Monthly Archives: March 2010

The Beauty of Emptiness

In Emptiness, there are no complications, just simplicity.

In Emptiness, there is no confusion, just clarity.

In Emptiness, there are no costs, just freedom.

In Emptiness, there is no selfishness, just selflessness.

In Emptiness, there is no waste, just efficiency.

In Emptiness, there is no pollution, just purity.

In Emptiness, there are no distractions, just mindfulness.

In Emptiness, there is beauty.

…Empty a space, and make it beautiful today.

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5 tips to create and maintain a minimalist desk

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

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

why you need a clear surface

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

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

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

how to maintain a minimalist desk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

common pitfalls

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

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

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

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

7 Difficult Lessons I Learnt from College

In such a short time, I’ve learnt more about life and other people than I have in the past ten years. In fact, I’ve probably learnt more about myself than I have in my whole life. Coming home has given me a chance to reflect on a few of the things I’ve learnt during the last couple of months at university.

1. People don’t magically become mature upon arrival. I was really disappointed to find that people don’t automatically become responsible adults when they go to uni. I naively believed that people would know how to take care of themselves once they left home. But I can’t help feeling a little disheartened when I think about the massive pile of dishes people leave in the sink and bits of food on the counter-tops thinking their mothers are right around the corner to clean up after them.

2. Not everyone is considerate of others. On the same note, I’ve found out that a lot of people don’t realise that some of the things they are doing are making others suffer. Perhaps ‘suffer’ is a bit strong, but I mean it in the sense that they are making other people’s lives a little harder to live. The dishes are one example. Another would be the loud drum and bass that goes on until 4am on weekdays when some other people (*cough) have early morning lectures almost everyday.

3. Some people come to go to uni, but don’t go. I’ve seen a lot people put the education that they are supposed to be getting from university at the bottom of their priorities. For some reason, they’ve have decided to pay thousands of pounds and travel miles and miles away from home just to party or sleep in late. I’ll be honest and say that it’s difficult for me to empathize with these people, I know people can’t be perfect all the time, but it’s still hard for me to understand the thinking that goes behind these decisions.

4. There’s still peer pressure out there. Another hard lesson I learnt is that peer pressure doesn’t disappear after high school. It’s just become less obvious. Instead of directly asking people if they want to try something, there is just a general feeling that you’re not cool or ‘living like a proper student’ if you don’t try everything or suffer from crippling hangovers every other morning.

5. I can’t change who I really am. So enough bashing of other people, lest you think I’m on a high horse. Before going to uni I really believed I could become a hip, cool, laidback person that looked great and had a fantastic time. But uni isn’t like that in real life. In real life, there are deadlines, budgets and limited time. I can’t spend entire evenings going out and I can’t avoid all my lectures and assignments. In the first couple of weeks I really tried being a party-loving student, but after a while it just got too repetitive, too expensive and too tiring. In the end, I realised what was important to me and became myself again, someone who loves to party – but also someone who is driven and loves learning.

6. There’s no substitute for elbow grease. In my course, if you don’t prepare, you don’t know the answer. And if you don’t know the answer, you’re buggered. There’s no getting away with it, and you can’t waffle your way through a question or skim read material you’re supposed to have memorised. I’ve learnt the importance of proper preparation and revision techniques through experiencing the consequences of not doing it. Sometimes, there’s just no getting away from the un-glamorous-ness of pulling on a hoody and hitting the library.

7. You get back what you put in (and more). I’ve learnt that any experience becomes as good as what you put in. If you put in lot’s of passion and effort you’ll be greatly rewarded with good grades and have a fantastic time. If you constantly expect things to be boring, difficult or not up to your standards then it will inevitably turn out that way. But if you give things a chance, who knows, it might turn out better than you expected.

I learnt all of these lessons outside of the classroom. The fact that most of them are negative is actually a massive positive. I really feel I’ve gained some valuable life experience that they don’t teach you in books. I can take all of these difficulties and complain about them, or I can use them to learn about others and about life. Here’s hoping I’ll learn many more difficult lessons in the years to come.

Minimalist Student Holiday Challenge

It’s that time of year when thousands of students return home for the spring holidays. Most will take large suitcases, maybe even two, so that they can take home all of their old clothes to wash, books they’ll never get around to reading and a few ‘just in case’ outfits.

The other night, I finished watching Up in the Air, starring George Clooney. It’s become one of my favourite films of all time. Here is a brilliant extract of it:

The film is about a man that travels. A lot. In fact, he travels so much that he has become a pro at airport checking and at carrying as little as possible. The overall message of the film is that constant moving means that it was difficult for him to build lasting relationships. However, I am much more interested in the part about ‘fitting everything you own into a backpack’. If I had to move everything in my life at a moment’s notice, would I be able to do it? If I simply had to go home for the holidays, can I do it without breaking my back? Hell yes.

For this holiday, I will be going home for just over a month. I have quite a long way to travel to get home, and I will be using public transport, so I have decided to set myself the challenge of taking just a single suitcase and a shoulder bag, in which I will pack:

  • Laptop and charger
  • Two books
  • Mobile phone, purse.
  • A pair of jeans
  • A skirt
  • 4 tops
  • A pair of shoes
  • Make-up

I will already be wearing a pair of jeans and shoes, a shirt, a coat (and of course underwear ;)).

The books that I am taking home are for my course. They are very specialised and expensive, and aren’t available in my local library.

Because of my minimalist mindset, I didn’t take everything I owned with me when I came to university.  I left a few things that I can use when I go home, such as a pair of pyjamas and spare underwear. As for various toiletries, obviously they will be available when I go home.

The challenge is about thinking about what you really need. It’s about planning ahead; what will you be doing? What will you wear? Decide and commit, so you don’t have to take anything ‘just in case’. I’ve done all of my washing in advance, because there’s no way I’m going to drag it across the country.

A few months ago, I wrote a post ‘Can Minimalism be Measured?‘ in which I said that, in my opinion, minimalism is subjective. So, what if you need to take two suitcases? Well, I say that’s fine, there’s nothing stopping you, as long as you’ve decided that you are really likely to use almost everything in those suitcases. I still stick by what I said, it’s up to you how ‘minimalist’ you want to be. For me, in this case, the magic number is one suitcase.

It’s not until you make a temporary move like this you realise that you if you can survive a whole month without X, you probably don’t need it.

How much does your life weigh? Here’s the full trailer to Up in the Air:


Last night, I stayed up until past midnight, meditating. I wanted to be fully aware and mindful when the clock struck twelve because today, is my birthday.

I don’t know what it is about birthdays, but lately I’ve can’t help but feel melancholic whenever I think about them. Not that I’m old, far from it, but every year it is a reminder of the things I haven’t done and how time is ticking on.

There’s so much I want to accomplish, and when I count them, I realise that I probably don’t have enough years of my life to do them all. But I’m reminded by an extract from one of my a work by Lucius Seneca – ‘On the Shortness of Life’:

“It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested”.

I find writings like this quite lifting, and one of my favorites of all time is an essay written by Edmund N. Carpenter, age 17, in June 1938. He was a graduate of Harvard who would go on to win the Bronze Star for his service in World War II and to a civilian career as an attorney. He died on Dec. 19, 2008 at age 87 and is survived by six children and 15 grandchildren. It’s pretty long, if you don’t have time to read it, I definitely recommend clipping it for later and then skipping to the bottom. But I think he pretty much sums up what I want my entire life to be about.


It may seem very strange to the reader that one of my tender age should already be thinking about that inevitable end to which even the paths of glory lead. However, this essay is not really concerned with death, but rather with life, my future life. I have set down here the things which I, at this age, believe essential to happiness and complete enjoyment of life. Some of them will doubtless seem very odd to the reader; others will perhaps be completely in accord with his own wishes. At any rate, they compose a synopsis of the things which I sincerely desire to have done before I leave this world and pass on to the life hereafter or to oblivion.

Before I die I want to know that I have done something truly great, that I have accomplished some glorious achievement the credit for which belongs solely to me. I do not aspire to become as famous as a Napoleon and conquer many nations; but I do want, almost above all else, to feel that I have been an addition to this world of ours. I should like the world, or at least my native land, to be proud of me and to sit up and take notice when my name is pronounced and say, “There is a man who has done a great thing.” I do not want to have passed through life as just another speck of humanity, just another cog in a tremendous machine. I want to be something greater, far greater than that. My desire is not so much for immortality as for distinction while I am alive. When I leave this world, I want to know that my life has not been in vain, but that I have, in the course of my existence, done something of which I am rightfully very proud.

Before I die I want to know that during my life I have brought great happiness to others. Friendship, we all agree, is one of the best things in the world, and I want to have many friends. But I could never die fully contented unless I knew that those with whom I had been intimate had gained real happiness from their friendship with me. Moreover, I feel there is a really sincere pleasure to be found in pleasing others, a kind of pleasure that can not be gained from anything else. We all want much happiness in our lives, and giving it to others is one of the surest ways to achieve it for ourselves.

Before I die I want to have visited a large portion of the globe and to have actually lived with several foreign races in their own environment. By traveling in countries other than my own I hope to broaden and improve my outlook on life so that I can get a deeper, and more complete satisfaction from living. By mixing the weighty philosophy of China with the hard practicalism of America, I hope to make my life fuller. By blending the rigid discipline of Germany with the great liberty in our own nation I hope to more completely enjoy my years on this earth. These are but two examples of the many things which I expect to achieve by traveling and thus have a greater appreciation of life.

Before I die there is another great desire I must fulfill, and that is to have felt a truly great love. At my young age I know that love, other than some filial affection, is probably far beyond my ken. Yet, young as I may be, I believe I have had enough inkling of the subject to know that he who has not loved has not really lived. Nor will I feel my life is complete until I have actually experienced that burning flame and know that I am at last in love, truly in love. I want to feel that my whole heart and soul are set on one girl whom I wish to be a perfect angel in my eyes. I want to feel a love that will far surpass any other emotion that I have ever felt. I know that when I am at last really in love then I will start living a different, better life, filled with new pleasures that I never knew existed.

Before I die I want to feel a great sorrow. This, perhaps, of all my wishes will seem the strangest to the reader. Yet, is it unusual that I should wish to have had a complete life? I want to have lived fully, and certainly sorrow is a part of life. It is my belief that, as in the case of love, no man has lived until he has felt sorrow. It molds us and teaches us that there is a far deeper significance to life than might be supposed if one passed through this world forever happy and carefree. Moreover, once the pangs of sorrow have slackened, for I do not believe it to be a permanent emotion, its dregs often leave us a better knowledge of this world of ours and a better understanding of humanity. Yes, strange as it may seem, I really want to feel a great sorrow.

With this last wish I complete the synopsis of the things I want to do before I die. Irrational as they may seem to the reader, nevertheless they comprise a sincere summary of what I truthfully now believe to be the things most essential to a fully satisfactory and happy life. As I stand here on the threshold of my future, these are the things which to me seem the most valuable. Perhaps in fifty years I will think that they are extremely silly. Perhaps I will wonder, for instance, why I did not include a wish for continued happiness. Yet, right now, I do not desire my life to be a bed of roses. I want it to be something much more than that. I want it to be a truly great adventure, never dull, always exciting and engrossing; not sickly sweet, yet not unhappy. And I believe it will be all I wish if I do these things before I die.

As for death itself, I do not believe that it will be such a disagreeable thing providing my life has been successful. I have always considered life and death as two cups of wine. Of the first cup, containing the wine of life, we can learn a little from literature and from those who have drunk it, but only a little. In order to get the full flavor we must drink deeply of it for ourselves. I believe that after I have quaffed the cup containing the wine of life, emptied it to its last dregs, then I will not fear to turn to that other cup, the one whose contents can be designated only by X, an unknown, and a thing about which we can gain no knowledge at all until we drink for ourselves. Will it be sweet, or sour, or tasteless? Who can tell? Surely none of us like to think of death as the end of everything. Yet is it? That is a question that for all of us will one day be answered when we, having witnessed the drama of life, come to the final curtain. Probably we will all regret to leave this world, yet I believe that after I have drained the first cup, and have possibly grown a bit weary of its flavor, I will then turn not unwillingly to the second cup and to the new and thrilling experience of exploring the unknown.


If I didn’t write down my thoughts, I think my head would explode. I’m so lucky to have readers like you to share my ideas with. Minimal Student has helped me grow into the kind of person I want to be. Not that I’m there yet, wherever there may be, but like at said at the beginning of MS, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the adventure. I would be so happy if you can find even just a few of the future posts to come on MS inspiring, helpful, motivating, useful, poignant or memorable.

Thank you for joining me on this journey. Since it’s my birthday, I would be elated if you could share Minimal Student by hitting the share button or emailing a link to a friend. Thank you.

