Writer’s Hiatus, Social Media, and Overcommitment

via Pixabay

It’s been a while since I’ve published a post. The whirlwind that was summer, all of the current events, work, activities…like everyone else, I had a lot going on. This post is an apology, really, but also a message about how minimalism does not solve all my problems.

There was many points during my hiatus in which I felt overwhelmed. Society expects a lot of us. We are all told to tough it out, put up with it, just deal, just do, grit your teeth and don’t worry about the outcomes. That our resilience will predict our success. Everyone gets through it, eventually, anyway, so why shouldn’t you.

For a while, I was worried that what I was writing was sounding like endless amounts of complaining. Our exposure to the media, which is getting increasingly good at riling us up, has given me an unhealthy dose of anxiety. Every time I log onto my social media accounts, even if it just to check on the status of events I’ve committed to attending or become aware of events I’d like to attend or catch up with friends, I’m blasted with political posts and emotion-mongering clickbait. The more time I spent online, the more dissatisfied I’ve felt with my life – a common problem, in fact. There is a natural tendency to compare ourselves to others, and hardly in a good way. I love talking about the practical benefits of minimalism and how it has saved me a lot of time and given me the time to do what I enjoy most, but when I am using that time saved to browse Reddit, Instagram, or Facebook, the time is still wasted.

Minimalism has freed up my time significantly, freeing me from silly pursuits like mindless shopping. Type A people like me always feel like there is something more to be done to better our lives, whether it’s learning new skills, career development, working out, fixing/upgrading things around the house, or maintaining relationships and friendships. Everything requires time and mental or physical tolls, and unless you are perfectly regimented, it is easy to slack. And then the circle of anxiety continues – slack off, panic about slacking off by mindlessly watching Youtube or browsing social media, repeat. I filled my schedule with activities and commitments, and the constant go-go-go took its toll, and I quit writing the blog for a while.

When you stop doing something that used to be a source of enjoyment, you start to question yourself. Could it be depression? Just personal change? In the end, it was an issue of overcommitment. There was too much to be done, and I couldn’t do it all. I still feel like I am in that mode. I deleted Instagram, going on it only once a day at most (instead of 10 times a day). I created Facebook events, but ignored most others, for my own sake. With the holidays approaching, it was time to slow down and enjoy the closing days of 2017. And with the first snow day yesterday, happy hot chocolate season, and don’t forget to enjoy the wintery merriment.

On Belonging

via Pixabay

I’ve read no fewer than two articles on the subject of belonging this week (here and here). These days, I sense that with the superabundance of digital content being published at a rate faster than our mind can even begin to comprehend let alone process, our world has careened into a sort of identity crisis. It’s no wonder, witnessing so many opinions and beliefs flying around in the playing field, all the while being bludgeoned and battered by the unfortunate triad of fake news, cyber-bullying, and clickbaity sensationalist news headlines.

Every community, culture, and social construct stems from a system of beliefs and principles. They manifest in the form of behaviors, tendencies, aesthetics, and practices, eventually evolving into traditions. People feel pride in the adopting the traditions and customs of a particular social group or culture – it is in essence a framework, a mold, that we can conveniently use as a guide – an instruction book on how to live life. Yet, I fear that our tendency to gravitate towards assigning ourselves a predefined template for our personalities will steer us away from blazing our own trail and delight of celebrating our ever-evolving selves. We resist potential growth opportunities if we stubbornly cling to steadfast ideas, rooting ourselves firmly, mistakenly believing that such resoluteness is a indication of strength and honor.

It is much easier to declare that you fit the mold of a Hogwarts house, or the personality of  a Game of Thrones character, or a Myers-Briggs personality type, than to express your persona in your own unique way. But when confronted with the idea that *gasp* you could be dabbling in some of this identity, and some of that identity, and those distinctions make you fit not-so-neatly into the box, you’ll naturally find yourself at odds with where you belong and who you really are. Multiracial individuals, multicultural families, individuals living in foreign lands, and first-generation immigrants experience these difficult feelings all the time.

Why should we so quickly ascribe ourselves to a particular group or entity, when we could be remembered as our own unique selves instead?

Why don’t we stop thinking that other people aren’t legit enough to be considered a part of a certain group?

Wouldn’t it be more interesting to be that person with an asterisk-worth story to tell?

Why don’t we make it our goal to draw inspiration from bits and pieces of cultures and entities, and form our own beautifully messy path, instead?

For starters, I am an Asian woman who is neither petite nor delicate. I bike to work and regularly do pull-ups – not to show the world that I can “defy stereotypes,” but simply because being strong is healthy and increases my quality of life. I tend towards math and science, but art and language are equally intriguing to me, so I eagerly treat myself to crafting blog posts and appreciation of modern architecture and design – not because I’m supposed to be academic, but because I am genuinely interested. I take care of domestic chores – not because it’s my tendency/duty as a woman – but because like most people, I would rather live in a clean house than a dirty one.

In reality, I don’t feel the need to justify these behaviors. What’s the point? No one really cares about the justifications. They just want the answers. They just want to know you as That person who Does X, or Is Y.

And psst most people really just want your validation. Imagine everyone walking around with a sign that says, “Make me feel important.” You don’t owe them anyone an explanation of why you are so uniquely you, but of course, it is your freedom to do so anyway.

I hope that the willingness to be comfortable with purpose and change (as opposed to the whimsical and fickle change that drives people crazy) will make us stronger as individuals. which, in turn, will enable us to strengthen the communities we leave our mark in, regardless of whether or not we “belong.”

 

The Danger of Certainty

I am currently reading a Mark Manson bestseller, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. Full disclosure – I’m not done reading it, but I couldn’t wait to finish it to write about it because I got too excited about one of the chapters. I don’t actively follow his blog, but the book was recommended on some Minimalism forum out there and I thought it’d be an educational read for me, especially as  someone who is interested in letting go of mental and physical clutter. I’m 75% through the book and so far I am not disappointed.

“Certainty” is touted as a good thing in society. We hear nice things like “Believe in Yourself,” “Trust your Gut,” “Be Yourself,” “Be Unique,” “Be You,” “Find Yourself,” and so on. I make these kinds of statements on my blog all the time, because I really do believe in the benefits of personal development and self-confidence, and personal development starts with self-awareness, so I encourage people to create mission statements or celebrate their own uniqueness.  Certainty helps people feel secure and grounded and gives them purpose. Not to mention in a lot of situations, standing up for yourself can be critically important. Hashtag, Rosa Parks.

Truth be told, Manson’s ideas have come into conflict with some of my views. He argues that putting our identity and values on a pedestal breeds narcissism and entitlement, even going so far as to call the assumption that our values are “perfect and complete” a “dangerously dogmatic mindset.” The fact is, when it comes to lofty things like values and personalities and behaviors and tendencies – all those things that make you, you and me, me – well, there is really no “certainty” about them, except that they are entirely subjective and taken to the extreme. Terrorist groups really, truly think that their values are the right thing for society, yet they will do everything, including hurting others, to stick to their values and make their point. They don’t doubt themselves. And that is the problem.

