Category Archives: 5 Simple Steps

Minimal Student is graduating

by Jessica Dang
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I started this blog seven years ago at the beginning of my minimalist journey.

It was 2009. I discovered a lifestyle movement that talked about the joy of having less. I learned about how being obsessed with buying and owning material possessions is a recipe for an unhappy life, and it resonated with me. I began to write about it.

At first, I was mainly concerned with stuff and how to get rid of it. I wrote about decluttering and one bag living. It suited my nomadic lifestyle at the time when I was living, working, and exploring several different cities and countries.

Eventually I returned to the UK. I was approaching my mid-20’s, and everyone around me was settling down. I moved into my own apartment with the single suitcase I had been living out of.

I got a corporate job and it was everything I ever wanted—or at least, I thought I wanted. I was paid well and got promoted, but the environment was so tough I began to change as a person. I struggled to find balance. I started buying more things to make up for the creeping unhappiness I felt doing a job which I realised, deep down, was ultimately meaningless. It took a long time, but in the end I found the courage to quit. I ended up starting my own business which gave me the freedom to do what I wanted. I took back control of my own life.

At every stage of my life, my perspective on things shifted. The more I experienced, the more convinced I was that many of the conventional ideas we’re supposed to follow—such as working in a soul sucking job in order to pay your bills and buy stuff until you’re either 65 or dead—didn’t really stand up to scrutiny.

In turn, the direction of Minimal Student has followed me on my quest, moving on from ‘how to declutter’ articles to ones about the tougher questions—what is important in life? What does success really mean? How can I be happy?

I still have more I want to share with the world that isn’t just limited to young people or students. By trying to keep things relevant to the blog name, some of the articles I’ve written have been held back from being able to reach a wider audience. As my readers have grown, the blog has to as well. The Minimal Student community is made of readers of all ages, and from all walks of life. I want to reach out to them too.

So I have decided to start afresh. Don’t worry, Minimal Student isn’t finished. I will always be a student of life and will continue to study what it means to live. However, I will be doing so under a new blog, Minimalist Meditations (www.minimalistmeditations.com) which I am working on expanding the ideas for my book that I’m hoping to finish and publish this year.

To make the transition easier, Minimal Student with continue to exist for a little while, before all of the links will redirect to the new blog URL. All of Minimal Student’s social media will also be renamed.

The good news is that I will be writing a lot more often, and you can keep up with new posts I write and publish by subscribing via RSS or email, or following me on Twitter or Facebook.

I don’t claim to have all of the answers, and in no way have I reached ‘the end’, but I can reflect on what I’ve learned in the past several years and what I, no doubt, will learn in the future. Feel free to join me at Minimalist Meditations on this path towards finding a life of happiness.

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

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In life, there are a lot of things that matter. For example, your work, your relationships, and your health. But there is something at the root of all these areas in our lives that connects them, which we can easily neglect like tending to flowers in the garden but not looking after the roots.

Even if things are going well for now, without looking after the roots, everything will eventually weaken over time.

The roots that connect all the areas in our lives is the strength of our spirit.

What do I mean by this? Your spirit is you, and all the things that make up what you are your mind, your body, your relationships, memories, character, actions, beliefs and values. These are the things that make us unique. Put together, in the end, your spirit will be your legacy.

It can be a story of weakness, discontentment, and regrets, or one of adventure, kindness and virtue. What you leave behind is up to you.

how to strengthen your spirit a minimalist’s guide

“Good timber does not grow with ease: The stronger wind, the stronger trees; The further sky, the greater length; The more the storm, the more the strength.” –Douglas Malloch

1. Cultivate courage. If you always stick to what you’re already comfortable with, you’ll never push past your current limits. Your spirit will never grow from being trapped in the confines of fear. Don’t fall into what is easiest, put yourself out there. Challenge yourself. It’s the hardship that builds strength. Try something new every day sometimes you’ll fail, but those are opportunities to learn and grow. You will have lived your life without regrets, because you tried everything that you wanted to. Through cultivating your courage, you can, and will, achieve great things.

Read: 5 Lessons Learned from Repeated Failure

2. Open your heart. Humans are naturally empathetic creatures. You can end up expending huge amounts of energy blocking out others and ignoring their suffering. In terms of spiritual growth, being selfish certainly doesn’t pay. Instead, be generous and give what you can not just money, but your time can also be as valuable. When you open up your heart, in a way you become vulnerable, but that’s not a bad thing. You’ll be more open to new ideas, listening to others, and learning new things. Challenge what you know, so that with reason you are able to support your views, or better yet, amend them. Put yourself on the line, and when you make it to the other side, you’ll be stronger.

