The Tragedy of Losing Creativity

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Some time ago, I wrote about the tragedy of losing curiosity, where I lamented about a seemingly widespread lack of desire to understand the world around us. As kids, we are encouraged to try lots of new things and activities, fumbling in dance studios, playgrounds, and orchestra halls. The lucky ones among us got to try many extracurricular activities – music lessons, ice skating, dance, gymnastics, track, sports, summer camps, you name it. Throughout our teens and twenties, many of us continue to try new things as we bumble through adulthood – baking, cooking, knitting, miscellaneous-athons, make-up, yoga – or continue to hone what we learned as children.

As we get older and we become more adept at our areas of expertise, we start gaining confidence and feel less like we don’t know what we’re doing. Over time, though, we begin to get locked into what we know and are comfortable with. Our brains gradually lose their plasticity and we start to fear the unknown, preferring what we’re most familiar with. Seeing as I am still in my 20’s, I am merely speculating, but I have already observed a worrisome amount of reluctance in learning or trying new things or making positive changes. Like we are so convinced that we are “x” and not “y” type of person, that we find ourselves overly protective of our identities – a dangerous thing. Such as, “I am not a creative person, nor will you convince me I can be one,” or “I am not a technical person, and there is no point in trying.” You and I are constantly shifting, constantly evolving beings, and we are all ephemeral in the grand scheme of the universe. Worse still, people around us – at work, at home, even in harmless social gatherings, are constantly telling us what to focus on, and in the worst case scenario, dictating our goals, aspirations, and directions. When, then, can we be creative? When, then, is there an incentive to be creative?

I’m not talking about doodling in the margins creativity, or making a “creative solution” due to the presence of constraints. Creativity and artistry can only be achieved when all of our basic needs are met. That is why we don’t see a whole lot of famous artists, musicians, or dancers from poor countries – they are too busy struggling to make ends meet to remotely worry about artistry (though they may perhaps find it on a smaller scale). If little children are being shuffled from activity to activity to hone their creative abilities, why is it that we must end all that as soon as we hit 20, 30, or 40? Does all of our time need to be spent consuming and not creating? We consume to live, but also as a form of inspiration or support for those around us. I consume selectively, and only when the benefits make sense. It’s easy to follow others, but not easy to pave your own way. Over time, our ability to be original becomes muddied as we relax into a follower mentality. The internet has made access to other people’s creations a double edged sword. It is easy to access what other people have created, but also easy to feel discouraged when we realize that somebody else has already done the same thing, but better. The value of “figuring things out,” the process of innovation – not from necessity, but from intrinsic desire – fades over time as key ingredients for creative thought – time, incentive, and mindset – are squeezed out in favor of practical concerns.

On Taking Better Care of Our Stuff

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Much of minimalism revolves around detaching yourself emotionally from your things. Declutter this, throw away that, donate what you don’t love, and so on. But what it does not preach so much is how to take care of or maintaining what you do have.

I learned a very expensive lesson when I dropped my camera on a recent trip to London. I was changing the lenses and forgot to wear the strap when it slipped out of my hands and onto the concrete ground. The impact ended up damaging the sensor and causing an ugly black mark to appear on all my subsequent photos , and for my readers who aren’t also photographers, sensors are extremely costly to replace. That incident reminded me of how I really need to take better care of what I do have – things do have a lifespan, but they can be increased with proper care and lovin’.

I’ve talked about the maintenance of things and how they can be burdensome. Things that require a disproportionate amount of care (such as luxury handbags) tend to not provide worthwhile returns. As I’ve settled into my new normal as far as quantity of belongings goes, I’ve been noticing the wear and tear on my things more as I mostly keep what I use every day or at least on a regular basis. I stopped using the dryer for anything other than bedsheets (which I only dry because I only have one set) and began hanging my clothes instead of using the dryer,  just like how I no longer dry my hair with a hair dryer. After all, it seems silly that we need to have these machines that cost  a few hundred dollars spin our clothes around and blow hot air on them – clothes are advertised to last x number of washes but who knows about the dry cycles. I hand wash all my knives, pots, and pans. I make sure that I don’t keep any messy piles around where things can damage each other from just bumping into other things (jewelry is a good example of this). I clean my bike regularly. I keep tabs on what I have in my refrigerator so I don’t waste food. The same can be said about our bodies. Our bodies are designed for movement, and I take great care to ensure that I am active every day. Long flights and train rides make me jittery (I have urges to do pull-ups on the safety bars). Exercise is a celebration of what our bodies are capable of, and it pains me to think that so many people never realize their bodily potential. The less time we take to take of our bodies, the more quickly our bodies will deteriorate over time. And we must use our bodies every day.

Things are responsibilities and I feel that I have a responsibility to take care of things that serve me. The fewer things that I own, the more attention I can devote to taking care of them. Chances are, some amount of the earth has been destroyed to create the things you own. We won’t be able to be perfect about it, but let’s take a little time to take care of what we do have, if at least not to need to buy replacements and require more resources from the planet than we’re already consuming.

The Lose-Lose Choice of Living in an American City or Suburb

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Growing up, I considered myself a “city person.”

In retrospect, I now realize that translated to “I don’t know what to do with myself when there aren’t people and businesses surrounding me.” Then, when I did go to the city, the first thing I did was find a major shopping street, and let my pop culture insecurity-induced consumerist desires come to life. Ok – that’s not quite the truth – in reality I have so little awareness of pop culture (I become pretty clueless when people start talking about famous actors and other celebrities) that its impact on me is pretty minimal. But the part about finding a major shopping street is true. As a kid who stayed at home 99% of the time, I racked up plenty of insecurities over time and never quite figured out how to deal with them, and buying my way out was a coping mechanism that I had to get rid of. The idea of minimalism and simple living in classic keeping up with the Jones’s environment was not a concept I was ever really exposed to until much later.

