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

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

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

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

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

This is where it gets tricky.

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

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

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

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

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

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.

On Belonging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The 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?

The Danger of Certainty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

On the Importance of Vulnerability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How I Started to Feel Beautiful, Despite Believing the Contrary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simple Living vs Empty Living

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

One example is our relationships with other people.

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

Another way of achieving this is through exercise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As though there was some kind of time limit…

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

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

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

Oh, well…

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

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

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

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

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

Why I Dislike Driving

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

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

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

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

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?

To You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Including you.

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

Love,

Active Minimalist

The Tragedy of Losing Curiosity

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

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

We stop chasing wonder and start chasing comfort.

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

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

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

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

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

On Complacency, Acceptance, and Happiness

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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.

 

My Simple, Lonely Life of Sobriety

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

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

Ugh.

Now picture this.

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

“The night’s still young!

“Have some fun!”

“Lighten up!”

“One drink won’t hurt anyone.”

“It’s on me.”

“You deserve it.”

“Don’t be lame.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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…)

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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.

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.

Clean, Organize, or Neither? The Choice is Yours

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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).

More Consumption, More Boredom

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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.

Why Everyone Should Cook Like a Pro

You know that one friend of yours who always posts the most scrumptious homemade dishes on social media and raves about how amazing they are? And every week is a different concoction – a slow cooked stew, strips of grilled chicken on a bed of greens, Thai spring rolls, steaming fresh apple pie…

Yep, I’m one of those people.

I’ve already written about how going out to eat is subjecting yourself to dependency. That satisfying your hunger is now entirely in strangers’ hands, who may or may not have your best interest in mind, and who don’t necessarily know what your tastes are. Put a business profit on something as basic and necessary as food, and you risk subjecting the food you put in your body to standard business practices – sell more, sell quickly, and run the operation efficiently. This often comes with buying cheaper or lower quality ingredients. Reduce waste and retain inventory with preservatives (or copious amounts of salt and sugar). Prepackaged has become the normal weeknight meal. “From scratch” is morphing into a novelty. Not only do we have frozen meals, we now have services that mail you pre-assembled and pre-measured cooking ingredients (freshness questionable).

We’ve become so detached from the basic skill of making our own meals and savoring our own creations, and I cringe at the whispers of pride of escaping the “unfortunate” fate of “domestication.”

Cooking isn’t supposed to be some hallmark of “domesticity” – it is a basic skill used to create delicious food and nothing more. Cooking illiteracy has led some of us to whine about how there isn’t anything good to eat where we live (have you checked your local grocery store??). We already have it so easy – no need to farm and hunt – and yet, so many of us still think we are completely incapable of making a decent meal for ourselves.

We seem to care so little about the food that we eat, that we’ve come to satisfying our human needs with something as  atrocious as Soylent. And don’t get me started on that. When we do care, it’s about something as innocuous as fat and animal products.

My job here isn’t to “make” anyone care about this. Because we know how ineffective changing other people tends to be. We’re usually too determined to believe that we’re going about life the “correct” way to think anything to the contrary (whatever “correct” happens to be, who knows). I go out to eat on occasion, usually because someone else I know wants to. And we need cafes and coffee shops to mix and mingle without worrying about who’s doing the dishes. They contribute to the vibrancy of a city.

But, there isn’t any harm in introducing the idea that we would perhaps be more intentional about how we eat if we all strive to become our own personal pro chefs. And there is so much benefit – control over your own nutrition, money saved, the freedom to whip up just about whatever you want.

Let’s say, for example, that you really like Italian food. Italian food tends to have tomato sauce, garlic, parmesan, and parsley. Great! Now you know staples for your pantry. Let’s say you really dig sandwiches. There’s nothing too hard about assembling your own artisan-style sandwich with the pretty decorative toothpick on top. At the grocery store, you have a bread selection that beats whatever is on the menu at the deli down the street. Even the tomato sauce has a million varieties. Life is grand when you have such power at your fingertips.

You know your taste best, and it is so rewarding (and Instagram-worthy) to concoct a tasty meal for yourself. You’ll probably end up only buying ingredients you like, so chances are, by a matter of personal bias, you’ll like what you make.

The idea of relying on yourself to cook your own food seems like such a novel idea for some people, but it needn’t be. Arm yourself with kitchen finesse, add a dash of creativity, and a whole world of dishes is at your fingertips.

Psst, here’s a great place to start.

7 Reasons Why Eating Out is Overrated

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“Getting brunch” or “getting dinner” is a default “let’s hang out” activity for millennials (that, and Netflix). Perhaps there is the allure of being “served.” Being put in the position of a pampered guest, if you will. You’re the Important one, and your food will be brought to you by a (usually young and attractive) team of servers. You can sit at a clean table and relax, strike up a conversation with your date if you brought one, and leave the oh-so-tedious work of preparing food and washing dishes to someone else.

Ever since I became comfortable in the kitchen, which was basically ever since I lived in my own apartment for the first time, I stopped being impressed by the vast majority of restaurant food. I always wondered why there was such a resistance to learning how to cook and an overwhelming lack of confidence in cooking ability in my generation. I hardly spent any time watching my mom cooking as I grew up, but it didn’t take me long to gain some kitchen finesse. All it took was some good old-fashioned hard work, willingness to learn from my mistakes, and I thus eliminated a dependency on a paid chef to make me something delicious. After all, who knows your taste palette better than you do?

