Author Archives: Jessica

What’s left after minimalism?

by Jessica Dang
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So you’ve pared and pared and pared. You got rid of most of your stuff and you stopped buying what you didn’t need. It was hard work, and it took years, but now you only own the essentials.

Congratulations, you’re a minimalist, now what?

Do you just sit in your minimalist apartment/travel van/atop your only suitcase, twiddle your thumbs and admire the empty space around you?

Of course not. What’s left after minimalism is… all the stuff that matters. 

That was the whole point. To get rid of distractions, so that you have the time, money and energy to do what you’ve always wanted.

For me, that means writing a book. Yes friends, I am working on putting together a guide on minimalism, digging deep on how it relates to various aspects of life—work, money, travel, relationships… After nearly seven years of writing this blog, it’s about time. More updates to follow.

Even if you haven’t reached the level you’re aiming for yet, it’s worth thinking about what you’re going through all the effort for. Remember, it’s so that you can be who you really are.

Now go write, sing, paint, cook, travel, dance, play, create, start a business, learn French or whatever else it is you’ve always wanted to do.

Go spend time with your partner, friends and family. Meet new people, try new things. Make the most of life. Be happy. That’s what comes next.

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Minimalist Meditations — On Control

by Jessica Dang
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control

Minimalism is often misunderstood. On the surface, it looks like it’s just about decluttering your house, but that’s not what it’s all about.

Yes, having fewer things can improve your life. That’s not the end of the story. A minimalist lifestyle is not just about having fewer things, it’s about having more control in your life.

Think about it. What’s the point in having less? The answer is to have more of what you want—time, good relationships, freedom to be able to afford and choose to do what you want.

There is so much more to minimalism than getting rid of stuff. A minimalist lifestyle is a statement to yourself, and those around you, that you care less about what people think of you, and more about living the life you want.

5 ways minimalism helps you gain control

…of your choices:

Everyday, people let TV shows and advertisements manipulate them. They let marketing romance them into thinking they need the latest gadget, or that having expensive shoes makes them accomplished as people. They’re not really choosing what they want from life, they’re being told.

Minimalists aren’t so easily tricked. We know that in the long run, material things don’t make us happy. We choose what matters to us, and we choose to spend our time and effort on things that are meaningful. We make our own choices.

…of your time:

When people care too much about what society thinks of their job/house/car, they work too hard to prove their worth. Almost everything they do is in the name of appearing successful. Deep down, they know it’s not really worth sticking to a job they hate for the best 40 years of their life, but they do it anyway because what’s the alternative? To not have fancy stuff to show off with?

Minimalists have a sense of self-worth that is unrelated to how much we earn or own. We don’t let TV, neighbours, or society tell us what to do/have/aim for/live for to be successful. We already feel successful because we get to choose what we want to do with our lives. We have more to give. We don’t waste time on pointless things.

…of your finances:

How many people are living paycheck to paycheck not because they aren’t earning enough, but because they’re spending too much? In my last corporate job, almost everybody around me moaned about being ‘broke’ all the time when they were earning more than 80% of people in the country. It was sad. What were these people spending their money on? Expensive suits, branded perfume, overpriced drinks, phone contracts, dry cleaning their expensive suits… you name it, they spent money on it.

A minimalist’s resources are spent on better things than material gain. It doesn’t matter how much we earn, we buy only what we need. We respond to things that have value and tune out things that aren’t—whether it’s meaningful experiences via travelling, giving to those in need, or having the financial freedom to just work less.

…of your happiness:

People get sad or angry when they don’t get what they want. And if they do get it, it’s not long before they wan’t something else. It’s a constant cycle of desire for more that never leads to being happy.

Minimalists take control of their own happiness by appreciating what they have. We may strive for more out of life (minimalism doesn’t mean settling for less than we deserve), but at the same time we know that we’re lucky to be where we are today. Our happiness is in our own hands.

…of your legacy:

I quit my corporate job because the work was totally meaningless. I probably would have made more of an impact doing something like making YouTube videos or banging my head against the table. Will your life’s work matter in the end?

What you leave behind is up to you. Minimalism is about taking charge of your life, and your legacy. You can choose to care less about what others want, and more about living how you want. You don’t have to make a big impact on the world. Even if you just made one person’s life better, or one garden patch, as long as you lived life to the full, you will leave a good legacy.

It’s impossible to control everything. You can’t decide where the road leads, but you can decide which roads to take.

Direction causes destination. Where you’re headed now is where you’ll end up, unless you take control, and steer yourself towards where, or who, you want to be.