I admit, cities have perks I enjoy immensely. Infrastructure is wayfarer-friendly, which means stores and services can be easily accessed without a car. There are more festivities and public events. There are more career and networking opportunities. The social scene is more diverse. Simply put, the availability of human beings you can interact with is just greater. It is tiring, though, especially as an introvert, to be out and about all the time. Fortunately, introverts can experience not-being-entirely-a-hermit by mingling in the city, with the option of talking to others.

At the same time, city-living has its limitations. It’s expensive. Really, really expensive, for some cities. You’re paying a major premium for the privilege of being in the middle of the action, and for some, it all gets old as priorities change. Approaching 30, my city-dwelling friends are starting to reach typical home-buying and family-rearing age, and more and more of them are starting to leave the city in favor of buying a home with a lawn and hosting large parties and barbecues on a back door patio.

This is where it gets tricky.

I have mixed feelings about suburbia. Or at least, the suburbs I’ve been to.

First of all, its ludicrous that every single American family is expected to own their own huge private dwelling – do we really need to eat up that much land and resources to support our already rich lifestyles? America is a huge country, with not great rail infrastructure. Thus, it was built on the premise that the vast majority of its inhabitants owned cars. And so, chances are, you are driving your car everywhere. To the grocery store. To the daycare. To Target. To the gym. To the yoga studio (I guess to make up for the stress of driving there??). To your kids’ dance practice. To the theatre. To work. All that time spent driving is time not spent walking, or cycling, or doing something else remotely active. So of course, we start losing our health, unless we become gym rats or runners, which is pretty difficult if you’re tired and run-down all that driving (it’s not exactly an energizing activity). Exercise and moving around is just not built into suburb life. Sitting on the couch, driving everywhere, and sitting at restaurants/movies/offices is, well, fattening. At night, walk around any neighborhood in a middle-class suburb and you’ll probably be 1. The only person walking and 2. See lots of flickering TV screens in the windows.

Ideally, being active should be easily baked into the day. We buy all sorts of fancy equipment for our houses, hoping that dropping that money will motivate us to work out. But it doesn’t help that suburbs are ill-equipped to handle bicycles. All sorts of sidewalk-riding routes (too dangerous to ride on the road, so the next best choice is riding on the sidewalk) and disappearing sidewalks (sidewalks that just “end”) next to 45-mph speed limit roads and the absence of bike racks at strip malls are not conducive to bicycle riding. Everything being so spread out makes it so the grocery store and the school are too far apart to realistically walk to.

So when I ask myself the question of whether or not I am a city person, I have to be frank: it’s hard to say. Neither is great. As a minimalist, I think I have an overall dissatisfaction with both. I don’t want to be surrounded by advertisements and businesses wanting money, and I certainly don’t like high costs of living. At the same time, I don’t want to be too far from people in general – feeling connected to our communities is a basic human need. I feel like I have this dream of living in a city like Copenhagen, where bicycles rule the road, people value their health, and the community is in god spirits.

Fortunately, there is hope – millennials in Seattle have recently reversed the trend – car ownership is finally starting to decline, thanks to the uptick in people cycling, car-sharing, or public transportation. For our health and for our environment, I look forward to a future where we are not boxed into car ownership should we choose not to live in an expensive city.

Minimalist Design and User Experience

My new faucet!

Recently, I was at Home Depot looking for a new faucet. I wasn’t about to replace the entire sink, so I needed one with a 3-hole configuration. For about 30 minutes, I stared at the gallery of faucets on the pallet racks, slowly narrowing down my choices. The thought process I was going through reminded me that I was applying my intuition of user experience to an everyday product. My brain was getting flooded by all the options and thoughts, but the one I chose in the end was influenced by a combination of ease of use, cleanability, price, and aesthetics. The single handle mechanism makes it simple to calibrate for temperature. Of course, not everybody has the same purchasing factors in mind. Maybe price is the limiting factor and the cheapest option will do. In my case, I really wanted something that was easy to clean – no gaps and limiting of weird edges that are hard to get to with a sponge.

“User Experience” is a term familiar to anyone working in the digital realm, especially in a corporate setting. Good UX generally requires a fundamental understanding of its principles and a robust backing of research-based findings. The tech industry is really honing in on ensuring good user experience in its products e- part of the iOS’s appeal is its ease of use. My 3-year-old niece picked up the iPad interface quickly – she probably knows more about how to use it than I do.

I’m not professionally trained on the subject, but after reading the thoughts of designers, evaluating and re-evaluating of products on the market (read: former shopping addiction), and architecture/structural engineering study, I’ve decided that overdesigning these days is rampant. We’re so focused on adding unnecessary elements that end up making systems cluttered and inefficient. Our brains don’t need to be overly stimulated by all that is in front of us – decision fatigue is a thing. Design should be used to improve the speed, efficiency, and effectiveness of a thing. Done right, and it will be naturally visually pleasing already. What frustrates me is while we can design impressively user-friendly applications in niche areas (like our purses), we often fail to create positive user experiences elsewhere. Long commutes are terrible uses of our time (especially if we drive). Slews of ugly and over-designed spreadsheets and illogical file structures at work (why we accept having flowery backgrounds as a design feature is beyond me). Piles of forget-about-it stuff in cabinets. Perhaps it is my structural engineering background that makes me gripe about pointless architectural design (and why the best designs intersect the need for structural integrity with visually pleasing aesthetics), but there is a sort of intuition that comes from exposure to good design that makes sense. It cannot really be learned from school.

