Monthly Archives: October 2010

minimalism 101

I’m very happy to announce that this week, I was featured in the UK The Times newspaper magazine.

It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever done in my short lifetime, and it’s incredibly humbling to realize that there are people who will listen to someone like me has to say.

So, with honor, I would like to say, welcome The Times readers!

This post is for you, but also for my current readers as well as my friends and family who I have kept this blog a secret from for so long. It’s a complete definition of what in the world ‘minimalism’ is, I predict that only a small percentage of people will actually read this post from beginning to end, but I can guarantee that you will be a different person by the end of it if you do.

If you’ve never heard of minimalism before, I should warn you that I’m going to make some pretty bold statements, but if there is anything this blog has shown me, is that there are also many people apart from myself who absolutely believe them to be true.

what is minimalism all about?

The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.”
Socrates

Minimalism is all about having enough. It’s about having only what you need, no more, and especially no less.

‘What you need’ can refer especially to your possessions, but can also include your commitments, relationships, work and lifestyle.

All our lives we’re told that we want to have more money so that we can achieve ‘our dreams’ of owning a big house with a pool in the back, a fancy sports car and expensive shoes so we can gain the label of ‘success’. We’re told to know the latest gossip, watch the latest shows, know what everyone is doing on facebook, and jump from relationship to relationship otherwise we’re labelled ‘loners’. We’re told that we should always be ‘busy’, because if we’re not busy we’re being lazy. We’re told all of these criteria and more about how we ‘should’ live our lives and what we should have so that we can be ‘happy’.

But that’s not the whole story. In real life, there are people that have and do all of these things, and yet they’re no happier than the people who don’t. And there are people who have none of these things and are very happy with their lives. Clearly this means that it can’t be the above things that make people happy.

But despite this, there are people who wake up in the morning only to look forward to an hour of sitting in their car in bad traffic, then sitting at their desk doing a job that makes them bored or tired, then going home exhausted and sitting in front of the TV, then spending their weekends spending the money they earned to buy things that ‘make them happy’ when all they’re really doing is perpetuating the cycle.

If you ask these people what they look forward to the most the answer is usually something like their next vacation abroad, or they’re saving up to buy something big and special, or they’re waiting for their retirement… all of which are things that only occur occasionally, whilst the rest of the 90% of their lives are spent… just waiting.

a new way of thinking

You have succeeded in life when all you really want is only what you really need.
-Vernon Howard

What’s the secret to happiness? This topic has been researched extensively, but I know many people have already found the answer.

It’s minimalism.

Do you think I’m making a pretty bold statement here? It’s up to you, but here are my reasons.

Essentially, minimalism is about breaking out of the mould of always wanting more. It’s about finding happiness in what we have already, instead of chasing something that is always out of reach. Once one gains something they’ve wanted for a long time, they only find temporary happiness.

Think about all of the times you’ve gotten what you wanted, do you still want them now? Of course not, because you got it. But my guess is that you want something else right now. So you have moved on from that thing you orignially wanted so badly. Don’t worry, everyone does it, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing, but minimalism helps you break out of exactly this vicious cycle.

Why do people want things, like the latest gadget, car or in-season clothes? Most of the time it’s to boost their ego, or to show off how much money they have, or to fit in or to confirm that they are doing well in life. These people aren’t bad or selfish, in fact, I used to be exactly like that because we hadn’t been taught any other way. But now I have, and I’ve stopped worrying about what others think of me and started making some real friends who love me for who I am, not what I have.

realism or idealism?

Well that’s all well and good, but I have to pay the rent and my credit card bills“. I get this remark a lot, because people are focussing on the the wrong issue. They think minimalism is about being practically homeless – with few possessions, looking ugly and hoarding all of their money, but that’s not it at all. I have always said that minimalism is different for everyone, and it cannot be measured in set rules like that. Sometimes, it’s impractical for people to give up their jobs, especially if there are people who rely on them. If you have kids and you’re wondering what this has all got to do with you, I would suggest checking out Becoming Minimalist by Joshua Becker (somebody who I’ve looked up to for a long time and had supported my blog in it’s early stages), who manages very well with being a minimalist and a parent.