So in the last moments of your life, you can answer truthfully: Did you forge your own path or let others dictate it for you?

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Minimalist Meditations — On Giving

by Jessica Dang
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What is the ‘endgame’ for minimalism?

To live a happy life, of course. To be free of distraction, to be able to do what you want without caring what other people think.

Yes, all of these are important. For me though, minimalism is ultimately about giving.

Yes, I can live a happy life. And I do. But it isn’t enough to only be happy by myself. If I want to leave the world a better place than before I entered it, I have to help other people improve their lives.

Imagine if everyone you met left your company in a better condition than before. You would have good friends, and good relationships. People will remember you as the worthy person you are. Not only would you be happy, but they would be too, even if it was just for a while.

You don’t have to be entirely selfless. You don’t have to give away all of your fortune, or your free time. There are a thousand ways to help people, and minimalism helps you find the right way. Your own way.

For me, giving means doing what little I can for others right now, but also working hard on my business, so that one day I will have so much more to give.

There are so many people in the world who have nothing. Instead of spending all your money/time/effort on buying more and more expensive things, you can help people have something.

A minimalist lifestyle also helps Mother Nature. She gives, and most people take, take, take, without thinking about how much we are really hurting ourselves.

The path isn’t easy, but the direction is clear. No matter how you do it, or how little, giving is what minimalism is all about.

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How minimalism redefines success

by Jessica Dang
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‘Success’ is a loaded word these days. It can mean anything—fame, fortune, connections, owning a huge home, or a second car, or a walk-in wardrobe.

In other words, success nowadays is about what you own. To many people, if you have most, or all, of the above, you’re considered successful. If not, you’re probably a failure.

People spend their whole lives trying to live up to these expectations. Everyday, they work hard at their jobs to earn money to add to their pile of stuff. They get into debt, or never pay off the debt they already have, and with every promotion, they upgrade to more expensive things (a bigger house, or the latest gadget). And so the cycle continues of money in/money out every month, without stopping to think, ‘Why am I doing this? Does this make me successful? Does this make me happy?

Here’s the answer: No. You cannot be happy trapped in a rat race. Spending the best years of your life collecting more and more expensive things isn’t going to make you feel fulfilled, especially if you hate your job. Going through ‘the daily grind’ until you’re 65 will only lead to you realising that you’ve grown old without accomplishing much except (at best) a big inheritance tax bill.

It doesn’t have to be like this. What if we could redefine success, so that instead of being about what you own, it’s about what you do, and who you are?

If you could leave the world a better place than before you came, wouldn’t you want to? Why waste your one precious life living up to other people’s expectations, when you could live up to your own?

what is success?

“To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.”

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

In this massive universe, we are just one tiny speck against the infinity of time and space. Our life can be over in a blink of an eye. There’s nothing we can do about that, except make our blip of a lifetime worth something.

Buying stuff for yourself won’t make your life matter—doing something amazing will. Being your true self will.

What does that mean exactly? The answer is different for everyone. If your inner self is a painter, writer, dancer or singer, you know the answer. If you hate your job, then find one you enjoy that actually makes a difference. For me, being my true self means ditching my job, and becoming financially free so that I can travel, write, spend time with those I love, help people, and complete my bucket list.

Minimalism is about getting rid of distractions. When you don’t care about what other people think, you stop wasting your money, time, and effort on meaningless things. You stop blaming other people and start looking at yourself. You wake up to what’s really important.

With that, success means something completely different. Minimalism helps you remember what you’re living for.

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What I learned from 7 years of minimalism

by Jessica Dang
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When I started this blog back in 2009, I was on my way to college and living away for the first time. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life. I only had a vague idea that I wanted to enjoy it, whatever that might mean.

Eventually I came to understand that the key to making the most of life is to be sure that there isn’t anything holding me back—to make sure that I am free.

When I look back at my earlier posts, I see that in some ways I’m still the same person, and in others I have grown a lot. Minimalism for me started out as just decluttering a few things so that it was easier for me to travel. Over the years, it has taken on a deeper meaning beyond getting rid of stuff. It’s a tool I used to get the most of what I want from life.

Like every practice, the beginning was easy—how to pare down, how to fit everything I owned into a suitcase, etc. The harder stuff came slowly over the years—like how to be grateful for what I have, and how to let go.

Here are some of the easier lessons I learned quickly, and the more advanced versions that took a few more years for me to put into practice.