So most of the time when I’m dragged out to a restaurant, I’m pretty disappointed. Here are the reasons why.

  1. You have to get there. Thanks to our silly 3-meals-a-day system (or 2, on the weekends), at the time you want to go out to eat is around the same time everyone else wants to go out to eat. Hi, traffic jam. Bye, time you could spending…you know, doing something other than sitting in your car hungry.
  2. You might have to wait in line. It can be a few minutes, or an hour, or a couple hours…of just standing around memorizing the menu. Some restaurants have implemented call-backs, but what is there to do around a restaurant? Usually not much. Maybe buy some useless merchandise? Or proprietary sauces?
  3. You have to wait (who knows how long) for your food to be prepared and brought to you. I get that sometimes you want to sit there and chat with your friends, but there is, to me, an optimal waiting time before I start wondering why the food is taking so long…and that becomes a source of frustration.
  4. Everyone knows this already, but the food is overpriced. Almost always. Then again, you’re not just paying for food – you’re paying for service. You add tax and tip, and your $10 meal ends up being $15. Or your $25 meal is over $30. You know what you could buy with $30? A lot of ice cream. Or enough apples for a week. Or a ton of cabbage. In the grocery world, $30 can go pretty far. Let’s not forget that you’re not only paying money for food, but you’re paying with the time spent waiting. And perhaps transportation, in the form of Uber or gas or a subway ticket. Add a few bucks to that.
  5. You have very limited control over what is actually going into your food and how it is prepared. Yeah, maybe you can ask for dressing on the side or another helping of bread. You can even ask the chef to prepare the dish again…but then you feel like the ungrateful customer, and your poor apologetic server (or disgruntled one, who knows) runs back to the kitchen to have the dish prepared again. At this point, the rhythm of the meal is off, and by the time you get your meal, your friends are already done eating.
  6. Eating out is usually touted as more “special” than eating in, but you still run the risk of your food being a disappointment. You might not have enough food, it might taste off, they may have prepared it incorrectly…the list goes on. You hardly even know if they’ve washed the vegetables. Yet you still need to be somewhat grateful, you know…for the sake of manners. And if you don’t get enough food, then you have to buy more overpriced, potentially unhealthy food.
  7. Restaurants are wasteful. Any food you don’t eat goes in the garbage. If you’re taking out, you’re using disposable containers, usually plastic or styrofoam, which are not easily biodegradable.

Not every circumstance of eating out is complete waste of time and money, but in most cases, I’m happiest eating my own food that I made with my own hands in my own kitchen, because I have taken matters into my own hands and figured my way around the kitchen.

For some help with not succumbing to the millennial tendency to eat ourselves broke, read this for advice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unsurprisingly…that is the minimalist way.

Unhealthy Minimalism

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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

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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

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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.

Having Interesting Stuff Does Not Make You an Interesting Person

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Back in my Buffalo days, I scoured estate sales. For the uninitiated, an estate sale is literally an open house event where everything inside the house is for sale. They usually happen because relatives don’t know or don’t want to deal with the stuff in the house after the owner dies, so in a effort to liquidate all the extra STUFF, they hire an estate liquidation company to appraise everything, advertise the sale, and run it, sometimes for several days. It’s definitely an odd thing for a 23 year old to do on the weekends – walking into dead people’s houses and buying their stuff – and in retrospect, not a great use of my time, because even though I’ve seen it all – floor-to-ceiling collections of snowmen toys, elaborate glassware, two hundred year old plates passed down multiple generations – the collections of “stuff” didn’t tell much of a story. After a while, every dead person’s house was the same – a bunch of uninteresting piles of stuff.

We often use our stuff to craft and depict our identities as though we were being studied by the rest of the world. And we do the same for others – that guy with the Porsche, that woman with the extensive Gucci handbag collection, that man who owns a rubber ducky collection, that woman who owns a swimming pool. Those things are infinitesimal parts of a person blown out of proportion by ads in an attempt to persuade us that what we own will magically transform us into what we aspire to be or what we think we represent. Sexy, says the Chanel perfume ad. Daring, says the Michael Kors ad. Healthy, says the Whole Foods ad. Trendy, says the H&M ad. Athletic, says the Nike ad. Powerful businessperson, says the Banana Republic ad. Classy, says the fine wine ad. Adventurous, says the Patagonia ad.

Fun fact: You could buy their products and be none of those things.

Curating a collection of interesting stuff tells me very little about a person. Does owning comprehensive makeup collection make someone a good makeup artist? No, it just tells me that person spends a lot of time buying makeup. Does owning fancy shoes tell me that person has good taste in footwear? No, it just tells me that person spends a lot of time buying shoes. See a pattern?

Yet…why does it matter? We care a lot about “being interesting,” but what does that entail?

I don’t really care if my neighbor has a bigger house, more expensive car, or even on the flipside – a smaller car, a smaller house. We meet others based on mutual interests, which is a good place to start connecting with others, but two people can like the same things and still be completely incompatible.

If we truly want to get to know someone, then we would go straight for the heart. We would unearth that person’s strength of character by asking the loaded questions. Things that will get you straight to the depths of “interesting” that we desire so much.

“What do you fight for?”

and

Who do you fight for?”

and

How do you fight?

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.

Why We Should Question, Doubt, or Challenge All Traditions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Minimalist Challenges: Fitting in and Dealing with Criticism

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

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

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

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

Post-Decluttering: Living with Intention

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

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

“uhhh…now what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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