But there is always something you can do. If you downsize from a huge house, you can probably afford to live in a better location. If you just get rid of the clothes you know you’ll never wear, then maybe it won’t be so hard to open and close your wardrobe. If you spend less time watching trashy TV shows you’ll forget about in a week, or films you’ve seen before, then you can spend more time with friends and family or developing a skill or doing a hobby. If you spend more time cycling than driving, you can spend less time worrying about traffic, your health and the environment.

You don’t have to give up everything, it’s about reducing to what you really need. You can still dress fashionably without wasting money on brands, watch TV that is actually worth watching and drive a car when you need to. Just do what feels right for you. If you know me, or any other minimalists, you’ll just see a regular person. We’re not that different on the outside, just the inside.

Some people think that minimalism is against human nature. They think that if humans stop wanting more, things will stop progressing. If people have no ambition and drive, then ideas and innovations cease. People will stop working hard and just stick to their lowly jobs. This is not true. You can be happy with everything you have, and still improve yourself and society. The difference is this: as long as you are happy right now and not basing your happiness on obtaining the next thing or stage, then you’re practising minimalism, because you’re already happy. From then on, you’re working because you love what you do, not so that you can obtain happiness – because that kind of thinking never works, you will always be hanging on for ‘the next thing/stage’ , and when you get there, there will be another thing and then another thing… We should have more faith in human nature than thinking it is to be greedy.

Every human being is born to be happy. That is our life purpose. From those born poor or rich. Even the bad villains we see in movies are just trying to find happiness in their own way.

We deserve more than to be constantly waiting for happiness.

happiness

Live simply so that others may simply live.
HH Dalai Lama

A post that has been consistently popular since I published it is ‘Why minimalism brings happiness‘. People are looking for an answer.

But what is happiness exactly? How do we know if we are ‘happy’?

What happiness means is different for everyone, and in my opinion there isn’t one complete definition, but for me, happiness means that

I am feeling how I want to feel, I am doing everything I want to do, and I am at peace.

How do I want to feel? I want to feel good about contributing as little as I can to the waste and pollution of the Earth. I want to feel good that I have enough time and money to give away to people who need it more than me. And finally, I want to feel that I’ve made a positive impact, no matter how small, on the people around me and thus a difference in the world. No matter what, I’m determined to leave this world in a better state than how I entered it, that is what happiness means to me.

why I became minimalist

Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.
Confucius

So let’s keep it simple. Apart from being happy, I became a minimalist for three reasons. For my:

1. Health. Minimalism keeps me healthy. Just check out my previous posts on a minimalist diet, my minimalist kitchen, minimalist exercise, cycling, runningand so on.

2. Study. I am a student, who is in love with her major. Through minimalism, I’ve been able to be where I want to be. If you want to find where I am, check out ‘the big reveal – my year abroad‘.

3. Dreams. Finally, I became minimalist so that I can eliminate distractions from my life. Without things that don’t matter cluttering up my life, I can focus my time, efforts and money on my dream of being able to travel the world because I am a firm believer of experiences over possessions.

I am happier now than I have ever been. And I predict in the future that I will be even happier than I am now. Hopefully, my happiness will never stop because I find myself wanting something I can’t have, or because I put my life on hold to get something I want. Of course there will be ups and downs, but what can I say, I’m an optimist.

An optimist is a person who travels on nothing from nowhere to happiness.
Mark Twain

make a difference

When I started this blog, I did it anonymously because I thought it was so that I could chat about minimalism with people who felt the same. But in the Times article, my identity has been revealed to everyone, including my family and friends who had very little idea about what I was up to. Why did I agree to reveal myself in the article? Believe me, it wasn’t for fame or recognition or anything like that, I don’t care about that stuff.

This blog is my way of expressing the message of minimalism. It isn’t a cult, or a religion to follow, and I never preach or push about it in real life. Minimal Student blog is my way of spreading the word and to making the small change in the world that I have always wanted. I just want others to be happy, and if this is the way they’ll find it, that makes me even happier.

where to go from here

I’ve linked to a few of my past posts above but they are by no means all of them. If you want to read more, check out my most popular posts or read a little about me. You can also check out a few series I’m currently working on Simple Philosophies, 5 Life Lessons and Minimalist Meditations.

I have already mentioned some of these blogs above, but just in case you didn’t check them out, I want to thank the following people who have inspired me:

Finally, I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who has supported me so far. Thank you for reading and thank you for your helpful comments and encouraging emails. If you find any of the posts helpful to you in some way, please help me keep Minimal Student going by making even just a tiny teeny donation.

If you can’t see the donate button, please click here!

Have you changed even just a little since the beginning of this post? I look forward to hearing from you.

Minimalist Meditations – it’s not about money

“If you want to feel rich, just count the things you have that money can’t buy” – Proverb

The first thing many people associate minimalism with is saving money. They think that people become minimalists so that they can hoard money instead of things. They think minimalists live tight, boring lives of just working hard, not watching TV, not having fun and wearing overly plain clothes.

Yes, money has got something to do with it, but minimalism does not mean you are afraid to spend it.

On the contrary, minimalists can spend as much money as a non-minimalist, it just depends on what they choose to spend it on. A non-minimalist might buy brand-name clothing, eat in fancy restaurants and stay in posh beach-side resorts for vacations.

A minimalist might by clothing that is just as good, but just not care about fancy marked-up brands. Then they might spend money on cooking classes or on ingredients they can experiment with instead of eating out. And for vacations, they might stick to a small hotel and use the money to go further and discover new people and places.

Both of them will spend money. The difference between them is that one chooses material things whilst the other chooses experiences. I wonder if this what being a minimalist really means.

“Whoever said money can’t buy happiness simply didn’t know where to go shopping.” – Bo Derek

Minimalist Mediations is a on-going series giving you the 101 on different aspects of minimalism. If you have any topic suggestions, let me know in the comments below or find me on Twitter!

My minimalist morning routine

Just because I’m a minimalist, doesn’t mean I’m an early riser.

Are you surprised?

I used to be a strong supporter of the idea of waking early (I still am) but I have discovered over the years that I have so many reasons not to (even though I very much admire people that do). For example, my brain tends to be more productive in the evening. If I try to go to bed too early, I know I will probably waste a good few hours tossing and turning around in bed thinking about things I have to get done, when I could have actually done it.

Also, I am absolutely blessed that I live only a few minutes by walk + bus away from my university, so I really don’t need to get up early. If I push myself, I would probably make myself unnecessarily tired during the morning, which is usually a crucial time for me. I’ve found what works for me, which is not too early, but not too late either. You may think I’m trying to make excuses, but being the non-conformist that I am, I would prefer to do what I feel is right, rather than what others tell me.

my morning routine

I’ve been getting a few emails about it, but to honest there’s nothing superhuman or special about it. I have to leave by 8:45, so by trial and error I worked out a routine which I can comfortably follow to the minute. I tried to minimalize as much as possible, so after a month of practising, this is what I came up with:

7:30-: Get up, bathroom, brush teeth.

7:45-: Exercise, put away futon.

8:00-: Make up

8:15-: Hair

8:25-: Change clothes

8:35-: Breakfast

8:45-: Leave house.

That’s it. Simple – exactly the way I like it.

A few tips that I can offer are:

1. Get a pleasant alarm clock. Although my iPhone doesn’t work in Japan (long story) I still use it everyday to wake me up. I have an app called Alarm Tunes which allows me to pick any song I want as the alarm. That way, I can choose nice ‘pick-me-up’ tunes to wake up to, which gives me a pleasant start to the day. If you don’t have an iPhone/iPod, I know you can buy little clocks that you can upload mp3 tracks on to.

2. Don’t miss exercising in the morning. Even if it’s just ten jumping jacks, don’t leave it out. I find just doing five minutes of stretching makes all the different for the rest of the day. If I ever forget or didn’t have enough time for some reason, I definitely feel sluggish or tired for hours. My morning stretch is possibly more important that remembering to brush my teeth.