Read: Be Vulnerable, Be Alive

3. Maintain balance. Demands in our every day lives pull us all over the place. Work, relationships, staying fit, all can take up our time until we feel like we have none left. It’s difficult to juggle it all – we can’t spend equal amounts in all areas, and we can’t all be perfect all the time. But with a bit of awareness we can identify areas we’ve been neglecting, and with practice, we can adjust until we feel we’ve reached an equilibrium between work and play. Along the way, we have to ditch the things that are wasting time, like too much TV, or more drastically, even our jobs if it’s sucking away too many hours and too much energy from what we really care about. Just like your body needs a certain amount of activity versus sleep to be fit and to get stronger (and too much of one will lead to breakdown) your spirit builds in the same way.

Read: Balancing Work Life With A Minimalist Life

4. Eliminate the weeds. Weeds are like parasites that creep up on us and suck away our energy. If you don’t pay attention to them, they’ll spread and take over our lives. If we are to cultivate a strong spirit, we need to eliminate these sources of toxic energy. This includes people and relationships that take up our time and emotional energy, but don’t give anything back, and things like partaking in gossip, complaining too much, and talking about people behind their backs. Other timewasters, like too much TV, social events that we feel obliged to go to but don’t enjoy, also need to be cut down if we are to spend more time on growing ourselves, or the relationships we care about. A more simplified lifestyle where we spend less money also has the benefit of saving us from working as much to sustain our lifestyle.

Read: Let go of your most toxic habit

5. Build integrity. Integrity is like food for our spirit. It energises it, and gives us life. Things like being honest and admitting to your mistakes so you can learn from them, and build your strength. Keep promises, to yourself and others, and follow through with what you say you’re going to do. People will come to rely on your word. When you are faced with a decision, try to do the right thing that’s best for the most people, instead of what’s right for just yourself. Be kind to others, and approach others with sincerity. You’ll attract more friendships this way, with other open and honest people. The relationships in your life will be much more fulfilling when they’re with people who love you back, and who give you back as much as you give them.

Read: Minimalism & The Noble Eightfold Path II – Ethical Conduct

The effect of doing all this is that you’re bound to leave the earth having a left a better impression than when you entered it. Your courage will inspire others, your open heart will make you closer to those you know and love, your balanced life without the weeds that sap your energy will allow you to do what you love, and your generosity and integrity will encourage others to do the same.

It won’t be easy. We don’t do all of these things by default. Rather, they are small actions that we build into habits, and through doing something small everyday, we build up a strong foundation for living a good and fulfilling life. The best thing is, none of these habits cost a penny.

In the end, it’s not how many things we own, or how many hours we’ve worked, or what title we have that matters. It’ll be the strength of your spirit that counts.

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The biggest mistake people make when making their life goals, and how to fix it

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One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen people make is to confuse emotions with goals.

They make lofty aims like, ‘I want to be happy,’ or ‘I want to be successful,’ without knowing that these aren’t really goals at all.

What we’re talking about here are emotions, or states. These can change all the time. You could be feeling happy one day, and miserable the next, it’s only natural that our moods are constantly changing.

So aiming to achieve an emotional state, and stay like that for the rest of your life, is only going to lead to frustration.

Emotions are only an indication of whether or not you’re going in the right direction towards where you want to be. In other words, they can only show you whether or not you’re doing the right thing, right now.

the key to happiness is redefining it

For example, if you want to ‘be happy’, and you find that you’re happiest spending time with your friends and family, then your happy state is telling you that that’s what you need to be doing. So you should aim to spend more time with the people you love.

If what makes you feel successful is doing something you enjoy and you’re good at, then if you hate your job, you’ve got to aim to find something else.

If freedom, or independence, or travelling, makes you happy, then you need to let go of the commitments and stuff that’s holding you back so that you can do it.

If you’re feeling unhappy or unsuccessful because you’re stressed out about money, all the work you have to do, or the drama that people around you bring into your life, then now you know where to begin to change that. Sorting these out would be your ‘goals’ for now.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with deciding that you want to happy in life. However, until you realise that happiness itself is just an emotion that comes from the result of your actions, you’re not going to get any closer to it.