The firmer we hold ourselves to our values and beliefs, the more we are at risk of not allowing ourselves to change them. And we desperately need to allowed to change them, because as humans we are frequently wrong and subject to cognitive biases.

Manson made up “Manson’s Law of Avoidance,” which is:

“The more something threatens your identity, the more you will avoid it.”

That is to say that anything that threatens to change or challenge what you believe in, what values you hold, what you want to represent, how you fit into this world, how you perceive yourself, how you want to be perceived – is scary and uncomfortable. The more protective we are of our identities, the less open we are to the necessary change required for learning and growth. Almost everything we do, say, own, and treat others is in an effort to fit into a our very own, carefully crafted mold. We want to be known to our peers and closest companions as someone who believes this, or does that, or stands up for this, or won’t take that. When we confront a situation where what we want to be is challenged, we fight back with what we are, or what we supposedly are.

Why is letting go of things hard? Why is it so hard to let go of trinkets from failed relationships? Because we consciously or subconsciously incorporate them into our identities and that is how we get stuck with sentimental clutter. Why do we have trouble with falling in love, with big decisions like going back to school, with buying houses, and changing jobs? Besides the magnitude of the consequences and effects on those around us, they are all events that will significantly reshape our identities. Similarly, we’ll have equal or more trouble with falling out of love via breakup or divorce, selling our houses, and so on. It’s even harder to let go of something that has been so ingrained in our identities than something that has the potential to reshape it. So naturally, we put them off or never get around to them.

I’m not trying to say that we should go and pummel ourselves with life-changing events without being thoughtful about them. I am trying to say that we need to understand and adapt to those situations while leaving room for doubt. Nobody on this earth is always right. I am also not trying to say that you should doubt others and have no self-confidence – there has to be a balance, right? Otherwise, what would be the purpose of reading this blog post or having conversations with other people if we’re just going to doubt everyone?

Have the conversations, read the books, and acknowledge that you suck. We are imperfect beings, and we must acknowledge that our thoughts and beliefs are imperfect too.

Breaking My Shopping Habit

via PixaBay

As a former shopping addict, I can tell you that it took a a lot longer to break the habit than I am willing to admit. The Chicago area is flat and rather uninteresting from a geological perspective. Sure, you’ve got plains, grasslands, forests, and man-made Lake Michigan beach – all of which is gorgeous in the summer and crystalline in the winter. But as far as “things to do,” urbanites and surburbanites often end up running off to shopping malls. Chicago suburbanites are spoiled by fabulous venues like Woodfield Mall, Old Orchard Mall, Northbrook Court, Chicago Premium Outlets, Mag Mile, and so on. Naturally, the sprawling nature of the area is conducive to valuable retail real estate, and spending a day shopping at the mall ogling over shoes happens to be a popular weekend activity around here.

I spent my childhood around relatively rich kids who got more or less what they wanted – birthday parties at outside venues, brand new toys from Toys ‘R Us, and custom-made cakes. It was a wasteful, indulgent environment of plenty, and that was the only reality I knew. The kids on the school bus showed off their toys and playthings all the time. I was never taught the dangers of materialism or the shallowness of judging others by what they had and flaunted. I was never told to find friends based on their personalities and not based on their level of privilege. Even as adults, we are encouraged to befriend powerful people to boost our chances of making it professionally or befriend rich people so that we can take advantage of their wealth. Unfortunately, there is truth behind that advice, but in the end, the presence of an ulterior motive brands these kinds of relationships as superficial.

On the bright side, the reason I can review products and provide my opinion to you free of affiliate ties is due to my shamefully extensive experience shopping and hours spent researching and testing products. Not in quite as an organized way as some sites, and my opinion is just one opinion, but after years of weekly Amazon packages, day trips to outlet malls, hours spent meandering around indoor malls and browsing shopping sites, I figure I’ll use my knowledge to help educate you, my reader.

It took me getting fed up with cleaning up my room all the time and having no time for anything else. It took an honest look at my credit card statements and shuddering at the numbers. It took many frustrating shopping trips, realizing that my insatiable desire for the Perfect Everything was just that. Insatiable. And that insatiability had to change. Even though I was a minimalist, I still felt a desire to replace or renew all of the things I already owned, which in itself is not minimalist behavior. My mind was still consumed by Stuff – albeit, less the accumulation of, and more the optimization of. For a few years, I upgraded everything from my shoes to my backpack to my gloves to things as mundane as my keyboard. I would have different “phases” every month, and I would look at the money I had in my account as a way of seeing how much I could afford rather than how much I could sock away in an investment account. It took several years of decluttering, relapsing, slowly adopting minimalist habits, and, quite frankly – getting older – which, by constantly reminding us of our limited time on earth and fleeting youthful bodies, has a way of gradually revealing what we should care about.

You can upgrade anything, really. I could upgrade to the next generation laptop, set of headphones, or keyboard. I could upgrade to a nicer car, a nicer house, a nicer couch, a nicer mattress. I could always add to my shoe collection, sweater collection, and so on. There is always more that can be desired. Until something limits you. For many people, it’s the money. Thankfully, I hit a Stuff Tolerance limit so that I could intentionally stop rather than forcibly stop. I couldn’t stand the maintenance of all the stuff I owned and how much time and energy it was eating out of my schedule. I wanted to spend less time getting ready in the morning, so I nixed the makeup collection and the stuffed wardrobe. I wanted to spend less time packing for trips, so I got rid of travel-unfriendly clothing. I wanted to spend less time cleaning up after myself, so I got rid of as many decorative items and unnecessary furniture as I could. And I relapsed. I relapsed over and over again for a while, trading in old versions for better versions in a never-ending cycle of upgrade-ism.

I’ve somehow stopped my upgrade-ism for a couple months now, only buying things when things break or wear beyond repair, and only recently started to appreciate what has managed to survive the purging of belongings. The gifts I did receive for my birthday this year were either extremely practical or extremely meaningful, and I’ve started to taste the wonderful feeling of gratitude for what I have. I hope that the upgrade-ism habit has stopped – not because I’ve already upgraded everything – but because I am getting wiser about what really needs to be upgraded or replaced.

On the Importance of Vulnerability

via Pixabay

Recently, I was lamenting my struggles of being vulnerable to a good friend who told me that it is vulnerability that makes people personable. I ruminated over the thought for a good while, eventually concluding that that little theory had some truth to it. We are all born with the same ultimate fate: the miracle of life is always followed by the tragedy of death. And so we fight tooth and nail to ensure that our lives are “fulfilling” ones – that we display wealth, prosperity, and health; that we have not wasted the limited time we have here; that the show that we’re putting on is worth watching.

This behavior is manifested most easily in our social media habits, and indeed many aspects of socializing and networking. We flaunt our crazy nights out, our picturesque travel photos, and our accomplishments. We take great care to display only the most perfect aspects of our lives. There’s no sense in creating a pity party, after all. There’s no sense in announcing to the world our suffering and taking in all the niceties that our acquaintances dish out to us (and who really wants to be around someone who is always constantly soliciting attention to all of his or her woes?). Wouldn’t it be even more tragic if an employer found out that we were less than perfect? We are imbued with a natural tendency to conceal or avoid everything that’s unpleasant.

