The bigger picture

by Jessica Dang
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flying

It’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae of everyday life.

There’s a traffic jam, someone is rude to us, the milk has run out. Understandably annoying.

Some problems are a little bigger—ongoing stress from work, money troubles, or finding fulfilment are legitimate concerns.

We don’t make things easier for ourselves. The more we have, the more we want. When things don’t meet our expectations, perfectly good doesn’t seem good enough.

But what if we stopped for a moment to look at the bigger picture?

the view from 10,000 feet   

Anything, even a tiny insect, looks big if you’re close up. Zooming in on something until it takes up your whole focus is a recipe for unhappiness. Speed bumps become huge hurdles. Molehills become mountains.

But what if you stepped 10 feet away? Or 1,000 feet? Or 10,000 feet? Suddenly the troubles that seemed so big now seem so small. Only what really matters, the really big stuff, will stand out.

To step back, ask yourself, ‘Will this matter tomorrow? Next month? Next year?’. What’s really important here? That you used a few hundred dollars, or that you experienced something you’ll always remember? That you got a new pair or shoes or that you changed someone’s life? That you win this argument or that you had people who loved you?

A worry or a problem may seem irritating or insurmountable now, but chances are you won’t remember it in a few weeks, let alone across our whole lifetime.

Sometimes, the solution to a problem isn’t to dive into it, but to step back from it. Get a new perspective, or let it go. You’ll fly lighter because of it.

Book I’m reading now: The Magic of Thinking Big by David J Schwartz

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What minimalism taught me about love

by Jessica Dang
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love

What does it mean to love?

To love is to care. To care about something, to care for someone, to appreciate its importance in your life and to be grateful for it.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of things that we say we love and care about, but we don’t act upon it.

Life gets in the way. We get distracted by work, money, commitments and a thousand other things which take our time and attention away from the things we care about.

In this way, minimalism can save us.

Giving time to the ones you love
When working long hours to pay the bills takes our time away from our friends, partners, and families, minimalism gives it back.

A minimalist lifestyle asks, ‘Do you need to be working so hard? What for?‘.
To pay the bills,‘ you might say, or ‘because I have to,‘ or even, ‘what else would I do instead?
Well, what if your bills weren’t so high? What if you didn’t have to? What if you had better things to do?

When I was growing up, my parents owned a hotel and restaurant and worked long hours from noon until past midnight. They would drop dinner off and go back to work. We didn’t see them for most of the day, and they were too tired to come to any of our shows or football games. They missed us growing up, but what for? We didn’t want or need much, but they couldn’t resist the feeling of security they got from earning more and more money. In the end, everything turned out okay, but there’ll always memories we never made because they were away working.

Doing the things you love
Unless you love your work, you probably spend most of your time doing something you dislike to fund a few weeks off a year to do something you do like. For a lot of people, it’s hard to find more than a few snatched hours during the week to do the things they enjoy.

A minimalist lifestyle asks, ‘Are you working to live, or are you living to work?‘.

Your time is limited, so making time for you means you are prioritising yourself. Do you have something that you’ve always wanted to do? Then for goodness’ sake, get started and do it. You’ll be making the most of being alive, which is the same as saying that you love life.

Loving yourself
It sounds like I’m telling people to quit their jobs, but work isn’t the enemy. It’s the things that people get obsessed with—possessions, status, wealth—that trap them into lifestyles that they’re not actually happy with. It turns them into people who they never imagined they’d be.

Distraction is the enemy. If we eliminate the distractions in life, take away the need for designer clothes and the status car, we’ll find that we’ll uncover the person who we are underneath.

Being true to who you are, who you’re supposed to be, surrounded by who and what you love is a form of loving yourself. Which is the most important love of all.

Book I’m reading now: The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own

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What minimalism taught me about dying

by Jessica Dang
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hands

The fear of death used to keep me up at night. I wondered what it would be like to live forever.

Imagine, the first thirty years of your life, you’re young and naïve. You make friends, go to college, and learn about the world.

In the next fifty years you get a job, you travel, you have a family. There are ups and downs, but you’re in love and people love you. You’re content.

Then things start to change. As you live on, your family passes away and you miss them. You try to start another, and they’re beautiful too, but they too shall pass and so on. You eventually give up starting a family, because what’s the point if the people you love keep dying?

You find some time to travel, but with daily distractions and so much time to do it, you think, ‘I’ll get around to it one day’. But there’s nothing pushing you. You learn and experience more, but eventually you get tired of people’s drama, wars on the news, you’ve seen it all before. You try many hobbies, but with all the time in the world, what was exciting at first eventually becomes boring.