But what we can start doing is questioning how we set up our lives, and whether or not they have good user experience in their own right. Are our life systems efficient, effective, and fast? Do the layouts of our homes make sense? Do we have to spend more time taking care of something than we do actually enjoying it? Do we even want to use said thing? Would we be better off decluttering something rather than continuing to maintain it?

Simple Living vs Empty Living

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There is a possibility, however small, that someone might take simple living to mean ruthlessly simplifying until all that is unpleasant, stressful, or uncomfortable is reduced or completely eliminated.

One example is our relationships with other people.

Most people in deep, fulfilling relationships with family, friends, and significant others can agree that the risks and unpleasantries of bad dates, disappointments, uncomfortable talks, and disagreements are all worth the effort. Companionship, helping hands, and kindness are wonderful bonuses that come with healthy relationships with those around us, but disagreements and differences help us reflect on our own values and challenge us to rethink and reshape our ways of thinking. As most people know, these conflicts are catalysts for our own growth and avoiding them costs us those opportunities. This isn’t to say that toxic and damaging relationships should not be cut, but that severing all ties with all people simply because you cannot tolerate people is probably indicative that perhaps some self-reflection is long overdue. We cultivate these relationships for the benefit of nurturing our communities as a whole – not just for our own personal development. To completely opt out of interacting with anyone – while great for recharging ourselves and clearing our minds – puts us in danger of being bored, lazy, and well…lonely. Tackling challenges and confronting difficult situations broadens our life experience – great ways to make us feel truly alive.

Another way of achieving this is through exercise.

The notion that only fatness or un-skinny-ness is supposed to trigger gotta-get-to-the-gym thoughts is silly. Most of us have woefully underutilized bodies and brains that have not been challenged to any semblance of full potential. Instead, we resort to lame ‘n’ lazy activities like pushing around snowblowers, joy rides in sports cars, getting fat at buffets, or growing our beer bellies at bars and clubs. Sadly, so much of us are still in the habit of defaulting to the lazy route – Uber’ing instead of cycling, using a snowblower instead of a shovel, taking the elevator instead of the stairs. The thought of challenging our bodies even just a tiny bit doesn’t even cross our mind sometimes. Perhaps we write off this choosing-the-lame-route method as the simpler way. And perhaps, in a way, it is.

But being minimal is not supposed to mean always choose the easy way.

As someone who knows how it feels to be highly susceptible to stressful situations, there is a certain balance to be had. Life is not rewarding without some semblance of struggle. That struggle will certainly be different depending on what you choose to focus your energy on, but I do feel concerned about the segment of minimalists who truly believe that the absence of strife defines minimalism. Sure, I’ve reduced the amount of material chaos in my life and culled excessive time-sucking activities in favor of more meaningful pursuits, but that doesn’t mean my life is void of challenge or struggle. Most of the time, we are not broadcasting our struggles to the world anyway – we are all fighting something, even if we are doing so invisibly. I am intentionally training myself every day to become better equipped to tackle what gets thrown my way. That resilience enables us to fill our lives with challenges we can confidently overcome, and when we do, we pack those experiences into our toolbelt and move forward with a renewed sense of confidence.

And what better way to do so than with companions that share the same resolutions?

Spare Yourself from Overdecorating, Gifts, Last-Minute Shopping, and other Holiday Woes

The holidays have become an iconic time of gift exchanges, unbridled dietary habits, and restless travel time. With just how much running around we have to do – buying things for large families, cooking epic meals, writing checks for charitable organizations, buying gifts for gift exchanges at work or at friends’ parties…it’s no wonder “Christmas feels more like a deadline than a holiday” (a shower thought from Reddit).

December has turned into a spending and binge-eating frenzy. At my office, holiday babble sounds like:

“I have x more days until I have to eat right again…”

As though there was some kind of time limit…

“I still have to finish Christmas shopping for everyone in my extended family and in laws…”

Because I’m sure everyone needs another “little something.”

“I was supposed to get my package yesterday, but UPS keeps delaying it and now it won’t show up until after Christmas!”

Oh, well…

“As the decorator in the house, I’ve gotten a little crazy with the lights…”

Amongst frustrations like people not knowing what to get other people, etc. Like not getting someone something is not an option.

I’m lucky, though. As someone who travels off-season and isn’t chained to kids’ school vacation schedules, I purposely pick up the slack from everyone who is vacationing over the holidays and jetting off from crowded airports (read: quiet office!). Since my extended family is thousands of miles away, I’m spared from the ridiculousness of buying-gifts-for-family-members-I-barely-know. For the most part, we only buy things for each other that we actually want, so we’re spared from the guilt of not wearing some ugly sweater I got from my aunt or some other similar situation and don’t burden our loved ones with things like themed linens or gag gifts. I don’t feel pressure to compete with neighbors with Christmas decorations – I let retailers and the city put up lights and I can enjoy them without burdening myself with putting them up and taking them down.

My idea of an indulgent holiday season is cozy time by the fireside, frolicking in the snow, learning artful present wrapping, and reflecting on how to make the upcoming year more levels of awesome. I find solace in cleaning up my life when no one else is around, enjoying the quiet snowfalls of winter, planning my next trip abroad, and enjoying peaceful hours at the gym before the new year rush begins.

Let’s take holiday traditions into our own hands and toss out the excess unnecessary stuff. Let’s talk about holiday “savings” instead of holiday “spending.” I’d love to know about what people do instead of following all the necessary traditions. Most importantly, let’s make the season a true holiday.

Why I Dislike Driving

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It is car-buying season. I hardly watch TV, but my understanding that December is a good time to buy a car as dealers get rid of older models to make room for the new. I remember the cliche story – a husband surprising his wife with a brand new car in the driveway topped with a giant red bow. The commercial zooms into the classic smiles of delight on the faces of the family members in the commercials as they are excited to take the new car on a ride and emphasizes how sexy and fun it must feel to drive a certain brand, how useful the safety features must be, and so on.

