Minimalist Shopping: Decisions & Considerations

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Faithful readers of my blog will be familiar with my past shopping struggle. A habit that, I’m ashamed to admit, has commandeered my free time – many hours I will never get back. And now that the holiday gifting madness has begun, I want to address this habit that has become more than just a chore, as businesses continue to enhance the shopping experience, making it an immersive, mentally engaging act that has captured the leisure time of teenagers and adults all over the world, no matter what financial situation they’re in. They start with commercials, enticing you with eye candy and personas that go beyond the product itself. Buy our clothing, and you will be more attractive, successful, confident, or healthy, like the person in this commercial. Buy this magic pill, and behold the transformation you will experience. Buy this car, and just look at how happy and safe your family will be. Buy this beauty product, and you will attract attractive people. This is no more evident than in perfume ads. Buy this massage chair because hell, you deserve it, and oh by the way, we offer a payment plan, in case you cannot actually afford it! Browsers store your shopping history, and that pair of boots you were drooling over suddenly follows you in other places – news sites, social media, blogs, and more, reminding you that the option to purchase is still there, until you finally cave and make the purchase.

All that aside, I am not going to be that strict minimalist who tells everyone to opt out of gift giving or shopping altogether (I do still buy things!). Some people have traditions they want to follow, or kids’ birthday parties to attend, and who’d want to embarrass their kid by not bringing a gift? And, we still have to buy things from time to time. Things break, become obsolete, and so on. And in many cases, a purchase or upgrade will save you time or significantly improve your quality of life. This post is meant to help you think through the buying process from the perspective of a conscious consumer and not a gullible buyer.

Let’s now move onto factors to consider in any purchasing decision.

Emotional Buying

“Retail Therapy,” as it’s commonly known. I like to think that most people know why they are out browsing things at a store, but when you ask them why, they answer that they don’t know, or have “nothing better to do,” or “why not.” It is easy to cultivate an addiction, too – the high that people experience after acquiring a new item can feel like a  physical reward from the effort of making money, and the excitement of getting to enjoy the new item is a pleasure, particularly if it’s something highly coveted.

Humans are not always logical and sensible creatures – otherwise no one would smoke – so we must at least learn to recognize if our shopping habits are emotionally driven. Without that awareness, we won’t be able to stop ourselves. Commonly, we shop in response to stress – at work, at home. We also shop in response to positive emotional events, like when we get our bonuses (anyone go out and spend their entire bonus in one piece?), or when we get a promotion, or when we just “feel rich.” Without a specific need in mind, shopping, just like drinking, can easily become something we do to distract ourselves, rather than something we do because we need something.

Lifetime maintenance

As seasoned readers know, stuff begets stuff – clothes need detergent, sometimes even special detergent; spare tables then require spare chairs; leather requires leather cleaner. A great example is owning a bike or car. Unless you plan to bring your bike to the shop every time something goes wrong, you have to buy a lock, spare tubes, degreaser, a pump, bike lights, and a helmet. More stuff, more time spent dealing with said stuff, more money spent. With a car, you have to deal with oil changes, gasoline, tires, brakes, fluids, storage, parking, insurance…have I mentioned that cars are ridiculously expensive? The same thing with a home – the larger your home, the more time and money you will be sinking into your living space to maintain it.

I’ve already talked a lot about the maintenance of certain types of clothing (dry-cleaning, removing pills, ironing…), but the same is true of anything you own. Everything needs to be stored and probably maintained to some degree, taking up space and time – time to maintain, organize, and clean.


As people say, classics are for life – but what is a “classic,” really? I still think that some “classics” are just things that have been marketed really well, and that we should build our preferences and styles not around what other people deem as “classics.” There are many arguments for buying things that last – not needing to buy another one later (the poor man pays twice) environmental impact. For this reason, “disposable” or “temporary” items are to be avoided. Dollar store junk – anything that fills kids’ goody bags, party goods, particularly anything made of plastic – as wasteful as it gets, even if they are cheap and convenient. I don’t know about you, but walking around a place full of garbage sucks. It’s too bad I can’t make other people care about this – garbage out of sight, garbage out of mind, after all – but sooner or later, we are all going to feel the effects.

I also recommend, for this same reason – in some situations, buying the cheaper option is not always the right option – delaying gratification and buying only . A good example of this is buying a cheap mattress – it will cost you more in labor, money, time, and likely frustration than it would to buy one that will last and serve you well.

Resale value

Another thing to consider is resale value. As a long term eBay seller of used things, items of quality that retain usefulness over time will sell much better than cheap crap. I like to check eBay for approximate resale values of certain brands. Ideally, I shouldn’t need to sell what I buy in the long run, but sometimes, it happens.


This one should be self-explanatory, but there are certain things where you are blatantly paying for a brand and not a higher quality item. I am skeptical of the quality promised by certain brands, when it is not always the case that you’re buying a higher quality item. Often times, a cheaper version could be better. One good example of this is clothing made by Abercrombie and Fitch. I have no reason to believe that their clothes are inherently better than clothes made by companies that make clothing sold at Target, but they’ve somehow built a brand where many people believe that that is the case – so much so that people will buy shirts that simply have the name of the brand on it. Seems silly – or brilliant, for the brand – to pay a company to advertise for them.

There is also the question of affordability. I like to calculate the number of working hours for each item, but it’s also important to recognize the power of compound interest, and every dollar that you spend today is lost capital gains over time. As a minimalist, working just to buy things seems like a rather unfulfilling, repetitive existence. The whole question of money is not something I want to discuss in this post in detail.


While we’re on the subject of affordability, I want to mention sales. Sales are just a clever way to entice people to buy. And they are great – if I am eyeing something for a while and I notice it is on sale, I am certainly more incentivized to buy. But buying just because it’s on sale, or just because it’s cheap – won’t cut it. Because you will have bought something – not because you truly wanted that thing, but because you found a bargain, and it is likely that you will then subconsciously undervalue it.

“Personal load”

I made up this term myself, but my fascination with the “living out of a backpack” has led me to wonder exactly how hard it would be for me to pack my bags if I needed to move. It is easy to avoid ever needing to assess the sheer volume belongings I have when I don’t move, or if I am not traveling frequently. This personal load then also translates to an “environmental load” of sorts. How much space am I needing just for my “stuff?” Everything I buy adds to that load burden, and that burden is not just physical, but mental too.


The question of “why” I want something is really what this whole post is about.

We buy things because we generally believe that these things will make us better, happier people, or they will help us in our quest to become better/happier people. The problem is, we are often awful at determining what truly makes us happy (hint: it’s not more stuff). Ever seen the people in poor countries, barely scraping by, yet somehow still wearing banana smiles and finding the joy in everything

When shopping for others, similar considerations apply, but most of the time, I simply ask what the person wants, and if I must purchase a gift for that person, I buy that exact thing. An unwanted gift is a burden and a lose-lose situation I’d rather avoid.

Happy Holidays and I truly hope that your holiday gift-exchanging practices only add happiness and ease to the holiday season.

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.

How to Make an Active Minimalist Happy

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Why is it, that being “happy” remains an elusive thing – so much so, that it often attributed as a life goal? Like happiness is an end state – that once we attain it, it is forever ours?

Outside of survival needs (food, water, shelter), most of us desire the same basic things, like being loved and accepted by our family, friends, and greater communities; being safe, in good health, and free from worry; having the freedom to exercise our passions without judgment and consequence. Any sensible person also knows that these “basic things” can easily be taken for granted, and that in this day, having any of them is, unfortunately, still considered a privilege. There are many things outside of our control that can disrupt the balance and rhythm of our lives. And sadly, it is too often in moments when we confront our own mortality that we realize just what is truly important. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Minimalists, and especially active minimalists, tend to emphasize the importance of just “being” or simply “doing” what is natural. Becoming a minimalist is often a product of some sort of discontent, so stripping away the excess garbage allows us to discover our hidden values. The moments we live outside of work and social media are where the raw, unscripted parts of our lives emerge – the words and behaviors that expose our own humanity. The behaviors we exhibit outside of the job title, the family role, the caretaker, the provider, and so on. We are most passionate – most human – when we take off the mask with our titles and roles. And we all wear masks in most places, if only for society to function properly.

Unsurprisingly, it is in those moments when we’re true to ourselves that we feel most liberated. And when we are true to ourselves and accepting of that truth, we begin to feel that elusive thing we call happiness. Personally, I am happiest in an environment where I can naturally “be.” Not “expected to be,” not “supposed to be,” not “meant to be.” Some of you may wonder, what if to “be” is to also be toxic, violent, or condescending? Color me an optimist, but I believe that if someone is truly happy, that person would also be in a position to genuinely be supportive of others. Happy people don’t put others down.

Fancy gifts, money, and swanky dinners can be treats for just about anyone, but for a minimalist, genuine relationships cannot be beat. Shared moments, experiences, and passions can be cherished more deeply than new things, and they cannot be taken away from you.

