Monthly Archives: July 2010

5 essential minimalist lessons for getting really fit

As an aspiring minimalist, I love to get rid of anything I think of as ‘extra’. Extra clothes, extra gadgets… and extra fat. I love to exercise, and I never see it as a chore. Rather, it’s something I do as a hobby, like curling up and reading a good book. But it took a while to get to where I am, and I learnt a lot of harsh lessons over the past year about how to get really healthy. As always minimalism has played a massive role in teaching me those lessons and showing me all of the things I did and didn’t need.

1. No gym. Last year, I ditched the gym. At first, I liked paying for it because the pressure not to waste my money pushed me to go. But only begrudgingly. I began hating going to the gym simply because I knew I had to. When I cancelled my membership, I felt liberated. I developed a much better attitude towards getting fit, I did it because I wanted to, not because of anything outside of me, which is a much stronger and longer lasting motivation.

2. No ‘health-potato’ equipment. Looking back, I didn’t know how the hell I fell for those late night telecommercials that sell exercise equipment that promise miracles. “In just 10 minutes a day you can look like this!” and so on. Ugh, my family (including me) fell for them too many times, paid too much for bogus pieces of metal that never worked and got stuck with trying to get rid of it. Patrick Reynolds, one of my most admired fitness gurus, calls them ‘health-potato‘ equipment, a reference to couch potatoes who want to get fit but are too lazy to do it properly. Taking a step back, you can see that this kind of thinking just doesn’t make sense.

3. No ignorance. These days, you just have to turn your head around to see something, anything that recommends some kind of health trick or hack or an advertisement for magic pills or a new superfood. You can choose to believe what people tell you, or you can choose to find out the truth. Your own research and education about the way your body works, what really is in the food you eat, how it affects you and how it is made is irreplaceable.

4. No fancy stuff. When people want to get fit, sometimes the mix up spending a lot of money = weight lost. This is one of those harsh lessons I learnt. Getting really state of the art trainers with air cushions on the bottom doesn’t mean that you are actually running. Getting expensive yoga equipment doesn’t mean you are actually doing yoga. When a lot of people decide they want to get fit, like at the beginning of the year, sports equipment sales go through the roof because people think that if they buy the equipment, they’ll be ‘fit’. But in the end, without the right kind of motivation, the equipment just becomes like a gym membership, pressuring and constraining because of the guilt of already investing load of money.

5. No shortcuts. Another simple thing to realize, and yet it took me so long to do it. There are no easy ways to get healthy except by getting healthy. That means exercising more but more importantly, eating well. I used to expect that I could eat chocolate bars and fairy cakes as long as I could run it off. It may work for some people (my brother eats like a pig but is as fit as a lion) but it definitely doesn’t for me. I was in denial, always wondering why no matter how much exercise I did, I saw little results. And then one day, someone told me “only 30% of weight loss is done in trainers, 70% is done in the fridge“. In other words, what you eat has much more an impact on your health than exercise does. Both are important, but one makes much more of a difference.

Finally, I just wanted to add that getting fit for me wasn’t all about losing weight. Yes, it was part of it, but not because I wanted to conform to social views on beauty or any of that rubbish. Instead, I wanted to feel good about myself so for me, during every workout I felt like I was earning some currency to put into my self confidence bank, which was hovering dangerously low for too long. Now, I can say that in that sense, thanks to these lessons, I’m much richer than ever before.

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Live differently

Humans are social creatures. We like to fit in. As the old saying went, “the nail that sticks up gets hammered down’. If you act too differently, you’re labelled ‘wild’ or ‘crazy’. At school, from our parents and through the media we are told all the things we should want. We ‘should’ want a big house with bedrooms to spare, a perfectly waxed car and a walk-in wardrobe.

Have you noticed that everybody is working so hard to acquire these things, but haven’t stopped to ask why? Why do they want all of this stuff? Because someone said that’s the way to ‘be normal’?

When we were kids, and our imaginations ran wild, we had ambitions like wanting to be famous inventors, world explorers or astronauts, but by the time we were thirteen or so our dreams were crushed for more ‘sensible’ things like getting a 9-5 job.

It’s absolutely fine to live a normal life. But it’s much more fun to live a different life.

dare to be different

A different life isn’t a sign of social rebellion. It’s about living your life, however you want it to be. You can adapt and change it how you want. Here are three steps to get you started.

1. Don’t care what others say. Before you start, make a promise to not care about what others think or say. It’s exactly this fear that keeps people from doing the things they dream about. There’s probably no thought more crippling than “Oh, I couldn’t possibly do that, what would my friends/neighbors/family/boss think?”.

2. Remember to be yourself (kinda). Don’t do something for the sake of doing it, do it because you want to. Don’t force yourself, but keep in mind that the excitement only comes from pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.

3. Be spontaneous. Do something crazy that you never thought you’d do. Or do something crazy that you’ve always wanted to do. Here goes nothing!

  • Take a trip
  • Donate all your clothes
  • Join a club
  • Volunteer
  • Take up a new hobby
  • Change your routine
  • Take time to disconnect
  • Write a story you would want to read
  • Laugh or sing more
  • Smile at a stranger
  • Get a pet
  • Change jobs
  • Quit your job
  • Take the stairs
  • Have a picnic
  • Go camping
  • Go to a concert
  • Go to a play
  • Go backpacking
  • Climb a mountain
  • Dance in the rain
  • Quit TV
  • Start a herb garden
  • Learn to speed read
  • Go to a different section of the library
  • Read a book regardless of it’s cover
  • Be healthy
  • Learn to make good coffee
  • Photograph something beautiful
  • Photograph someone beautiful
  • Cycle everywhere for a week
  • Eat a raw meal
  • Learn a new language
  • Write a poem, play or song
  • Take up the guitar
  • Go to the beach
  • Start meditation
  • Draw/paint anything
  • Build something
  • Invent something
  • Go barefoot running
  • Plant a tree
  • Write a life list
  • Be a minimalist, not a consumer
  • Change the world
  • Live an extraordinary life.

The technology company Apple, creator of the iPod, iPhone and iMac, uses the slogan ‘think differently’. They refused to follow the status quo and did things their own way. They took criticisms in their stride, carried on and now they’re one of the most successful companies in the world. They changed how people lived their lives, why not change yours?

Do you have any life changing ideas? Please share them in the comments!

PS. For more posts that think differently, hit me up on twitter!

10 minimalist reasons to start cycling today

This year, I discovered the wonders of cycling. I saw a poster that advertised a cheap bike hire scheme and I spontaneously decided to take the plunge. Before that, I hadn’t ridden a bike for over a year, let alone on the road. At first, I was slow and a bit wobbly, but by the end of the year I was faster and fitter. Now I wonder how I ever got anywhere without my trusty bike. Here are 10 minimalist reasons to start cycling today:

1. Quit the gym. I used to go the gym for two reasons. For the treadmill and for the exercise bikes. When I started running outside I halved the usefulness of the gym. And when I took up cycling at the beginning of the academic year, I found myself unable to take out that expensive membership. It just wasn’t worth it any more. Cycling burns an enormous amount of calories, and takes you places whilst you’re doing it.

2. No need for cars. Cars are expensive. There are multiple taxes, insurance, maintenance fees, not to mention gas, parking tickets, and the initial cost of the car itself. In fact, the cost for me to hire a bike for a whole year was less than the cost of a tank of gas. I realise that there are a few times when cars come in handy, such as twice a year when move my stuff from home to dorm (I’m lucky enough to have parents that would drive me), but for the rest of the year, a bike is more than enough to get me from A to B, even with all my shopping and books in tow.

3. Green. Speaking of cars, apart from the CO2 from your breathing, bikes don’t release toxic gases. And they don’t take that much energy to make and transport. They run on good old clean human energy – extra calories and a bit of elbow grease.

4. Takes up less space. An average bike takes less than 15% of the space an average car takes. Bikes can fit in doorways, in the front garden, in alleyways, and in sheds. They can be parked on lamp posts, fences and railings. They’re great for city dwellers, studio flats, apartments, not to mention minimalists!

5. Easier to maintain. Cars are needy. When you fix one thing, sooner or later another thing will break. And when you fix that, soon enough another part needs to be replaced. When you’ve done almost everything, the cycle starts again. Yes bikes do need to be maintained too, but not to that extent. Plus, the pieces are cheaper and a lot of bike shops will help you out for free if you buy the parts from them.

6. Faster. Have you ever been stuck in a traffic jam and watched the cyclists weave between the cars? Things go even faster when there’s a cycling lane. In the early mornings and evenings, it’s quite normal for me to zip past all of the stuck traffic and get to uni/home before the cars do. Sure, it’s not faster all of the time, but it’s always faster than walking, so it’s a great compromise.

7. Versatile. There are places you can’t drive, and there are places you can’t walk. But a lot of these places allow cycling. So if you want to get close into a busy town centre, take a bike. If you want to go for a leisurely ride through the park, take a bike. Unlike cars, which are restricted to roads and parking lots, bikes can get through pedestrian short cuts but can also be parked almost anywhere, for free.

8. Portable. If you have a longer distance to cover, you can cycle to the station and take bikes on buses and trains, and when you arrive, cycle the rest of the way. I’ve found this to be a really efficient way to travel, not to mention cheap! And if you know how to take them apart, they’re surprisingly compact-able, making them great to take in the backs of cars for road trips.

9. Quieter. What can be more Zen than a bit of silence? Imagine the morning rush with no horns or beeps, engine hums and roars or people venting their road rage. Just a few cyclist’s bell tings and the quiet clicks of the pedals running. I bet people will arrive at work or school much less stressed! (see video below)

10. More mindful. Some people spend too much time boxed up from the outside world. They go from their houses, to the inside of a car, to the inside of an office. A grand total of a few minutes spent in the outside world, even when the weather is good. And so what if it’s raining? It’s just water. It’s natural, embrace it!

I’m just going to go all out and say it. Cycling is awesome. Sure there’s walking (which is great too!), but cycling is much faster, and contrary to popular belief, very safe. I’ve mostly compared bikes to cars here, but whilst I’m not exactly a tree-hugger, I would love to live in a city where people cycled more than they drove. Can you imagine how great that would be? Check out this video for inspiration (notice how peaceful it is):

Cycling feeds my minimalist fetish. Do you cycle? Do you have any more reasons why we should start? Please share them in the comments!

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5 high school myths you should debunk today


^ The entrance hall of my actual high school

Ahh, high school. Thinking back to those years brings both a smile to my face and a tear to my eye. Even though it hasn’t exactly been years since I left, it certainly feels like it. I learnt a lot of things in high school that I thought were ‘the law’ at the time, and I don’t mean physics laws in the classroom. Little did I know, I would be debunking those laws myths pretty soon.

1. Popularity is vital. At school, popularity was like currency, there were the rich, and there were the poor. For some reason, the rich deserved more respect (or fear) than the poor. As a kid, I didn’t even realise that popularity wasn’t even real! It was just a self perpetuating thing that people made up in their minds, projected onto others, who lived up to expectations. It blew up people’s egos and made others feel inadequate. Luckily, I wasn’t on either end of the scale and I lived those years manoeuvring myself around the middle of it. If only I could go back now and tell everyone to stop being so silly and just be themselves.

2. You will only have ‘made it’ when you have a house/car/pool etc. The process goes like this. Go to school, get a degree, get a good job, earn good money, buy a big house, buy a big car, then buy as much as you can = live a good life. Well, that’s what we’re taught. I don’t want to criticise the school system (too much) here, but that’s exactly what it is, a system. Like a factory, we go through one end and come out the other. They tell us all the same thing and hope we get on with it. Then they measure their success by how much we can buy fifteen years later. I guess that’s how there are many more (over-)consumers in the world than there are minimalists. Luckily, we’re here to change all that.

3. Grades are everything. Yes, grades do matter, but they’re not the be all end all of everything. You need good grades if you’re planning to go to university and get a degree, which, even in this internet centered, entrepreneurial world, I still think is relevant. However, you don’t need to burn yourself out and sacrifice everything to get top grades (I was guilty of this) and you don’t need to bring your self confidence down if you don’t get what you want either. Just doing your best and keeping a balance is enough.

4. The lone star shines bright. We used to be told that it was important to stand out whenever we can. That’s when you see head cheerleaders, class reps, student body leaders, sports captains and the lot. A lot of this is a good thing, we learn to be independent and we build up our individuality.

However, in western society (compared to societal perceptions in eastern cultures I’ve studied) the idea of individual merit is pushed so hard that teamwork, humility and fairness is often forgotten. Even when we have to work in teams, a lot of us still strive to either take over, lead the team, or take as much credit as possible. When we’re older, we toot our own horns as loud as we can to show others what we’ve accomplished. It’s not our fault completely, but sometimes we care more about ourselves than the project at hand or the bigger picture. I think there’s something we can learn from eastern cultures here in that sometimes, the product of a team is much more than the sum of all the individuals, no matter how great they think they are.