And the truth is, these marketing tactics work. People get so excited about the newest car technology. They set dream cars as desktop backgrounds. They rent expensive cars to feel the thrill of driving them. And who can blame them? Car technology is darn cool, and it keeps getting cooler and more powerful. Cars give us a feeling of empowerment and mobility like the world has never seen. For much of the world, car ownership is a source of pride. And I’m not here to take that away from people. But what I can say is that I abhor the person I become when I am behind the wheel.

I hope you will forgive me for a bit of a whiny post. As a cyclist, cars to me are dangerous death machines. People get killed or disfigured in car crashes on a daily basis and the vast majority of accidents are avoidable. Because basically anyone can get behind a wheel, I feel like I can barely trust drivers these days. The amount of passive aggressiveness and road rage out there is frustrating and awful for my mental health. I notice that I get more impatient when I’m behind the wheel. I feel frustrated when I’m in a hurry to get somewhere and more prone to take risks at stoplights. I feel like I am a much less rational human being when I am driving, cursing every time people take more than a second or two to get moving after a stop sign or traffic light or pull into the intersection before making a left turn. On top of that, it is too easy to make a tiny mistake with major consequences. Fender benders can cost thousands and increase your insurance payment, all for a tiny little mistake. I won’t even get into accident statistics – we get them all the time. As much as car manufacturers like to convince you that their model will give you better peace of mind, there is no “peace of mind” when it comes to other drivers, and the potential loss is even worse when you are driving a fancy expensive car.

All that being said – I am not anxious about car ownership. I’m happy being car-lite – it is convenient to be able to go on road trips, after all, and you can access many remote areas by vehicle that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to with other means of transportation (Iceland is a great place to see by car, for example). But the whole notion that a car will make you enormously happy seems misguided. There is so much headache involved with the potential for speeding tickets, accidents, and maintenance – none of that would ever be advertised in a car commercial.

Crafting a Minimalist Holiday Season

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Historically, I have not been good at reining in my spending during the holidays.

It all starts with a Black Friday shopping spree, which for many retailers, starts on Thanksgiving day, a day in which we’re supposed to be thankful for what we already have. I accumulate a “Future Purchases” list which becomes a time suck during precious holiday time as I research the Best Deal for each item, which eventually makes it to my front doorstep after mulling over countless sellers and options. As you can guess, getting whatever was on my Future Purchases list was not the end of it. Anytime you visit the website of a smart retailer, you’re bound to be suckered into all the other Great Deals plastered all over each page, and you’re reminded of it constantly. Let’s say you’re browsing REI.com and you’re checking out a Patagonia rain jacket. You then move on to Facebook to catch up on your friends’ newsfeeds, and a wha? A box appears on it with that same jacket you were just looking at. This is a tactic called remarketing, and it’s scarily effective. What happens is, when you visited REI.com, a pixel fire tags you by setting up a cookie in your browser that will trigger a real-time ad exchange. Because the ads are personalized based on your browsing history, the more you browse, the more often you are reminded of what you were shopping for, and the more likely you will make a purchase. $$$$!

No one knows my browsing history better than than the retailers.

My holiday spending habits were a natural response to temptation. Who could blame retailers? We all want a fresh start and shiny new things are an easy way to achieve that. $100 for a new coat here, $50 for a new game there, it adds up quickly and before you know it, you’ve spent a good chunk of your paycheck. With tinsel and cheer and sparkling holiday-themed decor around, how could we not join in the fun? But you can! You can enjoy the efforts of your community and neighbors without breaking the bank. If you live in a populous enough neighborhood, chances are, you’ll have friends and neighbors putting up their own decorations. You can join enthusiastic relatives on their Christmas shopping adventures. You can use scraps of paper to handmake Christmas cards. You can make candied pecans, caramel popcorn, and hearty beef stew.

I don’t want to rant about the consumerist focus of the holidays because enough has been written on the subject. I’d rather spend my time sharing actionable activities you can do with friends and family.

Instead of blowing a few grand on a trip to waiting in long lines at Disney or sitting on a cruise ship, why not make some slow cooker hot chocolate and making snow forts?

Instead of browsing the clearance rack at Macy’s for an afternoon, why not spend thirty minutes catching up with an old friend?

Instead of blowing a few grand on Christmas gifts, why not invest it in some mutual funds?

Shiny new things can temporarily seem refreshing, but I’d say a great workout session with a shower afterward is even better.

Yesterday, I spent $0. For someone who had no qualms dropping a couple hundred on random stuff in the past, I think it is a baby step in the right direction.

Designing Your Life

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There’s this notion that in order to be any good at a Thing, you must have Officially trained for it by way of classes, elite schooling, Official certifications, or some other widely recognized, socially accepted method. Otherwise, you’re not…legit.

Sure, perhaps I’d rather have someone with a record of credibility to be fiddling with my electric set-up, fixing my meals, or even just plain supplying my ingredients. Yes, I’d rather be in a plane with an experienced pilot, and be seen by a respected doctor. Yes, I’d agree that a structured class or program where you can collaborate with classmates, get feedback on homework assignments and projects, and get tested on your comprehension is ideal, and have things explained visually through lecture notes and handwritten diagrams. If safety risk is not a factor though, I’d argue that you don’t need to be already good at something or even have a predisposition for something to at least attempt it or even become decent at it.

The notion of self-teaching is celebrated in the arts – painters, musicians, dancers – as well as in the tech industry. Lots of programmers and web designers are self-taught as they were raised at the dawn of technology and exciting advancements were being made, eventually going on to work at high caliber places like Facebook and Google. So many artists create their own works and are heralded for their talent and originality.