But one thing I’ve realized is that the beauty of living, made even easier by living in a first world country like America, is that our lives are not scripted. We are programmed to the extent that we are all human, but the divergence of our paths has given us tickets to infinite paths in life. And that is a scary thing, especially when we are also now not just exposed to but even bombarded by what’s going with other people’s lives. And when the view is always rosy and full of rainbows, it’s just human nature to think that our lives are comparatively gray and dull. When your group of acquaintances is diverse enough, a full spectrum of lifestyles is visible to you.

Perhaps you work at a for-profit employer and you see people doing things like volunteering for the poor, and it’s easy to think, “I’m so heartless for not devoting my time to that.”

Perhaps you’re taking care of young children and you see people spontaneously traveling the world and it’s easy to think, “I wish I had traveled more before I had children.” Or you’re on the other side and you’re thinking, “I need to get serious about starting a family” or “I need to decide if I want to start a family.”

Perhaps you’re sitting there eating Doritos and you see people posting progress pics on their Instagram and it’s easy to think, “I should be more diligent about working out.”

In a dizzying world of options, we can’t help but compare ourselves to others. And then we try to one up each other with our own epic vacations, cute baby photos, angelic marriage photoshoots, promotion announcements, house-buying announcements (this and car-buying are the two times it is socially acceptable to tell everyone that you probably just took on a large amount of debt), and other expected life milestones. Eager to throw up our hands and tell everyone how on top of things we are. How loved we are. How passionate we are. How successful we are. How disciplined we are.

When we develop relationships with people, that stuff is just the icing on top. I’d love to share all my happiest moments with my closest friends, but what about the darkest times? What happens when something goes wrong? Who do we turn to then? If we’re not going to turn to social media, who are we going to talk to? Who is going to pick us up and tell us things will be okay? Who will be there for us without judging us or scolding us?

Not everyone can be that sounding board. Not everyone will be a suitable candidate for helping you out when you feel like crap. Not everyone can be neutral enough to help you sort out your thoughts. When we break off the icing and ask someone if we can be honest for a moment, that is when the opportunity to help each other arises. Think about the people you’re closest to – the people who you’re not afraid of being transparent with. They’re usually the people who’ve seen you fail and willingly shared those times with you.

Being vulnerable is hard. It sucks, quite frankly. Especially when you grew up in a culture where “showing face” is important (think elaborate weddings, conformance to societal standards, flaunting wealth, disowning “problematic” children etc.). It’s uncomfortable and difficult. But it’s so much easier to get through life when you have people around you to support you – not just on easy sunshiny days, but also when perhaps you want to whisper to someone that you, too, have shortcomings, and that’s totally normal and okay and you’ll get through them. Writing this blog is a way for me to express to you that I am also a normal, vulnerable person, and that the reason I’ve articulated everything up there is that I’ve felt those thoughts myself. There’s no need to declare to the world that we’re all hopelessly weak all the time, but if we express to others that we’re incapable of weakness, the inevitable time in which we are weak will be so much worse.

How I Started to Feel Beautiful, Despite Believing the Contrary

via Pixabay

Everyone has insecurities. And for many people, especially so with appearance.

There are certain aspects of our lives we can readily control. Following a certain set of habits will get you a fit body. With practice, we can improve our mannerisms and social skills. Education will help shape and reshape our thinking. And to a degree, these changes can also shape how we are perceived by others.

But you cannot naturally change your eye color, hair structure, bone structure, facial proportions, skin color, or stature. Just like how you can’t convince someone who is firmly rooted to his or her set of beliefs, you won’t be magically growing another 4 inches or moving your cheekbones with sheer willpower. It doesn’t help that we’re constantly bombarded with all kinds of messages that our looks, especially for women, can trump other characteristics. Beautiful people often become defined based on their appearance – their underlying characteristics, good and bad, trumped by beauty. Ugly people receive a dose of sympathy and either are ignored by society or inspected closely for redeeming qualities.

It’s an uncomfortable topic. One that affects our interactions with those close to us and not so close to us. If we are ugly or feel ugly, the words “beauty is on the inside,” “You’re beautiful,” or “everyone is beautiful” don’t mean much. If that was true, wouldn’t we all be beauty contestants? If we feel ugly, it’s easy to dissect ourselves into wondering why we got so unlucky and why we can’t look like someone else. The reality is, beauty standards exist and we can’t help but notice them in others. Models and beautiful people market things well and they not going to go away. Methods like plastic surgery, makeup, and other such methods are out there, but they come with expenses, time, and doesn’t necessarily fix the problem of feeling ugly underneath all the artificiality.

The way someone looks can aid in diagnosing someone’s thoughts and feelings, but I think what much more valuable is how you feel. “Being” pretty and “feeling pretty” can really change someone’s approach to life. And even pretty people will feel ugly at times. For me, the one thing that has helped immensely is getting serious about fitness.

When you focus on a workout, you become so much less wrapped up in how you look. Being sweaty and gritting your teeth and wrinkling your face is all part of the ordeal, but being less focused on being “beautiful” and more focused on what you are capable of will get your mind off of things like how your hair looks. You’re very unlikely to be concerned with the shape of your eyebrows when you are on mile 10 of 20, rep 3 of 5, and so on. I’m not trying to say that getting your mind off your physical appearance will solve all your physical insecurities, or that not being fit means that you’re ugly (body dysmorphia is very real among fitness enthusiasts). But I truly believe that awakening the body to its fullest capabilities can truly make you appreciate the beauty that is the miraculous human body.

So we set tiny goals, like one pull-up, then perhaps two. One mile, then perhaps two. One inch lower in your split, perhaps two. Touching your toes, then touching the floor.

From then on, I slowly weaned myself off of overdoing my beauty routine and slowly got comfortable in my own skin. I released the envy I had of beautiful models and found peace with my appearance.

The Tragedy of Losing Curiosity

via PixaBay

Children transport us back to the time where everything was new and fresh and unknown. A child’s mind is a blank slate waiting to be filled with knowledge, and then opinions, and then tendencies. And most healthy children will ask you questions every day – sometimes hundreds of questions, as they hunger for knowledge and permissions and opinions.

Over time, the questions subside, as they settle into current levels of knowledge. Our behaviors and opinions take root. Our brains stop developing after age 25 and its malleability declines slowly, occasionally reawakened by new challenges, but only when we intentionally take them on or when they are thrust upon us. The wonder that surrounded our childhood fades and the standard formula of bill payments, insurance fights, and dirty laundry swoops in. Our patterns of choosing reaction over creation and survival over adventure encases our lives in a steady march toward a fixed, unrelenting worldview as we subconsciously harden our tendencies and shield our opinions from external influence.

We stop chasing wonder and start chasing comfort.

