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.

The Joy of DIY: Doing it Yourself

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Do you remember learning how to walk? Yeah…I don’t either. But if you’ve ever watched a 2 year old learn how to walk and witness the determination they go through as they fall down, immediately get back up, fall down again, failing over and over again until they get it, you suddenly realize…

Giving up is a learned behavior.

If we all gave up learning how to walk, we’d all be crawling off to work, to the grocery store, through the airport, to the bathroom…goodness, what a frightening hypothetical. Or, worse – we’d be driving ourselves around in a pod to do everything. Ever see Wall-E?

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Chicks gotta learn too!

In our first moments of life, we are in a constant state of discovery and curiosity about our environments and our bodies. Parents ensure that kids don’t accidentally kill themselves, but for the most part, watch them interact with the world as they figure out how stick out their tongues, play with their toes, and clap their hands. They naturally reach out for help when faced with challenges, but for the most part, we let them find their own way.

Why do we stop discovering and experimenting as we get older?

We stop our experimental, trial-and-error ways and start listening to news stories, commercials, and celebrities, telling us what to buy, what to eat, and how to fit in. In our aggrandized “treat yo’self” millennial era, we’re bombarded with claims that some tool, some magic pill, or some personalized service are guaranteed to make us happier. We’re told that jetting ourselves off to exotic travel destinations and getting drunk with foreigners will help us become well-rounded individuals. We’re buying solutions to our problems.

Instead of fixing our bad eating or drinking habits, we handicap ourselves with a dependency on a meal-replacement-shake. Instead of figuring out the root cause of our inability to get a good night’s sleep, we take sleeping pills or buy expensive mattresses. Instead of experimenting in the kitchen, we sign up for meal-delivery services like Blue Apron and Plated to deliver “fresh ingredients” to us or “grab” dinner because we’re hungry and can’t be bothered to whip up something in our kitchens. We leave our behaviors and choices up to the “industry experts” because we are apparently too incapable and incompetent, claiming that our super-powered brains don’t have time and energy to waste on trivial matters like taking care of ourselves. We’re too self-sacrificing for that. We’ve got better things to worry about, like catching up on the latest (insert sport or TV show here).

I realize that my privilege means that DIY is a choice. Fortunately, no matter where you come from, DIY is meant to be a fun learning process, because you are a capable person and were meant from birth to be able to figure things out on your own. Cooking your own meals and savoring the taste of your own creations, creating a masterpiece greeting card for a friend using scraps, practicing math, making your own body scrub, training your body, writing code, building a website…there is a whole world of DIY possibilities out there, and you’ll definitely fail time and time again just like you did as a baby, but if you commit to it, you’ll be the one claiming that your one weird trick of DIY is save you dollars and building your personal toolbox of skills and abilities. Experts are there to guide you, but you are ultimately going to determine your success, and that is satisfying.

Happy Saturday, a perfect, DIY Day!

Life on Autopilot

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When we follow a routine, life whizzes by super fast.

Alarm rings at 6. Wake up. Put on clothes. Go to work. Workout if I’m there early enough. Work. Workout during lunch. Work some more. Workout if I missed a workout earlier. Go home. Make dinner. Clean up. Blog, play a game, stretch, and/or plan travel. Shower. Sleep between 10 and 11.

Repeat, 5 days a week, for the better part of 365 days a year. I’m an unmarried and childless millennial with a stable career and living quarters. Baked into that routine is well-oiled machine of direct deposits, reps and sets, a standard uniform of minimalist clothes, and slow and steady gains. To me, I might as well say the routine is so automatic to me to the point of making me robotic. Twist the doorknob, check the bank account, cut the kale, flip open the bedcovers, start the car. Day after day after day after day. That routine is my current modus operandi, and quite frankly, it works. It enables stability and self-sufficiency along with steady improvements. It wards off the anxiety of being ill-prepared, but gives me the choice of what challenges I want to take. It’s a simple routine, one that does not make me constantly question my own importance, or relevance, or rightful place on this earth. Site note: If your routine is doing that to you, then you must change it. My routine can certainly be optimized, and it will be over time.