If everybody is immortal, things are arguably worse. You’re okay for the first fifty, maybe one hundred, or even one thousand years, but eventually you start to get bored and you wonder if there is more to life than being stuck with the same people for eternity. Even if you do love them, they’ll be around forever, so you don’t see a point in spending all of your time with them. You don’t even bother recording birthdays or special moments because you’ve had, and will have, so many.

Think about this for a moment, and you’ll realise, there’s a danger with living forever—having unlimited time makes life tedious.

  • What would have bought you joy instead bores you after a while.
  • What you would have made time for gets put off indefinitely.
  • What would have been special to you, becomes so normal that you don’t notice.

Time, money, and effort are in almost limitless supply, so you don’t do much that matters to you, and not much matters anyway since it’ll either be around forever, or you’ll own/see/do the same things thousands of times.

Living forever is not all it’s cracked up to be.

the good news is that we don’t live forever

…which is our best chance to enjoy life. We can cherish it, for all it’s beauty and horrors because the time we get is all we’ll have.

Everything has to fit into 20-100 years (we have no idea how much) because there are no second chances and there’s nowhere to put anything off in the future.

So what has minimalism got to do with this? When time, money and effort are limited, living a minimalist lifestyle directs those resources to accomplish what you want in life, without wasting it on things that don’t matter.

Spending half your life working to pay off your bills? Wish you could travel but can’t find the time? Feeling too tired to do the things you’ve always wanted? Wish you could spend more time with your family?

Well then, how about downsizing your house, or not having a flashy car, or forgoing some new clothes this year? Spending less means having to work less. It means wasting less time.

These sacrifices may seem trivial for what you get in return—a happier life. But just look around you and you’ll see how many people spend their entire lifetimes collecting trivialities.

They spend their one precious life trying to obtain things that don’t really make them happy, and don’t matter in the end.

These people are living life like they’re immortal, like they have all the time in the world. The sad thing is, they don’t. Death can come at any time. You could be crossing the street when a drunk drivers turns a corner, or you could ‘get a funny feeling in your chest’ literally any day. We are already dying. There is no time to waste.

Depressing? Death doesn’t mean that life is futile. Rather, it gives life meaning. Having a deadline (in the literal sense of the word) is the kick up the backside we need to focus on the things that matter. That, essentially, is what living a minimalist lifestyle means—to focus our precious resources (time, money, and effort) on the things that are worthwhile.

Minimalism has taught me—no, trained me—to make my life count. The reality is that we don’t live forever, but that’s okay. Life is much better for it.

Like this post? I am working on a book that will feature similar topics, please comment with feedback or anything you’d like to see in the book. Current status: first draft. 

Book I’m reading right now: The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

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There’s no such thing as karma

by Jessica Dang
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 karma

…at least, not in the way that most people think of it.

There isn’t some cosmic accountant who keeps track of all the good and bad things that you do, then deals out rewards and punishment in accordance.

You can’t ‘build up good karma’ for doing something nice, and you can’t call karma a bitch because something bad happened to you.

Bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people. It’s sad, but it’s the truth. No one is keeping score for you.

There is some good news. The principle of karma actually refers to the causes and effects of your actions—although you can’t control everything that happens to you, you can influence it.

If you choose to be selfish, rude, or mean (yes, it is a choice) you may get away with it at first, but when it comes to people, what goes around comes around. Don’t be surprised if people are selfish, rude, or mean towards you.

If you choose to be generous, kind, and forgiving, people will remember that. And when the time comes when you need their help, you won’t be alone. Be giving because you want to create a better environment to live in, not because you want to build up your ‘karma points’ and bank on some future reward.

Whether or not you believe in heaven and hell in the afterlife, cause and effect is something that’s happening to you right now. Your decisions today affect your life tomorrow.

The saying is true, you reap what you sow.

 

What’s left after minimalism?

by Jessica Dang
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So you’ve pared and pared and pared. You got rid of most of your stuff and you stopped buying what you didn’t need. It was hard work, and it took years, but now you only own the essentials.

Congratulations, you’re a minimalist, now what?

Do you just sit in your minimalist apartment/travel van/atop your only suitcase, twiddle your thumbs and admire the empty space around you?

Of course not. What’s left after minimalism is… all the stuff that matters. 

That was the whole point. To get rid of distractions, so that you have the time, money and energy to do what you’ve always wanted.

For me, that means writing a book. Yes friends, I am working on putting together a guide on minimalism, digging deep on how it relates to various aspects of life—work, money, travel, relationships… After nearly seven years of writing this blog, it’s about time. More updates to follow.

