Minimalist Meditations — March and April

by Jessica Dang
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The latest posts on Minimalist Meditations from March and April:

How do you keep going when things get difficult? If you don’t have a good answer, you won’t last long.”
—Find your reason: Minimalist Meditations on Why

“You can own 1,000 or 10,000 things, so long as everything contributes to your life in a meaningful way.
—Debunking the biggest minimalism myth: Minimalist Meditations on Quality

“There are two ways to be rich—to get everything you want, or to want everything you have.
—There is such thing as a get rich quick scheme: Minimalist Meditations on Money

“Your net worth is not your self worth. Your bank balance has little do with what your true value is, or how rich you really are.
—When money costs too much: Minimalist Meditations on Wealth

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Minimalism and the Pursuit of Perfection

by Jessica Dang
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If you could see the WordPress dashboard for this blog, you’ll find hundreds of crappy drafts. For every post published, I have at least 5-10 drafts that will never see the light of day.

It takes a lot of brainstorming, bad ideas, poking, prodding, and feet dragging to get a single post out. Most of all, it takes time. In fact, I wrote the original idea for this post in 2011. You can imagine how my book is going.

But by being persistent, something eventually comes out of it. If you’re lucky, it might even be good. Sure, there are posts that aren’t as popular as others, but that’s okay, because there are as many posts that exceeded my expectations.

There are two types of pursuits—you either have to get perfect results, or you don’t. If you’re building a bridge, it needs to be precise. Fortunately, most things fall in to the latter type. It’s better to try and get something done, than not doing anything at all because it can’t be perfect.

There’s no such thing as perfection. Art, business, science, life…everything is one big experiment. Sometimes you’ll get something wrong a hundred times before you get it right once. Nobody learned to walk without falling.

Minimalism is the same. Doing a little bit is better than none. You don’t ‘become minimalist’ overnight, or even over a couple of months or years. There’s no final, perfect goal. It’s a continuous practice of shifting your mindset and making the best decisions you can. You’re allowed to have lapses. There are no rules, so who’s to judge you?

Embrace the struggle. Anything worth doing is difficult. The discomfort weeds out the wannabes. The hardship is what makes it an accomplishment. As Roosevelt said,

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”

Book I’m reading now: Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life — Anne Lamott

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Minimal Student has graduated! You can subscribe to weekly updates on the new blog Minimalist Meditations via RSS, email, Twitter or Facebook.

Minimalist Meditations — January and February

by Jessica Dang
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In case you missed the announcement, I have moved on from monthly articles on Minimal Student to weekly updates on my new blog Minimalist Meditations.

Here are the first few posts from January and February:

If you enjoyed these, you can subscribe to the new blog via RSS, email, Twitter or Facebook.

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Minimal Student is graduating

by Jessica Dang
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I started this blog seven years ago at the beginning of my minimalist journey.

It was 2009. I discovered a lifestyle movement that talked about the joy of having less. I learned about how being obsessed with buying and owning material possessions is a recipe for an unhappy life, and it resonated with me. I began to write about it.

At first, I was mainly concerned with stuff and how to get rid of it. I wrote about decluttering and one bag living. It suited my nomadic lifestyle at the time when I was living, working, and exploring several different cities and countries.

Eventually I returned to the UK. I was approaching my mid-20’s, and everyone around me was settling down. I moved into my own apartment with the single suitcase I had been living out of.

I got a corporate job and it was everything I ever wanted—or at least, I thought I wanted. I was paid well and got promoted, but the environment was so tough I began to change as a person. I struggled to find balance. I started buying more things to make up for the creeping unhappiness I felt doing a job which I realised, deep down, was ultimately meaningless. It took a long time, but in the end I found the courage to quit. I ended up starting my own business which gave me the freedom to do what I wanted. I took back control of my own life.

At every stage of my life, my perspective on things shifted. The more I experienced, the more convinced I was that many of the conventional ideas we’re supposed to follow—such as working in a soul sucking job in order to pay your bills and buy stuff until you’re either 65 or dead—didn’t really stand up to scrutiny.

In turn, the direction of Minimal Student has followed me on my quest, moving on from ‘how to declutter’ articles to ones about the tougher questions—what is important in life? What does success really mean? How can I be happy?

I still have more I want to share with the world that isn’t just limited to young people or students. By trying to keep things relevant to the blog name, some of the articles I’ve written have been held back from being able to reach a wider audience. As my readers have grown, the blog has to as well. The Minimal Student community is made of readers of all ages, and from all walks of life. I want to reach out to them too.

So I have decided to start afresh. Don’t worry, Minimal Student isn’t finished. I will always be a student of life and will continue to study what it means to live. However, I will be doing so under a new blog, Minimalist Meditations (www.minimalistmeditations.com) which I am working on expanding the ideas for my book that I’m hoping to finish and publish this year.

To make the transition easier, Minimal Student with continue to exist for a little while, before all of the links will redirect to the new blog URL. All of Minimal Student’s social media will also be renamed.

The good news is that I will be writing a lot more often, and you can keep up with new posts I write and publish by subscribing via RSS or email, or following me on Twitter or Facebook.

I don’t claim to have all of the answers, and in no way have I reached ‘the end’, but I can reflect on what I’ve learned in the past several years and what I, no doubt, will learn in the future. Feel free to join me at Minimalist Meditations on this path towards finding a life of happiness.

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Finding what matters in 2016 and the best books I’ve read this year

by Jessica Dang
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road

There’s a saying that goes, ‘the days are long, but the years are short’, which I didn’t understand when I had my corporate job.

Back then, the days were long, the weeks and months dragged on, and a year seemed like an age. Although I had what most people considered an ideal job, after month after month of unhappiness, I couldn’t carry on. I was at a crossroads, so I chose the road less travelled. I quit.