I am I. You are you. And nothing will change that, we declare. Nothing will pollute all the hard work to create personas we so carefully crafted. But why bring this up? This is a blog about minimalism, where less is more. Why bother hungering for more knowledge, more thought, more fluffy blab when we’re already overscheduled, overworked, and overindulging? This is a blog about the magic of less, not the pursuit of more. And so, you might look at me and think that I’m a fraud.

Life is hard. But humans have been endowed with a wonderful gift. It’s a gift that has been written into the genetic code of many living organisms other than us. That gift is adaptability. Adaptability is one of the central themes of the literary classic “L’étranger.” Our survival is dependent on our ability to adapt to the life interruptions and challenges that are rudely wedge their way into our lives. Adaptability, though, can be dangerous when misused. It can cause us to get stuck on the hedonic treadmill – becoming numb to what was formerly special.

We get so stuck in who we are and what we represent that we easily decide that our way is the only way. And we’ll look for sources – friends, families, statistics, internet, books – to validate it. We stop being curious about what we could do, who we could be, and as a result, we stop learning. We stop growing and we start decaying.

I’m not saying we should all go out there and learn 10 languages or abandon all your goals in pursuit of other things. I’m saying that perhaps you’re an engineer, but you might try your hand at art. Or that you write chicken scratch, but perhaps you’ll try calligraphy. Or that you’re a cardio guru, but you might meander to the weight rack for a while. Or that you specialize in the written word, but you might try your hand at numbers. Perhaps you have predispositions to certain things, but your predisposition shouldn’t dictate everything you do.

Kids with their wild imaginations will try anything. They get excited about things we find mundane. I would love it, if, in the spirit of Halloween, we put on a costume, and tried to play another role outside of what we are used to.. Because you never know what you’re capable of or what you just might discover if you don’t suit up and venture that extra mile.

On Complacency, Acceptance, and Happiness

via PixaBay

As the election draws near, I’m more hopeful than ever before that those around me will find a way to maintain a low information diet. There is so much pollution of information that it is easy to get distracted. So, in the spirit of trying to stay proactive, I want to talk about complacency, acceptance, and where, in my experience, I’ve been finding the most happiness amidst the chaos.

Minimalism is a deviation from the norm, which I will refer to here as the “American Dream.” Anyone who deviates from the norm is undoubtedly going to be familiar with feelings of self-doubt. While it’s often said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, some people out there feel that deviation is the sincerest form of mockery and react as though our ways were purposefully confrontational. Seeing other people live happy lives in ways that differ from our own is often perceived as threatening. Like, hey, that person doesn’t have a car, but he seems to be pretty happy. Or that person doesn’t have a religion, but doesn’t seem to feel misguided about life.  It’s all too easy to think that because the majority of people around us are doing and following the same pursuits, they are somehow right about life. We like being validated, and the easiest way to get it is by immersing ourselves in communities who share interests and activities. Life’s great when we all agree on our lifestyle choices, so to get that sense of belonging, we gravitate towards groups who shares those values. But life gets tough when we suddenly find ourselves at odds with our environment. When you realize you don’t want to follow the crowd or realize you are out of alignment, you start to ask questions. You might wonder if the path you’re carving is right.

Minimalists tend to reject complacency, but often have a hard time with acceptance. We are experienced at making decisions out of intention, but often struggle on our journey as deviants. Other minority groups will feel the same way – anyone who is vegan, an expat, a nondrinker, childfree, or any minority race – will relate to those same feelings of marginalization. There is a constant buzz of frustration about our ways, because there are always critics who won’t stop questioning us. We’re earmarked as strange and wrong somehow.

But it is our ability to resist complacency that empowers us. Humans are naturally lazy creatures – that is why we choose motor over muscle (snowblowers vs shovels), hire cleaners, order take-out, and have so many things done for us – so any effort to resist the norm, like bike-commuting, home-cooking, the pursuit of circus arts, or entrepreneurship – should be a celebration of the gifts we enjoy as highly capable and highly intelligent creatures, especially in a country that enjoys so many freedoms. We should celebrate deviants. We need to celebrate people who have the courage to do the unthinkable, like scale Everest, compete on Olympics teams, go to space, ascend the seven summits, and so on. We don’t need to depend on some higher order to supply those purposes for us. Our ability to not choose the “default” path should be celebrated.

And besides, any truly happy person has very little interest or time to criticize other people or the general populace – a happy person is going to be too busy pursuing fulfilling activities to worry about those things. That is why concepts like a low-information diet and limiting social media are so good for us. There is nothing more draining and frustrating to me than wasting my time reading articles from profit-churning news companies prioritizing revenue generating over authentic, well-researched information. There is something so unsettling about reading about everyone else’s accomplishments announced to a seemingly unknown readership, fishing for likes and arguing with people who aren’t necessarily supposed to be your “friends” in the first place. Social media is great for reconnecting with acquaintances, spreading ideas and inspiration, and arranging events – but it is so easy to fall into the trap of blindly scrolling through a toxic newsfeed and feeling cynical about our own lives. I know it because I’ve been there. And it’s not a pleasant place to be.

Being complacent about our lives is one thing. Accepting our lives is another. And celebrating our miracles, the earth, and our abilities through hard work, stoicism, and optimism is always worth our time. When we are just so capable of more, let’s not confine ourselves to a box, a couch, a bed, or a small mindset jailed by silly indoctrination. There’s no point in spending our time in the trenches of arguing with those who don’t follow a philosophy of never ending the exploration of our environments. There’s no point in filling up our spaces with things and experiences for the sake of everyone else. Embrace the divergence of pursuing what fulfills you, and I’m sure you’ll be a better person for it.

On Owning Our Lives

via Pixabay

I’m quite positive that there is a relationship between our happiness and the amount of control we have over our lives.

Quite positive, anyway.

That’s why we slap ourselves when we let our emotions get the better of us. Or we hate ourselves when we overspend. Or why we berate ourselves for overeating. Make small but frequent bad decisions regularly, and they become habits.

So much around us threatens to live our lives for us. Commercials tell us that with certainty that the secret to a better life is to buy more services and products because somehow, our mere existence warrants another well-deserved thing that we must purchase.  Organizations, churches, random blog posts like this one, family members, friends, co-workers – they are all fighting for a spot in our lives, and if we don’t control the inflow, our dashboard will get easily hijacked by something or someone else. So we invent all sorts of tips and tricks to take control. We adopt coping strategies disguised as solutions. A diet shake to cure our overeating habits. A time management system to block time for certain activities. A drink to help overcome our social insecurities. And sometimes they work. Temporarily, at least. Only a handful make it through the entirety of our lives. Predictably, our controls get shaken, and we must recalibrate our systems over and over again to keep them intact.