Self-teaching is now much easier than ever.

With so many resources at our disposal thanks to the free knowledge bank that is the internet , how could we not take advantage of it? We are capable of turning a critical eye to scams, uniting to fight for good causes, learning some word processing tricks or computer shortcuts (ctrl+L in a browser is one of my favorites), all through the brilliance of search engine algorithms. XKCD sums it up perfectly. Knowledge sharing, done so freely on the internet, helps me prosper at home, at work, and everywhere in between. You don’t need to have your own library of manuals, textbooks, and magazines when so much reading material is readily available online. I completely understand the joy of having physical reading material, but a large library is not indicative of one’s intellectual ability.

We are so empowered to learn about all the different ways others design their lives, that it is no surprise that my hope is that everyone else out there can do the same. Understandably, circumstances can limit the extent to which we can design and redesign our lives, but since this is a blog about minimalism, the good news is that if you don’t have a lot, you are a lot closer to a blank slate. The less you know, the more potential you have to learn more and start from scratch. The less you have, the more room you have to organize your possessions.

We live in an age where resources are abound. Let’s take advantage of them. You could literally learn a new skill this very second! Isn’t that a supremely powerful position to be in?

Beachbody workouts, Expensive Barre classes, and Aerial Acrobatics: A Tale of Sweat, Lies, and Bruises

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I was not a particularly athletic person growing up. I dabbled briefly in middle school volleyball and got pretty serious on my varsity badminton team in high school, but such athletic pursuits vanished when I went to college and was swiftly assaulted by an onslaught of exams, papers, problem sets, and minimal sleep. After two years of being overworked, I earned a classic freshman 15 in the form of a pinchable amount of belly fat, but managed to work up the diligence to play enough Dance Dance Revolution to shrink it down to slightly-less-pinchable size by graduation (yes, that actually happened, and oh yes, my downstairs neighbors were not happy).

My “workout” efforts through the first 22 years of my life are best described as half-hearted maintenance, but at the time, it kept me healthy enough to get through school without getting horrendously out of shape. I was never taught anything about cardio, lifting, or any other fitness fundamentals. Perhaps if I had stuck with physical education in high school instead of substituting it with badminton, I would have gotten familiar with such things, but I remember gym class to be something like a bubbling broth of  torture mixed with passive aggressive competition, so I was happy to do anything else.

The point is, it wasn’t until I got to working life that I started seriously taking fitness seriously, and this is only because in most cases, instead of being on a sports team, adults do something called “going to the gym.” I often joke that my fitness pursuit started as a result of being bored in the dying city of Buffalo, but it was my oldest brother who introduced Beachbody workouts to me, and as someone with a naturally competitive spirit (thanks, MarioKart), I thought I would give it a try. Little did I know that it would lead to completing all 90 days of the entire P90X program which snowballed into spending 2-3 hours a day at my amazing onsite corporate gym doing HIIT workouts and group exercise classes to spending $16 for an hour of barre class once a week, to finding a hidden passion in aerial acrobatics, to where I am now: happily learning and continuing to learn about the realities of fitness and the fitness industry in general. And now I get to share it all with you!

Beachbody’s P90X: My Foray into Fitness

P90X is awesome for beginners, though some might argue it’s more appropriate for people who are not in dire health (as in, you should probably start with something easier if you’re at risk for a heart attack). It has helped me get to know fitness jargon without going through the embarrassment of asking a guru. When I first started the program, I thought it would be a great way to get through long, lonely, and dark Buffalo winter. I wondered what it would be like, and I had a friendly co-worker doing the same program in parallel, so I thought I’d enjoy sharing stories about the workouts with him. I was pleased with the prospect of doing different workouts every day, and didn’t have to spend a penny on a gym membership. As the days turned into weeks, I was astounded at how quickly I was gaining flexibility through Yoga X and couldn’t believe I was starting to be able to lift more than ten pounds (I started with 5 and 10 pound weights). I quickly got addicted because I was getting visible, tangible results. Because I lived within walking distance of work and had no other obligations, the time commitment (about an hour per day) easy.

P90X was great. I thoroughly enjoyed the 90 day commitment. But it was just the beginning.

Joining the Gym and Doing InsanityLong Nights After Work Hours

I moved to Chicago after a year and a half in Buffalo. My new job was located at a suburban corporate campus in the Midwest and included an incredible onsite gym that offered group exercise classes, an assortment of machines, supportive and easygoing instructors, and fun events and challenges. It was a no-brainer to join and it would help me get to know coworkers. Hot off the P90X program, I signed up on my first or second day, excited for a new phase of my fitness journey.

Because I’m there so often, I get to witness all sorts of people of different ages getting stronger, not getting stronger, looking the same, and not looking the same over the three plus years I’ve been there. Since I started doing that adult thing we call “going to the gym,” I’ve lost between 7 and 9 percent of my body fat, gained ten pounds (yes you read that right!), and have never slept better or felt so strong and energetic in my entire adult life. See, everyone knows the benefits of exercise, but if everyone was able to FEEL what being strong is like, I’m sure they’d make it more of a priority. Knowing the benefits is just not enough to motivate people – we really need to feel them to understand them. And boy, I felt them after hearing about Insanity.

Somebody generously left a copy of the Insanity DVD’s at the fitness center. The workouts are between 35 and 60 minutes long and require no equipment. As a minimalist, I loved the idea of using my body as my equipment and eagerly decided to try the program. Insanity is technically a 60 day program, but I was doing all the DVD’s for at least a year, so I probably did the entire thing several times. After a few weeks, doing the workouts became a no-brainer. Oddly, I craved being sweaty. It made me feel accomplished. I didn’t follow a schedule, but I knew all the workouts by heart. I managed to get my resting heart rate below 60 BPM through all the cardio, and I was feeling amazing.

