Category Archives: Knowledge

On the Shortness of Life – Part IV – Learning

by Jessica Dang rss | t f | g+

This is the fourth part of a five part series on Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life.

Read Part I – FinitenessPart II – Protecting time and living in the presentPart III – Desire and life goals.

Of all the things that we spend time on, learning is arguably one of the most important. It contributes to our knowledge of everything around and within us, makes us better people, and therefore the world a better place to live in.

We are so lucky to live in an age where there is more information out there than we can possibly consume in a single lifetime. Never before in human history have we been so connected to each others’ thoughts, teachings and discoveries.

This freedom, to be able to learn about whatever we want, is one of the most precious gifts we have.

we are excluded from no age, but we have access to them all

Seneca emphasized the importance of learning from great masters, whose teachings were once exclusive to certain people is now free for everyone.

“None of these will force you to die, but all will teach you how to die. None of them will exhaust your years, but each will contribute his years to yours.”

Lessons that otherwise would have taken a lifetime to learn are now accessible to us at our fingertips. The only obstacle we face now is whether or not we are ready to receive them.

Of course, we’re still free to make out own mistakes. But for those who don’t want to, or can’t afford to, we can always learn from the past.

“Of all people only those are at leisure who make time for philosophy, only those are really alive. For they not only keep a good watch over their own lifetimes, but they annex every age to theirs. All the years that have passed before them are added to their own.”

If there’s one thing that living a minimalist lifestyle is good for, it’s to take away distractions so that we can spend more time on the things that matter.

Without the distraction of chasing material gain, we can devote our energies towards continuous learning – whether that means to travel, or to stay at home to read, or reflect on ourselves, or anything in between. Ultimately, learning all comes down to expanding our horizons and opening up to what this beautiful world has to offer.

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When you let go of… words

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Since starting Minimal Student almost three years ago now, I have never taken more than a few weeks off at a time, but after coming back to England and settling in my own place, and no longer travelling as much as I used to, I felt that my writing had run out of steam. In January, I took a hiatus so that I could rearrange my thoughts and priorities, and hopefully come back a better writer.

To achieve this, I took the rather unusual approach of learning how to reflect about myself – without using any words at all.

Words are concrete, specific and tangible, but in reality, our emotions and feelings are not. I realise now that it is very difficult to convey even a fraction of who and what we are and how we feel in words – most people can only speak or write well enough to reveal the tip of the iceberg of themselves. And even if we could, we can never guarantee that others would understand. Humans are complex and irrational creatures, many of our actions are self-justified, illogical, unreasonable, or simply make no sense to others but ourselves.

So I decided to go back to the beginning, scrap all I knew about writing and start again. I emptied my cup. I turned off the computer, and sat my ass down on a pillow for a few moments each day. It wasn’t easy at first, I helplessly watched my mind jump around like an agitated squirrel trapped in a cage. But eventually I learned to embrace my energetic mind, and to observe myself without attachment or judgement – I learned to let go.

My break from writing taught me that there’s a lot to be said for putting down the pen and just being. Without words, there are no expectations, preconceptions, nothing to show or prove to anybody else, no gray areas and nothing to hide behind.

After a few months, my journey led here – back to writing again. But this time, it is clear that my style has evolved into a way of expressing myself that I feel touches something much deeper within. With practice, I hope I can continue to grow enough to be able to make sense of topics that are very difficult to explain, but too important to ignore.

It’s an ambitious task, but I like to think of it as a challenge.

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minimalism 101

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

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

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

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

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

what is minimalism all about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a new way of thinking

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

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

It’s minimalism.

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

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

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

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

realism or idealism?

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

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

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

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

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

We deserve more than to be constantly waiting for happiness.


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

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

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

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

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

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

why I became minimalist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

make a difference

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

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

where to go from here

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

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

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

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

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

5 ways to kick start and feed your reading habit


“Not all readers are leaders but all leaders are readers” ~ Harry S. Truman

For a lot of people, reading is ‘boring’. To them, books remind them of something they ‘had to do’ at school. Until recently, I didn’t realize the extent people actually rejected reading, as if it was something to avoid. I’ve seen dozens of facebook profiles with “don’t read” or even a “you’re joking” in the favorite books box.