Fundamentally, we are nothing of significance to the universe at large. We are born from the decisions of others and naturally wired to fulfill some basic needs – eat, sleep, reproduce. Outside of fulfilling needs, we structure the gaps with activities like hobbies, work, and relationships and create goals. Filling our lives with all sorts of busy help us avoid the heavy truth that our lives are essentially purposeless. We binge-buy, binge-eat, binge-collect, gamble – heck, some of us even binge-work-out – all in an effort to avoid facing that empty feeling. This commonly happens after bad experiences like breakups. But this is on a larger scale

Even with all that, I am certain that there are moments we all feel that we are moving forward towards…nothing in particular, really. We were given this chance to live, but we are all aware of the caveat that our time here is still entirely an unknown. The next storm that rounds the corner can destroy everything that was known to us. And what do we do then? What if minimalism is just another way of coping with that fact? We train ourselves to be happy with less, so that we are accustomed to having very little, and very little to take away. When we remove physical and mental clutter, we free ourselves from extra burdens and regain control.

You know what is closely related to control? Strength. Power. And there is safety in having strength. We gain strength by practicing weakness. How do we practice weakness? We create challenges for ourselves and then overcome them with utmost resolve. When we fortify our bodies and our minds to weather the storms of life, an amazing feeling of confidence emerges. The feelings of uncertainty, the sadness, the hopelessness…we practice them and learn to bathe in them and let them wash over us. The great thing is, we are already practicing weakness as we speak. Anytime you are tempted to buy something unnecessary, eat something you know you’ll regret later, or experience a bad moment with a close friend or partner, your ability to overcome it will add to your strength. Just like in the gym where you purposely fatigue yourself to get stronger.

Every moment you overcome an uncertain moment like this, you are gaining control. Every moment you stop and reflect before reacting to an external force, you are exercising your will. And that is the very essence of being. No, you silly ad, you will not break through my shell of self-confidence. I don’t need your product or service to be the awesome person I am. No, you random opinionated internet-stranger, your mean-spirited attitude is not going to make me feel hatred at the world. Even close friends and loved ones can shake your tower, but you know full well that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and you can judge for yourself what is worthwhile.

Own your life and build your fortress.

 

My Simple, Lonely Life of Sobriety

Via PixaBay

Before reading any further, I already acknowledge that the rejection of all alcoholic beverages is a touchy topic. But hear me out on this one, because it impacts almost every social situation I face, and I’m certain I’m not alone.

Hi, my name is Meg, and I am horribly allergic to alcohol. Can we do something other than “grab drinks?” No? No ideas other than go to an establishment to buy overpriced liquids that make me feel like absolute garbage? Can we, perhaps, *do* something together rather than *consume* something together?

Ugh.

Now picture this.

You’re at a party and there’s a bar. Everyone around you is happily sipping colorful cocktails and clinking fancy wine glasses and getting all buzzed up. Good times abound. Then your friend, or perhaps a coworker, or even someone you’ve never met –  asks you if you want a drink. You politely refuse, knowing that alcohol will send you into a downward spiral. Your friend continues to pressure you with harmless intentions:

“The night’s still young!

“Have some fun!”

“Lighten up!”

“One drink won’t hurt anyone.”

“It’s on me.”

“You deserve it.”

“Don’t be lame.”

If you’ve ever refused a drink or even a night out, I’m sure something like this has happened to you.

Sobriety is generally seen as unexciting and boring. Choosing not to have a drink is easily interpreted as an opposition to Fun, a sort of silent rebellion of social norms, casting a shadow on your livelihood in other people’s view. People like to be validated for their behavior by being around others who have the same views and attitudes, so sobriety can easily send you to social isolation. You’re no fun, so they’ll stop inviting you.

If I have even just a few sips of beer or any other alcoholic beverage, my skin gets flushed, my head throbs, I start getting dizzy, and I even start feeling cold, as though I were running a fever. Throughout college, at any party where alcohol was served, I was often confused about why everyone around me in their altered state of consciousness was having a fantastic time, yet I was left faking drunkenness, while my body fought basically what it thought was a toxin. I never liked alcohol. It never made me feel good – during the party or after the party. Yet I still felt compelled to consume it, even though I’d feel sick soon after.

I’m wiser now, 5 years out of college, and for the most part, am consciously rejecting the need to follow social norms for the sake of fitting in, especially one that makes me feel so unhappy and sick. But I feel this pressure at every situation where alcohol is involved. Our society is built around socialization by consumption (cafes, restaurants, etc.), and especially alcohol consumption. So, it’s really awkward when you don’t join in the alcoholic festivities at…

  1. Happy hours, where we celebrate coworkers promotions, birthdays, or other accomplishments
  2. New year’s parties, where we toast champagne to the new year
  3. Networking events…when your boss gets you a drink, you wouldn’t throw it out, would you? That would be uncomely.
  4. Frat/sorority parties, where participating in risky drinking rituals are actually a part of social acceptance
  5. Bars/clubs/lounges, which are pretty much centered around alcohol-induced socialization

I have at least witnessed the amazing effects that alcohol has on stripping down our mental barriers in social situations or helping us unwind after a long day by clouding our consciousness a little bit. I just wish that in an alternate world, we don’t need to rely on alcohol to such a degree to be comfortable around other people. As someone who has no experience enjoying the stuff (in the past, I’ve had to have it loaded with sugar or juice to mask the bitterness), I’d have a much less difficult time integrating with people around me.

As kids, we socialized with each other through play. Play included games, plenty of imagination, lots of running around, and other creative pursuits. And all of that was real! We didn’t need beer or wine to extract our fun selves – we simply made our own fun. Have we lost that ability as adults? So much so that it is somehow necessary to consume alcohol to have a good time? So much that we are proud of our stories of when we trash our bodies with so much alcohol that we throw it all up in a smelly projectile vomit?

The nice thing is, I’ve probably spent less than $50 on alcohol in my entire life. I have no desire to add a $5-10 drink to my meal or collect a few dozen bottles of various alcoholic potions. I don’t need a wine holder, a bar table, or any other accessories that are alcohol-related. I don’t need to worry about going out to bars, knowing I will never be able to join mind-altered states of my companions. I can be intentional with my desire instead, and put my money and time into more meaningful pursuits. I don’t need to put an asterisk* after my name when you meet me, because what you get when you meet me is the real and authentic Me. No footnotes in sight.

I just sometimes wish, you know, that there were more people out there who would join me.

The Ridiculousness of Luxury

Via Pixabay

Living in America is, by definition, already a luxury. Look how far along society has come in the last 50 years. In the past, we had to chug along in squeaky, horse-drawn carriages. We used to have to farm our own land and weather storms by the fireplace, hoping that we put enough effort into our autumn harvest and that no one catches dysentery. Now, at a moment’s notice, we can hop into our personal gas-powered miracle machines they call automobiles, loaded with fancy surround-sound audio systems, padded seats, and blast air conditioning into our faces as we drive a couple miles to the nearby store to buy some more Fancy things like plastic cases and thin glass sheets for our expensive blinking gadgets we can command to do things like set personal alarms, tell us the predicted weather for the next hour, or navigate us to the nearest pizzeria. Heck, we don’t need to do even that – we can simply power up our overpowered computers, press a few buttons and make a few clicks, and said plastic case and thin glass sheet will show up on our doorsteps in a matter of hours. There are even more Fancy things we can do if we pay enough money. We can buy massive floating machines and hire people to drive them for us as we sip expensive wine. Every time we eat at a restaurant, we’re essentially hiring someone to cook our meals and deliver them to us on a serving platter. We don’t even need to do so much as lift a finger. All we need to do is sit back, relax, and do absolutely nothing. That is what we’ve defined as The Good Life. And that is where the Good ends. Because what those things have in common is that they help us avoid exerting any effort at all. Bring us the Good Life on a silver platter, and allow us to bask in laziness. I sure am curious to know why the feeling of no effort is so satisfying, because I find more satisfaction from earning my way through life and taking full credit for my success.

