You Know Yourself Best

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knowing that, I hope, is freeing.

Signs that Minimalism is Working for You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breaking My Shopping Habit

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As a former shopping addict, I can tell you that it took a a lot longer to break the habit than I am willing to admit. The Chicago area is flat and rather uninteresting from a geological perspective. Sure, you’ve got plains, grasslands, forests, and man-made Lake Michigan beach – all of which is gorgeous in the summer and crystalline in the winter. But as far as “things to do,” urbanites and surburbanites often end up running off to shopping malls. Chicago suburbanites are spoiled by fabulous venues like Woodfield Mall, Old Orchard Mall, Northbrook Court, Chicago Premium Outlets, Mag Mile, and so on. Naturally, the sprawling nature of the area is conducive to valuable retail real estate, and spending a day shopping at the mall ogling over shoes happens to be a popular weekend activity around here.

I spent my childhood around relatively rich kids who got more or less what they wanted – birthday parties at outside venues, brand new toys from Toys ‘R Us, and custom-made cakes. It was a wasteful, indulgent environment of plenty, and that was the only reality I knew. The kids on the school bus showed off their toys and playthings all the time. I was never taught the dangers of materialism or the shallowness of judging others by what they had and flaunted. I was never told to find friends based on their personalities and not based on their level of privilege. Even as adults, we are encouraged to befriend powerful people to boost our chances of making it professionally or befriend rich people so that we can take advantage of their wealth. Unfortunately, there is truth behind that advice, but in the end, the presence of an ulterior motive brands these kinds of relationships as superficial.

On the bright side, the reason I can review products and provide my opinion to you free of affiliate ties is due to my shamefully extensive experience shopping and hours spent researching and testing products. Not in quite as an organized way as some sites, and my opinion is just one opinion, but after years of weekly Amazon packages, day trips to outlet malls, hours spent meandering around indoor malls and browsing shopping sites, I figure I’ll use my knowledge to help educate you, my reader.

It took me getting fed up with cleaning up my room all the time and having no time for anything else. It took an honest look at my credit card statements and shuddering at the numbers. It took many frustrating shopping trips, realizing that my insatiable desire for the Perfect Everything was just that. Insatiable. And that insatiability had to change. Even though I was a minimalist, I still felt a desire to replace or renew all of the things I already owned, which in itself is not minimalist behavior. My mind was still consumed by Stuff – albeit, less the accumulation of, and more the optimization of. For a few years, I upgraded everything from my shoes to my backpack to my gloves to things as mundane as my keyboard. I would have different “phases” every month, and I would look at the money I had in my account as a way of seeing how much I could afford rather than how much I could sock away in an investment account. It took several years of decluttering, relapsing, slowly adopting minimalist habits, and, quite frankly – getting older – which, by constantly reminding us of our limited time on earth and fleeting youthful bodies, has a way of gradually revealing what we should care about.

You can upgrade anything, really. I could upgrade to the next generation laptop, set of headphones, or keyboard. I could upgrade to a nicer car, a nicer house, a nicer couch, a nicer mattress. I could always add to my shoe collection, sweater collection, and so on. There is always more that can be desired. Until something limits you. For many people, it’s the money. Thankfully, I hit a Stuff Tolerance limit so that I could intentionally stop rather than forcibly stop. I couldn’t stand the maintenance of all the stuff I owned and how much time and energy it was eating out of my schedule. I wanted to spend less time getting ready in the morning, so I nixed the makeup collection and the stuffed wardrobe. I wanted to spend less time packing for trips, so I got rid of travel-unfriendly clothing. I wanted to spend less time cleaning up after myself, so I got rid of as many decorative items and unnecessary furniture as I could. And I relapsed. I relapsed over and over again for a while, trading in old versions for better versions in a never-ending cycle of upgrade-ism.

I’ve somehow stopped my upgrade-ism for a couple months now, only buying things when things break or wear beyond repair, and only recently started to appreciate what has managed to survive the purging of belongings. The gifts I did receive for my birthday this year were either extremely practical or extremely meaningful, and I’ve started to taste the wonderful feeling of gratitude for what I have. I hope that the upgrade-ism habit has stopped – not because I’ve already upgraded everything – but because I am getting wiser about what really needs to be upgraded or replaced.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minimalist Design and User Experience

My new faucet!

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

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

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

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

Simple Living vs Empty Living

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

One example is our relationships with other people.

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

Another way of achieving this is through exercise.

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

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

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

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

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.

How Studying Engineering Taught Me Minimalism

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

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

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

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

Crafting a Minimalist Holiday Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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