An Interview with an Ultralight, Minimalist, Cross-Country Bikepacker

Today, I am extra excited to present to you my first interview with a real-life Active Minimalist, Sarah. Not long after she obtained her PhD, she packed her bags, put what few possessions she had into storage, and biked solo(!) for three-thousand miles from California to Florida.

Let that sink in for a minute.

The magnitude of her 55-day journey and inspiring stories touched me so deeply I just couldn’t resist asking her if she’d allow me to feature her story on this blog. I felt like a million bucks when she accepted!

A few weeks ago on a lovely Friday afternoon, I was doing as most office bees do – happily wrapping up work for the week, excitedly anticipating the sunny spring weekend in which I – in true minimalist fashion – planned absolutely nothing, which happens so rarely that I cannot remember the last time I didn’t have an obligation of some sort. In between emails and reports and phone calls, I fantasized about the books I would read, the food I would cook, the friends I would catch up with, and so on. Then, in the early afternoon shortly after lunch, a message popped up on my phone. She mentioned that she was in town and asked if I was interested in playing board games.

I hadn’t seen Sarah at all since she graduated and gleefully whisked her tiny self off to California, so I was super psyched that she was going to be in town during the one weekend I was available to host her. Back when she was still in the area, we often got together with friends to play board games and hang out. After a few back-and-forth texts, I found out that she was arriving the next day and would only be around for the weekend and didn’t yet have a place to stay, so I offered her my couch and an extra blanket. She spent the days catching up with other friends in the area, and I was lucky enough to hear about her most memorable moments and thoughts about her remarkable journey. As it turned out, she was on her way back to California and staggering Amtrak train trips. She burst through the front door with a glowing smile and I had never seen her happier. At that moment, I didn’t even know that she had been on the road for so long.

Credit goes to MMM for the interview format.

Trip Overview

Me: Thank you so much for letting me interview you! I am so lucky to have such cool people in my life. So, how did you decide that you wanted to take this journey?

Sarah: It was just a fun thing I wanted to do.

Me (aside): Ahh, spontaneity – one of the joys of a minimalist lifestyle. The freedom to pack your bags and journey wherever your heart desires – that is bliss.

Me: And that is the only reason you need! How did you decide the route? How many miles did you bike and how long did it take?

Sarah: I started in San Diego near UCSD, biked to the coast, and then mostly followed the Southern Tier route which ends in St. Augustine. It was about 3000 miles and took about 55 days. I started on March 1st and got to Jacksonville on April 26th.

If you’re ever interested in bike touring, I can recommend two websites – the Adventure Cycling Association which has lots of route maps and indicates where all the rest stops, campsites, grocery stores, bike shops, motels, convenience stores – and Warmshowers, the biker hosting website which also has an app.

There are also lots of bike touring blogs out there.

Me: About how many miles did you bike each day? Did you ever stop or did you bike straight from start to finish?

Sarah: I didn’t train for this, so it was difficult at first.  The first day, I only went 15 miles – it was all uphill and into a headwind. But I did get faster – about 2/3 through, there was one hill I went on, when I crested the hill, that I felt the weightless feeling.

I averaged about 50 miles a day – more miles in flat states and fewer in the mountainy ones. The most I biked in one day was 104 miles. I had forgotten my Kindle at the last place I slept.

And I got faster – the second day, I only went 15 miles! It was all uphill and into a headwind. I remember one moment when I was going up a large hill, and when I crested the hill, I got that weightless feeling – the kind you get when you’re on a roller coaster – and that’s how I knew I had gotten faster.

I did take breaks – I also took a couple days off.

Me (aside)The awesomeness of discovering how your body just adapts to the demands you place on it is a superb confidence booster. We talk about working out as though it was some annoying thing we have to do – but really, it’s just a celebration of the body’s miraculous capability of doing amazing things.


Me: (eyeing her bike – there was a rack in the back with 2 panniers…and that was about it): Is that really all you brought?!

Sarah: Yep (proudly pointing at her things) – that’s my entire life! I saw a lot of other bikers on the same route and I always had the least amount of stuff. Usually people had bags in the front of their bikes and along the frame. People like to pack a lot of stuff.

Me: Haha yes – people like to be prepared, and no one wants to be stranded in the middle of rural America. What clothing did you bring?

Sarah: 2 pairs of bike shorts, 1 pair of bike pants, 2 pairs of normal shorts, 1 pair of jeans, though I would have brought something else because jeans are heavy and not very comfortable to sleep in. A few shirts…1 biking jersey, but mostly t-shirts. A few tank tops. I didn’t bring gloves…that surprised people. A hat.

Me: What about sunglasses?

Sarah: I had safety glasses.

Me (aside): Sarah didn’t wear biking shoes – made sense – she then only needed one pair of shoes. She was also riding a normal commuter bike. Almost everyone else had clippy shoes. Also, if I were to do a trip like this, I would most certainly bring sunglasses to avoid damaging my eyes!

Me: Is your phone the only thing you brought? Did you also bring a backpack? How did you pack your things?

Sarah: Yes. I did also have my backpack. I had my phone and toilet paper in here.

Usually, I’d strap my sleeping bag to the top. When it rained, I wrapped it with a black garbage bag.

(pointing at the right pannier) In here, I had clothes and supplies.

(pointing at the left pannier): Food went in here.

Me (aside): She brought so little stuff that there was really no need to balance the weight.

Me: How and where did you sleep? Did you usually get up early?

Sarah: I mostly camped in my 20 degree sleeping bag and single-person tent (North Face Stormbreak tent). I didn’t bring all the guylines and stakes so the tent was only about 3 pounds. I usually woke up before sunrise, ate breakfast in my tent, went to the bathroom, and then got on the road. I often liked to get on the road before the sun rose so I could finish biking before the hottest part of the day.

Me: Did you bring any bike supplies?

Sarah: A pump, one extra tube (if I got a flat I would buy one at the next town), tire levers, a patch kit, a multitool, chain lube, and extra screws for my rack. It’s a good thing I had those screws because one screw did fall out.

Me: Did you get any flats?

Sarah: Yes – 2 flats – both in Texas. There were a lot of thorns – goathead thorns – and random debris like tire bits. It was like going through a minefield. Texas is very wide so it ends up being a third of the trip, so it’s not surprising.

Me (aside): I’d categorize Sarah’s setup unquestionably in the ultralight category. Ultralight is often thrown around as a marketing term in the outdoor gear industry and there aren’t any well defined “weight limits” for lightweight vs ultralight. But looking at her gear, I consider Sarah’s setup to be ultralight-minimalist. She didn’t splurge on anything very expensive and only brought what she really needed. She didn’t even bring a sleeping pad! She told me her puffy jacket was enough and that she didn’t feel the rocks underneath. I’m sure being young helped too.

Me: Let’s talk about food. Did you bring a stove? What did you eat?

Sarah: I ate normal food – vegetables, fruit. I mostly ate food that didn’t need cooking – trail mix, peanut butter, protein bars, avocado, cheese/salami/tortilla to go with the tortilla. I stopped at grocery stores a lot and also fast food places and restaurants. I averaged about 2 tacos a day. Sometimes 14, sometimes 0, but averaged 2.

Food tastes better when you’re biking, somehow! There was one day when I ate a liter and a half of ice cream. It was hard at first for my body to get used to, because – no exaggeration – I needed three times the amount of food I normally ate, which is only 1000-some calories. I was burning about 3000 calories a day.

That reminds me – there was one time when I saw these berries on the side of the road, so at the next convenience store I asked what type of berries they were. And they were blackberries! So the next time I saw them, I spent like 2 hours picking them. It was like winning the lottery.

Me: Did you drink anything besides water?

Sarah: I only drank water, but it was important, especially in the desert, to have enough water, so sometimes I strapped a gallon of water to my rack with a bungee cord.

Me (aside): She did make a full list of her things:

  • Shoes
  • 2 1-liter Nalgene bottles
  • 1 Camelbak bottle
  • Hat
  • Red and blue bags for clothes that double as pillows
  • Light jacket
  • Soft shell rain jacket (doubles as sleeping mat)
  • 20F sleeping bag
  • 1 person tent
  • Dish towel
  • Clothes (2 bike shorts and 1 bike pants, 2 normal shorts, 1 normal pants – jeans, ~6 tops, couple handfuls of socks/underwear)
  • Bag of food w/a few sandwich bags and a plastic spoon
  • Helmet with mirror
  • Safety glasses
  • Daypack
  • Kindle
  • Pen/paper
  • Wallet/extra cash
  • Smartphone/headphones
  • Extra batteries
  • Headlamp
  • Toiletries (toilet paper, pads, toothbrush/paste, deodorant, comb, shampoo/conditioner, soap, razor, tweezers, nail clippers, scissors, hair ties)
  • Bungee cords/panniers on back wheel rack
  • Bike tools (pump, tire levers, extra tube, patch kit, multitool, chain lube, zipties)
  • Trash bags
  • Reflectors
  • Sunscreen
  • Bike lock

Trip Details

Me: What kinds of people did you meet? Did you ever feel alone?