Even if you haven’t reached the level you’re aiming for yet, it’s worth thinking about what you’re going through all the effort for. Remember, it’s so that you can be who you really are.

Now go write, sing, paint, cook, travel, dance, play, create, start a business, learn French or whatever else it is you’ve always wanted to do.

Go spend time with your partner, friends and family. Meet new people, try new things. Make the most of life. Be happy. That’s what comes next.

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Minimalist Meditations — On Control

by Jessica Dang
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control

Minimalism is often misunderstood. On the surface, it looks like it’s just about decluttering your house, but that’s not what it’s all about.

Yes, having fewer things can improve your life. That’s not the end of the story. A minimalist lifestyle is not just about having fewer things, it’s about having more control in your life.

Think about it. What’s the point in having less? The answer is to have more of what you want—time, good relationships, freedom to be able to afford and choose to do what you want.

There is so much more to minimalism than getting rid of stuff. A minimalist lifestyle is a statement to yourself, and those around you, that you care less about what people think of you, and more about living the life you want.

5 ways minimalism helps you gain control

…of your choices:

Everyday, people let TV shows and advertisements manipulate them. They let marketing romance them into thinking they need the latest gadget, or that having expensive shoes makes them accomplished as people. They’re not really choosing what they want from life, they’re being told.

Minimalists aren’t so easily tricked. We know that in the long run, material things don’t make us happy. We choose what matters to us, and we choose to spend our time and effort on things that are meaningful. We make our own choices.

…of your time:

When people care too much about what society thinks of their job/house/car, they work too hard to prove their worth. Almost everything they do is in the name of appearing successful. Deep down, they know it’s not really worth sticking to a job they hate for the best 40 years of their life, but they do it anyway because what’s the alternative? To not have fancy stuff to show off with?

Minimalists have a sense of self-worth that is unrelated to how much we earn or own. We don’t let TV, neighbours, or society tell us what to do/have/aim for/live for to be successful. We already feel successful because we get to choose what we want to do with our lives. We have more to give. We don’t waste time on pointless things.

…of your finances:

How many people are living paycheck to paycheck not because they aren’t earning enough, but because they’re spending too much? In my last corporate job, almost everybody around me moaned about being ‘broke’ all the time when they were earning more than 80% of people in the country. It was sad. What were these people spending their money on? Expensive suits, branded perfume, overpriced drinks, phone contracts, dry cleaning their expensive suits… you name it, they spent money on it.

A minimalist’s resources are spent on better things than material gain. It doesn’t matter how much we earn, we buy only what we need. We respond to things that have value and tune out things that aren’t—whether it’s meaningful experiences via travelling, giving to those in need, or having the financial freedom to just work less.

…of your happiness:

People get sad or angry when they don’t get what they want. And if they do get it, it’s not long before they wan’t something else. It’s a constant cycle of desire for more that never leads to being happy.

Minimalists take control of their own happiness by appreciating what they have. We may strive for more out of life (minimalism doesn’t mean settling for less than we deserve), but at the same time we know that we’re lucky to be where we are today. Our happiness is in our own hands.

…of your legacy:

I quit my corporate job because the work was totally meaningless. I probably would have made more of an impact doing something like making YouTube videos or banging my head against the table. Will your life’s work matter in the end?

What you leave behind is up to you. Minimalism is about taking charge of your life, and your legacy. You can choose to care less about what others want, and more about living how you want. You don’t have to make a big impact on the world. Even if you just made one person’s life better, or one garden patch, as long as you lived life to the full, you will leave a good legacy.

It’s impossible to control everything. You can’t decide where the road leads, but you can decide which roads to take.

Direction causes destination. Where you’re headed now is where you’ll end up, unless you take control, and steer yourself towards where, or who, you want to be.

So in the last moments of your life, you can answer truthfully: Did you forge your own path or let others dictate it for you?

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Minimalist Meditations — On Giving

by Jessica Dang
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What is the ‘endgame’ for minimalism?

To live a happy life, of course. To be free of distraction, to be able to do what you want without caring what other people think.

Yes, all of these are important. For me though, minimalism is ultimately about giving.

Yes, I can live a happy life. And I do. But it isn’t enough to only be happy by myself. If I want to leave the world a better place than before I entered it, I have to help other people improve their lives.

Imagine if everyone you met left your company in a better condition than before. You would have good friends, and good relationships. People will remember you as the worthy person you are. Not only would you be happy, but they would be too, even if it was just for a while.

You don’t have to be entirely selfless. You don’t have to give away all of your fortune, or your free time. There are a thousand ways to help people, and minimalism helps you find the right way. Your own way.

For me, giving means doing what little I can for others right now, but also working hard on my business, so that one day I will have so much more to give.