You have to define what ‘happiness’ means to you by breaking it down to actual actions that you can accomplish right now. Those actions are your goals, for now.

In summary, here are some action steps you can take today:

1. Think specifically about which emotions, or states, you would like to feel about what. For example, “I want to feel ____ about ____. For example, “I want to feel happy about my job.”

2. Find out what makes you feel that way. For example, “I feel happy about my job when I enjoy the hours I spend working.”

3. Do those things, or avoid the things that make you feel the opposite. For example, “I love working with people, so I should move to a more client facing role” or, “I hate working in an office, I’m going to find a job that’s more hands on.”

4. Keep going. Keep finding new things that make you feel better about that particular area of your life. For example, “Being really good at my job makes me feel successful. I’ll keep working on getting better at it,” and so on.

5. Move onto improving other areas of your life. Once you’ve picked an area to improve, keep it up. Them try the technique in another area, such as improving your relationships, finding a fulfilling hobby, or improving your health. The possibilities are endless.

 

It sounds so simple, but most people only get to the first step and then wonder why they’re not happy yet. What can you do to redefine your goals?

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5 quick tips to get healthy the minimalist’s way

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To run a mile you have to take one step. And then another. And then another. There’s no secret formula behind it.

I’ve seen so many people try out new things that are good for their health or happiness, but after a few weeks or months, they give up. They make excuses about how it takes too much time or effort, but the problem was that they started out with such lofty goals that they became frustrated when they realized that they couldn’t reach them.

They also don’t realize that getting healthier is a lifestyle change. It’s not a fad that only lasts a few months. You have to be willing to transform the way you think about yourself, about food and about exercise. Here are some minimalist tips on how to get healthier for good.

1. Start small. It’s easy to build up big ambitious dreams like “One day I’ll weigh __ pounds” but to achieve such goals, everyone has to start somewhere. If you want to start running or working out, don’t push it until you’re sweaty and out of breath, otherwise you’ll come to dislike it. Just take a short and slow jog around the block. If you can manage to do this almost every day, then you can look to increasing your speed or distance and challenging yourself.

Last week, I ran my first half marathon. I joined thousands of other people as we all lined up, put our headphones in and pounded the pavement. Everybody I passed or passed me had their own story of how they got into running and then to this race. But no matter who they were or where they’re from, it all started with a single step.

2. Don’t let your first reaction be to buy stuff. Otherwise that yoga mat, exercise ball or ab crunch machine and so on will only end up gathering dust. And it’ll always be there to remind you of your failure. Only buy when you have developed a regular habit of working out and when you are absolutely sure that you need it. And even then,  you can get a lot out of not using any equipment at all. Gyms are overrated – the machines only facilitate muscle movement that are basically unnatural. If you don’t like running, take up swimming or yoga or pilates or tai chi or cycling or parkour or a martial arts or anything else that gets you moving naturally.

3. Get to know your body. Read ‘The Four Hour Body‘ by Tim Ferriss. Learn about what you can do to really get fit. If you want to lose weight, instead of signing up for a gym membership straight away, cut down on one thing you know you shouldn’t be eating as much. You cannot just ‘burn it off later’. At the same time believe it or not, you do not have to eat like a rabbit. Google “Paleo Diet”. If there’s one thing you should be learning about, it’s how your body works. You wouldn’t use junk to fuel a Ferrari. Your body is even more intricate and irreplaceable. Get educated.

4. Realize that “skinny” and “healthy” are not the same thing. Don’t overdo it. Being thin does not necessarily mean that you are healthy. If you lose too much weight, you’ll become fatigued easily, your immune system weakens and your overall health is much worse than being slightly overweight. I’ve known people to get completely mixed up between being “thin” with being “slim as a result of sport” or for the purposes of sport. Rather than concern yourself about your weight or fat percentage or whatever, choose an exercise that you enjoy doing, and do it for the fulfilment of challenging yourself and you will naturally lose weight along the way.

I run because it makes me feel alive.  This half marathon was a milestone for me, and I learned a lot. In some ways it’s more challenging than a whole marathon because if you want to do it in good time you have to run at a fast pace for 13.1 miles, almost like a prolonged sprint – and every couple of pounds you carry counts. But I would never trade away my weight if it means that I’ll end up skinny, frail and unhealthy. I don’t do it because I want to lose weight, I do it because I firmly believe that I was born to run.