Unfortunately, there are parts of routines that don’t help you achieve anything. Autopilot mode is automatically going to the gym to train because it is your routine, but it is also waking up in the morning and cycling through Facebook, Reddit, or Elite Daily for 20 minutes. Autopilot can be always checking reviews before buying anything, but it is also flipping through the Macy’s catalog for deals for no other reason than the fact that it came in the mail. Autopilot is finishing up dinner and going to the living room to watch TV. Autopilot is believing that you must have a lavish wedding and expensive car. Autopilot is doing anything and believing everything without questioning any of it. It is easy to get suckered up into the gears of societal workings, because that is in itself a well-oiled machine of consumerism. Being in autopilot allows you to be consistent in getting to your goals, but beware, because it can also enslave you. And what better way to see that than by checking your browsing history?

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.

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?

Crafting a Sustainable Lifestyle

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

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

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

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

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

The Ridiculousness of Luxury

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

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

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

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

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

5 Easy Minimalist Kitchen Hacks to Simplify Food Prep for Home Cooking

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The home goods and food service industries always seem to be trying to find ways to make home cooking easier, because well…we don’t have time for cooking, just like we don’t have time to see friends, spend time with our children, clean the house…but we have time to follow enough pop culture via shows and junk news stories to win at trivia bars. Millennial joke aside, our overscheduled and overbusy lives are cutting into food preparation time, and simply put, a lot of us simply don’t have the patience, not to mention the experience and know-how required from putting time into cooking our own meals. With so many convenience options available, cooking from scratch takes a back seat. Hungry? Grab a Snickers. Want to lose weight? Grab a Weight Watchers box and zap it in the handy dandy microwave. Want to cut vegetables perfectly or store them optimally? How about a plastic device to perfectly slice your [insert produce here] or store your [insert produce here]?

I suffer from a constant need to optimize my lifestyle habits, and I discovered a few useful tips and tricks along the way as I managed my kitchen. As someone who loves cooking, I have been suckered into the brilliant marketers that sell devices that are supposed to save you time in the kitchen…but end up taking up space and being impossible to clean sometimes.

Fortunately, after quite a few years of making my way in the kitchen from a minimalist viewpoint, here are 5 original ways to simplify your kitchen prep time that I’ve discovered from simple trial and error.

  1. Salad spinners are a magical tool. Not only will they get all the excess water out of your leafy greens so your stir fries don’t turn into sludge, but they are also really good at washing things and contain the splashy mess of water. As in, tear up your greens, chuck them in the basket, fill it with water, and either agitate the greens with your hands or spin the basket as if you were spinning the water out! Then just lift the basket, dump the water, and repeat until the water is clear and has no dirt. I can recommend this one. Also related – get a pot with an inset steamer, and steam your vegetables instead of boiling them to a sad wilt. It will do double duty as a colander to drain pasta. Now you can get rid of that extra plastic colander.top-view-1248955_1920
  2. Don’t peel off individual leaves or stalks from cabbage/lettuce heads and celery – get a sharp knife and cut everything all at once. Mother nature has wonderfully grouped all the stalks for us for easy, fast cutting. While washing your vegetables makes them rot faster, you’ll still save yourself some time down the line by cutting them in advance. You’ll only need to bust out the cutting board and knife once. And how nice it is to have your vegetables prepped and ready to go next time you’re cooking!

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    Just cut it and then wash it after it’s cut. In your salad spinner, obviously.