Barre: A Fun, Expensive, & Misguided Pursuit

Wanting to expand my workout repertoire outside of work, I found a studio right in my hometown that taught barre classes. The philosophy of Pure Barre, Barre Code, and other such studios was basically do an hour of isometric, low-impact, low weight exercises to “fatigue” the muscles, “tone” specific parts of the body, and stretch the out at the end to achieve a “long and lean” muscles, just like that of a dancer. And who doesn’t want to look like a dancer?

After getting ripped apart by Beachbody, I fell in love with barre classes. I was already pretty fit when I started and quickly got addicted to feeling the burn. It was a safe space for me to workout, with so much positive feedback and no men around to watch. My instructors were incredible and I felt so supported.

The only problem was, it didn’t really make me stronger. At least, not in the way P90X did. It slowly became another workout of my week that wasn’t really helping me get anywhere physically. And the evidence was clear after I started circus, and realized that making my arms tired by pulsing with 2-3 pound weights was not helping me gain any muscle. Perhaps it helped me endure a lot of muscle fatigue, but I was not feeling stronger. I lamented my lack of progress in circus to my lack of strength to a good friend of mine, and he advised that if I was going to get any stronger, I needed to be lifting heavier weights. 2, 3, or 5 pound weights would not help me do pull-ups and inversions. I needed to stop wasting hours and dollars trying to “tone” my body.

I reflected on my experience in barre, and realized also that so much of the philosophy revolved around achieving physical beauty. Ultimately, despite its claims of supporting strong women, it was still a matter of how “toned” you looked and how “long and lean” your muscles were. This post basically sums it up a lot better than I ever could, but long story short, I spent my class cards and stopped buying them. How “toned” your muscles are and how “long and lean” you’re going to be is going to depend on your genetic makeup and your body fat percentage, both of which are going to be almost entirely dependent on your genes and your diet.

Women are different from men, but they shouldn’t need “specialized training” involving 2 pound weights that is supposed to make them fit a universal ideal.

Circus: A Magical Art Form that Showcases the Beauty of Strong Human Bodies

Circus arts combines gymnastics and dance and creates a form of entertainment through the manipulation of various apparatus or in some cases, nothing at all (partner acro).

I already have an entire post dedicated to the art form, so I won’t elaborate on it here. But I grew to love circus because unlike straight up sport, circus focuses on creating art with physical strength. As someone who cares more about what I am capable of doing than how I look, circus appeals to me – especially its acceptance of new and creative ideas. It’s a fun and supportive community that focuses less on competing and more on showcasing. It gives purpose to getting stronger.

Efficient, Effective Fitness

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Proven to get you stronger.

Everything I did was a part of the learning process, and I figured out what worked and what didn’t through trial and error. But for people who are just getting started, I can at least offer up a few bits of learning to prevent you from wasting your time and money.

  1. Free weights get me the most bang for your buck. Lifting heavy is the most efficient way of gaining muscle. I started with ten pound curls, and after a few years of gradual increases, I am working on curling 30 pound weights. My arms may be marginally bigger, but bulky? It is extremely difficult to bulk up and basically impossible if you’re a woman. You have to be taking steroids to look anything like an Arnold, and even then, it’s not possible. If you look at aerialists (see here and here) who are insanely strong, I really think bulking up should be the least of anyone’s concerns.
  2. Weight loss is predominantly diet, but if you’re trying to get stronger, you shouldn’t concern yourself with to the scale, and instead concern yourself with your body fat percentage. That aside, if you struggle with overeating, diet will probably end up being more difficult to adjust than dragging yourself to the gym. Plenty of people go to the gym and work hard but see no changes, but more likely than not, the lack of results is due to what they’re doing outside of the gym, and more specifically, how much they’re eating…especially when no one is watching. I’ve done it. I’ve done the chips in bed, the ice cream binges…you name it.
  3. Cardio feels great (afterwards, anyway), but after skipping strength training for a month, I promised myself I would never skip it ever again. Cardio is easy to get – any basic HIIT workout, cycling, running, or Stairmaster workout will do it. Strength will help you with your cardio, but it will also help you do useful things more easily. Like carrying groceries. Or a bag of rice. Or lifting kids.
  4. I became less concerned with how I look and more concerned with what my body can do. There is so much focus on how people look, and being thin, and being toned, and being fit but bulky…it drives me crazy.
  5. There is no “magic method” or magic “weight loss drink.” Fitness programs and gimmicks are expensive and hardly effective. And besides, if they actually worked, wouldn’t they go out of business? Put the work in, reap the benefits.

I’m still learning, as this is a lifelong pursuit, so I’d love to hear what you have to say.

On Complacency, Acceptance, and Happiness

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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.

5 Items I Don’t Miss & 5 Items I’m Glad I Own

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Is it ironic that a minimalist would write a post on “stuff,” the very “stuff” that we’re trying to detach ourselves from? Yes, humans invented millions of tools and objects, but I’d still give credit to the people who devise clever things that actually make our lives better or easier. I’ve decluttered hundreds of items from my life, but a few of them stick out in my mind as things I’m certain I made the right decision on.

5 Things I Booted Without Regret

  1. Bath mats. I used to own two memory foam bath mats and had them lying in my bathroom for my wet feet. They got so dirty so quickly, caught a lot of hair/dirt/lint/grime, took forever to dry, and had to be cleaned so frequently that eventually I threw them out. It’s not much extra effort to dry the bottoms of my feet before stepping out of the
  2. Dish drying rack. After a few iterations of dish racks, I settled on an oversink solution. I have a dishwasher and everything except my pots, baking pans, and knives are dishwasher safe, so I don’t really need more than that. More counter space and no more moldy plastic!
  3. All of my leather bags. Leather is high maintenance and good leather is expensive. My Patagonia bag is big enough for a 3-city trip in Europe and durable enough for daily bike commutes.
  4. Decorative porcelain and specialty glassware. Not worth the storage space/worry about knocking them over/cleaning off the dust, and like most decorations with no purpose other than to look pretty, I got tired of looking at them.
  5. Jeans. As an athleisure addict, I stopped wearing jeans. Even Uniqlo’s ultra stretch jeans, which I wore for years before finally donating them (and they were still in excellent condition!), couldn’t beat the comfort of stretchy skinny Ponte pants. Jeans are fashionable, sure – but if you’re like me and prize comfort/practicality over fashion (but look for pieces that intersect the two), you might find that jeans, while excellent for heavy-duty work or painting jobs, are just too stiff and take forever to dry to earn a place in your closet. There, I said it. I don’t own jeans, and it’s okay!

On the flip side, here are…

5 Things I’m Glad I Own (this list was harder to write!)

  1. My road bike. It is my workhorse in fair weather. It is my workhouse in less than fair weather. In exchange for just a little more time, it has greatly improved my commuting experience, strengthened my body, given me another appreciable form of transportation, and another network of friendships. It is a life-giving, money saving item!
  2. My electric toothbrush. If you haven’t upgraded from a normal toothbrush to an electric one…you’re missing out on epic levels of cleanliness in less time and effort. The first time I saw my dentist after buying an electric toothbrush, he complimented me on how clean my teeth were, and I stopped getting cavities!
  3. An oversized 8×10 shag rug. My mom had a couple of extra couches that she gave me, but I often have more guests around, and instead of buying an even bigger couch for my already small living space, I bought a giant, thick, and fluffy rug. It doesn’t shed, is insanely soft, and the high pile makes it fun to lie around in. The drawback of high pile shag is that they are harder to clean, but for how much use it gets, I don’t mind it at all.
  4. My speaker system. I grew up on music, and the difference is palpable when you have a sound system to enjoy it with.
  5. My iPad mini 4. Some minimalists may chastise me for this one. But I am an ultralight traveler, and bringing a laptop is almost always too much, and bringing only a phone is bad for my eyes. My iPad is just perfect. Apps can help me great fun digital content (videos, pictures…) and I can read eBooks on it. The portability makes it easy to record aerial videos and even whip up a blog post in a pinch.

It ended up taking me twice as long to finish the second list, which just goes to show how easy it is for me, and indeed most people, to take things for granted. Sometimes, it is a fun exercise to analyze what you have in the house and realize that your real needs (outside of survival) are satisfied by meaningful relationships, activities, and interactions. Everything else is just stuff. Stuff doesn’t reciprocate.

Bring on the good life, fueled by what matters most to oh-so-unique you.

My Simple, Lonely Life of Sobriety

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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.

Closet Talk: Building an Active, 4-Season Wardrobe

down-jackets-1281699_1920

The boundaries of minimalism all come down to lifestyle choices, and one of those choices is where you live, because that is going to decide what you need to stock in your closet. I chose to live in rather UN-minimalist Chicago, where the lack of mountains discourage snow sports, and the harsh winters cause indoor hibernation in the form of binge-watching TV shows and car clowning rather than happy cycling. There are a variety of reasons why I chose Chicago out of all places, especially considering its completely off-the-charts property tax rate and pension disaster, but I’ve adapted reasonably well, and found ways to adapt to the overpriced cost of living for the amenities Chicago offers and appreciate the 4 seasons for what they are. After all, we are adaptable creatures, and we find our way.

That being said, clothing technology has come a long way, and active clothing is spurring innovation that is easiest to access at big-box outdoor stores like REI. Gone are the days of low quality sportswear (RIP Sports Authority) and hello, techwear. There is no a better day in age to find leisure in all sorts of weather conditions, no matter where you live.

It’s pretty much nigh impossible to get all my desired clothing features into one single jacket or one single shirt. You’re going to have to give or take somewhere. If you can at least get half of the desired features below in each item you own, it’s a win in my book..

  1. Packable
  2. Lightweight or ultralight
  3. Fashionable
  4. Water resistant or waterproof
  5. Quick drying
  6. Machine washable
  7. Fully featured
  8. Seam sealed(if applicable)
  9. Long-lasting
  10. Breathable
  11. Inexpensive
  12. Work-appropriate

Thankfully, I work at a casual office don’t need to stock up on suits or dress shirts (side note: career will also impact lifestyle choice and ease of adherence to minimalism). I also have the bonus of an onsite gym with showers, so sweaty cyclecommuting is not an issue.

Basic Layering System

If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, you’re probably already familiar with the concept of layering, especially if you’re a backpacker or a cyclist. For the uninitiated, layering for active pursuits in variable weather works like this:

1. Shell – your outer layer, which will protect you against the elements of snow, rain, sleet, and wind. A good shell should be waterproof, windproof, abrasion-resistant, and allow room underneath for layering. An excellent shell should also be lightweight and have convenient, functional features. For example, a cyclist will want a shell that is cut longer in the back, reflective, and if it has a hood, be helmet-compatible. A rock climber would want waist pockets instead of hip pockets to allow room for a harness. Different manufacturers will cater to different sports and cut their pieces differently. For your average everyday use, these features might not matter so much, but if you do any specialized activity, you may want to consider them anyway. This layer is arguably the most important, as it is basically your first line of defense – a shield if you will – against bad weather. Everything underneath is not generally designed to hold up against the elements the way a shell does.