Sarah: Mostly retired people, and they were from all around the world. They usually tried to figure out what I’m doing. Everyone asked my age. Then they’d ask if I was alone. Then they’d ask if I was afraid of this, this, and this. They were always telling me what I needed to be scared of.

People are very, very nice. They offered to drive me to the next town, the next campsite, the grocery store. They would invite me to sit with them at their campsites and share stories by the campfire. There were a couple bikers that I met at the beginning of the trip, and then didn’t see them for about 1,000 miles, and then I saw them again.

It’s promising to see people in their 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, even a woman in her 90’s – still staying active and getting out there. I heard a lot about the legendary 90-year old biker. She would stop anywhere – even at the bottom of a big hill after losing all her momentum – and stop, just to take a photo. People would fondly tell stories about her, including one where they saw her bike lying on the side of the road, and, worrying that she was hurt, looked all around for her…and she had simply gone to lay down in a big field of flowers with a big smile on her face!

My goal is to be a cool old person.

I never really felt lonely. You meet a lot of people along the way – at rest stops, at campsites. I met new friends – people I would stay in touch with. Plus, I had my communication machine smartphone with me.

Me: Were there a lot of people doing the same route?

Sarah: Yes – a few hundred per year do this route.

Me: Were you ever scared?

Sarah: Not really. The people I encountered – when they caught onto what I was doing, they were like, “you’re alone? Aren’t you scared?” and proceeded to tell me all the things I should be scared of – the standard three.

I always felt safe at campsites.

There were a couple times when I was afraid that I was going to get run over…people not paying attention. The only time I was scared was when I got bitten by a dog. I got chased by dogs all the time but this one was waiting for me, and then as I passed, it ran up next to me and attacked.

There was one stretch near the sand dunes where there the road would go up and down, but you couldn’t see what was on the other side of the hill, and there was no shoulder. When I saw a car, I stopped and pulled over.

Me (aside): Fear is something that I struggle with more than I like to admit. We talk about biking being dangerous, and if you constantly put yourself in careless situations, it can be. Sarah assured me that people she met were very, very nice. I was tempted to do the finger wag of disapproval myself! Bad things can happen anywhere, wherever you are, even close to home, or even at home. All you can really be is as vigilant as you can and exercise good judgment. Bikepacking has its risks, as does careening down a highway at 70+ mph during rush hour.

Me: Did you have a favorite state?

Sarah: Arizona. I really like the rocky landscape – moreso than trees.

Me: What about least favorite?

Sarah: Louisiana…but not just because of the dog. The people, the love of guns. They had margarita drive-thru’s there! I once saw one that was attached to an ammunition store and a post office.

Me: What was your favorite day?

Sarah: It’s really hard to pick just one – there were so many good days! The prettiest day was when I visited the Tonto Forest in Arizona by the salt river. I also like the first day – the first day was nice because I got to see a couple friends in SD that I hadn’t seen in 5 years. I also took a short ferry on the day I made it to Florida and there were birds that followed the boat’s draft, occasionally diving into the water to catch fish.

Me: It was your birthday recently right? Happy belated! Did you do anything special on your birthday?

Sarah: Yes – I ate a lot of ice cream, went to a really cool aviation museum, and saw an air show. The planes flew super close!

Me: Did you take any days off?

Sarah: I took two days off – one after getting bitten by the dog, and once in Tallahassee. It was going to rain that day.

Me (aside): Pretty amazing – she had all the time in the world, yet she only felt compelled to take a couple days off. 

Me: Did you get a lot of sunburns?

Sarah: I got a light one and a few inches on my back because I missed a spot. Putting on sunscreen was part of my routine – I usually put it on in the morning. I became a connoisseur of sunscreen because I went through 4 bottles of sunscreen! I recommend Neutrogena’s SPF 70 sunscreen that comes in the yellow bottle which doesn’t smell as bad and isn’t as icky as other sunscreens.

I never had to reapply it throughout the day – they always tell you to reapply it on the back of the bottles, but not because the sunscreen degrades – sunscreen technology is advanced enough that that doesn’t really happen – it’s because people don’t apply enough and everywhere the first time. Also, some people sweat like crazy, but I do not.

Me (aside): I guess I get to stop stressing about reapplying sunscreen!

Me: What would you do differently next time?

Sarah: I would not bring jeans. They’re heavy and not comfortable to sleep in. I probably also wouldn’t bring my u-lock. Most people had cable locks.

Next time, I’d also like to bike tour with somebody. Being by yourself gives you freedom – but it’d be nice to be able to share gear and have someone to talk to.

Me: Are you looking forward to being back home? What do you miss?

Sarah: Yes. I miss my computer. I miss having a bathroom I can use at any time. I even miss cooking! I always thought of cooking as a chore, but I miss it!

Me (aside): Sarah has always been a minimalist in just about every way, but she didn’t realize there was a word for it. Back when she was still working on her PhD, she had explained to me why she liked Soylent, and her explanation told me right then and there that we were on the same wavelength, though I am not such a fan of Soylent. 

When she left, she left some bananas and a small bottle of Nutella on my counter with a note telling me that bananas and Nutella were an excellent alternative to energy gels. I told her that I would love to accompany her on her travels, but that 2 months was more vacation time than I had available to me at the current moment, and our trip would need to be shorter than that (unless I staggered it in December-January).

It’s easy to be swept up into the dreary monotony of routine and spend off-hours vegging on the couch or some picturesque beach. For many people, adventuring doesn’t really come to mind when we think about vacation and decompressing.

Sometimes, we look at people like Sarah and cast our net of judgment on them. She’s crazy! Who would ever do a thing like that? Think about what could have happened! How…cavalier! But the truth is, we need people like that. We need people to show us what we’re capable of. We need people to try crazy things. Otherwise, Everest would never have been climbed, planes would never have been invented, skydiving wouldn’t be a thing, and how on earth would we ever have gotten to the moon?

We need more people like Sarah to show us that there is more to our lives than routines, that we might as well be bold, explore the world, and show everyone else just how beautiful the world can be if we give it a chance.

You Know Yourself Best

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If you’re like most healthy individuals in the modern world, you’re lucky enough to be surrounded by people who for the most part, mean well. Family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, acquaintances, cashiers, the list goes on.

And whenever you get out there and share something about yourself with anyone, whether it’s what you plan to do for the day, where you plan to vacation next, what car you want to buy, who you plan to date, I’m willing to bet that whoever you share your little life tidbit with, that person will always offer an opinion, regardless of whether or not you’ve asked for one.

We are so quick to judge that we don’t even ask ourselves before speaking whether or not our opinion is warranted. Most of the time, we just want our voices to be heard and understood.

But of course, you will ruminate over it, at least a little bit, more so if this person has more stake in your well-being – coaches, parents, spouses, and children come to mind – or if this person has been in a similar situation before. Sometimes it’s convenient to let someone else decide your fate for you. Just let ourselves be blown by the wind, wherever it may take us.

People will always tell you what they think or what they would do if they were you. But they are not you. You are you.

You’ve lived at least a handful of years on this planet (if you’re reading this blog, anyway), and while you will not always make decisions that work out in your favor in the end, it’s more unfair to your acquaintances to place the burden of your fate on them. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t uneducated decisions. You should certainly do the best you can to recognize and acknowledge risks. And you should know that you are an ever-evolving, always dynamic, never entirely settled human being. In all likelihood, you’ll have different tastes, different dreams, and different friends over the course of your lifetime.

There is a reason why the top regret of the dying is not having lived the life true to oneself rather than the life that was expected. The social pressure we are subjecting ourselves just might not be worth the cost of regretting how we lived.

We must take responsibility for ourselves without forcing the burden of the consequences upon someone else. That is how we learn and, perhaps, in the scurry for a fulfilling life, reach a place of personal enlightenment.

Minimalism is  journey that is best undertaken with the support of fellow minimalists, as it is a concept not well understood by those who have not experienced it. But you are the only one who can decide if it is right for you. I write this as a way of supporting that journey, but you are always free to choose another path.

Knowing that, I hope, is freeing.

Signs that Minimalism is Working for You

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I’ve been rocking the minimalist mindset for a few years now. I had gotten myself deep in clutter during my early 20’s and resolved to change it around 24 or so. Growing up, I had picked up my mom’s habit of never throwing away anything for the sake of not being wasteful. A virtuous reason, but not without its consequences. It took me a long time to realize that my time spent cleaning up and organizing my things was also wasteful, and buying more and more stuff was only adding to the pile. Watch The True Cost and you’ll get a not so rosy picture of the hidden tolls behind our consumption habits (the montage of young teenagers showing off their shopping “hauls” on YouTube stuck with me, but here’s an example of what I mean).

Not everything is bad, though. Minimalism when viewed from the outside is criticized as stark, idealistic, and full of sacrifice. When I first heard of tthe  concept, my immediate reaction was defensive. How many things am I allowed to own to be a “minimalist?” How can I be without my things? What if I regret throwing something away? Who would I be without my treasured possessions? So I tip-toed into the journey tentatively, slowly – not quite Marie Kondo style where you go all in, but as the journey has progressed, I’ve noticed quite a few things.

1. Cleaning takes less time. I used to get tremendous joy from the act of cleaning up and organizing. It gave me a sense of accomplishment – as moving around and other forms of exercise usually dies. But it honestly gets old after a while. It’s a bandaid solution to the problem of why does my home get so dirty so easily that it warrants cleaning it so much? Now that there is so little stuff to put away, all it is is some scrubbing and vacuuming of stray bits of dirt and hair every couple weeks and my place is still largely spotless.

2. You no longer have a need to “organize” things. Everything has its place. Stuff that gets used is returned to their places. But for a while, I spent a lot of time perusing The Container Store, looking for ways to better organize all of my stuff.

Then it hit me: Silly Meg – You don’t need more organizing solutions. You just need fewer things that need organizing. I think my dad said it best when he exclaimed that it was ridiculous that I was buying containers for things that already came with free containers. Decanting is generally an aesthetic exercise (unless you buy in bulk).

Not that an utter lack of thoughtful design in your home isn’t valuable – because it is very much a way of creating a sanctuary you actually want to be in – but reducing the stuff removes some of the need for it. I haven’t had to organize makeup since I switched to rubbing some argan oil on my face when it gets dry. If I need makeup I can borrow it from someone who uses it more often so I don’t need to blow money on something I only use a few times a year.

3. Less time looking for things. When you know where everything is, and your system prevents stuff from getting misplaced, then you won’t need to look for things as often. Given the ridiculous amount of time and panic we put ourselves through looking for our things, clearing out all of the hiding places will make what we do own more easily accessible.

4. A decreased need, and desire, to go “shopping.” With fewer things comes fewer maintenance tasks, and fewer tools needed for those maintenance tasks. With how much thought I put into purchases these days, and how little desire I have to get into my car and drive, it’s no surprise that I rarely go to the mall these days.

5. …and subsequently, a change in your spending habits. With less stuff needing maintenance and care, my trips to Target whittled down from once every two weeks to once a month. Purchases made on a whim were reduced as I got more thoughtful about what would make the cut to live in my home. The price of maintaining, storing, moving, and disposing of the item and subsequent environmental impacts are all questions I’d ask myself before handing over any cash. What I do spend my money on – classes, books, travel, gifts for others –  is all tied to innate desires and goals rather than buying stuff that I’ll get tired of in a few months.

6. Less bumping into things – less stubbing of toes, accidentally whacking an elbow, stepping on odds and ends, knocking over decorative knickknacks, and other annoyances. Helpful for adults, children, and older adults too. With a clear floor, there isn’t just room to walk, but room to dance!

7. More time to ponder life. Ohh, this one is huge. Somehow, I’ve gotten myself into a situation where I’m getting identity crises on a weekly basis. With less time living life on autopilot mode (cycling through routines without any break), I’ve gotten more and more thoughtful about how I want to live, which leads to me questioning my thoughts, behaviors, and actions more thoroughly. Living with intention has thus become a habit.

8. More space in your brain. This leads to more calmness of mind, as you have fewer things that call for your attention and valuable brain energy. There are only so many things you can deal with at any one time, and Type A personalities like me tend to forget that. You’ll then also be more able to comprehend difficult subjects or run your brain through something mentally challenging.

9. You’re more efficient with your time. I suddenly found that I was spending so much less time doing mindless, unsatisfying tasks, and spending more time on things that have proved fulfilling. The workout equivalent for me would be the mindless 30-minutes-on-a-treadmill workout vs the lifting progressively heavier weights workout, where I can see and feel progress.

10. You’re happier . This is the bottom line, right? All of these enhancements should lead you to become a happier, more fulfilled human being. If it’s not working out this way, then perhaps there is another type of change that needs to happen. Minimalism is just a means to an end.

Let’s Talk Jewelry: The Oxymoron that is Minimalist Jewelry

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I know, I know. We need to talk about jewelry. I am a young professional woman and a so-called self-proclaimed  minimalist. And yes, we are going to have the jewelry talk. Before you come at me with your pitchforks and cries of heirloom problems and diversification of assets and judgmentality – just relax for a second and just know that I do indeed own and wear jewelry. I’m not here to tell you to throw it all away – what a scary thought!

Yes – fundamentally, there is never a need for jewelry. There is no reason why anyone would need jewelry to survive. Nobody climbing icefalls on Everest would ever decide to take a pearl necklace because it would help him or her safely ascend the mountain, and animals certainly don’t care to wear jewelry. The value and meaning of jewelry is assigned by culture or religion for symbolic reasons only – traditions, memories, class, aesthetics – all of which don’t really require material things. Historically, silversmiths and goldsmiths hammered away at crafting fine crown jewels and intricate adornments for members of the upper class. It was rare to see a peasant wearing a gold necklace.

Today, jewelry is still used frequently as a marker of social class. This is where my vexation starts. We tell prospective husbands that a wedding ring should cost three months of salary, but we don’t tell them that the cost of the ring correlates with their chance of divorce. To think that financing a rock is a thing. Just like how we ask questions like “How much house can I afford” rather than “How much house can I buy to maximize my LIFE EFFICIENCY?!” Life efficiency defined partially as: less time spent sitting in traffic and more time enjoying the immediate community without requiring a trek. These days, loans have made it ridiculously easy for most people to purchase things they cannot really afford. They’re essentially the opposite of sale prices. Instead of 10% off, a loan is really a way of saying, “pay 20% of the price, then another 10% on top for every month that you haven’t paid the remainder of the price!” In a country like America, uninformed people get sucked into predatory lending contracts all the time and end up in financial disasters when they realize that perhaps they didn’t get the whole picture of what they were getting themselves into.

I realize that I went off on a tangent – but the point I’m making is, fine jewelry is generally a poor investment – diamonds are not actually rare – and at least in this country, because we can easily take out a loan and buy one, mean nothing in the realm of social class. The appearance of social class is becoming meaningless anyway. These days, when I see someone’s fancy car, I wouldn’t automatically assume that that person is well off. That person could be in crippling debt, or just be willing to toil away at the office a bunch of extra years to afford it. Moreover, after having spent enough time in the corporate world and paying a lot more attention to people’s conduct and professionalism than the jewelry they are wearing, I’ve become numb to the presence of jewelry. I’ve only really paid attention to it if it was particularly distracting, like clinking bracelets, oversized necklaces, or baubly earrings. My mom has told me stories of people cutting off strangers’ fingers in China to steal rings for money. I’m sure they’re mostly freak situations, but nonetheless – just like with expensive bags, I prefer the peace of mind of not having “STEAL ME” posters all over me than the “pride” of walking around with a thousand dollar necklace. Lighter, freer, more peace of mind. No need to remove jewelry at the airport security line and no need to worry about someone stealing fine jewelry.

But that doesn’t mean I go to my nearest Claire’s and try to get the sophisticated look with fake pearls and cubic zirconia. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Sterling silver tarnishes and gold wears down. My favorite material of choice…happens to be stainless steel.

Yes, surgical stainless steel. The kind they use in dental implants and other medical devices. It’s durable, hypoallergenic, easy to clean without nasty chemicals, and doesn’t stain easily like sterling silver does. Best of all, it’s not expensive. Yet, it’s so hard to find places that make jewelry made of stainless steel (my favorite vendor is from the Netherlands). As far as jewelry, I am partial to studs because I can put them on and forget about them. Rings, necklaces and bracelets usually get in the way of athletic pursuits, not to mention the danger of snagging on delicate materials. Studs are a simple way to adorn myself without much fuss. And isn’t that the point of minimalism? To reduce the amount of fuss you have to make so you can focus on what’s truly important to you?

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?

How Studying Engineering Taught Me Minimalism

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The struggle of “finding my passion” always eluded me – and at times, it still does. I have always envied people who knew exactly what fascinated them from a young age and would pursue it with enviable ardor. Early behaviors would point them to a clear path – a sense of direction that would branch a little bit, perhaps – but not deviate terribly far off course. The question of what interested them was never a question, really. How to best cultivate that interest, perhaps, but not the actual subject. Still, despite those decisions, they continue to be keen on mastering said interest, whether it be music, computers, math, language, arts, science, academics, business, or literature.

I’m certainly not alone in the sentiment – formative years are bound to be full of confusion and uncertainty. I had a vague idea of what I was good at, but not what I was convinced I was excellent at and would want to build a career with. I spent a lot of time in a state of flux, meandering from one hobby to another, never completely mastering something before moving on. I wrote and illustrated storybooks in my childhood, dabbled in HTML and designing Xanga layouts in my K-12 years, created greeting cards in Photoshop, and generally did well in school. Yet, despite all that, I feared that I would never be satisfied with any path I chose. So naturally, in my indecision and naivete, my parents smartly advised me to get an engineering degree, knowing that with a highly sought-after background, I would at least have the option of getting a stable career.