  3. Someone’s gotta say it – but I found that limiting my meat intake has saved me a lot of time in the kitchen. I am not vegetarian, but I find that meat is very time consuming to prepare, and while it is tasty, it is also expensive and requires a lot of extra precautions and prep time. When you add up all the work you need to do to flavor it, cut it, store it, and sterilize everything it has come in contact with, meat can be its own time suck (of course, there’s always the option of buying it pre-seasoned or pre-cooked, but then again, we all know that eating processed meats in moderation is better for us, and pre-prepped meat costs more). Soy is a great plant-based complete protein, and a block of organic firm tofu is only $1.99 at my local Whole Foods (might be even cheaper at Asian markets!). Tofu can be crumbled as a substitute for taco meat or used in vegan omelette recipes. Tofu acts as a sponge and soaks up the flavors and sauces in whatever you’re making. Eggs are also a great, cheap protein source. I usually eat meat a few times a week instead of every day.DSC_0914 copy
  4. Use a melon baller, ice cream scoop, or the tablespoon size of these babies (which is basically a melon baller) to scoop out the flesh of watermelons, cantaloupes, honeydews, or basically anything else with a thick rind. Less juice spilling all over your counter and evenly sized bite-sized balls of fruit for all!

    Delicious melon-balled watermelon via my Instagram

  5. If you have a double basin sink, ditch the dish drying rack and simply get one of these drying mats. I was inspired by Scandinavian kitchens when I visited Iceland where the sinks had built-in dish drying areas. Drying racks are unsightly and over time accumulate a lot of grime. You can put a cutting board over it and even cut vegetables on top of it – the water that tends to pool while I’m cutting things drains directly into the sink!DSC_0913 copy

What other kitchen hacks can you add to the list? I’d love to hear them!

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.

Decluttering Passive Entertainment (Media – Television, News, Radio, Sports…)

via Pixabay

What do TV shows, movies, sports events, Netflix, and radio talk shows have in common?

They all involve other people talking or doing things and you watching or listening. Open any news site, turn on the radio, watch the television, or open a magazine and you’re probably going to be bombarded with things like:

  • How [insert sports player’s name here] made a WINNING PLAY! And [insert someone’s opinion/prediction here].
  • How [insert celebrity’s name here] got involved with [insert 2nd celebrity’s name here] and said “[insert scandalous phrase here]”
  • How [insert product here] will relieve you of your pain and that you should talk to your doctor about it
  • How you might be the next big lottery winner

I admit, I have the fortune of naturally resisting passive entertainment. Even as a child, I hardly watched television, preferring to play with friends or play pretend outdoors. My brother and I would get on our bikes and pretend to order fast food at the mailbox at the end of our driveway. When I was in high school, I had an epiphany about myself that I still remember ten years later: I dislike watching things. I have very little patience for sitting somewhere and watching things happen, like they do at sports events, shows and concerts. I had a much stronger preference for doing those things. At the time, being able to “do” things was not within reach, because so much of my time was consumed by school and well, I was a kid. But when I was released into the real world, I earned my freedom, through hard work and becoming physically fit (read: discipline), and I earned access to doing more activities. That excites me more than any celebrity scandal or sports event.

In life, we are gifted a limited number of hours with which we use our time. Inevitably, some of those hours are going to be used for unpleasant, but important things, like filling out your taxes, dealing with a plumbing problem, calming a screaming baby, or just making some darn money. We do these things in exchange for peace of mind, health, or freedom. Once all the necessaries are done, instead of saying to ourselves, “all I want to do is collapse on the couch and do nothing,” let’s say, “now is my chance to do what I’ve been meaning to do but haven’t had the time.” I don’t know that vegging in front of the tube is something most people wish they had more time to do.

Your freedom is dependent on your financial means, physical means, and mental means (all of which are interrelated). That’s why it kills me that so many of us are using it not to find ways to optimize our lives and get ourselves some more freedom, but throw away the hours watching, sitting, and not creating, crafting, contributing, or well…being active and present in our lives.

Let’s avoid chaining ourselves to the tube of passive entertainment when there is so much out there for us to do. Famous people can be inspirational, don’t get me wrong, and some of them do deserve our attention. And there’s a lot of value in supporting people you care about at their own events and celebrations. But so many people that get the most attention don’t need it, and every time you devote your time and attention to them, you’re voting with your most valuable resource, your time.