I don’t have any regrets. I needed to experience everything wrong with a 50+ hours per week office job to realise that it was completely the opposite of what I wanted from life. Scared of facing the truth that I was wasting my life, I lived in denial and I never gave myself the chance to ask myself the important questions—what’s important to me? What do I want in life? Who/what do I want to spend my time on?

There’s a happy ending. With all the time and freedom I had, I started some side ventures which lead to my own investment business, and now I’m making more than my previous salary (and still growing). The best thing is, I have set it all up as a passive income, so that I don’t have to work more than 2-4 hours per week. 

In other words, I’m earning 50% more while working 95% less. 

I also travelled to several different cities/countries, hit my long time goal of reading 52 books in a year, ran both a half marathon and a full marathon, found time to learn more French and Japanese, take swimming and yoga lessons, and so much more, all of which I never would have had the time or energy for before.

My own success is the best remedy for the time I wasted during 2014-2015. Now that I have done well on my own, I have let go of my hang up about never having a successful corporate career. I don’t need one. Everybody is different, but for me, I’ve learned that I am not willing to pay the price.

Whilst all this was going on, quite a few negative things happened during 2016 (politically speaking) in the UK and abroad that I strongly disagreed with. While I did what was in my power, I’ve come to terms with the fact that there are many things outside of my control, and the world isn’t perfect, but that’s okay. As long as I do my best to make the world a better place, and I encourage others to do so too, then slowly things will be better. We’ve made a lot of progress in other areas, and with the right amount of introspection and attitude, the world can only move forwards, not backwards.

2017 will be a continuation of my personal and professional journey. With all of the free time I now have, it’s not a question of if, but when I will do the things that I hope to. I want to do more and give more this year. The best thing is that I don’t have to seek the time, money, or permission to do it. I created that for myself. I’m my own boss now.

Posts of 2016

January: Life begins when…

February: I’m only passing through

March: What I learned from 7 years of minimalism

April: How minimalism redefines success

May: Minimalist Meditations — Giving

June: Minimalist Meditations — On Control

July: What’s left after minimalism?

August: There’s no such thing as karma

September: What minimalism taught me about dying

October: What minimalism taught me about love

November: The bigger picture

Bonus: Searching in 2015

the best books I read in 2016

For the first time in my life, I read 52 books in one year. In the theme of freedom and figuring out what I want from life, here is a selection of some of the most helpful pieces of advice I received this year:

The Obstacle is the Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage – Ryan Holiday. Holiday turns stoic philosophy into practical advice on how to get over difficulties that we face in our lives. It’s okay to have obstacles, and even to be annoyed by them, as long as we face them with the right perspective and get over them with the right action. Wisely, he says, “Doing new things invariably means obstacles. A new path is, by definition, uncleared. Only with persistence and time can we cut away debris and remove impediments. Only in struggling with the impediments that made others quit can we find ourselves on untrodden territory—only by persisting and resisting can we learn what others were too impatient to be taught“.

 

The 4-Hour Work Week: Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich – Timothy Ferriss. I reread this book again for the first time in about 5 years and things are very different this time around. Before, while I could agree with a lot of what Ferriss said, this time they actually meant something doable and tangible to me (see passive investments above). This book contains a great argument for working less even if it means earning less, and also solid tips on how to start and grow a passive income business. I’m also in the middle of devouring his newest book Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers.

 

Man’s Search For Meaning: The classic tribute to hope from the Holocaust – by Viktor E Frankl. Thankfully, many of us haven’t had to go through the horrors that Frankl did as a Holocaust survivor. As a professor in neurology and psychiatry, his unique perspective on what it means to find meaning in life fascinated me. In particular, his view on what it means to have good mental well-being, “[…] mental health is based on a certain degree of tension, the tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish, or the gap between what one is and what one should become,” reminds us that meaning is found in having something worthwhile to aim for.

 

The Last Lecture: lesson in living – by Randy Pausch. With his immediately likeable personality, yet devastating story of being diagnosed with a terminal illness that only gives him a few months to live, Carnegie Mellon Professor Pausch gives leaves this important and poignant memoir for this wife and three young children about what is really important in life. He teaches us to dream big, and not obsess over what other people think, because in the end, who cares? It’s the dreams you have, and the things you do, and the people you love and who love you that really matter, and makes us happy. Let’s not wait until we realise that we are dying to make the most of it.

 

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance – by Angela Duckworth. What makes a person successful? I’ve been asking myself this question for years and Duckworth sheds a lot of light on the answer. The answer is, spoiler alert: effort. Persistent effort. Not just showing up, or innate talent, or luck, or environmental factors, but persistently putting in the time and energy to get better. While this means I have a lot of work to do on the things I want to get better at, it’s reassuring to know that what separates the mediocre from the great is blood, sweat and tears because I’m willing to shed a lot of it.

 

The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now  – by Meg Jay. The Image result for defining decadebiggest crime of twentysomethings these days is thinking they have all the time in the world to do anything they want. I’m certainly guilty of this in some respects, so I’m glad I found this book when I did. With all the changes in the last century, people are putting off important decisions until their 30’s or even 40’s, which is too late to make the most of the time they had. The decisions we make in our 20’s have the biggest impact on our lives down the line, and it’s better to use that to our advantage right now, rather than let bad choices made for us, or by us, dictate the rest of our lives.

I read many more books than the few I’ve listed here, but these were some of the most impactful. Of course, I will continue with my journey of learning, and will post more book updates in future posts.

Minimal Student book update: This project means a lot to me so I’m taking my time with it. I’ve nearly finished the first draft of the main text, and sketched up potential covers. There will be a lot of editing to do, but I’m planning on spending some time disconnected to get 80-90% done by early spring. I will continue to update the blog regularly.

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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.

 

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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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