Are You 50 Years Old?

Or stupendous and sixty? Or sublime and seventy? Or extraordinary and eighty?

If so, I highly recommend two essays.

  1. Your Professional Decline Is Coming (Much) Sooner Than You Think by Arthur C. Brooks.

  2. How to Practice by Ann Patchett.

Both beautifully nudge the reader to contemplate the end-of-life. Patchett’s piece is the single best thing I’ve ever read on decluttering as an intentional act of preparing to die. If you think you might die someday, forget Marie Kondo, just sink deeply into Patchett’s story.

Patchett had me from the jump when she described the stages of life as “. . . youth, middle age, and . . . the downhill slalom.”

Ski on dear reader and read on.

Tuesday Required Reading and Viewing

1. Bet you can’t guess the top global health story of 2020.

2. Bet you can’t guess the ‘secret’ to longevity.

3. Bluetits and Bluebells: Essex’s open water swimmers – a photo essay. Remember, I don’t write the headlines, I just share them.

4. It’s not that hard to buy nothing. After reading the top comments, a suggestion. Dear wealthy people, advertise your minimalism at your own risk. The non-wealthy are (still) not having it.

5. The future of electric cars. This really good ‘free’ advice proves you don’t always get what you pay for.

I May Not Have Been Completely Truthful

I didn’t spend any money yesterday, but I did shop. And I got very close to spending a lot. So I probably don’t deserve that “counter-cultural-minimalist icon” statue the art world commissioned on my behalf.

Truth be told, I went so far as to put an expensive carbon frame bike in my Colorado Cyclist shopping cart. But I couldn’t pull the trigger. Sometimes when I put something in an online cart and don’t complete the purchase, the next day the vendor sends me a message that includes a deeper discount to help me decide. Alas, nothing from Colorado Cyclist yet.

Shifting gears, pun-intended, despite being cynical about most fads, I find myself on the precipice of embracing one of the biggest trends in cycling—gravel riding. I concede, sometimes the crowd is right. What’s not to like about riding in nature free of heavy metal objects hurtling by at high speeds? Not to mention all the adventures the cool bikepacking kids are having. I wanna be a cool kid.

But I can’t decide if I should get a Santa Cruz Stigmata or a Santa Cruz Highball. What say you gravel riding reader? I deserve at least partial credit for narrowing it down to one California city, don’t cha’ think? Juliet has me leaning Highball.

Back to my mea culpa. This morning, before I got out of bed at 6am, I spent $47 on this. Yes indeedy, I am taking it on myself to brighten your winter.

How Much I Spent Today

How much of our consumption is the result of social contagion? More than we care to admit.

My day was wonderfully counter-cultural. $0 spent out-of-pocket. 

Lest I not kid myself about my minimalist street cred, the digital cash register was continuously updating in the background. The YMCA membership, property taxes, utilities, groceries, coffee beans, auto/house/health insurance, gasoline, internet and streaming services, digital and print subscriptions, the family’s cell-phones. And I’m sure I’m not accounting for some other recurring expenses.

Still, don’t I deserve some credit for saying “no thank you” to the legions of marketers and their super sales?   

 

Weekend Assorted Links

1. Everything you think you know about obesity is wrong. So damn substantive, I should probably just stop here. A must read for anyone interested in being a more intelligent, caring human being. Here’s some context:

“About 40 years ago, Americans started getting much larger. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 80 percent of adults and about one-third of children now meet the clinical definition of overweight or obese. More Americans live with “extreme obesity“ than with breast cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and HIV put together.

And the medical community’s primary response to this shift has been to blame fat people for being fat. Obesity, we are told, is a personal failing that strains our health care system, shrinks our GDP and saps our military strength. It is also an excuse to bully fat people in one sentence and then inform them in the next that you are doing it for their own good. That’s why the fear of becoming fat, or staying that way, drives Americans to spend more on dieting every year than we spend on video games or movies. Forty-five percent of adults say they’re preoccupied with their weight some or all of the time—an 11-point rise since 1990. Nearly half of 3- to 6- year old girls say they worry about being fat.

The emotional costs are incalculable.”

2. This cult comes highly recommended. I count myself a member. The top reader comments are equally interesting.

3. HOW award—headline of the week. With each tweet, Kavanaugh’s chances lessen. Please keep tweeting.

4. Can Ethiopia’s new leader, a political insider, change it from the inside out? Great opening:

“On the morning of his first day of school, when he was 7, Abiy Ahmed heard his mother whispering into his ears.

‘You’re unique, my son,’ he recalled her saying. ‘You will end up in the palace. So when you go to school, bear in mind that one day you’ll be someone which will serve the nation.’

With that preposterous prophesy for a boy growing up in a house without electricity in a tiny Ethiopian village, she kissed him on his head and sent him on his way.”

5. Jon M. Chu, who directed Crazy Rich Asians, shot a short film entirely on an iPhone XMax. Which greatly impressed John Gruber:

“The democratization of professional quality video cameras for filmmaking is one of the great technical achievements of the last two decades. 20 years ago you’d have had to spend thousands of dollars on film to make a short movie that looks this good.”

