A Minimalist Life

I’m easily distracted. In church on Sunday, I couldn’t help but think about minimalism. As one part of “Scout Sunday” the pastor asked past and present scouts to recite the scouts’ values. They did okay until about the ninth value. Twelve?! That’s about nine too many. And when I should have been concentrating on the sermon, I was thinking about this quote from a minimalist Londoner who just built a home.

People do comment on our tidiness, but I find it fascinating that they find it fascinating. If you have a thing of beauty, like a piece of architecture, and then you fill it up with things, then you somehow diminish it and you cannot really appreciate the space you live in. We have exposed the things we really love, like the photography and the books.

One group unnecessarily complicating things, one homeowner purposely and thoughtfully stripping things down to their bare minimum.

People associate minimalism with life simplifying projects, whether recycling old clothes, shredding unnecessary office papers, or decluttering a garage, but it can be a helpful organizing principle for all of one’s life.

Minimalism is about embracing limits that others mostly ignore. The starting point is the ultimate limit, one’s mortality. Minimalists are more mindful than most that their time is limited; as a result, they tend to be more interested in the quality of their life experiences than accumulating lots of money and possessions.

Minimalists believe stripping things down is liberating—whether electronic data, personal commitments, and friendships. Consider each.

Electronic minimalism. This one’s tough because digital clutter can be neatly contained within a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or desktop computer. If you’re like one of my offspring, your desktop may be proof of that. To practice electronic minimalism, create folders for loose documents, and use folders within folders. But first, delete as many unnecessary, out-of-date documents, bookmarks, and email messages as possible. I DIG that electronic wadding up and shredding of paper sound my MacBook Pro makes whenever I empty the trash. Like a Pavlov dog, I’m motivated to trash things just to hear the sound.

“Zero email inbox” is a futile, overly perfectionist goal, but if you typically have more than 20-40 messages in your inbox, delete more often and create and use more folders. Same with website bookmarks. Delete those you haven’t used in a long time and put the the remaining ones into folders. This makes it easier to avoid mindless web surfing. Same with applications. Some people have over a hundred apps. I find that odd because the fewer you use, the easier it is to quickly and easily access them. Maybe some mega app users would say they use folders and don’t have a problem, but most people probably use 10% of their apps 90% of the time. Why not just remove most of the 90%?

Electronic minimalism is based on the premise that fewer docs, email messages, website bookmarks, and applications makes it easier to find things, get one’s work done, and then enjoy life off-line.

Scheduling minimalism. As an introvert, and often to the GalPal’s regret, this one comes relatively easily for me. This is the countercultural practice of not committing to many activities—whether one’s own, or a partner’s, or one’s children’s. It’s saying to oneself, “I’d like to attend that event, participate in that weekly activity, or go on that trip, but I’m okay missing out on that fun because the busyness trade-off isn’t worth it.” Obviously, “too busy” is a subjective concept. The key is to know your particular physical and social limits and to intentionally err on the side of underscheduling.

Interpersonal minimalism. This is the related, countercultural practice of purposely focusing on a limited number of close friendships. I’ve written about the quality versus quantity of friendships conundrum before here. Young people’s embrace of social media has made this type of minimalism especially rare. Many high school and college aged young adults have a thousand plus Facebook “friends”. Interpersonal minimalism means focusing most of your friendship activity on people who you interact with face-to-face on a weekly basis.

Stripping down activities creates momentum which leads to additional ideas for simplifying not just one’s garage, but one’s life. In what other aspects of your life has less proven more?

[My favorite book on minimalism—Francine Jay’s The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide]

Stoicism, Minimalism, and Dried Mangos

Happy Thanksgiving. Extra credit points if you’ve been reading me over the years and remember this is my favorite holiday.

As I age, my wants and needs are shifting. I want less. Which is cool because there’s less need to make and stash mad money.

Maybe it’s all the Stoicism and minimalism I read, think and occasionally write about. I used to think I needed a big house on the water, a nice car, and silk underwear (not really, I just like the way that rounded out the sentence).