There are so many people in the world who have nothing. Instead of spending all your money/time/effort on buying more and more expensive things, you can help people have something.

A minimalist lifestyle also helps Mother Nature. She gives, and most people take, take, take, without thinking about how much we are really hurting ourselves.

The path isn’t easy, but the direction is clear. No matter how you do it, or how little, giving is what minimalism is all about.

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How minimalism redefines success

by Jessica Dang
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‘Success’ is a loaded word these days. It can mean anything—fame, fortune, connections, owning a huge home, or a second car, or a walk-in wardrobe.

In other words, success nowadays is about what you own. To many people, if you have most, or all, of the above, you’re considered successful. If not, you’re probably a failure.

People spend their whole lives trying to live up to these expectations. Everyday, they work hard at their jobs to earn money to add to their pile of stuff. They get into debt, or never pay off the debt they already have, and with every promotion, they upgrade to more expensive things (a bigger house, or the latest gadget). And so the cycle continues of money in/money out every month, without stopping to think, ‘Why am I doing this? Does this make me successful? Does this make me happy?

Here’s the answer: No. You cannot be happy trapped in a rat race. Spending the best years of your life collecting more and more expensive things isn’t going to make you feel fulfilled, especially if you hate your job. Going through ‘the daily grind’ until you’re 65 will only lead to you realising that you’ve grown old without accomplishing much except (at best) a big inheritance tax bill.

It doesn’t have to be like this. What if we could redefine success, so that instead of being about what you own, it’s about what you do, and who you are?

If you could leave the world a better place than before you came, wouldn’t you want to? Why waste your one precious life living up to other people’s expectations, when you could live up to your own?

what is success?

“To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.”

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

In this massive universe, we are just one tiny speck against the infinity of time and space. Our life can be over in a blink of an eye. There’s nothing we can do about that, except make our blip of a lifetime worth something.

Buying stuff for yourself won’t make your life matter—doing something amazing will. Being your true self will.

What does that mean exactly? The answer is different for everyone. If your inner self is a painter, writer, dancer or singer, you know the answer. If you hate your job, then find one you enjoy that actually makes a difference. For me, being my true self means ditching my job, and becoming financially free so that I can travel, write, spend time with those I love, help people, and complete my bucket list.

Minimalism is about getting rid of distractions. When you don’t care about what other people think, you stop wasting your money, time, and effort on meaningless things. You stop blaming other people and start looking at yourself. You wake up to what’s really important.

With that, success means something completely different. Minimalism helps you remember what you’re living for.

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What I learned from 7 years of minimalism

by Jessica Dang
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When I started this blog back in 2009, I was on my way to college and living away for the first time. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life. I only had a vague idea that I wanted to enjoy it, whatever that might mean.

Eventually I came to understand that the key to making the most of life is to be sure that there isn’t anything holding me back—to make sure that I am free.

When I look back at my earlier posts, I see that in some ways I’m still the same person, and in others I have grown a lot. Minimalism for me started out as just decluttering a few things so that it was easier for me to travel. Over the years, it has taken on a deeper meaning beyond getting rid of stuff. It’s a tool I used to get the most of what I want from life.

Like every practice, the beginning was easy—how to pare down, how to fit everything I owned into a suitcase, etc. The harder stuff came slowly over the years—like how to be grateful for what I have, and how to let go.

Here are some of the easier lessons I learned quickly, and the more advanced versions that took a few more years for me to put into practice.

Lesson 1: Essentials
Easy: Having only what I need—identifying the useful from the useless. Easy.
Advanced: Learning that what I need changes, and adapting to it—growing an awareness to what I wanted from life at different times was harder. When I travelled a lot, being able to move with just one bag was essential, now I’ve settled down and running a business, things are different. Without material distractions, I am constantly reviewing my goals and making sure I make steps towards achieving them. I can’t hang onto ideals like having  less than 100 things like I used to (there is such a thing as being too attached to minimalism) but I also have to be aware that the things I own don’t end up owning me.

Lesson 2: Life
Easy: Decluttering my home—throwing things in charity bags was easy, and so was not buying new things that I didn’t want just because it was fashionable or because other people had it.
Advanced: Decluttering my life—my distracted mind, unnecessary commitments, toxic relationships, are all things that were harder to get rid of. I took up meditation to focus my mind, I refused to do more work than I had to, and I phased out people who were emotionally taxing on me. It might sound a little selfish, but because of it I was able to concentrate living a better life, and helping other people who needed it more.