Society seems so content with lifestyles that suck money and time out of our wallets faster than we care to count the dollars. We insist on eating out once, twice, maybe even several times a week. We book expensive tickets to jet us off to places where we can be coddled in a luxury hotel or private room with a view that looks basically the same as the view in a public area on a cruise ship yet costs several times more than a normal room. We buy absurdly expensive brand name vehicles that, despite having more powerful engines and a slew of Fancy features, still have to follow posted speed limits and are just as likely to suffer a dent or scratch from careless drivers around you. We’re completely okay with buying multiple $7 cocktails on a weekly basis and $30 steak dinners. We buy silly experiences like indoor skydiving, sitting in a motorized teacup to get dizzy for a few minutes, the chance to be a member of an exclusive club of people bragging about their “success,” or a chance to get the latest fashion styles before everyone else does.

As someone who does not do any of those things and does not feel any FOMO, I am confused by the people who feel like they’re poor or lacking excitement because they are simply not doing those things. I can do them should I so choose to throw money around at pointless, empty activities, but what for? I feel no envy for other people’s cars, purses, or foreign countries they’ve set foot in, though I may feel some disdain if it means they’re wrecking more of our earth. I don’t care about the dinners people have in the premium airport lounges (especially because I am skilled enough at cooking to make a meal I’d enjoy equally as much if not more), or the “crazy night out” they had at an exclusive dance club where supposedly they witnessed an “important” celebrity.

The trouble with criticizing this lifestyle of luxury is that no one likes to be told how they should enjoy life. It’s not some kind of universal standard where everyone should enjoy the same kinds of things, even if it has been proven that happiness is not coming from those things per se. I am just some random blogger on the Internet, after all, who just happens to really enjoy pursuing minimalism, and there will always be those who resist it. They have something of a “need” for it. But I think can safely say that there is more satisfaction to be gained from creating rather than consuming.

Let’s make our own silver platters and serve them to the world. The privilege to create and be free with our time on this earth – that is the ultimate luxury.

More Consumption, More Boredom

popcorn-1433327_1920

Minimalism is frequently criticized as stark, empty, boring, and dull. Some find themselves fearful of the aesthetic, the spartan lifestyle, the “less is more” mantra. Lack of decorations  and unwelcoming, bleak eggshell whites conjure up visions of hospitals and cold laboratories. Not an inviting, “homey” place.

America is a society, a culture if we will, where we buy things to solve problems. Stylishness promises confidence, so we purchase tasteful decor and fashion. Buying a FitBit promises that you’ll be healthier. The large house promises a comfortable, rich, life. The fancy car promises to make your commute or daily drives more fun and tells the world about how sophisticated we are.  We also have tend to consume things to solve problems. Drinking makes us better at socializing. Taking in caffeine to get us through the workdays. Eating (junk food) to prevent boredom while we work. “Killing time,” as they call it, through consumption. Then, in our land of plenty, why are we so unhappy and stressed out?

It is when we think the things we own validate of the importance of our own existence. That we deserve fancy stuff, or think that an upgrade in a gadget will generate dramatic improvements to our lives, that we get stuck in the consumerist frenzy. We’ll finally lose weight, magically have more time, and that thing will be that kick we need to be motivated to be better versions of ourselves. The improvements do happen sometimes, but over time, the new gets old, and the cycle repeats itself.

Buy, get bored, buy, get bored, rinse, repeat. You see what’s happening here?

Consumption cycles can cause us to be bored more frequently as we desensitize ourselves to new things and experiences.

When I feel stuck, I start looking at expensive flights to other countries and fantasizing about travel plans. Yet, if I travel too much, I lose that excitement.

When I feel like I have a lot of unpleasant tasks to do, I feel like getting something to eat while I’m doing them. Yet, if I get in the habit of eating while I work, I’ll work up a dependency on it.

Life tends to get harder as we get older and our bodies and safety nets fall apart.  So when someone suggests minimalism as a method of making life easier, we first resist. Why should we purposely relegate ourselves to less? Gosh, how would we ever prepare ourselves? Say we have a dull day – how do we get through life without relying on autopilot consumption mode?

Think of minimalism as a blank piece of paper or an empty dance studio, where the space is full of possibility. Any little Thing that you add to it diminishes its potential just a little bit. But let’s keep in mind that minimalism is not the solution either. It is a way of focusing ourselves so we stop the consumption cycle and refocus.

The fresh new gadget may refresh your old one, but some empty space just might give you fresh room to breathe, and it costs nothing.

Is Minimalism Ruining Your Relationships? Simple Guidelines for Living with Non-Minimalists

people-1031189_1920

As I alluded to in my about page, definitions of minimalism fall on a spectrum, ranging from bare bones live-out-of-a-backpack to full-on suburban house with family SUV and multiple kids, where the level is measured by how many complications (stuff, commitments, etc.) you have. As we slowly edge our way across the spectrum, we sometimes realize that we are taking the journey alone. And so, minimalists are often asked how to convince partners, spouses, or other loved ones to adopt minimalism principles. It’s the same age-old question we all ask – when we are smitten with an idea and find ourselves beside ourselves with the desire to convert everyone around us, how do we succeed in converting them, or how do we stop ourselves from ruining our relationships with them when doing so?

As a disclaimer, I am not a parent, and cannot speak to the parenting aspect. But first of all, let’s be clear here on how not to convert someone to minimalism.

If someone else’s “stuff” is affecting you, then it is a good idea to work with that person to resolve the issue. Do not declutter other people’s stuff for them. That is one very good way to start a fight. It is difficult – I know – to resist. Every time I visit my parents, I feel a strong urge to fill up a donation bag with all the junk lying around the house. I want to tell them all about how their lives could be better if only they had less stuff.

But if someone is not ready to let go of something he or she owns, it is that person’s choice to pick the right time to let it go, not yours.

You also cannot force someone into minimalism via accusatory, confrontational statements like “you should declutter” or “why do you keep this stuff?” People don’t usually like to be forced into things, even if these things end up being good for them. If you end up being unable to tolerate this person’s habits, then perhaps you’ll need to assess your relationship with this person, and decide what is truly a non-negotiable. If it is a significant other, then both of you need to be willing to work with each other to find middle ground.