Civil engineering is an uncommon major for anyone who goes to a liberal arts school, but I chose it for its easily visualized applications. It is a discipline that covers a variety of concentrations – structural engineering, transportation engineering, environmental engineering, geological engineering, among others. In a world where demand for sensible infrastructure is increasing, a civil engineer is equipped with the mindset of not just a scientist who can understand abstract concepts, but also a designer who marries building integrity and architectural aesthetic. A civil engineer must collaborate with an architect on realizing an aesthetic vision, work within budgetary constraints, and abide by a set of building codes. It is a skill set that is highly applicable in all areas of life because engineering encompasses ruthless amounts of optimization and efficiency. In any area of life we touch, efficiency is key, because time is the inflexible, unchanging constant that will inevitably affect everything.

Minimalism is a journey where we identify opportunities to optimize our lifestyles given the finite resources and constraints that we all have. That is why we find ways to optimize all of our “systems” – our time spent in the morning, making our bodies stronger so we can more effectively carry out tasks, optimizing our purchasing habits so we can live our day-to-day lives. Optimized systems generally come with a designer’s aesthetic – simple systems are beautiful because they are easy to grasp. You don’t necessarily need to be an engineer or even have studied engineering to apply its principles to minimalism. Thinking like one, however, can help you design your life.

Crafting a Minimalist Holiday Season


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 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, 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?

Minimalist Fitness: You Can’t Buy a Fit Body

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I had a FitBit once. The Flex, to be exact. It is the basic model that tracks how many steps you’re taking a day, and sets a 10,000 step goal, which on average should burn about 500 calories a day. Over one week, 500 calories translates to 3,500 calories, or one pound. For someone just starting out, it can be a significant change, and after all, humans were designed to walk. Walking is the simplest form of exercise we could be doing for ourselves, yet instead, we whine about far away parking spots, spending a little time outside in bad weather, and walking a bit further to get to a meeting. Really, for how busy my life already is, I’m always happy to get a little more walking time.

But I digress. I’ve tried the whole shebang of fitness equipment and wasted hundreds, probably thousands, on classes, memberships, equipment, programs…the whole nine yards, in the name of getting in shape. It kills me to see people spending thousands on stationary bikes, fancy treadmills and machines, and “diet shakes,” but get so little in return. The machines usually end up abandoned after maybe a few weeks of regular use. The subscriptions to specially formulated (read: expensive) powders and auto deductions for gym memberships continue draining bank accounts.

Getting a decent workout requires no equipment, really. Push-ups, planks, walking…there are so many aerobics and strength exercises out there that we could be doing with just our body weight and perhaps a YouTube video to follow. The fitness industry puts so much emphasis on buying success and getting it quickly with little effort, when the reality is, when our own hard work leads to results with little dependency on some external program or item, the reward is so much sweeter. We rely on the success of others who follow the same path, when the reality is that doing the same one hour routine as someone else can be easily upset by 5 minutes of bad eating habits (it’s scary how quickly we can hit our caloric limit with just a bag of chips or bowl of Cheesecake Factory pasta). The acting of buying our way into better health causes us to prematurely feel the reward of improving our health and in no way guarantees that we’ll actually get there. It makes no sense to spend more time buying and researching fitness products (clothes, electronics, etc.) than actually using them.

The truth is, we don’t really even need stuff to work out. Bodyweight fitness can get you strong. If you have to buy something, a gym membership gets you access to everything you need. In the end, it’s the discipline of committing to a fitness routine that will get you places. That FitBit may have told me I walked x number of steps a day, but it didn’t make me any stronger or lose any weight. Perhaps it encouraged me to compete against my peers, but that got old quickly and I didn’t notice any miracles. In the end, it was just a fancy pedometer, and I sold it on eBay for half the price I paid for it.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m all about tracking results – but that is easily done as you put on your clothes in the morning in find out that they fit differently, or realizing an exercise is easier than before. Fitness doesn’t have to be so complicated. We can get fit with minimal equipment, but of course, put in maximum effort. More to come on the art of putting in maximum effort!

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.


Crafting a Sustainable Lifestyle

Via Pixabay

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.

10 Simple Living Starters for Aspiring Minimalists

via PixabayI used to be a millennial with extra-fancy (read: expensive) tastes. I had an eye for the ornate, which was fueled by a trip to Versailles and the antique treasure troves of Buffalo, New York. I was dazzled by porcelain with gold trim and expensive leather goods. I bought expensive food at Whole Foods and regularly ate froyo. I dumped money left and right on short term pleasures. Wanderlust was eating at me, but I was so bogged down by expensive, unfulfilling habits that my travel dreams could not be realized.

Being an unmarried, single millennial is a really good time to learn minimalist habits. Not owning a home, not owning a car, and not being a parent frees you from many “normal” adult responsibilities. Some of us may as well adopt minimalism for the sake of our financial situations, especially if we’re in student loan and credit card debt. We can establish habits that will expand our life skill kit and self-sustainability – critical keys to minimalist lives.

Before anxiously diving into assuming “normal” adult responsibilities, like taking out a mortgage or auto loan, why don’t we simplify our lives first and see if we can possibly reduce our footprints first? The less we need to worry about, the more clarity we have in our lives. Here are some starters for those of you who aren’t sure how to tackle this whole minimalism thing, or just want to see if it’s right for your situation.

1. Break free from your past. Confront your emotional baggage from the past, and find a way to break free from it. Making peace with your past will help you focus on the present. You can even make your own personal ritual as a way to represent letting go. For example, you can set it as your intention when you do yoga, or declutter one thing a day related to a painful past.

2. Start to get rid of your crap – especially the stuff that is tied to a past version of yourself. Yes, I do mean all the useless memorabilia and random things that have followed you into the present day without you noticing. Decluttering is hard, and that is why it took me several years to do and numerous trips to Goodwill. But it will also help you break free from worrying about your stuff, which we do too much anyhow. Don’t underestimate the cumulative effect of slow, consistent decluttering. It’s very un-KonMari, but it worked very well for me.

3. Make a list, on paper, of loose-ends that need to be tied. Schedule that doctor’s appointment. Pay off that loan. Open that bank account. Close that credit card. Buy that thing you need. Get that thing fixed. Then, set aside one day to tackle all of them (realistically of course). At the end, celebrate with ice cream.

4. Clean out your refrigerator. All the sauces you never use, the expired stuff, the moldy stuff – toss it out. Wipe down the surfaces and start anew.

5. Cook all your meals for a week. If a friend wants to go out, invite that person over to cook with you instead. Cooking with someone is a wonderful way to spend quality time together.

6. Start to read simple living books (see my reading list) to give yourself a mental boost.

7. Go for a run or a bike ride. 30 minutes is only a small percentage of your day – you can afford 30 minutes to devote to your body.

8. Trim your online presence. Employers do look you up. Assume that nothing you have online is private. Delete subscriptions from mailing lists, hide or delete photos (that one time you were drunk out of your mind? Who needs to see that, really?). Rewrite your short bios. Update your LinkedIn. You’re better than you were yesterday, and make sure all the channels you’re on reflect that.

9. Have an electronics clean-out session. Unless you’re a tech junkie, chances are, you’ll have spare cables and connectors lying around. You can organize them by using gear ties and labels or simply declutter them. Unplug all the things that you rarely use, save power, grow money mustache.

10. Reduce your commitments. At the risk of looking like a commitment-phobe, I’m certain that a lot of us have a hard time saying “no” to events that we really don’t feel like going to. I really don’t feel sad, for example, if somebody doesn’t attend my graduation. I find formal ceremonies to be incredibly boring, and while some of them have excellent speakers, I went to a high school where I had to sit through 1,100 names on the stage, and the three-hour ordeal was (mostly) a waste of time. I wouldn’t expect friends and family to be willing to sit through that. We’d find another way to celebrate that is less boring and time consuming.

You Don’t Need to be Privileged to be a Minimalist

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Recently, minimalism has come under fire for being oppressive, boring, offensive, and being a form of lifestyle porn. That minimalism can only really be enjoyed by the privileged, and primarily bachelors. That minimalism deprives our lives of joys like art, fashion, nice things, hobbies, momentos, symbolic objects, and other tangibles, rendering us powerless, more consumerist, and stressed out.

First of all, a lifestyle or a concept being “boring” is inherently a subjective judgment. What one may find boring could be someone else’s life’s passion. But today, I want to address point number 1. I admit that my previous experience as a maximalist did drive me toward minimalism, and that I have the privilege of choosing minimalism rather than force myself into it. First by living in the United States, and second by being raised by dedicated parents whose efforts enabled me to make it big. For me, minimalism is a choice I can enjoy.

Unhappiness comes from wanting what we don’t have. Lots of articles about minimalism are written by relatively wealthy people who gave up their formerly ostentatious lifestyles for simpler ones. Examples like, “I gave up my fancy BMW for a used Honda Civic and am much happier for it!” They’ll then go on to talk about how fancy cars and televisions didn’t end up making them happy (I guess I am an example of that too) and even put them in debt. Critics then retaliate and point out that there are people in other parts of the world who live simple lives because they are victims of systemic issues, but aren’t getting lauded for their even more simplistic lifestyles. For them, minimalism is not by choice, but a necessity.  For them, making do with what they have is characteristic of being poor.

Rich people who choose not to indulge in consumerist luxuries shouldn’t even be looked up to, really, because this whole concept is just putting a well-off person on a pedestal for not succumbing to materialistic desires and then slapping a sexy label like “minimalism” on his or her lifestyle. Mix up the minimalist lifestyle with an art form that just happens to also have the same name and of course minimalism becomes a symbol of the ultimate first world problem. It’s an aesthetically pleasing luxury that only gets attention when privileged people talk about it, and the holier-than-thou undertones that some minimalists employ tends to irritate people.

Minimalism isn’t meant to be a one size fits all solution! There is no one way. If someone has a greater problem at hand than too much stuff, that person should probably focus on tackling that problem before even thinking about minimalism. But that is true of a lot of issues in this world. If we’re going to start attacking minimalism for being unfair to the rest of the world, we might as well start telling everyone in America to stop complaining about everything for the sake of starving families and war-torn countries everywhere. Criticizing people for trying to eliminate waste and live with less isn’t helping anyone – at the end of the day, we might as well call such articles clickbait. We aren’t trying to tell people to live with the least amount of stuff possible, we are trying to promote the efficiency of our lives in ways that work best for our own unique life situations. If that means we are keeping some “stuff” because we can’t afford to replace it, that doesn’t mean we’re not minimalists! There’s no sense in beating ourselves up over not being the most minimalist, whatever that even means.

The point is, we should stop reading media clickbait, and feast on real stories of everyday people who reaped benefits of minimalism, from small scale changes to large scale changes.

For further reading, I recommend this thread.

More Consumption, More Boredom


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Cycling Can Teach You Minimalism

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Cycling is generally seen as a weekend activity or a “nice” way to spend a day. For me, cycling is a quintessential part of a minimalist lifestyle.

A good friend of mine told me that if more people could experience how much easier a road bike is to ride compared to a typical Wal-Mart bike, more people would take the plunge into cycling. A new road bike runs a pretty penny if you’re used to the usual run-of-the-mill less than $200 range of bikes, so of course I hesitated for a while. I was very much sold on the car-lite idea, after reading posts like these. For a while, I got into the habit of biking everywhere less than 10 miles away with my cheap Wal-Mart bike. As the end of the cycling season drew near, I walked into one of my local bike shops last year, not knowing that I would walk out with my very first road bike with a 20% end of season discount. That was August 2015. I’m coming up on my one year anniversary with my bike and I’ve ridden over 2,200 miles on it.


My Specialized Dolce Sport!

Cycling is an activity associated with both rich white men who dominate the sport – the Tour de France is entirely male – and poor people who cannot afford a car.

via Pixabay

via Pixabay

This polarization concerns me, because cycling is an activity that can be enjoyed by anyone in reasonably healthy condition and intact limbs, but it has a mix of negative reputations, such as

  • Being unsafe. More on that below.
  • Full of fashion faux-pas….understandable. Like race cars, cycling kits are portable billboards for sponsors eager to plaster their logos and names onto jerseys and bibs. Spandex is not generally a fashion statement, nor was it meant to be. But it is going to help you go faster.
  • Being a “bro”-y activity. Except in Amsterdam where female cyclists outnumber male cyclists.
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If you want to know what a bike city looks like, go to Amsterdam.

How Minimalism and Cycling are Related

Cycling is about efficiency. And so is minimalism. Cars are laughably inefficient vehicles – so much bulk to transport a tiny human! When I walked into the shop to try my first road bike, I had no idea I needed to get sized for it. Different bikes have different geometries to fit people of different proportions, namely for height, leg length, and reach. If you fit your bike perfectly, the power you put into the bike to make it move is not wasted.

When I embark on a journey with my bicycle, I have to be more thoughtful about what I choose to bring with me. Whether or not you install panniers on your bike or carry a backpack, every ounce of additional weight will reduce your potential speed.  Part of the reason why people choose road bikes is how light they are, and while they can be incredibly light, the weight you bring on the bike can negate it. You quickly learn the advantages of being lightweight and are less inclined to bring too much stuff with you. You learn to optimize your load, especially on longer journeys.

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But What About Safety?

Let’s face it, hitting something on a bicycle is going to do way more damage to you than if you were in a car.

To make matters worse, many cyclists skirt the rules of the road, nonchalantly riding down streets the wrong way, running red lights, speeding through intersections without checking for drivers, wear headphones while cycling, among other heedless behaviors. With cyclists being so unpredictable, it is no wonder drivers get uneasy or even resentful of cyclists. Ticketing cyclists is rare, so the problem persists.

The problem is largely systematic. Cities do not always build the appropriate infrastructure to reduce the risk of accidents. If the bike lane is right next to a row of parked cars, then riding in the bike lane could potentially be more dangerous than riding with traffic due to the risk of being “door’ed.”  Some roads are simply too narrow. Add that to a crowd of impatient drivers and you have a perfect formula for accidents. Still, most accidents can be avoided. All I can say is, with the proper precautions and avoidance of high-risk routes, cycling can actually be safer than driving. Find a route free of cars and clutter, bring just the essentials, and enjoy the journey. There is something just so relaxing about the feeling the fresh breeze as you glide around town by bicycle.


Perhaps you can start by taking your next trip to the grocery store by bicycle. I guarantee you’ll be more wary about how much you buy, and in a good way!

10 Things to Declutter – Bathroom Edition


With decluttering, sometimes we need that little push to get us started. Reading other people’s decluttering stories can sometimes give you the much-needed push when you hit a decluttering slump.  The “10 Things to Declutter” series is intended to do just that.

Bathrooms are special. They are temples for self-pampering and renewal, either to rejuvenate ourselves after a sleep, freshen up after a long day, or get ourselves ready for the world. They are relaxation hubs where we can reflect in peace. And so, naturally, it would make sense to keep them clutter-free.

via Pixabay

If I was to envision the perfect bathroom, I think of a serene, open space where I don’t feel overwhelmed by personal care products. Of course, we can highlight the plump, fluffy towel and tasteful soap dispenser, but as a general rule of thumb, bathrooms, like bedrooms, as relaxation rooms, should ideally be kept as minimal as possible, if even simply to make them easier to clean. And everyone prefers a clean bathroom. You know it.

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So now, without further ado, here are 10 things you can safely declutter from your bathroom.

  1. Are you a bar soap person? If not, why do you own bar soap? Declutter the soap, and the soap holder.
  2. Spent bath poufs and rags. They don’t last forever.
  3. That pile of beauty samples you collected. The world will go on if you don’t use them.
  4. Old, unfinished containers of lotions (Bath and Body Works has a way of making you buy millions of flavors of shower gel with matching lotions, hand sanitizers…you name it). You know the one you always reach for when you need to moisturize? Keep that one.
  5. Those dried out tubes of mascara and eyeliner. And the giant eyeshadow palettes too…unless you are a make-up artist or work in a profession that requires complex makeup (circus anyone?). While you’re at it, toss away the foundations and moisturizers that didn’t work for you.
  6. Those cheap razors that always make you bleed.
  7. Extra toiletry bags, and the junk in them that are in there because you don’t use them. You know the saying, out of sight, out of mind?
  8. Makeup brushes that you don’t use. Yes, it’s okay to declutter them, even if they came in a set. If you’re not using one piece of it, then your set is just a bit more minimal. You’re just make it work for your needs!
  9. Extra hair brushes. Why do we need so many again?
  10. Do you take baths? No? Maybe once a year? You really don’t need all the drama that goes with it. Declutter the candles, the bath bombs, and the bubble bath solutions.

Happy Decluttering!

Decluttering Furniture

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To me, furniture is the most satisfying category of stuff I can declutter. It’s so freeing to finally unload a heavy, bulky item from your living space and give your home some breathing room. I’m of the belief that less is more, but especially so with furniture. We worry about making our rooms look “homey,” so it’s tempting to fill our havens with lots of fancy furniture. This often leads to our rooms becoming cramped if our efforts get out of hand.

Since the amount of furniture in your living space is dependent on your living arrangements, it’s important to understand that everyone’s situation is unique. I am unmarried without family, and I live in a two bedroom condo unit which is just the right amount of space – not too much space that I need to clean and not too little that I feel cramped.  It has a small kitchen, a dining/living area, and a small bathroom with just enough room for a bathtub, toilet, and sink.  One of the bedrooms has a closet and the other bedroom has two closets. There is a linen closet by the bathroom and a coat closet. I also have a storage locker in the basement where I can store bikes (but I do not store extra furniture there). In other words, I already have a lot of shelf space and closet space. The smaller bedroom is usually occupied by a roommate, so I will not count the furniture in that room as it varies when roommates switch.