3. Don’t dawdle. Sometimes I put on music because I can listen to it at the same time as getting ready. But I never watch TV in the morning because it’s almost guaranteed to slow me down in some way. The more time I spend getting ready, the more time I could have spent sleeping, who needs more motivation than that?

4. Pack the night before. It’s such a simple tip, yet it works so well. I just put everything I need in my bag before I go to bed so all I have to do is slip on my shoes grab my bag and go. No running about looking for stuff and NO forgetting anything as I’m halfway up the road. There’s nothing worse that having a bad feeling you’re forgetting something and only remembering past the point of no return 🙂

5. Whatever you do, have a system. If you’ve ever met me, you know I’m a pretty laid back person. I usually like things to be spontaneous and different (my weekends are usually free for whatever life in Japan wants to throw at me) but when it comes to my mornings I’m the complete opposite. I like efficiency. I really do love my sleep and besides that I have better things to do than to waste too much time flaffing about. So even if you don’t have a specific agenda to complete, just trying to wake up at the same time and leave at the same time most days is quite an achievement, it will at least reduce the chance of you waking up stressed and rushed which really does put most people in a bad mood.

So to sum up, the most important thing about your mourning routine is that it sets you up well for the day. Try to find a good that suits you and your own preferences and circumstances, whether your an early riser or not. Every day is a brand new beginning and a chance to live differently, so take it on wholeheartedly and have a nice day!

Update: See my my post on My Morning Routine

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The biggest challenge

In this post, I’m going to say a few controversial things that I’ve believed for a long time but haven’t had the courage to say outright. I think this blog (and me) has finally at a place in where I can confidently say how I feel. Not everyone will agree with what I’m about to say, but I guess you wouldn’t be reading my MS if we didn’t have something in common 🙂

I’m often asked what the hardest thing about minimalism is. In the beginning, I had no idea, various things were hard – getting rid of stuff I had gotten attached to, resisting buying things I wanted to, finding alternatives that were just as good … and so on.

But, after a few years I’ve gotten so used to such things and they’re no longer very hard to do. Over time, I’ve come to the conclusion that the biggest obstacle a minimalist has to overcome is to challenge the collective mindset that society has been based on since human history.

You’ve got to overcome always wanting more.

The constant hunger for more than we need is so deeply ingrained in our minds that we have come to think of it as human nature to be greedy and that there’s nothing we can do about it. There was a time when being greedy was good. It meant that you ate more than you needed to so that you can survive the winter. It meant you took more than you needed to so you wouldn’t waste energy walking all the way back. That time was the Stone Age.

But even today, how can one possibly imagine not wanting to live in a huge house? Who wouldn’t take a Ferrari if they got it free? Why would anyone pass on brand-name clothing if they had the money for it?

For us, the house-with-a-white-picket-fence (plus everything in and around it) is a symbol of achievement. It tells the world that we have ‘succeeded’ in the game of life. That we ‘won’.

It may be true for very few people, for the most part, nobody ‘wins’ when they get everything they want. Because there’s really no such thing. Even if you get the ideal house and car, there’ll be something else that you’ll want, like a more understanding spouse, better friends, fame or more leisure time. And when you get those, there will be something else that you’ll wish for like a special talent, clever children or a ‘beautiful’ body. Think about all of the people that look like they have an ‘ideal life’. It seems they have everything, but in your heart you know they don’t.

There are an infinite things you could want, but you could probably count the things you actually need to make you happy with just your hands.

The biggest challenge about minimalism is realizing that almost everything you’ve been told as a child isn’t necessarily true – you don’t have to succeed in school, you don’t have to be popular, you don’t have to find a job that pays well. I’m not saying one should live on the street or never aim high, but if only people could be just be content with what they have, instead of chasing lies like a donkey with a carrot on a stick, they may actually find satisfaction and lifetime happiness.

One you’ve realized this, the next biggest thing is making it your philosophy and living by it. We’ve come a long way from the greedy and uncontrollable animals we were in the Stone Age. We’ve upgraded to humans now, who can overcome this way of thinking and choose our own way.

So that’s the biggest challenge. I’m challenging it, are you?

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