To You

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It’s been quite an eventful year, to say the least.

No matter what side you were on, I think that we all deserve some respite.

Over hundreds of years, our society has evolved. Some of us celebrate the evolution; others condemn it, longing for the past.

One thing is certain: As intellectual discourse about our world became easier to access through the internet, the volume of information grew and grew. And it hits us from every direction – Facebook posts, whispery gossip, media babble.

It’s all done now. And we’re tired. Too much text, too much analysis, too many words.

We owe it to ourselves to take a step back from reactionary heat. At least, for a moment. Maybe even a while.

I am not advocating ignorance. But let’s not forget that we shouldn’t live our entire lives through the internet. As tempting as it is to console ourselves with the words of others who align with our views, there are people around us who deserve real attention.

Including you.

Be kind to yourself and allow your kindnesses to glow and grow into infectious, unstoppable forces. That is the simple duty we all owe to ourselves and to our communities.

Love,

Active Minimalist

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.

On Owning Our Lives

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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.

 

Unhealthy Minimalism

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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. 

Battling FOMO: Fear of Missing Out

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A lot of our decision-making is caused by FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out. FOMO has several causes: deeply embedded societal expectations, knowledge that we only get one chance at life, and, as scary as it is, not knowing when our lives will end or suddenly be irreparably altered. And it’s a completely understandable feeling. Cautionary tales swirl around us, reminding us that there is a life to be lived – potent stories that conjure up a dreadful fear in our insides like terminal diseases, sudden deaths of loved ones, or freak accidents that leave us with fewer body parts than what we started with. Naturally, we read or hear about these stories from friends, family, and coworkers, feeling some guilt that we aren’t “living each day to its fullest,” appreciating the good fortune we have, and capitalizing on our limited time on this planet. It’s so easy to get caught up in the monotony of routine, wondering if there is more to life than we have in the moment. Like this moment in life is not enough for us, or that who we are with isn’t adequate, that everything we do is an obligation and not a true passion. Like we need to hurry up and get all the life milestones done before we realize we don’t have enough time to accomplish them.

Funny enough, I only started thinking about this after I finished school. The first 22 years of my life were spent in a flurry of school-related deeds. I was then suddenly ejected from the tunnel vision I had in school, when the only thing on my mind was graduation, and thrown headfirst into the rest of the world, or real adulthood. Thus, it is only natural that so many of us millennials take so much time figuring out how to navigate our lives. When presented with so many paths to choose from, our fledgling selves struggle to figure out which ones will help us flourish and which ones will cause us to flounder. Conflicting advice tell us to go every which way and it overwhelms us.

I turned to minimalism because I wanted to do too many things at the same time, and my motivations were FOMO thoughts. I need to travel to “find myself” right at this second. I need to throw all my energy into my work so I can ascend as quickly as possible. Even as my energy gets directed a la laser-focus into the things I care about, I realized that burnout was just around the corner, and if I wasn’t careful, getting financially behind wouldn’t be an impossibility. FOMO, combined with ever-present instant gratification syndrome, is a quick path to snowballing stress.

Today, I have two ways to tackle the giant ball of FOMO stress.

One of them was to dedicate myself to a system. Don’t confuse this with creating goals – goals suggest unattainability. Implementing a system is creating a process, a series of habits, that will lead you to the goal, but does not necessitate that you reach it. A good system is one that you can and will want to follow, simple as that.

The other, and more important thing, is to continuously refine the system by cutting out everything that is not related to it or worse, preventing me from implementing it. TV, clubbing, bars, mindless web-surfing, unnecessary purchases, and other hedonistic pursuits could be among them. Even now, I am still refining my own system. Your system is a lifelong process that evolves and morphs and it does not end when you reach any goals or milestones. The more unnecessary, attention-hogging things you can cut out from your life, the easier it is to spend time on the things that you actually want to be doing.

A system that allows you to do what you want to be doing is an optimal one. It doesn’t let in distractions or conflicts. It acknowledges that your time is finite, and that this is the system you want, because you are choosing this path with utmost intentionality, and nothing will distract you from it.

Far worse than missing out on someone else’s desires is missing out on your own.

Minimalist Challenges: You Have Permission to Declutter Gifts and Heirlooms

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“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.

How to Stop Being Lazy, Stay Motivated, and Achieve your Long Term Goals

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Ahh, motivation. Motivation is the best. It’s that high we get when we lace up our running shoes, beat our chests, and declare, “I’m so pumped! Today is going to be awesome. I’m going to give it my all and I will stop at nothing.” Throw on a huge smile. Cue upbeat, happy music, sunshine, and blooming flowers. Don’t forget about the picturesque scene.

Motivation is trendy, sexy, and for some, dishing it out is even a career. Motivational speakers give talks about their life experiences to inspire students, employees, and other groups to make a career-defining leap, a life-changing decision, or behavioral shift towards success or happiness. Motivational speakers will tell you things like, “Everything is possible! Every day can be awesome – all you have to do is make a simple paradigm shift. Just will yourself to be this way by repeating to yourself [insert motivational phrase here]. There is no point in being hard on yourself. Make it a daily habit to always be positive!” You see motivation all over social media in the form of Instagram pictures, inspirational quotes in pretty lettering or flanked by an idol, and links to TED talks. They all claim that they have “THE” simple trick or technique that will “transform” the way you work and bring you closer to your dreams.

I am not going to deny that all the positive imagery does feel pretty good, and some of them can even be effective. After all, a world without any motivational propaganda would be pretty bleak. Yet, even after all the pretty photos and feel-good giddiness, I’m not convinced that we should simply aim to “stay motivated” if we want to reach our goals. I believe there is something we can pursue that is more reliable and dependable.

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Minimalist Challenges: Fitting in and Dealing with Criticism

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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?

Post-Decluttering: Living with Intention

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When we think about minimalists, we often think about decluttering and not having too much stuff. However, the most important thing about minimalism is who we truly are and who we become after we strip away the stuff. After all, our stuff defines our lives, and we buy stuff to help us live our lives the way we want to, don’t we?

A few weeks before I started this blog, I had entered my final stages of decluttering. I was still finding things to get rid of here and there, but the 5-10 new eBay listings a week slowed, I had difficulty filling a donation bag, I had more shipping supplies than I had items to sell, and, in a odd state of awe, I suddenly had more free time. At first, the shock disturbed me. I had become so used to not having enough time to accomplish everything on my to-do list, and the first words that popped into my head were:

“uhhh…now what?”

I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to capitalize on my newly found free time, and I spent some time pondering my new reality. Marie Kondo was not kidding about tidying up being “life changing,” but she left so much unsaid about life post-decluttering.

Fortunately, The Minimalists address this – decluttering is not the end-all be-all. It simply marks the start of a transformation – one that takes place when your energy stores is redirected towards your passions, discovered or undiscovered. And that is when we get to the magic words that minimalists love: “living with intention.”

Living with intention is simply the opposite of mindlessness. Rather than live a certain way because of reasons like:

  • I don’t have any other options
  • This is just the way things are
  • I have nothing else to do

We strive to live a certain way because of reasons like:

  • I want to make a contribution
  • I want to do my best work
  • I want to meet a goal
  • I want to create art
  • I want to be an inspiration

Intentional living is about acting in harmony with your motives and life philosophy. What that looks like will be different for everyone, but if you are curious, here is my life philosophy. If you don’t already have one, the next time you have 5 minutes of peace, grab a pen and peace of paper, and write out your life mission without putting down your pen. Don’t think too hard…just write like there is no tomorrow. Let the words flow without abandon.

Your mission is yours alone – a raw, beautiful piece of you.

Minimalism is Not an Excuse for Being Lazy

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Every so often, I’ll read a sentence on another minimalist’s blog that says something like this:

“I got rid of [insert item here], so I no longer have to worry about doing [insert activity here]. I can now spend my days completely free of obligations and responsibilities. Isn’t life grand?!”

or

“Life is about wandering around aimlessly from country to country and job to job. Why settle for a mediocre 9-5 job like the rest of the world? I’m not tied down to anything. Don’t you envy my infinite amounts of freedom?!”

I am definitely exaggerating. It bugs me, though, that some minimalists suggest that our optimal lives are about eschewing responsibilities, avoiding difficult life decisions, or valuing freedom above all else. Some level of freedom is achieved through minimalism, yes – we declutter, turn down invitations, and cut out all that does not serve us. But freedom is overrated, and when abused, we can fall into the danger of complacency. If being unproductive is the norm for leisure, perhaps we need to be smart about how we use the time available to us, rather than get more free time.

Minimalism is a lifestyle, but it is also a a tool – one used so we can focus on doing, focus on being, pour our energy into a passion, and then actually following through. The whole idea of being an active minimalist is that the freedom from pointless stuff and pointless pursuits enables us to be more productive human beings. To say that any time we buy something, perform an activity, or create a commitment is being “un-minimalist” is misinterpreting the whole idea of minimalism. Just because we buy a car or a house or take a 9-5 job does not suddenly kick us out of the minimalist realm.

These ideas are exactly why it is so hard to talk about minimalism without being preachy, and the notion that talking about minimalism is preachy is not new. Minimalist or not, passing judgment on someone else’s lifestyle is an easy thing to do. What one person might consider “productive” might be considered “a complete waste of time” to another. There is no universal truth to this, but I think we know intuitively if we are being productive. That little voice inside our head just knows.

On your journey to becoming minimalist, if you discover that you are being less productive than before, perhaps minimalism is simply not for you. As much as Pinterest boards want you to believe, minimalism is not shorthand for throwing everything away so we can waste time doing nothing or spend all our money traveling. It should be a method of living to maximize our efficiency as we conquer our days, one after another, and never faltering in our deepest passions.