At the same time, I am not quite Seneca. I haven’t self actualized or achieved an otherworldly Stoic or minimalist form of enlightenment. I want perfect health. I want to grow the blog readership without posting pictures of bikini-clad snowboarders*. I want an even nicer small to medium-sized house, preferably on water. I want a nicer car. I’m in the process of building a nicer road bike. I want a mini iPad, but I’m waiting until the retina version comes out next year sometime. When I browse Sunset Magazine, I want a personal chef to cook different vegetarian meals for me every day. I want a weekly massage for the rest of my live long days and a steady supply of dried mangos and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies from the hippy food co-op.

Which leaves my needs, which again I’m happy to report, keep shrinking. I need my wife and daughters to be happy and healthy, I need friends to workout with, I need a bathtub of really hot water coupled with good reading material most every night, and I need clean sheets and a comfy bed. And an amendment to the last pgraph. In light of the last three or four days, I need a steady supply of dried mangos.

Thanks as always for reading.

* Six months ago or so I wrote a post titled “Education Slowdown” based on a Wall Street Journal article about how some young people are avoiding college because of the costs. One character in the story was snowboarding nearly half the year. I wrote maybe there are some fringe benefits to his lifestyle and attached a picture of two scantily clad young women on snowboards. Gradually it captured the attention of horny young men (or old men, or young women, or old women) all over the world. I was crushed that people were way more interested in bikinis than my amazing insights into better schools, families, and communities. Initially, I was caught up in the rise in readership and mindlessly road the fleshy wave. Then the artificially inflated readership stats started to gnaw a bit. So, with a brief apology to the Snow Queens, I deleted the pic from the post. Since the deleted post was still Google’s 13th highest ranked link under “snowboard” and “snowboarder”, the bikini-lovers kept coming. So I pulled the plug on the whole post and single-handedly caused a spike in global sexual repression.

Uncle!

Growing up, that’s what I had to scream to get my older, more muscle-brained brother to temporarily stop pulverizing me. The other night, the youngest, the oldest-Betrothed, and I streamed an episode of Wonder Years. I said to youngest daughter, “Every time you watch Wayne, think Uncle D because they’re one and the same.” If you don’t know Wonder Years and aren’t familiar with Wayne, fix that.

One time, in my late elementary or junior high years, I frantically called my mom, a secretary, at work, “This time he means it! He’s really gonna kill me!” Her somewhat shaken co-worker said, “Aren’t you going to go home?” To which she replied, “No, he’ll be fine.” Yeah, if by “fine” you mean found unconscious in the fetal position on the kitchen floor. Once, when the most mad I had ever been, I remember “Wayne” saying to me, “If you hit me, you better knock me out, because if I get up I’m going to kill you.” What’s the statue of limitations on something like that?

Our last fight was when he was 19 or 20 and I was 16 or 17. All I remember is flying across the family room. My girlfriend was aghast. Everyone of the innumerable beatdowns will fuel me when racing Iron-person Canada in late August as I desperately try to level the score by beating Wayne’s time.

But I digress. My most recent reason for crying uncle has nothing to do with my knumbskull older brother. It has everything to do with this picture, taken while on the Eastern Sierra climbing trip I blogged about a month ago.

Living REALLY large

If you’re a regular reader, you know I’ve been going through a transformation of sorts—a reordering of my life based upon an amalgam of ancient philosophy, minimalism, and discontent with mindless consumerism. All of that exhausting, status quo fighting non-sense is now in my RV rearview mirror, thanks to a reverse Paul of Tarsus-like conversion inspired by seeing this badass rig up close and personal.

Uncle! I give up on trying to live more simply so that others may more simply live. My new motto is “You only live once. Embrace the bling. Less is less, more is more.” Admittedly, a tad wordy, but in the spirit of my conversion, if some words are good, more are better!

My plan is to find a similarly equipped rig on Craigslist. Well, maybe a little bigger. If you know of one that has a flip down plasma t.v. built in so that I can watch Will Smith movies outdoors, holla’.

A smaller ecological footprint be damned. Greater energy independence be damned. As one of my friends says, “Only when we’ve used up all the carbon-based energy, will we have real incentive to find alternatives.”

If you’ll excuse me. I’ve got a lot of shopping to do for the inside of my new rig-to-be. And no bro, you can’t roadtrip with me. You should have considered the possibility I’d end up living really large when you were floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee.