Monthly Archives: September 2010

Simple Philosophies – Live to listen

It is far more impressive when others discover you good qualities without your help.
~ Judith Martin

Every time you meet someone new for the first time, you have one chance to make a good impression. In the first few minutes, an image of who you are is already formed in your acquaintance’s mind.

Naturally, you want to show the best of yourself. Most people would want to talk about all of the things they’ve achieved, all of the wealth, possessions and qualifications they have, where they come from and who they are. As people, we love to talk about ourselves.

But, instead of worrying so much about what to say, how about just listening? After your initial introductions, why not try asking questions and listening to what your new friend has to say?

Listening to others means devoting a little of your time to someone else’s story. Not surprisingly, people who listen a lot are thought of as better conversationalists than those that talk too much. People feel more engaged in a conversation if they feel that what they are saying is being appreciated.

They say that nobody knows an enlightened person. That’s probably because they spend their time listening, not speaking. They don’t go on about themselves, they don’t show off or try to be something they are not. They are simply there to lend a patient ear to those in need, and they only give advice when they are asked for it.

That’s quite different from the rest of us who can probably go on and on about our life story. I’ve seen it so many times, people trying to ‘have a conversation’ but what they were really doing was reeling out monologues in between each other’s pauses. It’s not a big shock to see that these people eventually fail to make deeper friendships and connections.

It’s fascinating to see the differences that come from just shutting up every once in a while. Who knows, perhaps if you try listening a little more, you might discover something, or someone, amazing.

simple act

Listen to someone intently today. Try to resist judgement or the temptation to give advice. Observe how they react when you don’t interrupt. Do they end up sharing more?

Simple Philosophies is a series of short posts about small things we can do to live a happier life. Please let me know what you think in the comments!

The secret to minimalist travel

Having spent a few weeks trying to settle down in a completely foreign country, I’m often asked, “Do you miss home?“.

The answer isn’t a simple yes or no.

Yes, I miss my family and my home, but that doesn’t mean I want to go back right now. I care about them a more than they know, but  I would much rather be where I am now. Even though everyday presents small challenges and leaps out of my comfort zone, I manage to learn something new about the world each and every time.

And one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that even though I’m on the other side of the world, perhaps I’m not really away from home at all.

the secret to minimalist travel

Before I moved, I wrote a post about how to pack a minimalist suitcase. Carrying less is only one part of what minimalist travel really means. You can pack as light as you want, but you won’t be satisfied if you don’t have the second ingredient too.

The secret to true minimalist travel is having portable peace of mind.

What does this mean? In short, it means having the ability to take ‘home’ wherever you go.

If you can take your peace of mind with you, you will be content wherever you are. You can go anywhere and you won’t have to worry about being homesick if your home is always with you. Imagine if there was a way you could pack it up and carry it everywhere, without it weighing a thing…

redefining home

What does the word ‘home’ mean to you? For most people, it’s

  • the place they keep their stuff
  • the place they grew up/made good memories
  • where they ‘live’

If you take these three things and think about them carefully one by one, perhaps it’s not so hard to believe that you can make your home ‘portable’.

1. “It’s where I keep my stuff”. If you take your stuff with you, then your home is no longer where you keep your stuff! If you go travelling often, it might be the place you use as storage. If that’s the case, any safe place will do as storage space! When I first moved to university, I left a few things at home that I didn’t need. Because I had all of the things I did need in my dorm, it felt more like home than the one I left behind.

2. “It’s where I grew up”. When people get nostalgic, they’re not really thinking about the particular thing, it’s for the memory of it. A piece of clothing, an old toy or even a building isn’t what is making you happy, it’s all of the happy times you’ve associated with it. Memories are stored in your head, so if you really think about it, you don’t actually need the thing to be with you forever. You can move from place to place, and create new memories which will be just as good, or even better, even after you’ve moved away. Of course it will be a little sad if you never saw the place you grew up again, but not getting too attached to things that don’t last anyway, is the key to moving on. Even though it may be nice to revisit memories once in a while, dwelling on the past isn’t something you should do forever.

3. “It’s where I live”. By ‘live’ I mean where one eats, drinks, sleeps and relaxes in general. If you move to a new place, this is now where you will ‘live’, so who cares where it is? Wherever you eat and sleep is where you are, so a part of what ‘home’ means is you. You are your home.

My biggest aspiration in life is to be able to see the world and experience new and different ways of thinking. For me, I feel that my ‘home’ will always be a safe place I can go back to, where I can find my bearings if I get lost and where I can ground myself and think carefully when I don’t know where I want to go next. For me, ‘home’ is a place beyond an arrangement of bricks.

Home is special, it’s mine and it’ll always be with me.

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Simple Philosophies – Live slowly

Patience is waiting. Not passively waiting. That is laziness. But to keep going when the going is hard and slow – that is patience.

The human lifespan is short. That’s why we’re told to constantly cram as much as we can into each day. We do things that we like think are important, but aren’t really, like ‘having’ to catch that show or ‘having’ to go to the party.

We stuff our schedules with driving instead of walking, microwaving instead of cooking, and never really taking the time to have a moment of silence.

Of course, I’m not saying we should all turn into tortoises. There is a time and a place for everything, but for a lot of people, actually taking time to slow down has been completely forgotten.

Doing things slowly once in a while isn’t being lazy or unproductive. On the contrary, it’s doing things properly and with purpose.

When we slow down, we can take a step back and observe our actions.

We can think before we speak.

We can look at where we are going, instead of charging forward in any direction.

We can actually enjoy living.

simple act

Do one thing today as slowly as you can for a few moments. Notice all of the thoughts that go through you head as you move with focus and intention.

Simple Philosophies is a series of short posts about small things we can do to live a happier life. Please let me know what you think in the comments!

How to create a good minimalist social life

It’s quite a common misconception that minimalists live unsocial lives. Sure, there are some that prefer to be on their own every now and again, but that doesn’t mean that they want to be alone. The aim of most minimalists is to cut out distractions from their lives so that they can achieve the things they’ve always wanted to do.

Being ‘social’ can mean a lot of different things to different people, but because I’ve been asked a few times about it, I will talk about the ‘going out to clubs/bars/parties at night’ kind of social. I know that for some people, ‘being social’ doesn’t involve alcohol!

Anyway, it requires a huge amount of self-awareness that a lot of people need to develop in order to see what they are doing – whether it is going out too much or too little, is the right amount for them. Here are some lessons I’ve learned over the past few years constantly trying to balance this area of my life with others.

1. ‘Minimalist’ doesn’t mean none or less, it means just enough. Rarely does minimalism ever mean having nothing of something. Nor does it mean having less of something than you need. If you get carried away with reducing everything down, you’ll have nothing left. The key is to reduce excess amounts of parties, late nights and drinking binges to an amount which you will have time to get the most important things in your life done first. Most people achieve this by refusing to go out until they’ve done all of their assignments, that way, whatever time they have left is free for them to do whatever they want with it.

2. It’s different for everyone. Everyone has their own social wants and preferences about how much they want to go out and how much they want to spend time with their friends or family. It depends on a ton of things whether or not you go out twice a month or twice a week – including your personality, schedule, circle of friends, town, financial situation etc etc. If a minimalist feels that going out too much, then they would just reduce it to the right amount for them. There’s no official standard of sociability that fits everyone.

3. Don’t give into pressure. Don’t let people force you into something you don’t want to do. Of course, inevitably, you may be a little influenced by the closest people around you, but if you hear a voice inside telling you that something isn’t right, or you really don’t want to do something, that’s your internal compass trying to guide you. It gets weaker every time you ignore it so listen to it every once in a while. For some people, they’ve squished it down enough times that they’ll just do whatever and ‘go with the flow’. What they don’t realize is that they have no control where ‘the flow’ is going.

4. Pressure yourself sometimes. However, sometimes, we don’t feel like going out, but when we get there, we think “Actually, this isn’t so bad, I’m glad I came now“. A lot of the time, I used to dread getting ready for a night out but once I was out there, I realized I was having way more fun than I would if I had taken the lazy option of staying at home. Sometimes, you should try to get out there even if you don’t feel like it, you never know who you’ll meet or what might happen. Adventure and surprise is the spice of life.

5. Remember to have fun. On that note, as much as you should aim to get all of the important stuff done in you life, if you have an awesome time with your friends, by all means spend lot’s of time with them. If it’s not your thing, then do something else that’s fun – whether that’s relaxing with a good book or going for a run on your own. You don’t have to follow other people’s prescriptions and ideas about what is ‘fun’. Find your own version, and do that. A good principle to follow is to just go wherever you will laugh, smile and create great memories.

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My minimalist bedroom

Hello everyone from Japan! This is the first post of many I’ll be writing from the Country of Awesome. I just wanted to let everyone know that I arrived safely and I’m having an amazing time. I was a little afraid before that the extent of Japanese hospitality was a big fat lie, but so far it proves to be absolutely true. I’ve never felt more welcome and happy, something I desperately needed being so far away from home.

Also, I wanted to thank everyone for their well wishes from the last week’s minimalist suitcase packing post, I read them at the airports in Rome and in Kansai, which was really encouraging. I also want to thank those who donated, I will be forever grateful for your kindness and support.