5. This is how life is going to be. I remember coming out of several boring years of high school thinking, “oh my goodness, my life is going to suck”. But, I quickly realised that high school has basically nothing to do with real life. Yes you learn a couple of things, but most of the academic stuff you learnt you’ll never use again. Plus, high school doesn’t foreshadow how you’ll perform for the rest of your life. Once you leave for university, you’ll have a chance to start again, to be whoever you want to be. You can debunk all these myths and change the way you live and think.

Okay okay, high school wasn’t all that bad. Yes, it seemed to drag on but most importantly, I made some great friends, some of whom I have a feeling I will still be having occasional catch-up chats with twenty years from now.

High school, and university for that matter, is what you make of it, and after debunking these negative myths from high school, I wish you have the best university years to come.

Do you have myths to debunk? Or anything you wish you told your high school self? Please share in the comments!

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Discover your brand of minimalism

This is a Muji notebook. Muji is a consumer brand like no other:

Muji is distinguished by its design minimalism, emphasis on recycling, avoidance of waste in production and packaging, and no-logo or “no-brand” policy. (Wikipedia)

Whenever I walk into a Muji store, I become like a kid in a toy shop. I love gawking at the simplicity of the products, how there aren’t any fancy flowers or frills, how they don’t try to dress up for the occasion, how they don’t need to prove they’re ‘better’ than anyone else. Each Muji product seems to say “I am here to fulfil my purpose, that is all”.

discover your purpose

Everyone has a purpose in life. Unfortunately, not everyone achieves it. Many don’t even know what their ‘life purpose’ is. To them, a life purpose is something abstract and new-agey, to others “a big house” or “a million dollars” is a good answer, but if you ask them “how?” or “and then what?”, they’re stumped.

For me, my purpose is to have lasting lifetime happiness. How do I do it? I try to center my life around the things I care about the most.

What’s important to you?

  • friends and family
  • being able to go anywhere
  • being as green as possible
  • leaving a positive impact on people
  • not being in debt
  • seeing places
  • doing what you love
  • being content
  • following your dream

Minimalism can help you achieve any of these and more because you won’t be focused on the extra stuff that doesn’t really matter, like what your neighbours think, how big a bank account number is or how many heads you can turn with a flashy car.

discover your own brand of minimalism

Minimalism is different for everyone. For some people, it means having a beautiful, tidier, smaller house. For others it means having 100 things. There’s mild minimalism, there’s extreme minimalism, and loads in between, but none are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. They all have one thing in common, whatever your aim, minimalism ultimately means having a better quality of life.

If doing something improves your life in some way, (like getting rid of a shed of junk), that is minimalism. But if getting rid of something that you truly treasure makes you unhappy, just don’t do it, there’s no ‘minimalist handbook’ — you write your own.

So how do you know when you’re on the right tracks? I think inside, you’ll know if what your doing is right because:

  • it saves you time and money which you can spend with friends and family
  • …or gaining valuable experiences
  • you’re doing what you’ve always wanted to do
  • it moves you closer to a lifetime goal
  • you are following your purpose
  • you’re helping the environment
  • you have found balance and contentment

When ‘minimalism’ is not so good:

  • you’re afraid to spend money
  • you don’t want to do things that will make it difficult to let go
  • it’s making you unhappy
  • it’s hindering you
  • you depend on something outside of yourself for happiness

You might not know immediately what your brand of minimalism is, but that’s okay. As long as you get started somehow, you can learn and adjust until you find it.

Just like those Muji notebooks, your own brand of minimalism should help you fulfil your purpose. Discover what that is, then go for it with everything you have, no frills attached.

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Attachment, defined.

In many of my posts, I talk about not getting attached to things, because it makes it harder to let go. In my last post, I talked about trying to not get too attached to people and places, because it makes it harder when you inevitably have to say goodbye (or do you?).

But you can’t go through life not making friends or going places just because you don’t want to get hurt.

In response to my last post Debbie V said

Reading your post made me wonder if minimalism can be sometimes related to a person’s avoidance of emotional attachments to people. Just a thought. Holding on some things from the past – memories, friendships, even those mementos of very important events – is important to my sanity. These things sustain me in the rough times of the present. There’s a balance.

Thank you Debbie for your comment, I really appreciate it! I’ve wanted to clarify this point for a long time.

attachment, defined.

Attachment to something means:

  • you depend on having it to be happy
  • you never want to let it go because you think it will make you less happy

The problem with attachment is that you are depending of something outside of yourself to be happy. But we all know that nothing lasts forever. Things can break, get stolen, be misplaced, lost in a house fire, become redundant and a hundred other things. People can move on, drift away, change, fall out of love, get in an accident, move house and more. So your happiness is only temporary if you rely on them for it.