Do these people know how much they’re missing out? I mean, what about all that fantastical adventures, beautiful romances, emotional turmoils, romances, tears and guilt? What about all the battles, betrayals, heroes and villains of the past that you haven’t heard of? What about all the fascinating things about the world that you don’t yet know about? From reading, you can learn the lessons of geniuses, revolutionaries and from the greatest leaders of all time. So the real question isn’t “why should I read”, it’s “why shouldn’t I?”

how to develop a reading habit

1. Know where to start. If you’re not already an avid reader, you might feel a little overwhelmed at the choice of books available. In that case, why not try some reliable lists, for example:

2. Get it cheap. You don’t have to spend a lot of money at all. Never pay RRP for a book. My first point of call is always Amazon, but the Book Depository is usually cheaper for new books and worldwide delivery is free. Of course there’s also the library, charity shops, sites like Paperback Swap. If you know people who read, you can borrow or swap with your friends, family and even professors (who are especially helpful with hard to obtain/expensive books in your field).

3. Read everyday. Even if it’s only for a few minutes, it will all add up week by week. Always try to have a book handy somewhere to pull out when you’re standing in line or sitting on the bus. Or you can keep a book by your bed to relax you into sleep (not put you to sleep!). I usually look forward to evenings when I block out a bit of time, make a warm cup of tea and snuggle in my duvet with a good book for a few hours. Even the thought of it makes me smile :)

4. Aim. You could read casually or you could set up a goal. If you choose a field, by reading one book on it a week, you can become an ‘international expert’ within few years. If that’s a little too much, you can easily make up your own goal such as two books a month (1 book per 14 days), or twenty books a year (about 1 book per 20 days). By having an aim, you can more easily write/decide your list(s) and possibly get through many more books than you would otherwise.

5. Balance and diversify. Almost everyone has a subject/genre that they are really interested in. It doesn’t have to be an ‘academic’ subject either. Whatever it is, choose it and read as many books as you can find about it. However, you should also have a go at something completely different – how do you know you won’t like it until you’ve tried it? Why not wonder into a completely different part of the library, randomly picking up a book and reading the blurb or first page? You never know, you may discover a new passion. The key is to balance depth and breadth.

So, try not to think of reading as a chore. It’s not homework. It’s not work at all. It expands your horizons, pushes your imagination and can change your life. Don’t miss out, kick start your reading habit today.

“There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island” – Walt Disney

Do you have any more ideas on how to read more? Or any book recommendations? Or maybe you’d like to share what you’re reading right now? Please comment below!

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PS. Minimal Student’s twitter is going through a change. Very soon you can get book recommendations, interesting blog links as well as instant MS blog updates!

The Recipe for Student Success – Ingredient Four : A Curious Mind

“Cogito Ergo Sum” – “I think, therefore I am”. – Rene Descartes

When it came to naming this ingredient, I considered calling it a ‘Great Mind’. But I thought that would imply that one needed to achieve or find ‘great’ things that rocked the world in order to be successful, when the truth is, success can mean so many things including, in my opinion, that you don’t necessarily have to make an amazing realization or discovery in order to be successful. Also, I realized that ‘great’ in a way means ‘better than someone else’. I am a firm believer that you do not need to trample or compete with others in order to be successful. And then the perfect term hit me. A Curious Mind.

A Curious Mind is unique. It’s not a passive thing that happens in your brain, neither are you born with one, you have to actively desire it and train yourself in order to obtain one. A Curious Mind is:

1. Hungry. A Curious Mind always wants more. It never gets tired of being fed, and will take a starter, snack, main and dessert when it comes to learning. It loves to discover, especially things it has never considered before. It lives on the edge of what it knows and what it can do, and endeavours to push itself even further.

2. Open. A Curious Mind is always open to new ideas and ways of seeing things. Sure, it can have opinions, but it allows others to have theirs, and will always try to see things from their point of view.  A Curious Mind considers many possibilities before deciding which path to follow. It is open to changing attitudes and doesn’t let others dictate what it believes.

3. Balanced. A Curious Mind tries to keep a balance between all of the things that concern it. It will have interests, and can focus on those, but will not neglect other important things either. It is calm, yet sharp. It thinks before it leaps. It’s decisive yet it considers other options. It is can make rational and logical decisions, but it can also be passionate and creative.