So, without further ado, I would love to introduce to you my new bedroom…my new minimalist bedroom that is!

I had no idea what my room would be like before I came here but as soon as I arrived at the house and saw it I was ecstatic! It has wooden floors, wooden furniture and white walls. Compared to my old room, this one is much bigger, and yet I have less stuff to fill it with – perfect!

My room also comes with a beautiful black Yamaha piano – which had me smiling all day. I love to play, but at college I obviously couldn’t bring my piano, even though it was more like a posh keyboard anyway. For the first time, I have a really good chance to get back to something I started years ago and has stayed in my heart ever since.

Next up is my new desk, I absolutely love the simplicity of it. It’s sturdy and wooden, with two drawers. That’s it, no extra frills. It does it’s job as my new workstation perfectly. I also love that the chair is just a stool. I’ve been meaning to get a chair without a back because constantly leaning on one weakens the spine. One of the reasons why people find meditation so difficult is that they can’t sit upright for more than a few minutes before gradually slumping down – they’re too used to being supported by a chair. Also, because of the stool, I’m less likely to waste precious hours in Japan surfing the web.

There are two wardrobes in my room. However, the one on the left that you can see here is already being used for storage. Also, the top two shelves of the right wardobe is taken up by my host family’s holiday suitcases. And, one more thing, the bottom of the right one is being used for storing the futon (see below). If you do the mapping, you’ll work out that all I have is the middle of the right wardobe. But don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it sounds!

These wardrobes are pretty deep and I could more than comfortably fit in all of my clothes with plenty of room to spare. The limited space fits me just fine, since it would discourage me to buy too many clothes which I can’t take back home with me anyway. As with most things, even though it’s small, there’s still much more space than in my old room!

And finally, there’s the futon. Oh. My. Goodness. I love it! I had heard that more and more Japanese homes are ditching the futon for framed beds so I couldn’t tell you happy I was to walk into a room without one! They’re so amazing I have no idea why I didn’t have one before.

For those that don’t know, a Japanese futon consists of a thick fold-able mattress, a sheet to cover it with, a duvet and a pillow. Every night, you would unfold the mattress, lay the sheet and pillow over it, flip open the duvet and sleep! In the morning, you would fold it away into a cupboard and you would regain the entire space of a bed in your room. If it sounds laborious, I’ve timed myself doing it and it takes less than a minute to do. Because of the futon, I finally have enough space to do yoga right here in my bedroom. I can also roll out the rug my host family gave me onto the floor and read, surf, play with the my the kids and study right here.

I can’t believe my luck, I’m still so excited (hence the overuse of ‘!’s, sorry about that) even though I think I’ve already phased out of the honeymoon period. Everything has worked out so perfectly with my room and my family, I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Now, I’m looking forward to checking things off my list of 101 things to do in Japan. Here’s hoping I have a great year and it’s all uphill from here!

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5 lessons learned from repeated failure

Back I school, I was never a failure. In fact, I worked so hard, I don’t ever remember failing a single pop quiz, test or examination. For almost the first two decades of my life, I had never tasted failure.

You know the saying “the bigger they are the harder they fall“? It is so true.

my driving story

My winning streak collapsed around me when I started driving. I sailed through the theory test and began driving almost two years ago. At first it went really well, I learned quickly and although I had little intention to actually drive a car in the near future, I quite enjoyed it. But the summer was ending and university was approaching. My instructor and I decided that I should try to pass the practical driving test before I left for university.

As the day of my first test drew nearer, I started to get more and more nervous. On the day, I was a bag of nerves, and I inevitably failed. Not miserably, but still a fail. I was so disappointed when the examiner told me I hadn’t passed. It took me a few minutes to even process his words because nobody had ever said them to me before.

But I booked another test as soon as I could. Knowing that most people pass the second time, I felt a little more confident. But a for a few nights before my test, I found myself unable to sleep too well. During the test, my mind was flying everywhere, trying to remember all of the things I’d been taught. I was distracted by the littlest things and could barely focus on the road when I was trying to look out for a thousand other things – traffic, signs, pedestrians, speed, space, gear… In the end, I failed again.

Because of uni, I waited a whole year before I did it again. I changed to a more experienced instructor and thought this time everything would be different. I was driving a nicer car and had spent a lot more money on more hours of tuition. I booked my test. My mum was so encouraging, I felt confident I would pass this time. During the drive, I made one mistake, and the whole thing fell apart. The worst thing was having to tell my mum I hadn’t managed to pass…again.

