Monthly Archives: November 2010

Minimalist Christmas Countdown Challenge

Christmas is approaching fast. November is coming to an end and people have already started shopping for presents, things to decorate their houses with and even for food.

I get a lot of questions asking me my opinion about Christmas. Of course, I enjoy it as much as the next person, and I have some very fond memories of this time of year. We would have big family gatherings – where it would be loud with chatter and laughter and everyone would have a great time.

As I grew older, I began to realize that there are aspects Christmas that are not so good (post coming soon). So, I’ve decided to counterbalance it this year with a Minimalist Christmas Countdown Challenge.

the challenge

Starting Dec 1 until Christmas day, I will be posting short daily prompts on my Twitter feed on how to de-clutter various aspects of your daily life – productivity, money, food, clothes, health etc.

Every week, I will publish a few of the prompts on the blog with some reader’s comments I’ve received and add some of my own.

You don’t have to do a challenge everyday, but if you do, leave a comment on the blog to let everyone know how you did, or any problems that you might have encountered. You can also tell me anything you’ve learned or found interesting, and even suggest a prompt if you would like!

Or, you can @minimalstudent me with links to your blog posts about a prompt and I promise to do my best to read all of them.

UPDATE: I’ve decided to schedule the challenge into 4 weeks, with each week focussing on a different category of minimalism.

  • Week 1: 1st ~ 5th Dec – Minimal Money Week
  • Week 2: 6th ~ 12th Dec – Digital/Info Purge Week
  • Week 3: 13th ~ 19th Dec – Minimal Health/Lifestyle Week
  • Week 4: 20th~ 25th Dec – New Year Cleanse Week

So if you’ve been meaning to get going on applying minimalism to your life for a little while, or you want to take it to the next level, sign up in the comments now!

kids, me and minimalism in the future

Minimalism and kids sound like polar opposites. A lot of people believe that having kids makes living a minimalist lifestyle impossible.

But does that necessarily mean that if you don’t have kids, then minimalism is easy for you? I don’t think so.

kids

At the moment, I only know what living a student/traveller lifestyle feels like. If you are either of those, then I would guess that many of my posts apply to you. Of course everyone is welcome, but if you do have kids, perhaps my version of minimalism doesn’t fit you. Of course it won’t, it’s different for everyone of all ages and circumstances.

I absolutely love kids. I teach them, I live with them, I take care of them. But as for myself, I want to travel, move around and see things before I settle down. Things are different if you have a house, a job and family commitments – your aims probably aren’t the same as mine.

But that doesn’t mean it is impossible. For the ‘other side’ of my kind of minimalism, I recommend Zen habits writer Leo who has six kids and minimalist father Joshua Becker who has written some perfect posts about this subject:

If you have a family,  I recommend you read their blogs too. They have shown me that it is perfectly possible to minimalize in some way, and that it’s not as simple as black and white – as in young people can do it but parents can’t – anyone can be a minimalist. It’s a tough truth to learn because too many people think that having kids gives them the excuse to give up or not even try.

me

It’s true that I don’t have to worry about my own kids, but that doesn’t make me a naive teenager. In fact, I have a brother who is eleven years younger than me, so I spent the better part of the last decade changing diapers, making school runs and dealing with toys, messiness and all the things they bring home from school (including the colds) in between my homework assignments, exams, clubs and social commitments. On top of that, even though I’ve been very lucky to be where I am now, it hasn’t always been easy and I’ve had to learn some harsh lessons on the way.

Just because I don’t have kids doesn’t mean it was an easy ride for me either. There are things I have to worry about too. In any case, if a minimalism makes sense to you, then things like my age and where I’m from shouldn’t matter. I actually live the life that I talk about, and I have seen proof with my own eyes that my life has improved for the better. Good things have happened to me one after another because I have adopted a minimalist lifestyle – there’s no way I’m turning back now.

minimalism in the future

Will I still be a minimalist in 10 years time? Obviously I can’t predict the future, but I’m pretty sure I’m not going to discard this lifestyle like a fad for a life of excessiveness, hoarding and debt. The reason I am minimalist is because it really makes my life better, and by consuming less, I have more time and money to help others in need too. These are my principles, like it is for people to be honest and compassionate – I don’t see myself ditching my morals any time soon.

Of course my version of minimalism right now will be different from what it will be in the future. It will change as I change. But that’s okay, because you’re supposed to be making minimalism fit you and not the other way around.

I have a good feeling minimalism will be with me for a long long time.

Reader notice: I will be starting a new ‘Minimalist Quick Tip’ section on my Twitter feed – subscribe to get short and helpful prompts on how to declutter your life!


Minimalist Meditations – technology

Technology is two-sided. On the one hand, technology has connected us – our ideas, messages and our personalities can all communicated from anywhere in the world to anyone we want. On the other hand, it has provided us with so much information to process – status updates, tweets, news, email, blogs, podcasts, phone calls and text messages that we’ve become overloaded and our attention divided into a million pieces.

technology vs minimalism?

Is technology non-minimalistic? It depends on what you think minimalism means. If, to you, it means forgoing technology altogether, then I guess it’s non-minimalist. But for me, minimalism is about making my life easier – whatever gives me more time to focus and to accomplish the things I want to do.

Minimalism doesn’t mean you should live like a hermit, you don’t have to ban technology from your life. In fact, technology can actually help you, and it’s part of the reason why minimalists exist today. Here are just a few of the minimalist things technology can help you with:

1. Carry less. A few weeks ago, I received a comment about the fact that I own an iPhone. It’s an old 3G model. Is it minimalist? Well, here are a few things I don’t have to carry around with me because I have it:

  • Dictionary – because a book of 159,000 words would be very heavy indeed.
  • Grammar reference book and Kanji  reference book – searching is also much easier than the index of a printed book.
  • Novel – I love to read, especially on the bus/train, but I hate carrying and ruining books in my bag.
  • Scrap notepad – I would lose all those pieces of paper if I had to physically look after the amount of notes I take.
  • Flashcards – because learning a language is a pain without them
  • Gaming device – I used to carry my DS with me, but now I don’t have to.
  • Calculator/currency converter – of you’ve ever spent time in a foreign country, you’ll know how invaluable it is to be able to see how much something costs in your home currency.
  • Clock/Alarm clock – this one is for my bedroom. I can’t sleep when I can hear ticking and I like to wake up to nice music rather than a ringing sound when I wake up.

2. Learn. I use my laptop almost everyday to learn something new – don’t underestimate what you can achieve. In fact, I learned how to play the guitar via the internet. On top of that, I use it to do research for class, learn languages, listen to podcasts, watch TED and other great videos,  among many other useful things.

3. Less clutter. On my external hard drive so I can store all my photos of my family, friends and times in Japan. During the summer, I went through a complete purge of all of the paper that I owned. I scanned what I needed and recycled the rest. So one little box replaces my photo albums, DVD and CD stacks and piles and piles of paper.

4. The environment. The Amazon Kindle and other ebook readers greatly reduce the need for paperback books. It’s up to your personal opinion which is more ‘comfortable’ to read, but anyone must admit that ebook readers are better for the environment and save a ton of space. Also, I buy a lot of my music digitally now, so I’m not adding to CD production and waste. On that note though, I recommend you read The Story of Stuff’s newest video – designed for the dump.

5. Connect. Thanks to technology, I can talk to my family (almost) face to face on the other side of the world – that’s something I definitely don’t take for granted. I can also write this blog and readers can write to me. My early days of minimalism were fuelled by reading the words of my minimalist heroes – something I would never have found without technology.

consumerism

Minimalism isn’t a complete rejection of consumerism. We are all consumers in some way, even if it’s just only groceries and clothes we need to cover our backs. Owning a few gadgets doesn’t make you a greedy consumer.

As long as you don’t get caught up with desiring the latest gadgets as soon as they come out, even when the current generation works perfectly fine, and you don’t rely on your gadgets to boost your ego because you can afford it and others can’t, then you’re not being that kind of consumer.

Just like the washing machine did for women in the 50’s and 60’s, you’re simply using it to your advantage to improve your own quality of life.

disconnection

So, owning gadgets doesn’t necessarily mean you are not a minimalist –  in fact, it helps you be more minimalist, in terms of the amount of physical things you own. But the word ‘technology’ can also mean being connected to the internet.

I used to think I needed internet with me everywhere I walked. That’s why I got an iPhone in the first place. But in Japan, my iPhone cannot make calls and it doesn’t have internet everywhere. I realize now that I never really needed the constant connection, I just thought I did.

Facebook messages, emails and tweets seem like they need your immediate attention, but how many times have you been actually required to reply immediately? Sometimes, you’ve just got to take a break from the internet. A few months ago, Gwen Bell took what she called a ‘digital sabbatical‘. I’ve become a massive fan of the idea, so here are some of my favourite posts on the topic:

I highly recommend trying it, it works.

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!

make your own rules

After the publication of the Times article, I received many emails and comments of encouragement, thank you everyone! Your kindness never ceases to amaze me, I want to let you know that while I can’t reply to them all, I appreciate every single one of them.

In a previous post, the biggest challenge I realized that I cannot please everybody with this blog. I’m trying to make a change and with change comes resistance. It’s not easy to suggest something different to what people are doing already.

People reading this may not agree with everything I say, so they tell me I’m doing something wrong or that I don’t know what I’m talking about. But these people don’t realize that minimalism is a difficult subject to explain because it is so easily misunderstood.

Obviously some ways are better than others, but there is no right and wrong way to ‘do’ minimalism. Contrary to popular belief, there isn’t a religious book to follow on minimalism. To a certain extent, you actually can make up the rules.

make minimalism fit you

A lot of people buy dresses and suits off the rack. They see a design, style and size they like the look of and then they lose/gain weight to fit into it. They work hard to force their bodies to fit into a pre-cut piece of clothing that was made with only a generic size description in mind.

But then there are those that stick to how they are and they tailor the dress or suit to fit them. They don’t need to force themselves into clothes that were cut for other people in mind.

There is no cookie cutter rule for minimalists. If you don’t plan to travel much, then maybe having fewer than 100 things would be inconvenient for you. If you go to work or school several miles away, then perhaps you can’t ride a bicycle. If you have kids, then you can’t help but have some clutter with toys and school work.

You may not be able to do everything, but you should be able to do something. Even baby steps count. If having six pairs of shoes is minimalist for you (as opposed to the twelve that you would have had) then that’s minimalism for you. If you can only reduce your car use by one time a week, well that’s better than no change at all!

As I said, I’m not trying to make everyone happy. There’s a line. Of course you can’t just put one thing in the bin then go out shopping and call yourself a minimalist. But for the most part, it is true that what minimalism means is up to you.

Just to show how the rules can vary, people have ways of counting their things if they take up the 100 things challenge. I bunched all of my socks into one because I only have about five pairs anyway, whereas some people count them separately. Most people don’t count their kitchen stuff (some don’t have kitchen stuff!) and some don’t count things they need for work. Whichever way you look at it, it’s better than doing nothing about it at all and even small changes like forgoing a shopping trip takes you one step forward.

To get started, just do one small thing today. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Look in your handbag/pockets. Are you carrying any thing you don’t need? Why carry extra weight?

2. Boycott twitter, facebook or any other internet black hole for a week, how do you feel? Did you get anything useful done instead?

3. Grab a bag and fill it with clothes you don’t wear any more. Take it to the charity shop. You know which ones they are.

4. Sort through a pile of paper that’s been building up for the past few weeks. Recycle or scan – try to get it down to less than half.

5. Tip a drawer upside down and put back in only the stuff in it you’ve actually used within the past two months. Do you need the stuff that’s left on the floor?

6. Have you been saving up books to read? How long have you had them? If it’s been over a year, give them away to someone.

7. Instead of driving somewhere you can get to within 20 minutes of walking or cycling… walk or cycle it.

8. Quit a commitment to something you haven’t had your heart into for a while now. Clear your schedule for something you really care about.

9. If you collect old magazines, consider if you really need them. If you haven’t read them in a while, why are they taking up space in your house?

10. Instead of eating/going out, why not get together with some friends and make dinner? It’ll be more fun than you think.

I’m not a robot, and I’m not perfect, but I’m willing to put myself out on the line. For this reason, I have finally decided to put a photo of myself on my About page to prove that I am a real person. I’m always open to constructive comments, this blog is not for waffling or impressing people, I am behind every word I write… 100 percent.

Finally,  I just wanted to thank you for all of those lovely comments and welcome la Repubblica readers!