Lesson 3: Time
Easy: Minimalism helped me make time for what matters—not caring what other people thought, and learning to say no lead to fewer commitments, which gave me more time to do what I wanted, and what I felt was important to me.
Advanced: Once I had time, I needed to actually make the most of it—I had goals and dreams, and after minimalising distractions I had no excuses. It was time for the harder stuff. I studied hard and graduated. I worked and travelled. I trained and ran (a lot). I quit my job and started my own business. People who misunderstand minimalism are missing the harder lesson—it’s not about getting rid of stuff, it’s about making room for what’s important. And then actually doing it.

Lesson 4: Relationships
Easy: People can’t be ‘converted’ to minimalism—I learned very quickly that talking about minimalism in daily life to people who haven’t heard of it before made me sound like a new-age hippie.
Advanced: I can show them the benefits, or just not care—instead of just talking about it, I learned that a better approach would be to live my life how I want, and if people take notice or ask questions, then they are ready to listen. Otherwise, I’ve learned to not really care too much about what people do and how they live their lives.

Lesson 5: Charity
Easy: Practicing minimalism to make a better life for myself—I’ve lived abroad, moved several times, and now I live in a beautiful apartment. I don’t work 9-5, I wake up at whatever time I want, and take holidays whenever I want. Save a small student loan, I have no debt, and I don’t live paycheck to paycheck.
Advanced: Practicing minimalism to make a better life for others—instead of wasting my money on car payments or branded perfumes, I can donate to people in need. Instead of wasting my time on pretending to be busy at work, I run my own business which gives me more time to give to people I can help. There is still so much more I can give, and instead of just talking about it, minimalism has helped me find the path to do it. You wouldn’t believe how much time/money/effort/anguish you save when you don’t care about impressing anyone.

Lesson 6: Sentimentality
Easy: Digitizing—books, CDs etc. I buy digitally if I can help it. I scan important papers and take photos of things to make it easier to throw them away.
Advanced: Learning to let go altogetherI’ve come a long way but still have a lot to learn. I just can’t bring myself to throw away some things from my childhood, or keepsakes that mean a lot to me. So I keep them. There are no minimalist ‘rules’ to dictate me, or anyone. I’m not as strong as some people who really aren’t attached to anything. Maybe I’ll never be like that, but for now I don’t care. For me, learning to let go is an ongoing practice.

Lesson 7: Gratefulness
Easy: Learning about mindfulness and gratefulness—I’ve read dozens of books about the subject, including almost anything published my the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh (I even went to his retreat in Plum Village, France).
Advanced: Actually practicing it—remembering to be mindful, or grateful is hard. Whenever I realise, ‘I should be really grateful right now’, I find myself staring into blank space trying to do it, whatever that means. It’s hard. But I’m slowly getting better at appreciating small things, seeing the beauty in the ordinary, and recognising moments of happiness. I expect to be practicing this lesson for the rest of my life too.

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I’m only passing through

by Jessica Dang
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View from my apartment

Two months into 2016, and I’ve made a lot of progress since quitting my corporate job. I have started my own business, which is going well, and have moved into a new home. It’s much brighter, and more spacious than the last one. The photo above is the beautiful view from the balcony.

Surrounded by a few bags and boxes, realising it’s is everything I own in the world, I’m reminded of a story about a wise man:

A travelling man visits a wise man’s house.

“Where is your furniture?” he asks the wise man.
“Where is yours?” the wise man replies.
“Mine? But I’m only passing through.”
“So am I,” the wise man said, “So am I.”

I’m only passing through

As always, minimalism has served me well. I don’t own as little as I did back when I used to travel a lot, but I still only have what I need. My expenditures are minimal, so I can pretty much afford to live wherever I want, living on my passive income and freelance work.

More importantly than just being easy to move house, minimalism has helped me keep my focus on the things that matter most to me—growing my business, my training (my next marathon is this April), and building a life with my partner. We don’t care about designer clothes, perfume brands or trying to get a good deal on a company car. In the end, none of these things will matter compared to what we’ve accomplished as people.

Moving again has reinforced what I’ve learned about the value of things—that is, they don’t really have value. Apart from loved ones (and sometimes not even them) you can’t physically touch the truly important things in life. You can’t buy it, borrow it, or exchange it for much else. They only matter to you, and that’s what makes them matter the most. 

I want to live my best life. I can do that by being grateful for everyday miracles, because I’ll only have them for a short while. And so do you. Some might think it’s a little sad, but it makes me happy to remember: we’re only passing through.

The winner from last month’s post for my copy of Living on Purpose: Straight Answers to Universal Questions is Josh (@joshisaurus). Please contact me via email/comments and I will post the book to you. Thank you everyone for sharing your stories, there will be more giveaways soon.

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