For a few weeks, I gave up. I didn’t want to drive anyway. I was questioning myself over and over again. “Why can’t I just do it?“. What was worse, my younger sister passed first time. Yeah, ouch. My self confidence was in pieces.

forgiving myself

But in the end, I had enough self-awareness to realize that people make mistakes. I picked myself up and became more determined than ever. If I fell again, I knew that I would probably give it up for life, but at least if I passed, it would be out of the way for the next 60 years. It was all or nothing.

I worked hard in my lessons, ironing out every mistake. I was a bit harsh on myself, but I needed it. I wrote down all of the things I’d failed on in the previous tests and made sure I would never repeat them. I soaked up every single word my instructor gave me. I made sure I got plenty of sleep the night before. And when the morning came a few weeks ago, I made myself a shot of coffee, gave myself a pep talk and walked out the door hoping I’d come back with a pass.

And I did.

I felt so relieved that I gave my instructor a massive hug and I was squealing on the way home. I texted my friends and spent the day smiling. Not because I wanted to drive (believe me, I’m not touching a steering wheel for the next 5 years!) but because I had gotten over a giant hurdle that had been a burden on my back for two years. I had gotten over my fear or failure and was rewarded for it.

5 lessons learned from repeated failure

1. It’s all you. You can spend days revising for an exam with your course-mates, but when it comes down to the day, you’re on your own. I hadn’t told my parents that I was taking the last test because I didn’t want to be distracted by their false encouragement (the kind that parents always give their kids – “just try your best honey!“) or even worse, I didn’t want to be motivated by not wanting to let them down. On the day, it’s all down to you – how much you’ve prepared and how you will react to the things that come your way.

I learned that most of the time shifting the blame onto others is avoiding who the real issue is with.

2. Forgiveness is magical. Letting yourself be human is one of the best gifts you can give yourself. A lot of the time, as people, we are too harsh on ourselves and expect robotic performance. ‘If we can’t accomplish something important, we’ve failed at life’ – it’s not like that at all. Accepting that we are good at some things and bad at others takes us a big step closer to changing it.

I’ve learned that hating myself accomplishes nothing. I should forgive, forget and move forwards.

3. Focus is key. If your mind is distracted by the one hundred and one things, you are not focussing on the task at hand. Yes, there are times you have to think about more than one thing at once, but they should all be related to what you’re doing right now. In the previous tests, I would be thinking about what I would do that day after I passed, where I would go etc. I wasn’t concentrating as well as I could have, which was definitely a factor in my failures.

I learned that focus and confidence at the right time and place can distinguish a pass or a fail.

4. Mistakes are lessons in disguise. When we make a mistake, we can either beat ourselves up about it, or take it as an opportunity to learn from them. In my tests, I never committed the same mistake twice. I made absolutely sure that I would never do any of them again. In the end, those who make more mistakes learn more lessons than those who were just lucky.

I learned that the biggest mistake is to not learn from your mistakes.

5. Persistence makes a difference. Finally, I’ve learned to never give up. If you keep trying and trying, one day it will happen. Don’t miss out out on stuff because it didn’t work out the way you wanted the first time you tried it. Sure, there will be ups and downs, but you should just just enjoy the ride. It’s much better to be on the roller-coaster, than just watching it.

I learned that the only real failure is simply giving up.

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My minimalist suitcase & 100 things challenge

Today is my last day on British soil. In a few hours I’ll be on a plane to the other side of the world with just a suitcase and a small carry on. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working out how to fit my life into such a small space. Normally, a backpack or small suitcase would be enough for me for to go for a few weeks, but this time I will be away for much longer than that.

Moving to a different country for as long as a year calls for dramatic changes. I’ve thought about it carefully and have decided that I will do it with less than 100 possessions. Getting down to 100 things has always been the kind of holy grail of minimalism, even though I know it isn’t for everyone. But as I had predicted in ‘Can Minimalism is Measured‘ (previous link) my needs have now changed and I am ready to take on the challenge.

getting down to less than 100

Before we start, I just want to clarify  that I’ve grouped a couple of similar items with each other to make it easier, for example: socks, underwear, important documents, essential textbooks, purse, very small jewellery, makeup, electronic devices with their chargers and toiletries. Even though some people may count this stuff separately, to me, they come as a set, so I prefer to count them together. I think separating them would be bordering on a bit too extreme.