With that in mind, these are the furniture items I currently own (the below are not affiliate links).

  1. 2 couches (1 3-seater and 1 2-seater) (inherited from family – not at all fancy, but do the job)
  2. 1 platform bed (this particular one comes with built-in nightstands)
  3. 1 rolling coffee table – I tried to do without one for a while
  4. 1 console table
  5. 1 rolling tv table
  6. 1 round dining table
  7. 4 stackable plastic dining chairs (plastic = easy to clean!)
  8. 2 folding chairs (for guests)
  9. 1 standing desk
  10. 1 rolling C-table

One theme you’ll see from the list above is my tendency to buy furniture with casters. Casters make furniture moving so easy. I love CB2’s “peekaboo” acrylic pieces because they don’t take up much visual space, making my rooms look bigger than they are (and making it easier to find things in general – no need to look underneath a table if it’s transparent!).

These are the furniture items I’ve decluttered:

  1. Ottoman – in a small space, ottomans take up too much floor space. I ended up needing to move it around all the time until I finally decided it wasn’t worth keeping.
  2. Dresser – after decluttering my closet, I happily got rid of my dresser. Behold my suddenly spacious bedroom! There are so many ways to optimize closet space. Since all of my clothes are stored in one place, I only have to check that one place to find something I want to wear.
  3. Extra chairs that don’t fold – another space saver!
  4. Side tables – typically they are just space hogs. I have my rolling C table in case I’m in need it extra table space.
  5. 2 small couches or loveseats – I had two darling couches from my antiquing days. They ended up looking dated and out of place in my modern space, so I sold them on Craigslist.
  6. 2 twin beds with mattresses and box springs, which I replaced with a single queen bed.
  7. Extra card table – the dining table does the trick. If I’m entertaining, I can put food on the kitchen counter instead of the dining table. Fewer spaces to wipe down, and fewer items to store.

Must you need more inspiration?

via Pixabay

Open kitchen and dining area – an example of how empty walls actually open up a room

via Pixabay

Just like my bedroom – a sanctuary that is simply a place of rest


If only my bathroom was this big…but even if it was, why fill it with stuff? It’s so serene the way it is.

Extra floor space – yes, please.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unsurprisingly…that is the minimalist way.

Minimalism is Freedom from Dependency

Via Pexels

Like others before me, I began to pursue minimalism and simple living when I felt that my life was becoming overwhelming. The mantra of simplifying and decluttering played over and over in my head. I gradually simplified, and over time, I realized some unforeseen benefits. One way to think of minimalism is reducing dependency on certain things, expectations, or activities. Consider the following examples:

  • I need my morning coffee to stay awake.
  • I am dissatisfied with my car. It gets me from A to B, but I want it to look cooler and accelerate faster.
  • My engagement ring must be a one carat diamond.
  • My wedding must be at this destination and my dress must look a certain way.
  • My purse must be a certain brand.
  • I can’t leave the house without putting on makeup.
  • I must add sugar or honey to my tea for it to be palatable.
  • I need to do dry cleaning once per month.
  • I am not satisfied with my evening unless I’ve had dessert.

When I add so many expectations to my life, I am less efficient. More of my time is sucked up due to an unnecessarily picky standard of living that actually makes my life more difficult. Superfluous life restrictions forced me to conform myself to a standard that wasn’t representative of true happiness – things that essentially made my lifestyle too high maintenance. I was more stressed, more busy, and less productive.

In a way, there is some irony to this, because minimalists do have a standard, one that they adhere to very stringently. That standard is whether or not an item or expectation is aligned with intentional living. Some expectations do not add any value whatsoever or add to our overall happiness. We buy things in anticipation of happiness, but too often, they are not sustainable lifestyles and don’t actually make us happier.

As you declutter and simplify, ask yourself this question.

“By getting rid of this item or expectation, what am I freeing myself from?”

And on the subject of freedom, Happy Memorial Day!

Becoming a Minimalist Millennial: Finding Yourself Through Decluttering



Millennials love to “find themselves” and talk about “self discovery” and take time to “figure out what they want.” Some millennials achieve this through extended solo travel. Some millennials find themselves through dedicated yoga practice. Some find themselves by starting a business. Or going back to school. Or a fulfilling relationship. Or having a child. Or buying a house. Or changing jobs. Or quitting a job. People talk about “finding their calling,” but that isn’t what this post is about.” When I talk about “finding myself,” I mean it on a more personal level. I mean it in a peeling-back-the-layers-that-make-up-a-person way. We don’t like to think of ourselves as complex, yet we are, thanks to our brains.

As crazy as it sounds, I started to find myself when I began to declutter.

Changes happen so suddenly. One day I was studying for my last final and the next I was completely free. I had already accepted a full time position at my first employer, so all that was left was to move all my stuff back to my parents’ house before hauling it all to Buffalo. Despite the graduation ceremony where we were repeatedly told that the world was beckoning us to make meaningful contributions, I was completely clueless in my protective little university bubble. I had no idea what I wanted my life to look like. Everyone tells you to pursue happiness, but for millennials, they want more than happiness – we want to lead fulfilling lives. The problem arises when everyone around us presents a different picture of what fulfillment looks like.

I spend too much time on social media, but I have learned a thing or two about my generation. A select few seem to know exactly how they want to run their lives after college, and they jump at it from day one. These people are most visible when they eagerly announce via social media when they achieve classic hallmarks of success – advanced degrees, dream jobs, weddings, marriages, relationships, buying their own houses, having babies, and achieving career milestones, soaking up the flood of “likes” and niceties and compliments from friends and family. They usually accompany these announcements with photographic evidence. For fellow millennials who witness the celebrations of these fast trackers, angst tends  to creep up and render us uncertain and unsatisfied, manifested in our tendency to move from place to place, job to job, relationship to relationship, not always certain of where our path will lead, but somehow certain that things will work themselves out. When we feel inadequate as we benchmark our progress against our peers, we feel compelled to justify our lives through less conventional ways, explaining ourselves by displaying other means of living a purposeful or enjoyable life. We travel, volunteer, cook, buy cool stuff, dress up, go out, eat fancy food, and show off our athletic accomplishments. And in so doing, we frantically tell the world that these are perfectly valid things to pursue, even if they are outside the realm of “normal adulthood.” We want to prove to the world that we are proudly unconventional. And if we aren’t doing that, then some of us swiftly criticize the rest of the world for “settling,” or vent our insecurities and injustices to the world in an attempt to say, hey, there is an important problem affecting us (though perhaps not me directly) and something needs to be done.

We outwardly and swiftly fault the world for its shortcomings, but procrastinate taking action to work on ourselves.

Our lives are not necessarily going to look like status quo, but we still want to feel accepted and validated by our peers. It’s a perfectly normal human desire. Anyone who states otherwise is probably in denial. The reality is, there will always be naysayers and there will always be supporters, no matter what path we choose.

Whenever I began to question my path in life, I first turn to my stuff because it is the most visible evidence of choices I’ve made. Items chronicle lives as physical representations of moments, however insignificant. They conjure up memories, like pressing play on a videotape filed away in the depths of our subconscious. I had, for example, a little white teddy bear that I won in third grade. The class had had a naming contest, and whoever’s name was one of the most creative would win the bear. I named the bear Blizzard, and a few weeks after submitting my entry, a lady called me and left me a voicemail (this was a huge deal for third grade me), telling me they loved the name Blizzard and that I could pick up my bear at a local store. Many years later, I found myself looking at this bear, wondering why I held onto it for so long. The memory played in my head so clearly, but it would be so silly for an adult woman to be cuddling a teddy bear from her childhood. No one cares about such a moment in my life, and winning a stuffed animal in third grade isn’t something that I need to broadcast the world. I never quite found a good place to stash it other than my desk or closet. I struggled to get rid of it, because gosh darn it, I named the thing, and it was mine and no one else’s. I concluded that that was a silly reason to keep something.

These collective confrontations with my belongings are a huge part of how I live as a minimalist. Interrogating the physical clutter forces me to confront my mental clutter – the two are intimately tied.

I invite my fellow millennials to do the same, because when we let go of relics of the past, we remind ourselves that our present selves can move forward without anything holding us back. Blizzard probably was not holding me back in a way that an ex-lover’s letter or an oversized antique chair that I despise would. We can live with utmost intention. We ought to thank the past for what it has taught us, then cut the baggage and move on.

Battling FOMO: Fear of Missing Out


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


“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.

Minimalist Hair Care Routine


What is “minimalist hair?” For some, it may mean shaving it all off, getting a buzzcut, or letting it do its thing. For me, it means creating a routine that makes taking care of your hair in an easy, quick, and healthy way while still looking neat and put together. Hair care for a minimalist is simple and does not have to involve cutting all of it off.