6. It’s often difficult to pick a major (concentration of study) in college. Here’s a new option that will likely prove popular.

How to Retire in Your 30s With $1 Million in the Bank

The very good headline of this New York Times article on the FIRE—financial independence retire early—movement. 

As a minimalist and student of Stoicism, I’ve been intrigued by and read lots about this movement. I’ve even locked horns with the movement’s most popular spokesperson. Steven Kurutz does a nice job explaining the phenomenon. And he provides lots of good links for readers who want to dig deeper.

There’s lots to admire about FIRE folks, but too many of the movement’s advocates  wrongly assume anyone can save $1m and retire in their 30’s. They argue on their numerous blogs that people can do it if they only follow their steps which start with securing a high paying job usually in engineering or computer software. To which Kurutz writes:

“They are. . . benefiting from an lengthy bull run in the stock market and, in some cases, the privilege of class, race, gender and background. It’s difficult to retire at 40 if you work a minimum-wage job, say, or have crushing student-loan debt, or did not have the same opportunities as others because you grew up poor in a crime-ridden neighborhood.”

Those two sentences will not go unchallenged by the FIRE orthodoxy. Probably skimping on humanities and social science courses in college, FIRE zealots tend to overlook the fact that the US economy is not a level playing field. Their counter arguments will not be convincing. It’s their blindspot. 

It’s okay that they have a blindspot, because there’s a lot to admire about the movement, including the practitioners’ disciplined saving, their rejection of mindless consumerism, their emphasis on family, and their determined nonconformity especially in creating non-work identities.

 

 

 

What Home Buyers Get Wrong

Six months on in the new crib, I’m ready to educate my brother who is allegedly studying design. This is for him, but I’ve been posting so infrequently of late, feel free to eavesdrop. Bro, just send a check for whatever you think my insights are worth.

Home buyers focus too narrowly on total square feet, too often thinking the bigger the better. We moved to a slightly smaller home, but it feels larger because we regularly use much more of the total area. In other words, there’s no wasted space. And even though there’s less total square footage, the kitchen is quite a bit larger. The beauty of the kitchen layout is you can open every drawer and the dishwasher and the refrigerator and still have two-three feet all around. No more sucking everything in when moving the silverware from the dishwasher to the drawer. In fact, now there’s nothing stopping me from packing on an extra 40-50 lbs this winter.

Our new master bathroom is about 60% the size of our former one. And it’s perfect. That other 40% was wasted space for the purpose of what, a slightly higher sales price? The new one has just enough room to do everything comfortably, and when it comes time to clean, it’s a breeze because damn near everything is in reach.

Homebuyers don’t realize small things make a big difference. Especially when combined together. Case in point, dimmable lights. Mercy me, how did I live in an on-off world all those years? There’s nothing like entering the bathroom at 5:30a, flipping the switch, and being met by a faint pre-dawn-like light. Same when preparing to retire at night. There’s nothing like brushing one’s teeth under a faint post-sunset-like glimmer. Every light should be dimmable.

Another lesson. You can’t put a value on genuine quiet, and on natural beauty, and on the edifying result of the two combined.

Another lesson. You can’t have genuine quiet and natural beauty without sacrificing some community. There are always trade-offs. Long time readers of the humble blog will know I value community. Is sacrificing some community worth the return in quiet, natural beauty, peace? Stay tuned, time will tell.

What else do home buyers get wrong?

 

Going Against Type

It’s human nature to extrapolate what we know about one another to predict the future. More simply, thanks to our pea brains, we put people in boxes. Case in point, my “friends” love nothing more than making fun of me for my sometimes frugal ways.

Truth be told though, I can open my wallet wide open, it’s just that it takes me a lot longer than the average person to be convinced of something’s value. In the last 18 months I’ve cracked the wallet wide open at least four times. From most to least expensive:

• New crib. Hard to express how fortunate I feel to have been able to make this purchase, the largest of our lives. I looked at enough waterfront properties in Olympia over the last several years to know the agreed upon price represented excellent value. We won’t make money on it because of real estate commissions and a 1.78% excise tax, but we won’t lose any either.

• New car. 2015 Acura TLX. It would be nice if I lived close enough to work to walk, run, or cycle. And close enough to everything else to ZipCar. But the crib is 4-5 miles from civilization and work is 30 miles. Amazing vehicle, no regrets, 90-95% as nice as luxury cars twice as expensive. The linked Edmunds review summary is a joke, my last tank, almost exclusively highway, I got 39.3 mpg. At that rate I can push 600 miles before finding a Costco gas station. I’ve averaged 35-36 from beginning. Perfectly quiet; excellent acceleration if you switch from “eco” to “normal”; buttery, Barbara Streisand-like smooth. Only blemish is a tech glitch. Occasionally, brake warning alert flashes on at random times. Last software update didn’t fix that. And since Dan is wondering, yes, a lot of women check me out while driving my new ride, but that’s been true since the first VW Bug beater, so can’t really credit Acura for that.