5. Love thyself. It’s not always going to be easy. Sometimes you just want to devour some cake – but that’s okay. Just ask yourself – am I happy? This is very important. AM I HAPPY? Because if you’re trying to lose weight because you think it’ll look good or that people are judging you or for any other reason apart from for your own wellbeing then you should just stop now and come back when you have learned to love yourself for who you already are. You shouldn’t feel guilty about eating a cookie for crying out loud. If it makes you happy, then just eat it! Alternatively, if too much bad food would stop you from reaching more fulfilling dreams (like running a marathon, go mountain climbing etc.) and make you unhappy, then don’t. There’s always a middle way.

 

Ultimately, nobody is judging you as much as you think. People have better things to worry about than the number that pops up on a pair of scales when you stand on them. Life is too short to be constantly distressed by something so trivial. As long as you’re happy with yourself, your natural self-confidence will shine through – you’ll be more optimistic and much more likely to wear a smile on your face. And that is so much more beautiful.

 

Find my daily minimalist motivational quotes via twitter!

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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 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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5 essential minimalist lessons for getting really fit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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5 ways to create a minimalist’s world

If you have recently discovered minimalism, or you’re naturally quite minimalistic, it can get a little frustrating to watch your family and friends spend large amounts of time and money acquiring material things like more clothes, a new gadget or even a new and bigger car or house. It can get be upsetting to see the people you care about base their happiness on whether or not they will obtain these material things. What happens when they don’t get what they want?

You want them to be happy, despite having, or not having this stuff. You want to shake their shoulders and shout ‘YOU DON’T NEED ALL THIS STUFF, YOU CAN BE HAPPY RIGHT NOW!”. But we all know that people won’t change simply because you tell them to. The only way they will change for the better is if they want to change.

Think about it. If you’re reading this it’s probably happened to you. You’ve seen how people following a minimalist lifestyle have changed their lives for the better. So you began to change too.

…And when people see how much better off you’ve become, they’ll follow suit. As the saying goes, “We must fix ourselves before we can fix others”.

Why not start a movement around you, starting with yourself?

how to change the world

1. Lead by example. Go out and do things with your the time and money you’ve saved through minimalism. Show people all the good things you’ve gained because you gave up falling for marketing ploys. What have you always wanted to do? What do you love? Why not travel, gain experience, write a book or blog, go for a walk, run in the park, get on a rollercoaster, learn to play an instrument, draw something, see a play …be free! When I started doing these kind of things, I got a few comments like “how do you find the time?” to which I smiled and said “I just don’t go to work as much!” (silently thinking “…because my life overhead is so low!”).

2. Show before telling. It might seem irresistible to make a comment here or there about how people live. It’s not necessarily bad, you might just want to let them know that they really don’t need another x but they probably won’t listen. For some reason, people don’t really appreciate you telling them how they would feel if only they would do y. Lecturing too much can create a distance between you and that person, and can make it even more difficult for them to change for the better. From experience, I’ve found my with-held comments more useful as motivation for myself to keep living minimally. For example, instead of simply telling others they shouldn’t don’t really drive in a car so much/at all, I just keep reminding myself not to!

3. Be helpful. Donate the things you don’t need to charities. Give money to causes you care about. You can make a positive impact on other people’s lives at the same time as you are downsizing. There’s bound to be someone who will appreciate Aunt Hester’s Christmas sweater more than you will! You change the world through the people you touch, but it doesn’t have to only be friends and family. You can change the world for the better – even if only just a little – by helping strangers out too.

4. Be content. Whether you own nothing or everything, you won’t be happy until you’re satisfied with what you already have. Not only that, but it’s also important that you are content of where and who you are. In the words of Eckhart Tolle “Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it“. Only by being content with where you are can you show others that they should be content with where they are too. It may sound a little idealistic, but I believe that the more people there are that are happy with what they have, the less consumerism, materialism and greed there will be in world. I think it’s really true – it’s already happened to a handful of minimalists and aspiring minimalists… it’s already happened to you!

5. Smile. Finally, just be positive! Smile whenever you can because you’re no longer a slave to stuff. Because you’re not running in the rat race. Because you have time to do the things you enjoy. Even if you’re not all the way there yet, at least you’ve made progress. Even if it’s just one step (like reading Minimal Student) you’ve taken bounds that many haven’t even contemplated yet! Smile and show others that life is for actually living, not for just making a living.

