe from the ridiculous state it had become. I had to get rid of the absolute mess that had become my book collection. I tried to reduce the amount of stuff I owned from every aspect of my life. This can be a tough principle to adapt if you are particularly attached to your material belongings. I won't bother giving you a step-by-step process for reducing the clutter in your life (it has been done many times before). What I can tell you is what worked for me.

THE POWER OF PILES

I would make three piles as I went through my stuff, a "Keep It For Sure" pile, a "Toss It" pile, and a "I'm Not Really Sure" pile. What you do with the first two piles is obvious; it's the third one that causes problems. I would take everything in the I'm Not Really Sure pile and put it in a box, and I'd put that box somewhere out of sight and out of mind. If I ended up needing something from that box in the next 6 months, I would go get it. Anything left in the box after 6 months was officially removed from my life. I think this tactic is helpful because you can take a sort of trial run with less stuff in your life without completely committing to getting rid of everything right off the bat.

PURGING YOUR MIND

I would be remiss if I ended the discussion on purging without talking the non-material component. Purging our physical possessions is important and often gives the most visible evidence of living a simpler life. However, purging our minds of distracting projects, doubts, worries, and fears is just as important. My experience with David Allen's "Getting Things Done" system was the starting point for purging my projects and getting my life under control. It doesn't matter if you use a system like GTD or something of your own devising, the principle is the same. You need to sit down and write down every single thing that is on your mind. A complete mind dump. Once you have everything out and on paper, you can start clarifying your commitments, tossing out irrelevant projects, and planning. The act of putting every worry and every project on paper is very refreshing; purging the stuff that doesn't matter from that list is even more so.

IT'S ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO OVER-PURGE

One final word of advice from my own experience: err on the side of over-purging. I have found that there is very little in life that I cannot replace if I find that I end up needing it. It is disturbingly easy to add more components to your life, but very hard to remove them. Start on the side of over-removal and you can slowly add back complexity if you so desire. Most people I have talked to about this aspect of living a simpler life all have the same experience in that they were initially doubtful of purging their hard-earned possessions and commitments. However, shortly after doing so they realized the amazing draining (yet almost unseen) power that a life of excess has.

I encourage you to take a hard look at your surroundings. Ask yourself if everything on your project list is as necessary as you think it is. What can be reduced? What can be purged?

 

 

The Essentials of Simplicity, Part 1: Using All You Have

Today marks the first of a three-part series I'm calling The Essentials of Simplicity. Over the next couple weeks I will publish the remaining parts. Each article will focus on an idea of simplicity that I think is vital to living a simpler life. If you have a handle on these five principles, simplifying your life will go much smoother and easier.

The first Essential of Simplicity is using all you have. Sounds pretty simple and probably trite, right? I agree, it is. Before you completely dismiss me as grasping at straws, take a second to go to your bathroom and look under the sink. Or in a drawer. Do you have any duplicates of the materials in there? Are they both opened and half used? What about in your office? How many pens are you currently using on a daily basis? How many notebooks are currently in some phase of completion?

THE SAGA OF THE CHAPSTICK

I think the ability to use something all the way to completion is a key skill in simplifying life. I realized this principle a couple years ago when I was averaging a lost chapstick every week or so. I could never keep track of it for any longer than that and was consequently having to buy new ones constantly (chapstick is required in winter in Bowling Green!). I would always seem to find all my lost chapsticks at the same time so I would alternate between not having any to suddenly having four or five partially used ones. I finally realized that it was ridiculous that I couldn't keep track of something so trivial, so I decided I would not buy another chapstick until I completely used one up. Amazingly, I didn't lose my solitary chapstick. In fact, I had to become much more mindful of where I put it after I used it because I knew that if I didn't finish it completely, I was going to have to go without. Sometime in my sophomore year of college I completely finished my first chapstick. Think about it, have you ever kept track of one of these long enough to actually use it until there is nothing left in it? It's a surprisingly good feeling. An added bonus is that you will have to increase your mindfulness to keep track of one of anything. You can't just mindlessly throw that chapstick somewhere and expect to find it later. Your actions and thoughts have to become more deliberate.

THE NATURE OF OFFICE SUPPLIES

Another area I decided to apply this principle was with my office supplies. I used to be very cavalier with losing pens and pencils because I seemed to always have a huge reserve of back up utensils. However, I realized that it was pretty lame that I couldn't keep track of a pen long enough to even think about having to replace it because it was empty. So, I decided to pack up all my pens and pencils, except for one of each, and put them somewhere inconvenient. I would now have to keep track of my one pencil and my one pen until I used them up all the way. If I lost one, I'd have to go break into my very inconveniently located reserves.

Think about all the consumables in your life that you have duplicates of. Do you really need to have more than one "in action" at any time? I would recommend starting with your bathroom and them moving into the kitchen (check out that pantry!) and your office. All three of these places seem to breed identical, partially used, duplicates.

I realize that this is an incredibly simple idea. However, if you've never tried implementing it you might be surprised at the difficulty of doing so. Use what you have, one at a time, until it's gone. And then use another one, one at a time, until it's gone. The added mindfulness and the reduction in waste will be a surprisingly liberating feeling.