• 27″ iMac Retina. Three days old. Just read this article on it. Wowza, like being in Kenya. Never thought I’d own another desktop, but probably shouldn’t put myself in a box. Dig it.

• Last, but not least, this bad boy. The new crib sits amidst a lot of large trees. The wind blows most afternoons. This thing is total kick ass. One of my fav purchases in a long time.

So to my friends, put that list of purchases in your collective pipe and smoke it!

 

 

 

Nostalgia’s Lure

The move is 95% complete, meaning apart from my fancy pants $10 pen and running gloves, I can find most things most of the time. It also means I’m piecing my routines back together, including the morning green tea latte and the evening viewing of Grand Design.

Taking stock of everything we own has inspired lots of thinking. In particular, taking stock of our photographs and related mementos of people and experiences. I can’t help but wonder, why are we so insistent on taking, storing, framing, and otherwise archiving so many pictures? More simply, why does the past have such a hold on us?

Positive psychologists keep telling us that meaningful relationships with family and friends is the key to happiness. I wonder, do the seemingly endless images, photographs, and related memorabilia of people from our past, whether alive or not, constitute some sort of community? I’d be more inclined to think that they represent some sort of social capital, if we looked at them and talked about them with some regularity, but we don’t because we have way too many. Most of them are out of sight and mind all of the time.

And I wonder if there’s an opportunity cost to nostalgia for the past. I’ve wondered this for at least 15 years, about the time I started going to my childrens’ recitals and school plays. Inevitably, many of my peers arrived armed with tri-pods and the smallest, newest video players, working hard to record the events to the best of their abilities. Sometimes I thought those events were pretty grueling live, and couldn’t imagine gathering friends and family to watch them again at a later date. Watching legions of amateur videographers made me wonder if you can be fully present when in “recording” or “documenting” mode?

There’s also an opportunity cost to the ease of digital storage today. An author of a recently released book states that U.S. citizens take more pictures in two minutes than were taken by everyone in the world in the 19th century. The end result, is endless hours of video and tens of thousands of images that make any one minute of video or any particular image much less valuable. We’re left with no needles, just digital haystacks.

I’m always skeptical of wildly popular trends, and mindfulness is getting close to qualifying, but I’m down with it because it’s main emphasis is on being fully present, meaning not living in the past or future, which of course sounds much easier than it is. What if we were to delete some of our images we haven’t looked at for years or chuck entire photo albums from the 1980s? Could it help us be more mindful, more present with those we will interact with today?

Ultimately, I suspect our penchant for photography and videography are manifestations of our fear of being alone and of dying someday. If I’m right, as we age, those impulses will intensify. But taking more pictures won’t extend our lives, so I’m going to swim against the status quo current. I’m going to take fewer pictures to both appreciate them more and be more mindful.

I’m not trying to convince you to join me in taking and storing fewer pictures. Like a lot of what I write, I could have this all wrong. Maybe my minimalist tendencies are getting the best of me. Maybe you’ll end up convincing me that I need to stop with the incessant questions and get a lot more snap happy.

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In Praise of Digital Minimalism

I just spent five days* cycling on some of Central Oregon’s most beautiful roadways and I don’t have a single picture to show for it. Mount Bachelor and the surrounding mountain lakes were spectacular, as was the Prineville Resevoir, Paulina Lake, and McKenzie Pass.

I wish I had taken a few, but three things conspired against my picture taking—limited jersey pocket space, riding most of it at a very brisk pace, and a reaction against camera happy people who fail to live in the moment because they’re preoccupied with capturing “the moment” for other people and future reference.

I always marveled at the phalanx of parent poparazzi** at my children’s athletic competitions, artistic performances, and graduations. I wanted to ask what’s it like trying to organize all of those images? And even more perplexing, I wondered when exactly they planned on breaking out the 7th grade piano recital video? At halftime of the Superbowl when all of their friends are huddled in front of their television? “Hey, want to watch something even better than Beyonce?!”

In the interest of quality over quantity, computer sanity, and realistically accessing images with some regularity, I’m considering a limit on my digital images. No more than 500. That would make at least one of my daughter’s nauseous. Yes, I’ve heard of the cloud, but what good does it do to have tens of thousands of images or hours upon hours of video if you hardly ever make the time to access more than a tiny fraction of your digital library?

On Saturday, I’m looking forward to attending my eldest’s college graduation in Minnesota. I’ll probably be the only guy not taking pictures or filming for future reference. Why? Because I want to be fully present and I’ll be surrounded by family and friend fotogs***. I will ride their digital coattails just like you can view the ride I took Sunday up and over McKenzie Pass if you click the link in the opening paragraph. The YouTube video shows you some of the fantastic video looping in my head tonight.

* actually four days—I swam, ate, napped, and ate one day while the rest of the gang rode another 100 miles

** damn, that may be my best use of alliteration ever, thank you very much

*** I know how to spell photog, it’s just that sometimes my genius for alliteration gets the best of me