Over the last few years that I’ve become a minimalist, I’ve definitely seen changes in the pack rats around me, especially in my family, who have bagged piles of clothes for charity. It may not be much, but if all of us can just influence one or two other people just a little, we’d be much closer to the minimalist utopia we all love to dream about 😀

To finish off, here is one of my favourite poems:

When I was young and free and my imagination had no limits, I dreamed of changing the world.

As I grew older and wiser I realised the world would not change. And I decided to shorten my sights somewhat and change only my country. But it too seemed immovable.

As I entered my twilight years, in one last desperate attempt, I sought to change only my family, those closest to me, but alas they would have none of it.

And now here I lie on my death bed and realise (perhaps for the first time) that if only I’d changed myself first, then by example I may have influenced my family and with their encouragement and support I may have bettered my country, and who knows I may have changed the world.

~ Anonymous

Have you had any experience (or better yet, success) with encouraging your friends and family to live more minimalistically? How did it go? Do you have any more ideas? Please let me know in the comments!

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Moving back home – 5 ways to get rid of unwanted things

^ My life possessions!

Finally, it’s nearly time to move out of our beloved dorms back home and enjoy a well-deserved summer break. But moving home can be a pain, especially since we’ve all probably gained more stuff during the course of the year.

Moving from home, all of my stuff only just fit into the car with the driver and me as the passenger, so I don’t have much extra room for the books and clothes I’ve gained. On top of that, I’m going abroad after this summer, so I want to get rid of as much as I possibly can before I leave. That’s why I’m doing a complete re-haul of all of my possessions.

Every now and again, I take a look around and ask myself ‘what should I do with all this stuff?’

Picking up each individual item, I try to mindfully put it into one of the following categories:

1. Donate. First stop – charity shops! They’re a great way to get rid of stuff, whilst doing wonders for your karma. I’ve got a whole bag of clothes waiting for me to give to various local charities. Sometimes it’s hard to give things away, but I just tell myself that I’ve had my time with the item, if I’m not going to use it any more I may as well pass it on to someone who will. Just keep in mind that charity shops aren’t dumping grounds, if they don’t think something will sell, they’ll probably chuck it away, in which case you’re better off with the following options.

2. Sell/Give away. If there aren’t many charity shops willing to take your stuff, don’t forget to ask around your flatmates, friends and family if they would want a few of your things. If they’re not as minimalist as you, you’re bound to have a few people take up on your offer. Also, some university bookshops can help you sell your old books, otherwise hit up amazon or ebay in advance to offload some weight before you leave. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure!

3. Recycle. Since many students would be moving out at the same time, hopefully the student dorm officers will have set up various recycling bins, even for old clothes and shoes. The bins are less fussy than charity shops, since the contents either usually go to be recycled or are shipped off to third world countries. Don’t forget to recycle all of those notes and sheets of paper you’ve collected over the year. Be really strict, if you  don’t think you’re ever going to need them again, why keep them? There’s no use transporting it home, only to collect dust and be thrown away when you graduate.

4. Re-purpose. A lot of the time, if you’re creative enough, you can turn things you don’t need into things you do need! If you’re good with the old needle and thread, you can cut up jeans to make shorts, turn old t-shirts into a pillow or even a laptop case, and if you’re like me and lack sufficient creativity, just cut them up into cleaning rags! There’s a whole range of possibilities out there, including customizing shirts with printing (which make great birthday presents), or even making sock puppets for baby cousins 🙂

5. Throw away. The last wasteful resort should be avoided if possible. If there’s nothing you can do with it, you can simply throw it away. It’s probably better for you to get rid of something you don’t need than to hold on to it. Please make sure that whatever it is, it’s disposed of in the least polluting way. Although it doesn’t happen too often, I always feel a bit guilty when I have to put something straight in the bin. At least every time it happens it makes me think a bit more about buying new stuff later! If you haven’t already, please check out The Story of Stuff – it’s enlightening.

So school’s out, but don’t worry Minimal Student will still be going. Please help me share the love by recommending MS via Stumbleupon or Digg etc!

And I would love to hear what you guys decided to do with all your unwanted things, please share in the comments!

5 tips to create and maintain a minimalist desk

Despite many aspects of university education becoming digitalised, students are still not completely free of paper. And it will probably be a long time before we are completely done with it, if ever. Paper – worksheets, assignments, data, sources, references, extracts, forms and letters obtained from professors, coursemates, friends and our own research – can be one of the main culprits when it comes to desk pile up.