Lesson 1: Essentials
Easy: Having only what I need—identifying the useful from the useless. Easy.
Advanced: Learning that what I need changes, and adapting to it—growing an awareness to what I wanted from life at different times was harder. When I travelled a lot, being able to move with just one bag was essential, now I’ve settled down and running a business, things are different. Without material distractions, I am constantly reviewing my goals and making sure I make steps towards achieving them. I can’t hang onto ideals like having  less than 100 things like I used to (there is such a thing as being too attached to minimalism) but I also have to be aware that the things I own don’t end up owning me.

Lesson 2: Life
Easy: Decluttering my home—throwing things in charity bags was easy, and so was not buying new things that I didn’t want just because it was fashionable or because other people had it.
Advanced: Decluttering my life—my distracted mind, unnecessary commitments, toxic relationships, are all things that were harder to get rid of. I took up meditation to focus my mind, I refused to do more work than I had to, and I phased out people who were emotionally taxing on me. It might sound a little selfish, but because of it I was able to concentrate living a better life, and helping other people who needed it more.

Lesson 3: Time
Easy: Minimalism helped me make time for what matters—not caring what other people thought, and learning to say no lead to fewer commitments, which gave me more time to do what I wanted, and what I felt was important to me.
Advanced: Once I had time, I needed to actually make the most of it—I had goals and dreams, and after minimalising distractions I had no excuses. It was time for the harder stuff. I studied hard and graduated. I worked and travelled. I trained and ran (a lot). I quit my job and started my own business. People who misunderstand minimalism are missing the harder lesson—it’s not about getting rid of stuff, it’s about making room for what’s important. And then actually doing it.

Lesson 4: Relationships
Easy: People can’t be ‘converted’ to minimalism—I learned very quickly that talking about minimalism in daily life to people who haven’t heard of it before made me sound like a new-age hippie.
Advanced: I can show them the benefits, or just not care—instead of just talking about it, I learned that a better approach would be to live my life how I want, and if people take notice or ask questions, then they are ready to listen. Otherwise, I’ve learned to not really care too much about what people do and how they live their lives.

Lesson 5: Charity
Easy: Practicing minimalism to make a better life for myself—I’ve lived abroad, moved several times, and now I live in a beautiful apartment. I don’t work 9-5, I wake up at whatever time I want, and take holidays whenever I want. Save a small student loan, I have no debt, and I don’t live paycheck to paycheck.
Advanced: Practicing minimalism to make a better life for others—instead of wasting my money on car payments or branded perfumes, I can donate to people in need. Instead of wasting my time on pretending to be busy at work, I run my own business which gives me more time to give to people I can help. There is still so much more I can give, and instead of just talking about it, minimalism has helped me find the path to do it. You wouldn’t believe how much time/money/effort/anguish you save when you don’t care about impressing anyone.

Lesson 6: Sentimentality
Easy: Digitizing—books, CDs etc. I buy digitally if I can help it. I scan important papers and take photos of things to make it easier to throw them away.
Advanced: Learning to let go altogetherI’ve come a long way but still have a lot to learn. I just can’t bring myself to throw away some things from my childhood, or keepsakes that mean a lot to me. So I keep them. There are no minimalist ‘rules’ to dictate me, or anyone. I’m not as strong as some people who really aren’t attached to anything. Maybe I’ll never be like that, but for now I don’t care. For me, learning to let go is an ongoing practice.

Lesson 7: Gratefulness
Easy: Learning about mindfulness and gratefulness—I’ve read dozens of books about the subject, including almost anything published my the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh (I even went to his retreat in Plum Village, France).
Advanced: Actually practicing it—remembering to be mindful, or grateful is hard. Whenever I realise, ‘I should be really grateful right now’, I find myself staring into blank space trying to do it, whatever that means. It’s hard. But I’m slowly getting better at appreciating small things, seeing the beauty in the ordinary, and recognising moments of happiness. I expect to be practicing this lesson for the rest of my life too.

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I’m only passing through

by Jessica Dang
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View from my apartment

Two months into 2016, and I’ve made a lot of progress since quitting my corporate job. I have started my own business, which is going well, and have moved into a new home. It’s much brighter, and more spacious than the last one. The photo above is the beautiful view from the balcony.

Surrounded by a few bags and boxes, realising it’s is everything I own in the world, I’m reminded of a story about a wise man:

A travelling man visits a wise man’s house.

“Where is your furniture?” he asks the wise man.
“Where is yours?” the wise man replies.
“Mine? But I’m only passing through.”
“So am I,” the wise man said, “So am I.”