The solution, then, is actually quite simple. All you have to do is live by example. Declutter your things, reap the benefits, and display it without being all up-in-your-face about it. Because while minimalists believe that minimalism can benefit everyone, not everyone wants to be a minimalist, and it is not in our place to swiftly impose it upon everyone around us.

Walk the walk, carefully acknowledge its benefits, and hope to inspire as much as we can.

Unsurprisingly…that is the minimalist way.

Unhealthy Minimalism

black-and-white-person-woman-girl

Can we abuse minimalism? Can it lead to destructive habits and unhealthy mindsets?

There are many debates and criticisms around the topic, so I sure think so. Here are three manifestations of unhealthy minimalism.

1. The Obsessive-Compulsive Declutterer

Decluttering to the point of obsession can easily turn the purest of intentions into a crazy runaway train of OCD. We remove all the broken objects, then move on to the pointless objects, accelerating into a letting-go and throwing-it-all-away frenzy. We get a high from each removal, each responsibility lifted, each space cleared. Gradually, we are winning the power struggle against our stuff. The taste of victory is just grazing our tongues. Yes! We’ve finished decluttering, our spaces are clear, and our minds are free! Until they’re not.

I started to suspect that I was getting addicted to decluttering, especially at the end of the journey, when I looked around my living space and realized there wasn’t much left that I could remove without actually making my life harder, yet I was still picking at my stuff, wondering if I ought to get rid of more. It took me a while to adjust to my new decluttered environment and that’s not to say I never relapsed – I still found myself shopping for no reason, buying things and immediately regretting them, and eventually needing to declutter them.

Bottom line is, do not declutter to the point where the lack of stuff becomes a problem, or you get stressed out about all the things you do own. Because at that point, well, you’re kind of missing the point.

2. The Freeloader Minimalist

Boomers and Gen X’ers are scratching their heads at us millennials, an increasing number of us who still live at home or are spending lots of time “figuring ourselves out.” Consequently, some millennials are finding that they don’t need much stuff to live, and by way of circumstance, dub themselves minimalists.

It is perfectly acceptable, even smart or necessary, to move back home…if the following are true:

  1. Your parents are not reluctantly letting you in. Some parents would be absolutely delighted to have their adult children live with them, especially as they grow older and need help around the house!
  2. You’re bringing something to the table other than an empty stomach and an empty bank account. Perhaps you are a caretaker or are splitting the bills. Perhaps you are living with your entire extended family and everyone takes care of each other under one roof (a common arrangement in other countries). Wins for everyone (especially if everyone gets along!)!
  3. If the above two aren’t true, you’re making a concerted effort towards your independence. Reducing dependency, after all, is a key tenet in minimalism.

If you are thinking, “my parents are supplying all of my needs so I don’t ever need to learn how to pony up and manage my life…” then you just might be shirking responsibility rather than living intentionally. Let’s not explain away freeloading with minimalism. Taking advantage of other people’s generosity and attributing a lack of responsibilities and stuff in the name of “leading a minimalist lifestyle” is an inaccurate use of the term. You can declutter yourself into a broke bum and declare yourself “above” adult responsibilities, but minimalism is not meant to absolve you of basic adult responsibilities, and freeloading is only going to exacerbate our bad reputation of entitlement.

3. The Cynical Minimalist

It is really easy to be cynical as a minimalist because minimalists are already deliberately opposing the status quo to some degree. Cynical minimalists tend to dwell on negative aspects of the societal norm and the expectations that are thrust upon people. They also have a tendency to rant about societal reform. I recently read a Reddit comment about how humans should worry less about being productive and more about not being destructive through productivity – an idea that really got me rethinking the necessity of “productivity” in our lives. Yet, should we really be clapping for people who hold their heads high and declare their pride for living a life of apathy (who does that anyway?)? For living a life that was neither destructive nor productive? For a life that was neither fulfilling nor unfulfilling?

We ought not to shame mediocrity and being conventionally uninteresting, and in any case we should not shame people for what we may mistakenly judge as mediocre anyway.  Anyone who decides that someone’s lifestyle is mediocre or unremarkable is passing unwarranted judgment anyway – why waste valuable brain energy on something so base? I truly believe that all of us are capable of doing good for others, and we don’t need to put forth a ridiculous amount of effort. Small victories add up to big gains.

To avoid productivity, taking action, and living idly due to fear is a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. An utter lack of doing things is not minimalism at all – and especially not active minimalism.

If minimalism is preventing you from taking action, then perhaps you are avoiding confrontation of that which is holding you back.

Minimalism when applied appropriately, is meant to be empowering.

Use it wisely. 

Minimalist Challenges: You Have Permission to Declutter Gifts and Heirlooms

children-646690_1920

“It’s an unhealthy setup, in which people become slaves to inanimate objects [ . . . ] Once you’re defining it as something you can’t get rid of, you’re not in control of your life or your home.”

– Barry Lubetkin

Gift-giving goes back to ancient times. History textbooks make it a point to elaborate on various treasures that were gifted to leadership figures such as kings, queens, religious figures, honorary soldiers, and others. Gifts were exchanged as symbols of respect, collaboration, and loyalty. I’m no history buff, but at history trivia games, one can at least figure out that gift-giving was a really big deal when it came to impressing people back then.

Gift-giving continues as a tradition today, but they’re mainly tied to holidays like Christmas and birthdays. Growing up, like most kids, I just loved looking forward to Christmas morning. I loved the shiny gift wrap, the sparkling tinsel, the giant ribbons and bows, and the shining Christmas tree. And I loved getting stuff for my birthday. When you’re a small child and you don’t have the freedom of easily acquiring stuff of your own, the prospect of getting toys and stuff is incredibly exciting. In Asian culture, gift-giving is still a pretty big deal. So much so, that among traditional Asian families, people have come to expect gifts as mandatory courtesy (though they won’t say it out loud). You come to my house, you’d better bring something with you. I was born in America to immigrant parents, so growing up, I witnessed much of the gift-giving culture firsthand (it carries on even today). These gifts are usually consumables – boxes of fruit, multivitamins, traditional desserts, tea, or other foodstuffs, but sometimes home goods, like decorative plaques, lotions, or toys for the kids would be given.

So I also loved having family friends over…not just because I would potentially have a playmate, but also because they’d usually bring me treats and trinkets. Due to customary gift giving in the culture I grew up in, I was taught at an early age that stuff was something I should expect from visitors and friends. Looking back, I am not sure I noticed that we also gave gifts because I was too excited about receiving things.

There isn’t usually anything ill-intentioned at all about gift giving. In almost all cases, we are simply communicating affection or appreciation to the receiver, nothing more. Unfortunately, opportunistic businesspeople have turned gift-giving into consumerism bait (read: Hallmark Holidays). Heck, gift-giving is even touted as a love language, and I suspect that it has something to do with childhood grooming of my future (now past) stuff-obsessed self. Thankfully, it is not my primary love language, but at one time, it might have been.