Not to mention other things that can contribute to a cluttered desk, such as books, mugs, a computer or laptop, pens, a lamp, knick-knacks, folders and if you’re really messy even clothes or food(!).

why you need a clear surface

If you live in a single bedroom with limited space, desks can get very cluttered very quickly if you don’t consciously keep it clear. A desk packed full of stuff can:

  • Create a distracting environment
  • Encourage procrastination
  • Be off-putting to creativity
  • Make it difficult for you to find things you need
  • Encourage cluttered-ness in other parts of the room

By far the simplest and easiest way is to literally take everything off your desk and put it on the floor. Then one by one put things back only after you’ve carefully considered why you need it. You’ll find that you’ll have to relocate a lot of stuff, but it shouldn’t be too hard to find a home for it if you’ve kept your drawers and shelves pretty minimal.

how to maintain a minimalist desk

1. Dispose immediately. If you think you’ll probably never use a sheet of paper again, just chuck/recycle it. If you leave it to mix with the stuff that you do need, you’ll be put off organizing it because the pile looks bigger and scarier. The worst that can happen afterwards is that you look on your university portal for an electronic copy or borrow off a course-mate. A lot of sheets only have a one time use, keeping them will not benefit you so it’s best to clear it out as soon as you can.

2. Organise. Use fileboxes, trays or folders to store papers that land on your desk. Only you can work out a system that works for you, but for me I find a simple ‘Urgent’/’To Do’ /’To File’ method works perfectly.

Everyday, I deposit all of the sheets in my thin folder into the appropriate boxes/folders (after I’ve done step 1). Sheets that have to do with upcoming deadlines obviously go into the ‘Urgent’ box/folder. General things like homework sheets and long-term assignments go in ‘To Do’, and sheets I want to keep for revision but have no immediate use go in ‘To File’.

Instead of filing one sheet at a time, which can be time consuming, when the ‘To File’ pile gets to a certain level, I sort all of those sheets into labelled boxes. Once everything is sorted out, it’s much easier to identify what and how much you need to deal with at any particular moment.

3. Inbox Zero. Once you’ve deposited all of the things you need to deal with in once place, try to reduce everything in it to zero everyday or every other day. This will help you gauge your workload and do everything in an according pace. In other words, if you see that your work is beginning to pile up, you know that you it’s time to do block out some time to get it all done before you fall behind. If the ‘Urgent’ box is empty, celebrate!

4. Clean. If you must eat at your desk (I do sometimes when I’m watching TED), clean up as soon as you can after finishing and don’t leave it overnight. Clean dust away often and wipe off coffee mug rings. Be adaptable and try moving things around so that you have as little on your desk as possible. You can use bookshelves to store non-urgent folders or things you don’t use often such as reference books. Many people like to keep this stuff on their desk but actually they don’t use them very often anyway.

5. Get rid of knick-knacks. A lot of people keep photos or little figures on their desks which can be kinda cute, but also a little distracting. I used to find myself daydreaming whenever I looked up because I would see a picture of my old friends which got me thinking of home, and sometimes I would find myself on facebook a moment later to check up on them! Also, most of the time you don’t need an entire pot of pens, even if they look ‘professional’ sitting on your desk top. I moved all of my stationary to my top drawer, and since then I’ve stopped getting distracted by highlighters and the hole punch (like a six year old!).

common pitfalls

Once you’ve obtained a beautiful minimalist desk, you’ll have to be careful not to let things creep back on one by one. Also watch out for these other pitfalls:

Out of sight, out of mind. Don’t be tempted to hide stuff by putting it away in boxes. I used to be very guilty of hiding sheets in file boxes without organising them, and in the end they overfilled the box in no particular order and in the end it took hours and hours to sort out during exam revision time. If I had spent just a minute putting the sheets in the right place, I could have stopped myself from wasting time and getting stressed out.

Just clearing the middle. I’ve seen desks that only have enough clear space in the middle for a laptop, and surrounding it are piles of paper and various aforementioned junk. One may be able to survive, but they wouldn’t be working to their full potential because they are being limited by their environment. You should give yourself plenty of room so that you can spread out and work more comfortably.

Since my desk only has my laptop on it when I’m writing, or one book, piece of paper and pen when I’m working, I’ve seen a marked increase in my productivity. I realise that there is a certain amount of motivation required for one to actually get going on the work after they’ve sorted it, but just try it, even for a week, I promise you’ll have less of an excuse to put things off and you’ll be one step closer to being a productivity black belt 😉