I’m only passing through

As always, minimalism has served me well. I don’t own as little as I did back when I used to travel a lot, but I still only have what I need. My expenditures are minimal, so I can pretty much afford to live wherever I want, living on my passive income and freelance work.

More importantly than just being easy to move house, minimalism has helped me keep my focus on the things that matter most to me—growing my business, my training (my next marathon is this April), and building a life with my partner. We don’t care about designer clothes, perfume brands or trying to get a good deal on a company car. In the end, none of these things will matter compared to what we’ve accomplished as people.

Moving again has reinforced what I’ve learned about the value of things—that is, they don’t really have value. Apart from loved ones (and sometimes not even them) you can’t physically touch the truly important things in life. You can’t buy it, borrow it, or exchange it for much else. They only matter to you, and that’s what makes them matter the most. 

I want to live my best life. I can do that by being grateful for everyday miracles, because I’ll only have them for a short while. And so do you. Some might think it’s a little sad, but it makes me happy to remember: we’re only passing through.

The winner from last month’s post for my copy of Living on Purpose: Straight Answers to Universal Questions is Josh (@joshisaurus). Please contact me via email/comments and I will post the book to you. Thank you everyone for sharing your stories, there will be more giveaways soon.

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Life begins when…

by Jessica Dang
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dawn mountains

Life begins when…

you wake up

the sun is shining

you smell coffee

 

Life begins when…

you create

you help

you discover

 

Life begins when…

you feel grateful for the little things

you do something you enjoy

you learn to love

 

Life begins when…

you see the bigger picture

you learn to let go

you make it to the other side

 

Life begins when…

you go somewhere you’ve never been before

you do something you’ve never done before

you want to be better than you were yesterday

 

BONUS Giveaway: Living on Purpose: Straight Answers to Universal Questions – Dan Millman

I’m starting off 2016 by celebrating hitting 20k+ subscribers via emailRSS, TwitterFacebook and Tumblr. Thank you wonderful readers for all of your support! I will be doing FREE book giveaways during 2016 (minimalising my bookshelf) the first one being one of my favourites: Living on Purpose: Straight Answers to Universal Questions by Dan Millman, author of the bestseller Way of the Peaceful Warrior.

To enter, I want to hear your story! Please comment on this blog post or on the Minimal Student Facebook page your name, where you’re from, and tell me your minimalist story. That’s it!

You could also share some comments about the blog, and any suggestions you might have for future posts. I will select the best answer one month from today on February 28th, and post you the book, wherever you are, for free! No strings attached, I just want to share the love and wisdom. Looking forward to hearing from you 🙂

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Searching in 2015

by Jessica Dang
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searching

For me, 2015 was about finding happiness.

At the beginning, I thought I could find through my job—I’d started a new one mid-2014, and was excited by the idea of having a regular income. I thought it would mean I could afford to do whatever I wanted. I was wrong.

I worked 50+ hours a week, pouring over business deals, doing everything I could to make sure they went through. It was so stressful, I even thought about them at night, and I couldn’t sleep properly. After continuous disappointments, I felt I couldn’t trust anything anyone said, and I lost faith in people. Where I was successful, I was paid very well, but that didn’t matter because losing all those hours to work, and feeling exhausted after each day meant that I couldn’t do any of the things I wanted to do. I had more money than I had time to spend. I was cash-rich, but time-poor.

About halfway through this year, I was ready to quit. Instead, I was offered a promotion. I thought about it, and decided to accept. Despite the disappointments, I was actually good at my job. I got a pay rise. I had more responsibility. But I should have known it wouldn’t be enough. It wasn’t more money I was after. It was having my own time that I cravedthe freedom to choose how I spend my days.

Three months later, I resolved to quit again. No backing out this time. No amount of money was going to keep my from being happy. I handed in my resignation letter, and cleared out my desk. I didn’t even work off the full notice period. I was free. A weight lifted off me. I cried. The next day, I slept like a baby.

When I look back at how I spent my time this year, I like to think of it as as journey. As much as I was grinding away at that job, worrying about each little problem or email message, considering the bigger picture I accomplished very little. In fact, it felt more like I wasted the better part of a year of my life. But I don’t regret it. Why? Because I needed to learn a lesson.

what I found in 2015

I needed to learn that money isn’t the most important thing. It’s not even the second, or third, or fourth, of fifth…there are so many things that are more precious. Like having free time, meaningful relationships, good health, or the ability to just damn relax. Eighteen months doesn’t sound like a long time to stick to a job you hate, but when you’re constantly dealing with disappointments, and wishing that time would just hurry up, it’s long enough to learn lessons that will last a lifetime.