It is really hard to declutter gifts. You feel like by removing the item from your home, you’re throwing away or giving away the good intentions that the giver had, not to mention the money and time spent on acquiring the item for you. And if that person finds out, we dread the possibility that he or she may very well feel offended. The more the item is worth, the worse the guilt. And when the item is an heirloom or a prized family treasure, even more is at stake. The perceived value of an item is dependent on more than monetary worth and replace-ability (rarity) – its value is also tied to what it represents. We dread communicating to others an unappreciation for what it symbolizes. Getting rid of your grandfather’s war medals would suggest to others that you perhaps don’t appreciate his sacrifices and your good fortune that he did what he did.

That guilt and fear is enough to paralyze people in their decluttering efforts. But I am here to tell you that:

  1. These feelings are perfectly normal, and in fact, perfectly healthy ones, and
  2. Your feelings about a particular event, person, or concept, do not have to be tied to you keeping something associated with it, or even to the item itself.

The fact that you even have guilt as you declutter a gift should be enough to clarify your true feelings about the subject at hand. Because if you thoughtlessly threw something in the garbage without any regard for who it might affect, then it would really suggest a lack of care. Because your feelings about a person does not live in a thing. It lives in you. And you, are so much more precious than a thing. Any reasonable gift giver would not want you to feel burdened by a gift. And as any responsible gift giver knows, the minute you give something away, you are effectively passing ownership to someone else. If you wanted it to be kept, you should not have given it away.

Let’s not gift burdens to other people. There are other ways to give to others: (see here, here, and here). I’ll eventually make a list of my own, but for now, I’ll let other minimalists speak. It is okay for you to declutter gifts. Release the burden and honor the intention.

Why We Should Question, Doubt, or Challenge All Traditions

photo-1453974336165-b5c58464f1ed

Traditions are deeply woven into our social fabric. They are solidly embedded in the backbones of religions, clubs, social groups, businesses, and cultures, defining them and connecting their members on a deeper, sometimes spiritual, level. I emphasize the word “backbone” because traditions really do play a supportive role. People tell stories about how, in their search for identity, they rediscover a tradition and reach some flavor of nirvana. These stories should certainly be honored and appreciated in their own right.

As social creatures, we naturally want to feel connected to one another and ideally to our communities, and traditions facilitate that. When uncertainties or difficult times plague the present, we often rely on traditions to call upon the past to guide us and remind us that without the happenings and sufferings of the past, we wouldn’t be where we are today. After all, old customs and rituals have survived so long, so they are often seen as testaments to endurance and reliability. Overall, humans haven’t changed too much. We still have largely the same tendencies, don’t we?

It is, however, that exact attitude that can dangerously hinder progress. If we want improvement (and I’m fairly certain that we do – otherwise, we wouldn’t be buying or doing anything to make our lives better, would we?!), we should not be afraid of, at the very least, asking the critical questions, such as:

  • Why does this tradition benefit the entity I am part of?
  • Does this tradition benefit the greater good?
  • Is this tradition actually destructive or offensive? To someone else? To something? To Mother Earth? To an entire group of people?
  • Is this tradition actually good for me?

Challenging tradition is often perceived as questioning the legitimacy of the entity it is associated with, or worse – the morphing of an entity into something it was not meant to be. Change can be scary, especially when tradition is all we have ever known. What would a marriage be without a wedding is like asking what would pancakes be without a generous dose of syrup, or what Halloween would be if we substituted carrots for pumpkins, or how we would salute America without all the songs and customs that are performed at sports events and other public events. But we need agents of change to challenge tradition – otherwise, issues like women’s rights and racial equality would not have made any progress.

These are the kinds of questions that bring us to minimalism. Who would we be without our stuff? What would I do if I give up so and so activity? Without constantly defining and redefining the priorities in our lives, our paths would be quite linear, wouldn’t they? And linear is comfortable. Blindly following a tradition is easy…and dare I say it, lazy. You don’t need to perform any critical thinking whatsoever. Questioning, challenging, and if it comes down to it – breaking tradition – is necessary for change, and change is necessary for progress. Like most things in life, questioning tradition is also difficult to do, and even more difficult to do so outwardly.

I like to believe that there is always a way to improve our lives and the lives around us, if we use our oft-ignored imagination and creativity. Blindly following what always was is easy – just turn off your brain and do something for the sole reason that it was always done that way (if you work in business, I’m sure you have heard this phrase at least once).

We don’t always need to change the status quo, but we should always be looking for ways to do what we do better. I started by changing my own status quo. Tap into your creative mindset and move forward with as much courage as you can muster.

Minimalist Challenges: Fitting in and Dealing with Criticism

people-690547_1280

Minimalism is a lifestyle that inherently, or even deliberately, challenges and resists societal norms. For that reason, it can be an isolating way of living, especially because support systems are just starting to emerge. People do not become minimalists to fit in with society. As with any cultural deviation, people tend to respond to minimalism first with disbelief. “You’re doing that?! You’re getting rid of what?!” In a society where “bigger is better” and pursuing a higher social status is a common goal, adopting minimalism is going to elicit criticism no matter what (this is especially so in countries where the social divide is more apparent).

In my own experience, friends and family question my life choices out of concern and worry, so I find myself constantly reassuring them that I am happy with what I have. Over time, minimalists hope that these kinds of reactions will gradually turn into a sort of respectful curiosity as our loved ones witness us reap the benefits of a minimalist lifestyle. I have to admit – while I try to be cautious about giving others the impression that I am preaching minimalism to them or criticizing their lifestyles, it is hard to avoid coming off that way when I am so passionate and excited about it. I remind myself that gently introducing the idea with a humble attitude and acknowledging the mixed consequences is probably more conducive to a smooth reception than a brash, “everything you’re doing is wrong!” approach.

I attended a wedding recently, and while I won’t go off on a rant on the wastefulness of the average American wedding, I had several occasions where my minimalist decisions managed to offend loved ones. The day of the wedding, it was raining and about 60-70 degrees. I wore a simple machine-washable dress, raincoat, ballet flats, and a pair of stainless steel studs. Before heading to the venue, my dear mother insisted that I wear one of three necklaces she had brought, despite me telling her I purposely did not wear or bring a necklace to avoid the possibility of losing it. In the parking lot of the venue, I encountered some family friends. The mother insisted that I was too cold (without asking me), and gave me a huge purple shawl to drape over myself. Mind you, the wedding was inside, and we probably spent about 30 seconds walking from the parking lot to the wedding venue. I repeatedly thanked her for her concern and told her I was fine and did not need the shawl. Later on, I was even told that I “needed” to wear something more colorful because my outfit was not “interesting” enough. Somehow, my choice to appear simple was a source of distress for someone else.

Minimalists, and indeed people in general, are often told that they don’t have “enough” – especially from parental figures who may not have been blessed with abundance in their childhoods. Minimalists need much less materially to feel satisfied, but they have the same desires as everyone else – to be loved, to contribute to society, and to live a meaningful life. We should not be afraid of refusing what we do not need, but we just may need to try harder to show others that we appreciate them and their concerns. What better way to do that than to give them our time and attention in return?