How to Cultivate a Curious Mind

1. Read. The single most important thing you can do to cultivate a Curious Mind is to read. Not only books, but also blogs, websites, Wikipedia, ebooks, magazines, newspapers and textbooks. In fact, reading is so important, here are three further tips to help:

  • Diversify. Try reading things outside of your comfort zone to expand your general knowledge. Can you imagine not having tried chocolate before? You would be missing out! There is so much knowledge out there, it doesn’t make sense to only stay in one area. Who knows, you may end up finding something new and fascinating.
  • Focus. Having said that, it might also be good to have a subject that you concentrate a bigger proportion of reading time to. If you spend between 30-45 minutes a day reading, that equates to about one book a week, which can make you an expert in a subject in a year. If it sounds too much to you, even two or three years isn’t that long if it means being a pro at something. Sometimes it helps to have a solid foundation of knowledge as well as a good general knowledge, otherwise you might end with too many half-eaten cakes. (Ok, obviously I am very hungry right now).
  • Write it down. As much as I don’t like to admit it, we tend to forget most of the things we read. Keeping a reading notebook can really help you retain some of the information you invested those hours into. It doesn’t have to be entire chapter summaries, sometimes a few quotes or lines that you liked will suffice to remind you of a fact that surprised you, or an interesting plotline or a character you liked.

The same rules also applies to listening to podcasts. Podcasts and audiobooks are fantastic ways for you to ‘read’  and gain knowledge if you feel you don’t have too much time to physically sit down with a book often enough.

2. Meet people. Try to meet new people who are different from you, make friends with them and ask them about their background, opinions and ideas. Don’t be too nosey if they feel uncomfortable, but most of the time people are more than happy to talk, chat and debate. Don’t ignore cultural differences, use them to your advantage to open up your mind to new ways of thinking.  A lot of the things we believe in are because of the way we were raised, our society or our early education. We were conditioned to think that way, so we hadn’t had the chance to make up our own minds, until now. Experiences like this can turn things you were so sure about upside down, and that’s a good thing.

3. Meditate. Sometimes, our minds get slowed down from jumping from thought to thought constantly. You can get a more balanced mind by clearing up some of the clutter. There are lot’s of different types of meditation, but contrary to popular belief, it isn’t about pushing all thoughts out of your head. Instead, it is about becoming aware and acknowledging when your mind has wondered off and bringing it back to the centre. With practice, meditation can help you control your mind to be calmer, more stable and less easily distracted.

4. Sleep. In a way, your mind is like your body, you have to wake it up in the morning, feed it and let it grow. But you also have to let it rest. Olympic athletes have the healthiest bodies in the world, but even they don’t spend all their time training. They have to let their bodies recover and rest often, and your mind works in a similar way. Sleeping and napping can help you feel energized, and make your mind more receptive. Sleep can also greatly help with retention and recall.

Fairly obviously, we are here at university as students to grow our minds. However, there are two ways of going about it, one is passively letting knowledge seep into our minds, with only what people decide to tell us making up what we know and think. Or, we can seek to develop a Curious Mind, one that pro-actively seeks to find things that build discipline, character and imagination.

I’d love to hear what you think, do you consider a Curious Mind important to success? Let me know in the comments!

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Keeping a Reading Notebook

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One of the most useful things I own is a separate notebook for jotting down things that I find interesting, useful, funny, fascinating, inspiring and many other things that I read in books, novels, or even textbooks.

I can’t count how many times I used to finish reading a book, and after a while completely forget about the plot, the characters, good lines, great metaphors, or if it was non-fictional the good tips and motivational quotes. Perhaps it was the writing itself, but I would guess it has more to do with the fact that there is no way my fragile brain can remember all of the stuff I read (can you imagine if it could?!).

A reading notebook is like a journal of what I’ve learnt, and sometimes I write my thoughts or personal review of particular books in it. It’s not very well organised, really it’s just scraps of notes all over the place, with barely indication of organising (except it is in reading order). But the point is, that it usually lasts about a year, so by the end of it, I can flip through it and reread all of the things that I had explored this year in books.

It’s almost like a snapshot of my year. I tend to choose books that suit my moods, feelings and curiosities at the time, and looking back on it is an amazing experience. Sometimes it only takes one line for it to remind me where I was at that time, who the people around me were and how I felt about what was going on back then.

It also gives me something tangible, something to hold that represents all of the hours I had devoted to reading this  year. It’s proof that the time didn’t go to waste.

As the year draws to a close, maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to start a reading notebook for the year ahead.

What do you think? Do you keep a reading journal too?

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