I wouldn’t have believed anyone if they told me swapping my freedom for cash isn’t worth it. Of course it is, everyone does it! But when you’re not living life to the fullest, what’s the point? Money bought me a comfortable life, but I didn’t have time to enjoy it. By itself, money didn’t give me the things I really wanted. It as only after being deprived of time and freedom that I really appreciated how much they meant to me.

My spiritual journey has been reflected in my writing. Despite being short on time, I made a special effort to publish at least one post a month in 2015. Many of the posts focused on Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life, which I had taken a deep interest in during the cold winter nights this year after a long day at work. His essay confirmed for me that I was wasting my one and only life, and it hardened my resolve to quit.

Later on the year, I moved onto the subject of happinessobtained through noticing the miracles that surround us every day and being more grateful for the little things. After all, minimalism isn’t about paring down your wardrobe just for the sake of it. It’s ultimately about finding happiness within yourself, not from anywhere else. After this year, I believe in it more than ever.

Posts of 2015

January: Zen in a lotus flower

February: On the Shortness of Life – Part I – Finiteness

March: On the Shortness of Life – Part II – Protecting time and living in the present

April: On the Shortness of Life – Part III – Desire and life goals

May: On the Shortness of Life – Part IV – Learning

June: On the Shortness of Life – Part V – Death

July: Live life like water

August: Why Showing Up Is Not Enough

September: 5 Ways to Strengthen Your Spirit – A Minimalist’s Guide

October: Everyday miracles

November: Why Minimalists Live Happy Lives

Bonus: My article on popular personal development blog Early to Rise  Do you have a job, a career, or a calling? Written from my research and experience into finding fulfilling work. More to come next year.

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Why Minimalists Live Happy Lives

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“You were put on this earth to achieve your greatest self, to live out your purpose, and to do it courageously.” ― Steve Maraboli

jump

Why is minimalism appealing to so many people?

Because it grants freedom. It’s a way of living fearlessly, without caring what other people think.

Minimalists choose to live free and happy lives. Shedding our need to always buy more, enables us to live a life we want.

We’re not chained to a job we hate because we need the paycheck to cover the rent, or luxury purchases. We can live without it!

We’re not scared or ashamed of not being able to afford something. We don’t need fancy cars or designer perfume to feel validated. We’re not scared of having our houses repossessed, or having to pawn jewellery, because we only buy what we need and can afford, so don’t get ourselves into such situations.

We’re not afraid to challenge the social norms. We live the life we choose, not one that we’re told we’re ‘supposed to’ live.

We enjoy spending time with the people who matter most to us, not spending money. We pursue our interests and hobbies, cultivate our curiosity about this beautiful world, and fulfill our dreams.

We want to make a difference. We refuse to live a sad existence, wasting our talents on things that don’t matter. Everyone has something special to offer, if only everyone was brave enough to find it and follow through.

You only live once. Minimalists aren’t scared by that. In fact, we embrace it.

We’re not scared to live life to the fullest. We’re grateful for everything we already have. No matter what happens, we’ll make the most of it. That’s why we live happy lives.

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Everyday miracles

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barefoot

What is a miracle?

A supernatural event? Something rare? Magic, or deception?

Yes, it can be any of these things, but I wonder how many people would say that a miracle can be something ordinary?

Or, at least, something that seems ordinary. Miracles happen every day around us, we just don’t see it.

Most people would call walking on water a miracle, but how about walking on earth? How special that is! Yes, most people can walk on the ground, but that doesn’t make it less of a miracle.

Think about it. Think of all of the things in the universe that had to come together so that you can take a single step. From the beginning, conditions on Earth had to be just right for life to blossomeverything from the temperature to the water and oxygen levels. That’s why life has been so hard to find anywhere else. And even when it wasn’t perfect, like when a volcano erupted, or a meteor struck, every one of your ancestors survived so that you are alive today.

That’s not all. If you want to take a shorter view on it, the fact that you’re healthy and alive right now, and able to enjoy this beautiful day is a miracle in itself! Be grateful for every moment you can feel the breeze through your clothes, or the rain on your face. Be grateful for every morning the sun rises and every evening you made it to the end of the day alive…because, sadly, a lot of people didn’t.

In our modern lives, we can’t expect too many miracles. But if we look carefully, they are all around us. The miracle is not to walk on the water, or on clouds or fire, but it is to walk on earth.

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