So here is my list of less than 100 things:

  1. important documents (passport, birth certificate etc.)
  2. laptop + case, charger etc.
  3. portable hard drive
  4. iphone +  charger
  5. headphones
  6. camera
  7. nintendo ds
  8. socks
  9. underwear
  10. checked shirt
  11. checked shirt
  12. checked shirt
  13. checked shirt (I really like checked shirts)
  14. toiletries
  15. running shoes
  16. running shorts
  17. running trackies
  18. sports iphone strap
  19. running t-shirt
  20. brown t-shirt
  21. casual shoes
  22. black pumps
  23. black heels
  24. brown boots
  25. travel adaptor
  26. karate gi +  belt
  27. leggings
  28. blue jeans
  29. denim shorts
  30. black shorts
  31. cream t-shirt
  32. ribbed vest
  33. dark grey top
  34. long grey top
  35. pink bow top
  36. pink and black top
  37. pink print top
  38. white and black top
  39. cream half top
  40. little black dress
  41. black pencil skirt
  42. black linen trousers
  43. beige coat
  44. beanie hat
  45. PJ’s
  46. PJ’s
  47. guitar accessories
  48. essential textbooks
  49. very small jewellery (only 5pcs)
  50. college shoulder bag
  51. rucksack
  52. blue handbag
  53. carry-on bag
  54. small purple bag
  55. small brown bag
  56. brown belt
  57. brown cardi
  58. light grey cardi
  59. face towel
  60. body towel
  61. straighteners
  62. makeup
  63. suitcase

So, that’s it. A total of 63 things that I’m taking with me to Japan. Even if I didn’t group a few of the things together, I think I would probably still make it under 100. Also, I haven’t counted the presents I’ve bought for my host family since they aren’t actually mine. (But because of them, I had to get a bigger suitcase!).

I also should add that I have a few items that I’ve left a home, they are things I still need but aren’t essential enough for me to take to me abroad:

  • about 10-15 pieces of various clothing and accessories
  • a few books
  • my art posters
  • bed sheets etc.

packing

Here is almost everything I own all laid out, looking quite messy and unpackable. I’ve tried to put everything here but I haven’t included a few things in this photo… namely my underwear 😉

If you want to find out more about my minimalist wardobe and how to create one, check out my previous post.

how to pack a minimalist suitcase

1. Reduce. The first thing you must absolutely do is reduce reduce reduce. Even if you have quite a small wardrobe already, chances are you may still have one or two things you haven’t worn very much that you can get rid of. It might help you to make a ‘definitely taking’ pile and a ‘maybe pile’. Then, look at the ‘maybe’ pile and ask yourself:

  • does it fit me the way I want it to?
  • is it easy to clean/does it require ironing/other maintenance?
  • is it only suitable for certain occasions, or more than one?
  • will I be able to wear this in different weather conditions?
  • does it go with many other clothes?
  • have I worn any of these in the past 4-6 months?

Obviously these are questions for clothes, but you can also pare down things like toiletries, gadgets etc. by asking yourself:

  • how often do I use this?
  • how easily can I buy a replacement?
  • what is available to buy at my destination?
  • what is the worse that can happen if I don’t bring it?

Systematically looking at each item and going through a few points in your head sounds like it will take a long time, but in my experience it actually only takes a few seconds for me to decide whether or not something is worth taking.

2. Sort. Decide what you will put in your suitcase and what you will take as carry-on. It might also help to decide what you will wear for the flight – if you choose the bulkiest/heaviest stuff, then you can fit a little more into the suitcase.

3. Compact. Once you’ve decided on what you’ll take, it’s time to start packing. In the above photo, I’ve folded and piled the clothes on top of each other. However, this kind of arrangement is only good for your everyday wardobe at home because you can then pull out any garment you want from the pile. In a suitcase however, you don’t need to do this and there are other more space-saving ways to pack clothes.

You could roll your clothes into tight cylinders, but I found another method via OneBag.com whereby you lay out all of your clothes flat in alternating directions and fold them around a ‘core’ which I chose to make out of clothes that were too short to make the outer layers.

I managed to reduce this pile which measured about 32 cm in height:

To this pile which has all the same clothes, just folded differently. It measures just 20 cm in height, saving almost a third of the space. The bundles are also much easier to handle.

4. Arrange suitcase. After bundling the clothes, you want to pack everything into the suitcase. I’m taking a new 67cm trolley case I bought especially for this year. It is quite a huge suitcase, but I bought it because I didn’t want to squash the presents.


After a bit of Tetris manoeuvring, I managed to fit everything comfortably into the case. Two quick tips that helped me to pack things a little tighter were to use the insides of shoes and space around heels to pack socks and underwear and to wear your heaviest/bulkiest stuff on the plane instead of packing them.

5. Zip up and go. Finally, there’s not much left to do but wait! My flight will be at 07:30 am from London Heathrow. I’ll be making a stop in Rome before arriving at Kansai International at 09:55 the next day.

Wish me luck, I’ll see you on the other side 🙂

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