Category Archives: Knowledge

5 Common Myths about Minimalism

by Jessica Dang
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Throughout human history we’ve never had so much stuff in abundance that we would voluntarily choose to have any less than we can get. Given the chance, it’s in our nature to take everything we can for the sake of survival.

But in modern times, taking has gone way beyond the necessities of food and shelter, and consumerism has taken over to the point that we’re killing our own people and destroying our own planet for the sake of the latest gadgets.

Thankfully, in the last couple of years, things have turned the other way and the minimalist movement has picked up momentum.

While I’m happy that news about minimalism has become mainstream, I’m not a big fan of articles that show people sitting like monks in their bare one bedroom apartment with a toothbrush and a towel laid out in front of them.

These articles only show one type of minimalism, and in my opinion intimidates regular people for who it isn’t feasible to live under such extreme circumstances.

There is still so much misunderstanding around what minimalism actually is. Here are the top five misconceptions I hear most often:

Top 5 Myths

1. You can only have 100 [or insert number here] things or less. Don’t you dare have 101 things otherwise you’ll have to get rid of something! Only kidding, there’s no need to keep strict numbers on your possessions. Just follow the general rule of only having what you need, clear out every now and then, and you’ll be fine. The world will keep turning if you have a few more things than an arbitrary number plucked from the sky, yet people think that minimalists are obsessed with counting each sock. There are some who do, but the rest of us spend our energies actually living our best lives.

2. Your home/walls/furniture can only be white, no fun allowed. Although I’m a big fan of minimalist interior design, it’s really only a Pinterest/Tumblr hobby, not reality. Let’s look at the bigger picture. Rather than focus on the things that we don’t have, or are depriving ourselves of, let’s focus on what we do have, and which of those things give us the most joy and add value in life. This applies not just to how we decorate our homes, but also to the people, commitments and things we spend our time on/for every day.

3. You can’t want or have nice things.  Let’s be clear, cheap is different from frugal. Being cheap means buying things of low quality that you’ll have to replace after it breaks. Frugal means buying only what you need, and looking for good deals for things of good quality. Therefore, you can be frugal, but still buy expensive things because you expect it to last a long time. In any case, even if it is a nice thing, if you need it, you’re allowed to buy it! So called ‘minimalists’ might frown at your fifth pair of shoes, but if you need an extra pair because running and hiking shoes are actually different things, you can have both!

4. You need to be a young single male who likes to backpack around the world. Er, no. You’re allowed to join The Minimalist Club™* whether you’re old or young, male or female, or if you have a partner or family, even if it means you’ll have a couple more things, they’ll still let you in. Kids need clothes and toys and you can’t just wear the same two things every day because you have to look respectable at work. You can live out of an actual house if you wanted, and you don’t have to travel if it’s not your thing. We all want different things in life, and as long as you can afford those things that are useful or make you happy, you’re allowed to have them.

5. You can’t get attached or sentimental about anything. Minimalism isn’t hard-core non-attachment Buddhism. You’re allowed to like the things you own, or feel sentimental about things that mean a lot to you. We’re all human after all, and we all have a favourite mug/sweater/keepsake that would make us unhappier if we lost or broke it. As long we bear in mind that although stuff will inevitably be in our lives, life is not inevitably about stuff.

If all this sounds to you like I’m making excuses for ‘non-minimalist’ habits, then you’ve still got minimalism all wrong. There aren’t any rules. People think that minimalism as a lifestyle means having less, when in fact what it really means is having more. Don’t fall for these misconceptions—do your own research and find the path that suits you.

*Unfortunately there is no such thing as The Minimalist Club™

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A Minimalist Guide to Money and Investing — Part I

by Jessica Dang
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One of the most frequently asked questions I receive from readers is how I earn and manage money, and how I was able to create a passive income so that I could quit my job.

In the past, I’ve been reluctant to share too many specifics, as it is a huge subject and I’m not a financial adviser. Furthermore, everybody’s situation is different, depending on their job, earnings, age, risk appetite, city/country and economic environment. With so many variables, there’s no way I could speak for everyone, so the best I can do is talk about my investment journey.

In these posts, I’m not going to tell you how exactly to invest (entire books have been written on this subject) or recommend one particular course of action over another. I’m not telling you what you should, or shouldn’t do. Rather, I want to share my own views on money and work, how my views on wealth have changed over the years, and how I approach investing, earning and spending now.

When I talk about ‘wealth’ in these posts, although I am discussing material and monetary wealth (something that is not often discussed by minimalists as a good thing!) I am well aware that money is not the measure of one’s worth. Please see my Minimalist Meditations on money and wealth for my views on this.

I’m going to share how I went from a full time corporate employee working 50+ hour weeks to earning the same amount of money but only working between 1-6 hours per week on a passive income, all from a minimalist’s perspective. By ‘minimalist’, I don’t mean that this post will be a simplified, dumbed-down article about investing basics. It will be about how I have applied various minimalist philosophies to my approach to investing, for example, how I’ve been able to educate myself in various types of investing so that I’m able to select the type that works for me (in this case, getting fair returns by doing as little as possible so that I have time for things that are more important).

I’m not saying that it is every minimalist’s aim to quit their job, lie on a beach, and do nothing at all. Nor am I saying that having or not having money defines minimalism in any way. You can be a minimalist in a hut, or a minimalist in a mansion. Minimalism means something different for everyone, and for me, minimalism has always meant freedom. Freedom to choose what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it, where I wanted to go, and who I wanted to spend my time with. It means directing my limited resources of money, time and energy away from what people think of me (the size of my house, car, wardrobe etc.) towards things that actually matter to me, like giving to those in need, and spending time reading, creating, travelling, and with my friends and family.

Everything I’ve always wanted to say about money (almost!)

I’m going to be very frank about the subject of money here, because I think there are some hard truths in this subject. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, especially people who don’t want to admit that they are unhappy or doing anything wrong. I’ve heard a lot of excuses in my time. The worst approach I’ve heard people have is complaining how everything is stacked against them, how they’re ‘just not lucky’, or resenting people who have been successful in this way, but doing nothing about it.

I also don’t expect everyone to agree with everything that I say, which is fine too. I’m always willing to hear other people’s opinions and learn something new, but if you don’t have anything helpful or constructive to say except for poo-pooing on somebody’s else ideas, you can save your precious time and stop reading now.

If you’ve read this far and want to carry on, good for you. There is a lot I want to say, and because it is quite a complicated subject, I will break it down into multiple posts in linear steps, although life rarely works in a straight line. For the sake of easier understanding I’ll start with the basics.

This post:

  • 1—Motivation and Environment
  • 2—Mindset and Education

Future posts:

  • 3—Accumulating Capital and Allocation
  • 4—Investing and Income
  • 5—Your New Life
  • 6—The Past (Reflecting) and the Future (Giving)

I’m going to try to fit in everything I’ve always wanted to say about money in these posts. The reason why I say ‘almost’ is that I’m sure there’ll be things I’ve forgotten and will want to add later, or edits, clarifications, and answers to readers’ comments in the future so the above post ideas are subject to change.

Before we start, I strongly recommend reading a previous post I updated recently 5 Ways to Get Rich for Free about some basic yet important ideas about money.

1—Motivation and Environment

Most people don’t just stumble upon investing. We’re not taught it at school, and it’s not a natural instinct or something that is instilled in us as children—that money can be made other than the route of school -> university -> job -> promotion(s) -> retirement = success.

There’s usually a trigger that sets people on the path of investing—usually a person, or an event. For me, my trigger was realising (over a period of a few years) that I never wanted to work in an office again. There were times when I enjoyed myself, but after a while, I felt conflict with my inner self, the person who I wanted to be. Working long hours in a meaningless corporate job felt like it went against my philosophy of minimalism, not because I owned a couple more things, but because I felt I had much less freedom. I was cash-rich, but time-poor. Even if I changed jobs, I would be subjecting myself to the same things I hated (long hours, pointless meetings, office politics etc), just with a different job title. So I quit the world of work to get my life back.

I want to stress that I don’t recommend this approach to everyone, especially if you’ve got people dependent on you. At the time, my life overheads (ie. what I was spending on a day-to-day basis) was very low, which meant at the time of quitting I had enough savings to pay essential bills and food for about 18 months. I had a vague idea that I was going to use some of those savings to do something on my own, although what it was exactly, I hadn’t figured out yet. For most people, I recommend getting any side businesses or secondary income streams off the ground first, before quitting your main income source.

For me though, I knew that I could always get another job if things didn’t work out, and I could always fall back on a couple of online work-from-home jobs I used to have. So my basic needs were taken care of, but I needed to quit to have the time and energy to pursue all the other things that I had neglected while I was working. As well as start my vague business idea, I wanted to have the energy to get fit, to read, to write more, to travel, and to continue my language studies, among a lot of other things.

Your motivation for investing is important because it shapes what you decide to do, how you go about it, and how long it takes you to achieve whatever goals you have. You need to have the internal drive for it, otherwise you’ll get bored, or lazy, or both.

You are also affected by your environment. External factors such as your local economy, your job situation, and the kind of people you surround yourself with all affect what and how you do things, and the results you’ll obtain.

In my case, I didn’t want to work in an office. I hated the early mornings and long work hours, so I decided I would find a line of work that generated passive income. This means I wasn’t going to start an Etsy (not that I have the talent for it) or any other labour intensive business. I didn’t want to swap one full time job for another, and I didn’t want a job that was paid by the hour/day because that would mean I was trading my precious time for money.

I wanted to find a way of earning money that allowed me to put in an initial amount of work, but then after that income would continue to roll in, rather like someone writing a book within a few months and getting royalties for it forever. After a lot of research, I found that I lived in a city where there were huge business opportunities in property. The market was growing, with lots of young people wanting to live here, and prices to buy and rent were steadily rising. Investing in property fit my requirements—if I was able to buy a place (it is slightly capital intensive to buy an apartment but I will tell you how I did that in a future post) the rental income would continue indefinitely.

Once I had an area in mind (property investing), I could start building a foundation of knowledge…

2—Mindset and Education

With investing, if you just dive in, you’re probably going to get hurt. And it will be painful. I wasn’t stupid, so before I did anything, I spent months learning everything I could about about the practical aspects of investing, from how inflation works, what ETFs are, how to make a start-up, to the psychology of investing. I read a lot of books and information online about property, all of the monetary and legislative aspects involved, and researched the market in the city that I lived in. I lived and breathed investing, absorbing everything I could, and learned a huge amount. I’m still learning every day.

One of the most important things I learned from the book ‘Secrets of a Millionaire Mind’ by T. Harv Eker is about people’s ‘money blueprint’. Your blueprint is how you think about money, largely influenced by how you grew up. For example, if your parents have always told you that “money is the root of all evil”, or that “rich people are greedy”, you might still believe it today, and the thought subconsciously holds you back from earning too much because you don’t want to be seen as evil or greedy. Resentment towards the rich is what causes people to stay poor. (Here, I use ‘poor’ not as a derogatory term, but as a practical word to describe people who live paycheck to paycheck, but don’t want to be. I’m not making any sort of moral judgement for or against people who are ‘poor’, or ‘rich’ for that matter, but when talking about money in this context, it’s important to honestly say that there are definitely people who are poor (in monetary terms) but wish they could be more financially free.)

This resentment causes people to not do anything about their work/money situation. They go wherever the flow is taking them in their jobs, and they don’t do anything about their spending habits. They let other people influence them on what they want to buy, and their saving/investing habits may be poor or non-existent. They might even be fearful of any other type of work, such as starting their own business because it’s ‘too risky’ and they would prefer the security of a job. There isn’t anything wrong with living like this by the way, I’m all for enjoying life the way it suits you. If you love your job, good for you (honestly!). However, if you don’t enjoy working, then the constant spending on expensive things means working more than you have to, which means you’re spending half of your life unhappy, as was my case.

Also, people who are not financially literate may think that the only way to earn money is by working a ‘normal’ job, which is simply not true. We live in an amazing world now where there is so much money to be made, and you don’t have to have a lot to start with. People with closed mindsets think that any other way of earning money apart from working is ‘risky’ or at least, so complicated that they could never understand it, so they don’t try. Confusingly, some of these people who are so scared of risk would happily buy lottery tickets. The worst I’ve heard are people who think that investing is in some way ‘cheating’, and that one doesn’t contribute to the economy if they don’t ‘work’ for 9 hours a day. To that, I would say that there are a lot of people who have more to contribute to the world than paper-pushing.

On the other hand, people can have a mindset that money is abundant, and is there for anyone to earn if they have the openness to identify the opportunities, the creativity and tenacity to pursue them, and perseverance when things get difficult. I admit this isn’t the most natural mindset, it’s usually learned out of necessity. My immigrant parents who didn’t go to school didn’t have a choice but to earn money with their own bare hands, literally. They missed out on learning how to read but at least they were never conditioned to follow societal conventions about work. They hustled and worked hard, and did everything themselves until they got to the comfortable lifestyle they have now. I was lucky enough to go to school and college, but it took me years to learn this lesson.

Lest you think I come from a place of privilege, I would like to share that apart from the hustling mindset, I wasn’t given anything above and beyond what most kids my age got (in fact, I would argue with my background I had a lot less) but I have always worked extremely hard. Because of our family’s poorer financial situation while I was growing up, I was always looking out for ways to make money. I started my own eBay wholesale business when I was 15, and have always managed to support myself so that I didn’t have to rely on my parents’ small amount of money. During college, while other students were partying or spending their loans on holidays, I had two jobs and never allowed myself to get into debt.

I am not saying that all you have to do is change your mindset, and you’ll automatically become rich. I know it’s not that easy. You can’t just dream about it and be a bit brave and you’ll be a millionaire. People who truly live in poverty face huge obstacles that aren’t just up to them to ‘think’ their way out of.

But for the majority of people, it’s essential that they have the right mindset because first they have to believe that it is possible for them to be rich, at least then, they can try to do it.

As with anything, it’s it would be almost impossible to accomplish if they didn’t think it was doable from the beginning. 

The good news is that your mindset is not set. You can learn to change, for better or for worse. Being rich or poor isn’t a dichotomy, it’s a spectrum that you can move along at different times in your life. Poor people don’t have to stay poor, and rich people don’t necessarily stay rich. People can become rich by work, inheritance, or winning the lottery, or lose it by spending above their means, getting into huge debts, or gambling it away.

Whatever your mindset is right now, without the appropriate one, you’ll never be financially free. That’s fine for some people, but that’s not how I want to live my life. I want to be free so that I can choose what I want to do with my time. Your mindset is your choice. You can choose to be rich. 

The other points I want to briefly make are:

  • There are a lot of things about money that we are told that are simply opinion, not fact.
  • If more people stopped to question their assumptions about work and money, they would be much better off.
  • Environment plays a role, but I believe that you decide whether or not you will be rich.
  • Investing means ‘using money to make money’, and you don’t need a lot to begin with. In fact, you can start with $10, so there are hardly any excuses.
  • People overestimate the risks, and underestimate the potential benefits.
  • Money doesn’t make you good or bad, it magnifies who you are—if you are already greedy, you’ll be greedier with more money. If you’re already generous, more money would make you more generous.
  • Having money isn’t the aim, having freedom is.

So I adjusted my mindset and went about educating myself about the world of investing. I learned about the different options available, and the risk/reward profiles and advantages and disadvantages of each method. See below for some resources. Knowing the basics, I was able to draw up simple calculations and work out whether or not my business would be profitable. From my research, I identified that there was money to be made, now it was just a matter of going after it…

This post will continue next time with:

  • 3—Accumulating Capital and Allocation: how I got the money to get started, and how I decided what to do with it.
  • 4—Investing and Income: how I actually went about investing my money, and how I get an income.

In the meantime, please let me know what you think of this topic. You can comment below, or contact me on Twitter or Facebook.

Resources 

They don’t teach you about money at school. I wish they did, a lot of people would be much happier, and would have much healthier attitudes towards money. I’m not a millionaire (yet) but I would have certainly become ‘richer’ earlier and more quickly if I started earlier. Instead of just complaining about it, I went about changing my views, and therefore my life. Here are some of the best books I read that helped me get there:

Secrets Of The Millionaire Mind: Think Rich to Get Rich

As I mentioned above, this book taught me that making money was all in your mindset. It’s hard to believe, but how we think about money can hold us back from making it, or push us to find ways to make it even though the odds seem slim. It also talks about how different mindsets aren’t necessarily right or wrong, but work in different ways, and in some cases even complement each other, as in the case of couples/partners. I recommend this book to people who think that becoming a millionaire is impossible without winning the lottery.

Rich Dad Poor Dad: What The Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not! 

This book taught me the basics of liabilities vs. assets. If you don’t know what these mean, you need to start with this book. A lot of things that people are taught about money, like how home ownership is the most important thing in the world has ruined them financially. At the very least, people would have been much better off if they could distinguish between buying things that put money in their pocket, or cost them their long term future. That’s the difference between people who stay poor or become rich. That’s not to say that you can never buy your own home or a nice car if you wanted to, but people do this when they can only just about afford it, and therefore they don’t or can’t invest, which if they did, a few years later they could buy their house ten times over.

The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life

If you want to be the best, you have to learn from the best. It might sound cliché, but if Warren Buffet is the most successful investor in the world, wouldn’t you like to know how did he did it? This is the most detailed biography of his life published, it’s a very long read and perhaps you don’t learn a lot as much about how to invest as much as you learn about what investing really means. Warren Buffet delivered newspapers as a boy, and had to borrow money to get his business started, but he never doubted he could be rich. Then he made billions.

Blogs: I recommend checking out Afford Anything and Financial Samurai (I read every post).

More resources to come in future posts, enjoy!

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Minimal Student has graduated! You can subscribe to weekly updates on the new blog Minimalist Meditations via RSS, email, Twitter or Facebook.

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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On the Shortness of Life – Part IV – Learning

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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.”
Socrates

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

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

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

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

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

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

a new way of thinking

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

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

It’s minimalism.

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

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

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

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

realism or idealism?

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

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

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

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

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

We deserve more than to be constantly waiting for happiness.

happiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

why I became minimalist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

make a difference

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

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

where to go from here

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

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

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

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

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

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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