(of course, if hair styling is one of your favorite hobbies and brings you rich pleasure and fulfillment…have at it!)

I used to fuss endlessly over my hair. Growing up, I would wash my hair every day with Pantene Pro V, Nexxus, Matrix…you name it. I would blow dry it on high heat, spray it with heat protectant, iron it with a straightener or curler, spray some oil on it, and go about my day. I permed it stick straight every 2-3 years, each perm costing $100-$300. Straight perms reduce the need to style hair – my hair was so straight that it hardly needed brushing. Yet I continued to trim it, bathe it in expensive shampoos that stripped my hair of its natural oils, and blow dry it. I was so versed in hair care that when I was in college, I was the resident hair-stylist among my closest friends when formal events came around. I even knew how to create ringlets with a BaByliss Pro straightener.

When I graduated college and had fewer reasons to dress formally, occasions that prompted me to style my hair and transform my look were greatly reduced. I now realize that overprocessing my hair was a sign that I was never satisfied with my hair – there were too many things I had to do to make it look “nice” to me. Never mind what other people thought – I doubt anyone notices it from one day to the next, and as long as I’m presentable, who really cares?

I stumbled upon Alex Raye’s “Almost Exactly Blog” while researching homemade hair solutions and started following her advice on how to treat my hair like royalty. It has been over a year since I stopped blow-drying my hair, brushing my hair with nylon bristles, straightening/curling my hair with hot irons, perming my hair, layering my hair, and using silicone- and sulfate-based hair products (shampoos, conditioners, hairsprays, gels, etc.). Simplifying my hair routine has saved me a lot of time and money, but more importantly, it saved my hair from a lifetime of distress. When I stopped overprocessing my hair, some magical things happened:

  • It now takes several days for my hair to get noticeably greasy. It definitely got very greasy for a few weeks of not washing as often, but my scalp adjusted its oil production accordingly
  • I don’t have to buy shampoo as often – $$$ saved!
  • My hair is softer, shinier, and less frizzy
  • I’m not losing as many hairs
  • I don’t worry about my hair as much – I’ve accepted its naturally wavy look and I’ve grown to appreciate it in its natural state
  • It takes me less time to get ready in the mornings

I now own only a few things for my hair:


  • A small hair wrap to pull my hair back when I’m washing my face (Muji hair turban)
  • “low ‘poo” shampoo (I use Shea Moisture– can be found at Target, CVS, Walgreens…)
  • “low ‘poo” conditioner (I use Shea Moisture – can be found at Target, CVS, Walgreens…or you can even use coconut oil!)
  • Boar bristle brush (I splurged on a Mason Pearson pocket boar bristle brush, but an authentic Bass 100% boar bristle brush from Whole Foods does the job too)
  • Plastic wide-tooth comb (any drugstore brand will do; avoid bamboo combs because they don’t hold up well)
  • Hair ties

I trim my hair at my favorite budget barber every few months to clean up the split ends, brush it gently when the oil needs to be redistributed, and wash it every 3-4 days, letting it air dry every time – in fact, I recently decluttered my hair dryer because I hadn’t touched it in over a year. I keep my hair long, but not too long or it will take forever to dry. I don’t layer it so that braiding my hair will be easy and lengths don’t stick out everywhere.

As a result, my hair has never looked or felt healthier than it does today. It feels light because it is not coated in residues from hair product. It has become one less thing for me to worry about. Fancy that!

Minimalism is Not an Excuse for Being Lazy


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?!”


“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.

3 Strategies to Bring Minimalism to the Office

Minimalist workspace

In my 4.5 year career at large Fortune 500 companies, minimalism has transformed the way I approach my work. It has helped me focus, strive to produce high quality work, and develop methods to increase efficiency in everything I touch.

My minimalism journey still comes down to raw beginnings. I was not always this way.

Minimalism is not what first comes to mind when we think of big business. We think of vast, inefficient enterprises rife with politics, disarray, siloed business units, conflicting interests, all in the name of profits. Yet inside the cubicle farm, I’m finding that the vast majority of employees are at work to do good work (if not necessarily their best work), and the image of the evil, heartless businessperson we so often see in the media is a technique used by the media to villainize and stereotype big business. I feel, however, that problems in corporate culture exist due in large part to disorganization, and disorganization is often caused by too much clutter. Physical clutter has a very real effect on our mental states, and that, in turn, will affect our productivity in the workplace.

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Ultralight Travel Notes: Coconut Oil

Greetings from Seoul!

I am an ultralight traveler, which means I only travel with a single bag. When I travel, I typically bring a single backpack that does not exceed 25L. Traveling light is less about traveling with few things and more about traveling with efficiency. And here, I present to you one  of my favorite magic potions: coconut oil.

Coconut oil with pink moleskine

Coconut oil has a million different uses, from personal care to powering automobiles. When I travel, I use it as:

  1. Body lotion
  2. Eye moisturizer
  3. Eye makeup remover
  4. Hair conditioner
  5. Cooking oil

Just a tiny vat of it, for all those uses, and a little goes a long way! At room temperature, the oil is solid, which means it is mess-free, although if you plan to take it with you to a hotter climate, you’ll need a leakproof container. If you’ve never used coconut oil before, it does have a scent to it that may be off-putting to some, but I personally love the nutty aroma.

Raw coconut

What magical potions do you carry on your travels?

10 Things an Active Minimalist Doesn’t Worry About

This is a list of things I have never had to worry about since I became an Active Minimalist. There was a time in my life, for almost all of these, in which all of them were daily or weekly concerns. Not anymore.

  1. What to wear in the morning. I only have my favorite clothes in my closet and everything matches. There’s no questioning what I wear – the decision takes 5 seconds and depends only on the weather.
  2. Caffeine/coffee. I don’t need caffeine to stay awake. I have another way of staying awake, and that is staying active. My body is always ready for the next challenge.
  3. Cleaning my room. When I get home, I have 5 cleaning tasks: 1) hang up my coat 2) empty my dirty gym clothes into my laundry hamper 3) pack my clothes for the next day 4) make my lunch 5) process the mail. Then I get started on dinner. All that takes 5-10 minutes tops. Why dawdle? The easiest way to dawdle is to think about how tiring the day was. Once you’re trapped in that mindset, you’ll never get anything done. And, when the only thing in my room is my bed…there is hardly any picking up to do.
  4. When to finish that project that’s been unfinished for more than 3 months. Because if I really wanted to finish it, I would be working on it already. At this point, I’ve already moved on.
  5. My hair. No need for curlers, straighteners, glossy finishing sprays, perms, or even a blow dryer. My hair is healthiest in its natural state and brushed with a boar bristle hairbrush to distribute the oils. I only wash it twice a week and I only wear it up on wash day.
  6. Packing. I know what I need, and it’s not a suitcase. Everything I need for traveling can fit in a 20 liter backpack.
  7. How to keep myself busy. When you’re active, you have access to all sorts of activities, such as running, cycling, climbing, hiking, circus arts – you name it!
  8. Black Friday. You can get 100% off everything if you don’t buy anything. If you’re a minimalist, why would you want a crazy bargain for More Household Clutter?
  9. Makeup. At this point in my life, I know which products work on my skin and which ones don’t. There’s no point in branching out to something that may not work (and if you’re wondering, I use Lauren Brooke Cosmetiques’ amazing creme foundation).
  10. Having time for something. When you minimize the trivial stuff, you maximize your efficiency. Even if you don’t always say it out loud or tell other people, you know you’ll have time for everything – everything that’s important, that is.

Defining Minimalism


I mention a few things about what minimalism is on my about page – specifically, this:

“I define minimalism as a lifestyle in which I continuously eliminate or reject everything that does not reflect my values or serve a practical purpose – from physical possessions to bad habits to absorbing low quality information like celebrity gossip –  to make room for activities and behaviors that provide purpose, happiness, and intention. With the changing seasons of life, our interests wax and wane, and relationships come and go. Minimalism is a tool that makes it easier to accept and embrace these changes to help us lead purpose-driven lives.”

Yet, I don’t think I say anything about why a minimalist lifestyle is worth pursuing. Fortunately, the “why” is carefully folded into the “what.” Let’s break it down.

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Creation of My Mission

Today, I turn 27. These are fragments of thoughts that have emerged as I think about what I want my life to look like.

Be aware of how I spend my time. Declutter regularly. Explore ruthlessly. Know what is “enough.” Save at least 2/3 of my income. If I must spend money, think twice. Only buy what I truly want. Create efficiency. Prioritize people. Cook everything. Relish sources of inspiration. Honor the miracle that is my body. Sleep early, wake early. Everything I do at work and at home are examples of my art. Refine and strengthen my body. Embrace balance. Cycle everywhere. Remember the past, and use it to brighten the future. Remove the excess, and make room for what’s important. Question my values. Live by doing. Honor nature. Do not compare myself to others. Find space to breathe. Sell, donate, recycle. I am what I consume. Be passionate about something. Worry less. Always do great work.