Let’s devote ourselves to pursuits that align with our deepest desires. News stations, sports channels, and mobile games are sensational; not necessarily well researched or worth your time.

We can do better. Let’s declutter them.

Clean, Organize, or Neither? The Choice is Yours

via Pixabay

Who thinks they never have enough time?

*raises hand*

We always talk about being busy and complain that we don’t have time to spend with one another. Our busy-ness is sabotaging our relationships and making us exhausted and stressed. We’ll talk about decluttering our schedules another time, but one way we can free up some of our precious time at home is reducing the amount of home maintenance we need to do.

The idea of needing to spend a day “preparing the house” for guests is not new to me. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a large family in a very large house, but whenever guests were expected, the kids were responsible for helping Mom wipe everything down, put things away, pretty up all the rooms, weed the garden, polish the wooden floors, vacuum the carpets, shake out the rugs, and organize all the messes – magazines, bathroom products, clothes strewn everywhere, and so on. Because the house was so big, these were whole day affairs. Kudos to Mom and Dad for splitting the labor among us and teaching us home maintenance skills of course, but after doing it over and over again, I developed a strong desire to severely reduce the amount of maintenance I needed to do in my own home.

I was never taught about decluttering. Throughout grade school, classmates would crowd around the kids who owned glitzy cool stuff. Just having a cool thing earned you a ticket to popularity. But no one told me about the burden of ownership, so I thought that having things was equivalent to having friends. Sometimes this mentality leaks into adulthood – being friends with the one person with the cool house or cool car, for example, earned you inclusion into that social group or social standing. At home, my family taught me to conserve and capitalize on the resources available to me and appreciate everything we had. We never threw things away if they were salvageable in some way. The idea of not wasting things and money was drilled into my head, from eating every last scrap of food on my plate to the clothes I owned. Reducing waste is important, no doubt. But not throwing anything away led to a steady accumulation of stuff over the years, and I learned something along the way:

The intention is to save everything to waste nothing. But keeping everything does end up wasting something very very special:

TIME!

Time, our most precious, nonrenewable resource! How can we forget?

Cleaning and organizing are simply maintenance of existing spaces. And when you have to clean and organize over and over again – putting things back in their places day after day after week after week for years and years – every second you’re spending reorganizing is another second of your life gone forever. Sure, we won’t be eliminating it ALL or we will take it too far, but removing anything will still help reduce the constant organizing and reorganizing. Without that need, how many minutes of our lives can we save, I wonder?

Next time you reach over to pick up something to throw out, ask yourself if the time you’re spending is better spent elsewhere. Ideally, you’ll want to reach a state in which your home is guest-friendly within 5 minutes of picking up after yourself.

If no one else has faith in you, I do. Start today. Here’s a list to kickstart your decluttering efforts (and here).

Unhealthy Minimalism

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

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

1. The Obsessive-Compulsive Declutterer

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

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

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

2. The Freeloader Minimalist

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

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

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

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

3. The Cynical Minimalist

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

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

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

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

Minimalism when applied appropriately, is meant to be empowering.

Use it wisely. 

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!

Battling FOMO: Fear of Missing Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Minimalist Hair Care Routine

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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:

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

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

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

or

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

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

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

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

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

You are what you Consume

Curly fries

Like it or not, our lives are full of consumption. Our bodies consume food and drink; our minds consume ideas and information through books, magazines, television, and other forms of media. Our consumption habits are mostly by choice, and knowingly or unknowingly, our consumption habits drive our personal development, so each consumption choice we make, however insignificant we see them, becomes a reflection of how we direct our lives.

So, in the spirit of an against-the-grain attitude, I do believe that we are what we own, and we are what we consume. There are plenty of feel-good statements out there that people make, like “you are not what you wear,” or “you are not your work,” or “you are not your body.” The truth is, while no one is exclusively work, clothes, or appearance, they all have some contribution to who we are as a whole.

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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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