Look for these features in a shell:

  • Lightweight
  • Abrasion-resistant
  • Seam-sealed pockets
  • Waterproof
  • Windproof
  • Adjustable cuffs (for gloves)
  • Cinchable (for layering)
  • Hood

2. Midlayer – your insulation, which will hold heat in but let moisture out. This usually comes in the form of a down/synthetic puffy jacket or a fleece jacket. Most of the fashionable puffy jackets you’re getting from places like Nordstrom or Macy’s don’t meet the standard of a well-engineered puffy jacket and tend to be heavy and bulky because they prioritize form over function. Anyone who is fashion-focused cycles through clothing a lot faster anyway to keep up with trends.

Look for these features in a down puffy/synthetic puffy jacket:

  • 800-fill power or greater
  • Box-baffle construction
  • Lightweight, lightweight, lightweight
  • Packable (into a pocket or stuff sack)
  • Hooded, or you can wear a beanie
  • Comfort (not too restrictive)
  • Water-resistant

Personally, I prefer the comfort and snuggly properties of fleece jackets. There are quite a few lightweight options out there nowadays, and hoodless versions can be made classy enough to wear at the office or

Either way, look for these features in your midlayer fleece:

  • Flexible aesthetic
  • Lightweight/not too bulky
  • Functional pockets
  • Breathable

3. Base layer – next-to-skin layer which should not hold moisture from sweat. Base layers are tricky because they come in many different weights. Fabrics can be synthetic or natural, but usually a blend of synthetic and some grade of wool. I default to merino wool for my base layers, as it is naturally insulating, sweat wicking, odor-resistant, and quick-drying. Icebreaker makes plenty of options.

Look for these features in your base layer:

  • Odor-resistant
  • Lightweight
  • Quick-drying
  • Aesthetically pleasing (to allow for multiple applications)
  • Comfortable (no itchiness or overly tight areas)
  • Moisture-resistant
  • Not too bulky

The Bottom Line

The theme of this post is that we should expect more out of our clothing than just “making us look good.” If we’re spending more time outside of the 4 walls of our houses, we need be getting more out of what we own. Next time you’re out there “refreshing” your closet, give these thoughts a try, and see if it makes your outdoor time more enjoyable. I know I don’t want to let colder, harsher weather stop me from getting out there.

In a later post, I’ll recommend actual items I’ve tested in the field. Stay tuned!

Crafting a Sustainable Lifestyle

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I often hear younger millennials declare to themselves that they will never change, or that they know exactly what they want for themselves in 10 years. They make bold statements about exactly what they envision for themselves in 5, 10, 30 years, and are fully confident about their opinions. And of course, I did the same. The truth is, we only know what we know about ourselves at a given time, and our future selves are strangers to our past selves. When I think about what I envisioned for myself at 20 vs 24 vs now at 27, I realize that I want different things all the time. My tastes changed – everything from my fashion sense to my hobbies to my future plans to the way I managed my money. Even my values – which drive decision-making tendencies – have morphed and evolved throughout my 20’s, so much that I think my 20 year old self would have a tough time recognizing me today. I am no longer the same person as I was when I started this golden decade of my life, and I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will never really know for sure what I’ll want for myself in the future.

At the same time I’m at an exciting stage of life, I am also at an age of never-ending anxiety. With so many societal pressures from around me – the anxiousness about marriage, weddings, career advancements, having babies, getting advanced degrees, traveling as much as we can, choosing a place to settle down, buying a house, buying a car – it’s no wonder some of us are at a breaking point. There are so many things we are expected to accomplish in a short amount of time. We’ve got relatives, friends, and co-workers hitting milestones time after time, and we start getting uneasy as time goes by as to when we are supposed to do all those things (speaking as someone who has done hardly anything on that list, anyway). We start to become aware of our own coming of age, and that we’re running out of time to tick all the checkboxes. Mainly this is biological – there is only so much time in which our bodies are in prime condition to recover from physical stressors, and we start feeling the effects as we approach our 30’s.

But one thing I know is important to me, and indeed for anyone interested in minimalism and simple living, is the idea of creating a lifestyle that is sustainable. Throughout all of the evolving and changing we do in our lives, it is still far too easy to get stuck on the hedonic treadmill, searching for fleeting adrenaline rushes while hanging by thin financial threads. We’re suckered into unsustainable lifestyles because that is what profitable industries market to us. We’re so focused on the idea that we need to live rich and fulfilled lives that we hurl ourselves into stupid amounts of debt and avoid saving for our future selves. It doesn’t help that we get tons of YOLO-tinted advice and finger-waving from our elders at odds with each other. So how do we cope? How do we know that our lifestyles today are sustainable? We need to consider the needs of our future selves, who are completely unknown to us, at the same time we need to live in the present, so we don’t miss our present moments.

When I first stumbled upon the idea of early retirement, I found that our sustainability ultimately comes down to lifestyle choices. The possibility of living sustainably is dependent on how well we can self-cater and the fewer dependencies we create. If we can create our own self-sufficiency, we can worry so much less for our futures. We can worry less about pills to keep us alive, about where our next dollar is going to come from, about whether or not we’ll be able to be there for a friend. Basically, instead of lamenting about bad luck or unfortunate circumstances, we must use our super brains and bodies to work ourselves into a position of strength. A position of strength means that we minimize the need to rely on things or people to sustain ourselves. In the realm of early retirement, it is elimination of the need to work. If we can find a way to live sustainably early on, we free ourselves of worries and troubles later on. In a lot of ways, that is what this whole blog is about – minimalism, when applied appropriately, is about crafting a sustainable future for yourself.

And I want to be as good as I can to my future self, because who knows where she will be or how she will be feeling then. If she has what she needs to live comfortably, I think she’ll thank me. I already want to slap my past self because hindsight is 20/20, but as I continue to focus on sustainability, I hope my future self won’t feel the way I do now about my past self.