Category Archives: Minimalism

My Minimalist European Trip Packing List

by Jessica Dang
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By the time you read this, I might be wondering the streets of Old Town in Prague, admiring art in the museums of Vienna, or bathing in the spas of Budapest… checking cities off my List.

I’ll be mostly offline while I’m travelling, so for this month’s post we’ll take a break from the personal finance advice and go back to basics. Here’s a list of all of the things I’m taking for my minimalist trip to Europe. I’ll be carrying one backpack containing:

  1. One pair black jeans
  2. Two button shirts (that don’t need ironing)
  3. Two t-shirts
  4. Jacket
  5. Pyjamas
  6. Book (this month I’m reading Walden)
  7. Notebook and pencil (for diary entries, thoughts, ideas, sketches etc.)
  8. Sleeping eye mask and ear plugs
  9. Toothbrush and toothpaste
  10. Face wash and face cream
  11. Shampoo and bodywash
  12. Hand sanitiser
  13. Hair comb
  14. iPhone with battery and cable
  15. Power adapter

Not pictured: my iPhone which I was using to take the photo, my passport, flight/travel papers, wallet, and underwear for privacy, and the pair of shoes and socks I’ll be wearing.

That’s it! These are things I’m not taking:

  • Too many toiletries/makeup—I’m not planning to look/smell homeless, but as a tourist I doubt people will pay too much attention to what I look like. Also, coconut oil is a great multi-purpose skin moisturiser, lip balm, hair conditioner etc. which saves me having to take too many travel bottles.
  • Extra clothes—I would rather pay a few Euros for laundry/drying than carry too much around with me since I plan to do a lot of walking.
  • Gadgets/valuables—apart from my phone which I’ll be using for directions etc. I won’t be taking any other gadgets (including DSLR, see below), my watch, or jewellery or valuables that can get stolen.
  • A towel/hairdryer etc—too bulky, I’ll be staying in a mix of hostels and Airbnb which provide them.

I’ll fly with just carry on, so everything will fit in a medium sized backpack (about the size that would fit a 15 inch laptop) that weighs 6-8kg. Even though I’ll be taking very little for the trip, I’m not worried—I’ll mostly be in big cities so if I really need something, I can just buy it.

In a new exercise in mindfulness, I am deliberately not taking my DSLR so that I will spend my energy enjoying the sights in real life (gasp), rather than photographing them. If I like how something looks, instead of taking a photo and rushing off, I intend to spend an extra few minutes appreciating it in person. I might even sketch it into my notebook (I’ve been inspired lately by Leonardo da Vinci to write/draw more things down).

I could have packed more, or I could have packed less. Everyone is different, and everyone needs and likes to have different things. From my previous travels, I’ve learned what works for me and what I’m comfortable with.

Have I forgotten anything? Let me know what you think! In the meantime, check out the latest posts on Minimalist Meditations on Equanimity and on Expectations.

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Minimalist Meditations — May and June

by Jessica Dang
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The latest posts on Minimalist Meditations from May and June:

Minimalism isn’t just about having less stuff. That’s only the beginning.
—Why we get rid of things: Minimalist Meditations on Opportunity

I was 300 metres away when it happened.
—Staying strong: Minimalist Meditations on Tragedy

We all need to find our own definitions for success, discover our own self worth, and learn how to balance all the forces that pull us in different directions.
—If I were a sin: Minimalist Meditations on Greed

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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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Minimalist Meditations — March and April

by Jessica Dang
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The latest posts on Minimalist Meditations from March and April:

How do you keep going when things get difficult? If you don’t have a good answer, you won’t last long.”
—Find your reason: Minimalist Meditations on Why

“You can own 1,000 or 10,000 things, so long as everything contributes to your life in a meaningful way.
—Debunking the biggest minimalism myth: Minimalist Meditations on Quality

“There are two ways to be rich—to get everything you want, or to want everything you have.
—There is such thing as a get rich quick scheme: Minimalist Meditations on Money

“Your net worth is not your self worth. Your bank balance has little do with what your true value is, or how rich you really are.
—When money costs too much: Minimalist Meditations on Wealth

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Minimalism and the Pursuit of Perfection

by Jessica Dang
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If you could see the WordPress dashboard for this blog, you’ll find hundreds of crappy drafts. For every post published, I have at least 5-10 drafts that will never see the light of day.

It takes a lot of brainstorming, bad ideas, poking, prodding, and feet dragging to get a single post out. Most of all, it takes time. In fact, I wrote the original idea for this post in 2011. You can imagine how my book is going.

But by being persistent, something eventually comes out of it. If you’re lucky, it might even be good. Sure, there are posts that aren’t as popular as others, but that’s okay, because there are as many posts that exceeded my expectations.

There are two types of pursuits—you either have to get perfect results, or you don’t. If you’re building a bridge, it needs to be precise. Fortunately, most things fall in to the latter type. It’s better to try and get something done, than not doing anything at all because it can’t be perfect.

There’s no such thing as perfection. Art, business, science, life…everything is one big experiment. Sometimes you’ll get something wrong a hundred times before you get it right once. Nobody learned to walk without falling.

Minimalism is the same. Doing a little bit is better than none. You don’t ‘become minimalist’ overnight, or even over a couple of months or years. There’s no final, perfect goal. It’s a continuous practice of shifting your mindset and making the best decisions you can. You’re allowed to have lapses. There are no rules, so who’s to judge you?

Embrace the struggle. Anything worth doing is difficult. The discomfort weeds out the wannabes. The hardship is what makes it an accomplishment. As Roosevelt said,

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”

Book I’m reading now: Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life — Anne Lamott

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Minimalist Meditations — January and February

by Jessica Dang
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In case you missed the announcement, I have moved on from monthly articles on Minimal Student to weekly updates on my new blog Minimalist Meditations.

Here are the first few posts from January and February:

If you enjoyed these, you can subscribe to the new blog via RSS, email, Twitter or Facebook.

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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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What minimalism taught me about love

by Jessica Dang
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love

What does it mean to love?

To love is to care. To care about something, to care for someone, to appreciate its importance in your life and to be grateful for it.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of things that we say we love and care about, but we don’t act upon it.

Life gets in the way. We get distracted by work, money, commitments and a thousand other things which take our time and attention away from the things we care about.

In this way, minimalism can save us.

Giving time to the ones you love
When working long hours to pay the bills takes our time away from our friends, partners, and families, minimalism gives it back.

A minimalist lifestyle asks, ‘Do you need to be working so hard? What for?‘.
To pay the bills,‘ you might say, or ‘because I have to,‘ or even, ‘what else would I do instead?
Well, what if your bills weren’t so high? What if you didn’t have to? What if you had better things to do?

When I was growing up, my parents owned a hotel and restaurant and worked long hours from noon until past midnight. They would drop dinner off and go back to work. We didn’t see them for most of the day, and they were too tired to come to any of our shows or football games. They missed us growing up, but what for? We didn’t want or need much, but they couldn’t resist the feeling of security they got from earning more and more money. In the end, everything turned out okay, but there’ll always memories we never made because they were away working.

Doing the things you love
Unless you love your work, you probably spend most of your time doing something you dislike to fund a few weeks off a year to do something you do like. For a lot of people, it’s hard to find more than a few snatched hours during the week to do the things they enjoy.

A minimalist lifestyle asks, ‘Are you working to live, or are you living to work?‘.

Your time is limited, so making time for you means you are prioritising yourself. Do you have something that you’ve always wanted to do? Then for goodness’ sake, get started and do it. You’ll be making the most of being alive, which is the same as saying that you love life.

Loving yourself
It sounds like I’m telling people to quit their jobs, but work isn’t the enemy. It’s the things that people get obsessed with—possessions, status, wealth—that trap them into lifestyles that they’re not actually happy with. It turns them into people who they never imagined they’d be.

Distraction is the enemy. If we eliminate the distractions in life, take away the need for designer clothes and the status car, we’ll find that we’ll uncover the person who we are underneath.

Being true to who you are, who you’re supposed to be, surrounded by who and what you love is a form of loving yourself. Which is the most important love of all.

Book I’m reading now: The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own

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What minimalism taught me about dying

by Jessica Dang
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hands

The fear of death used to keep me up at night. I wondered what it would be like to live forever.

Imagine, the first thirty years of your life, you’re young and naïve. You make friends, go to college, and learn about the world.

In the next fifty years you get a job, you travel, you have a family. There are ups and downs, but you’re in love and people love you. You’re content.

Then things start to change. As you live on, your family passes away and you miss them. You try to start another, and they’re beautiful too, but they too shall pass and so on. You eventually give up starting a family, because what’s the point if the people you love keep dying?

You find some time to travel, but with daily distractions and so much time to do it, you think, ‘I’ll get around to it one day’. But there’s nothing pushing you. You learn and experience more, but eventually you get tired of people’s drama, wars on the news, you’ve seen it all before. You try many hobbies, but with all the time in the world, what was exciting at first eventually becomes boring.

If everybody is immortal, things are arguably worse. You’re okay for the first fifty, maybe one hundred, or even one thousand years, but eventually you start to get bored and you wonder if there is more to life than being stuck with the same people for eternity. Even if you do love them, they’ll be around forever, so you don’t see a point in spending all of your time with them. You don’t even bother recording birthdays or special moments because you’ve had, and will have, so many.

Think about this for a moment, and you’ll realise, there’s a danger with living forever—having unlimited time makes life tedious.

  • What would have bought you joy instead bores you after a while.
  • What you would have made time for gets put off indefinitely.
  • What would have been special to you, becomes so normal that you don’t notice.

Time, money, and effort are in almost limitless supply, so you don’t do much that matters to you, and not much matters anyway since it’ll either be around forever, or you’ll own/see/do the same things thousands of times.

Living forever is not all it’s cracked up to be.

the good news is that we don’t live forever

…which is our best chance to enjoy life. We can cherish it, for all it’s beauty and horrors because the time we get is all we’ll have.

Everything has to fit into 20-100 years (we have no idea how much) because there are no second chances and there’s nowhere to put anything off in the future.

So what has minimalism got to do with this? When time, money and effort are limited, living a minimalist lifestyle directs those resources to accomplish what you want in life, without wasting it on things that don’t matter.

Spending half your life working to pay off your bills? Wish you could travel but can’t find the time? Feeling too tired to do the things you’ve always wanted? Wish you could spend more time with your family?

Well then, how about downsizing your house, or not having a flashy car, or forgoing some new clothes this year? Spending less means having to work less. It means wasting less time.

These sacrifices may seem trivial for what you get in return—a happier life. But just look around you and you’ll see how many people spend their entire lifetimes collecting trivialities.

They spend their one precious life trying to obtain things that don’t really make them happy, and don’t matter in the end.

These people are living life like they’re immortal, like they have all the time in the world. The sad thing is, they don’t. Death can come at any time. You could be crossing the street when a drunk driver turns a corner, or you could ‘get a funny feeling in your chest’ literally any day. We are already dying. There is no time to waste.

Depressing? Death doesn’t mean that life is futile. Rather, it gives life meaning. Having a deadline (in the literal sense of the word) is the kick up the backside we need to focus on the things that matter. That, essentially, is what living a minimalist lifestyle means—to focus our precious resources (time, money, and effort) on the things that are worthwhile.

Minimalism has taught me—no, trained me—to make my life count. The reality is that we don’t live forever, but that’s okay. Life is much better for it.

Like this post? I am working on a book that will feature similar topics, please comment with feedback or anything you’d like to see in the book.

Book I’m reading right now: The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

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What’s left after minimalism?

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

Congratulations, you’re a minimalist, now what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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