If you want to achieve stable happiness, you need to find it in yourself, not in things or other people.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have deep and lasting relationships, it just means you don’t depend on them to be happy.

For example, imagine a couple A. You have probably witnessed something like this before. They meet, they get together and ‘fall in love’. They spend all their time together. They think they’re really happy and they can’t stand to be apart.

But, after a while, they start to notice things about the other person that irks them. Eventually, they get into fights and break up. They’re used to spending all their time together, so they’re really unhappy because they’re alone. They can’t stand it, so they get back together. But all of the issues that caused them to break up in the first place come back, and they break up again. The cycle continues because they can’t stand the unhappiness that comes with being together, but they can’t stand the unhappiness that comes from being alone. They depend too much on having the other. It’s a downward spiral.

This is a typical example of an emotional dependency (attachment) to one’s partner. I know this doesn’t happen to everyone, but I know that in my experience, it does happen.

Now imagine couple B:

A couple ‘fall in love’. They spend a lot of time together, but they also spend some time apart. They miss the other person when they’re away, but they find their own life that is separate from their partner’s. They share things, and depend on the other person, but not all the time. They are independent, strong people together and on their own. They support each other and don’t hold the other back for selfish reasons. They’re not needy, suspicious or joined at the hip. Instead they’re honest, trusting, and strong. Because of this, their relationship is deep and fulfilling.

Should something bad happen to the other person, of course they would be devastated, just like anyone else. But they know that the other person would want them to find a way to move on, instead of losing their ‘life’ too.

They don’t agree on everything, and it’s not always easy for them either. But they keep an open mind, they’re willing to compromise and contribute equally to the relationship. They’ll probably live a long and happy life.

Couples A and B illustrate the difference between a relationship made of attachment and a truly loving relationship.

Yes, a part of minimalism is about avoiding attachments. But it’s not about avoiding emotions. You don’t have to be scared of meeting new people, making friends, or finding partners. If another person makes you happy, let them.

If keeping mementos from a holiday makes you happy, then keep them. Minimalists aren’t trying to avoid things because we don’t want to get emotionally attached, we try to avoid the things that can lower our happiness.

Where we can help it, I believe we can greatly contribute to our own happiness by finding it within ourselves and taking it wherever we go, instead of having to drag around another person or piles of junk with us, because let’s face it, they’re pretty heavy.

I’m really interested to know what you guys think about this topic. Let me know in the comments!

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Do you have to say goodbye to everything?

I never travelled much as a kid. I moved house only once before I came to university. For various reasons, the only time I had been on holiday was when I was five.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to travel. In fact, it makes me want to travel even more. I chose to do a language degree and a ‘Teach English as a Foreign Language’ (TEFL) course specifically so that I can travel. The desire for adventure has always been in me, which, I think, accounts for my minimalism. I believe it gives me freedom.

A few weeks ago, I said goodbye to the place where I had been staying for a year. I said goodbye to all of the stuff I had given away. I said goodbye to the people that I would never see again, and the people that had become my friends.

It’s always difficult to say goodbye, and it makes sentimental people like me feel a tiny bit heartbroken everytime.

  • It’s easier to not buy something, than to let go of something old.
  • It’s easier to meet new people, than to say goodbye to friends.
  • It’s easier to visit a new place, than to leave a familiar place.

But it would be impossible (and very boring) to live a life where you never bought anything, met anyone or went anywhere. Slowly I realised, if it hurts so much, why even say goodbye? ‘Goodbye’ is sad, it’s another way of saying ‘I’ll never see you again’.

One of the most essential ‘skills’ a minimalist can have is the ability to let go. If you attach enormous amounts of emotional baggage to everything and everyone, you’ll have little left for yourself.

So instead, why not think a little differently? The people you will never see again will continue with their own lives, so wouldn’t it be better to wish them ‘Good luck‘? Or if it’s a place where you spent a lot of time, how about ‘thanks for the memories‘. Sometimes, it’s difficult to say goodbye to our things, like old clothes for example, but even if it sounds silly it really helps to think ‘thanks, and now you can go to someone who will find a better use for you‘.

This summer, I will be leaving home to go abroad to a far away place for a whole year. Just like this past year, I know there will inevitably be many people and places that will come in and out of my life. I can either:

  • get too attached to them, and be upset when I have to leave,
  • or I can enjoy it while it lasts and depart with a smile and a headful of great memories.

Do you have to say goodbye to everything? Or can you say goodbye without having to say it?

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