15 Inspiring Quotes for Students

by Jessica Dang
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I love my collection of quotes. There’s something magical about the words of great people, who’ve been there, done that. Here are some of my favourite:


“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” —Gandhi

There’s nothing like living in the moment. But it’s just as important to build your knowledge piece by piece, as if you’ll have it for the rest of your life. Read: Zen in a cup of tea


“Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.” —William Butler Yeats

You won’t learn by waiting for things to fall into your lap. You have to go out and get it yourself. Read: Why Showing Up Is Not Enough


“Learning is not a spectator sport.” —D. Blocher

Nobody perfected their swing just by watching TV. If you want to get good, you have to be a part of the game.  Read: How running taught me the value of persistence


“It is wiser to find out than to suppose.” —Mark Twain

Don’t assume anything. Does ‘dihydrogen monoxide’ sounds dangerous to you? It’s a real chemical, 100% of the people who consume it die. Surprise! It’s just another name for water. Read: Why Minimalists Live Happy Lives


“Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten.” —B. F. Skinner

You won’t remember every fact that you memorise. But you don’t learn it for that, you learn it to remember the story that it tells you. Read: 5 Ways to Strengthen Your Spirit – A Minimalist’s Guide


“I think, therefore I am. (Cogito, ergo sum.)” —René Descartes

Your brain’s ability to remember the past and imagine the future is what separates you from other animals, and other people. There isn’t another human being in the world with the same thoughts and memories as you. Read: How to create memories that will make you smile


“Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.” —C.S. Lewis

Sometimes things go wrong before they go right. Put it down to experience and learn from your mistakes. Read: 5 lessons learned from repeated failure


“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.” —Albert Einstein

It’s never too late to change your life. There’s always hope that tomorrow will be a better day, it’s up to you whether or not it turns out that way. Read: Make your own future


“The purpose of learning is growth, and our minds, unlike our bodies, can continue growing as long as we live.” —Mortimer Adler

The more you put yourself out there, getting out of your comfort zone and expanding your horizons, the more your mind gets stronger over time. Read: Zen in a lotus flower


“The best way to predict your future is to create it.” —Abraham Lincoln

Take control of your life, don’t let others control you. Read: Minimalist Meditations — On Control


“The journey is the reward.” —Chinese Proverb

Often, life is not about the destination, but what you learn and do on the way there. Read: Life is the journey


“Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” —Goethe

As children, we’re told too often that things are ‘impossible’. The truth is, if we can dream it, it’s probably doable. Think big and do big. Read: On the Shortness of Life – Part III – Desire and life goals


“Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” —Will Rogers

You literally won’t get anywhere in life by staying still. Even if you’re not sure, going somewhere is better than nowhere. If it turns out to be wrong, at least you have one more direction you know not to go towards. Read: The most important thing you need to know about completing your bucket list


“Learning is like rowing upstream, not to advance is to drop back.” —Chinese Proverb

Yes, it’s hard. But anything worth having is worth working hard for. If you’re not moving forwards, then you’re falling short of the best person you can be. Read: Live life like water


“Be a student as long as you still have something to learn, and this will mean all your life.” —Henry L. Doherty

Never stop learning. The world is a fascinating place, with an infinite amount to learn about. To live is to learn. Read: On the Shortness of Life – Part IV – Learning


Bonus! Top 3 Inspirational Books for Students:

The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

Mindset: Changing The Way You think To Fulfil Your Potential

For more inspirational quotes, follow @MinimalStudent on Twitter.

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Minimal Student has graduated. Check out Minimalist Meditations, where I continue my minimalist journey on exploring how to live.

5 Ways to Reclaim Ten Minutes a Day


As a student, there is no such thing as ‘free time’. The time you think is ‘free’ – you could actually be using to do something else that is productive, such as finding a book on the course reading list, writing up notes or reviewing the last lecture. Every minute we are encouraged to cram more and more activities in, more socialising, more studying, but there are only so many minutes in a day.

As much as I advocate slowing down and doing less, sometimes it isn’t possible in a student’s hectic lifestyle, especially during exam times. I consider myself a bit of a minimalist, stuffing more isn’t really my thing, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, so here are some of my favourite hacks to try to cram more minutes into each day.

1. Read when cooking. There’s a lot of waiting when you’re cooking. Most people flip the tv on, or have a day dream, but I recommend bringing a book into the kitchen and get a few paragraphs done whilst waiting for that pasta to become al dente. Also applies for toilet breaks and long queues.

2. Group activities together. Part of David Allen’s famous Getting Things Done method involves grouping tasks that are in the same context together to save time doing them. For example, if you have to boot up your laptop to do something, why not wait until you have two or three things to do and then you only have to turn on your laptop once to do them all. This may sound obvious, but it does require a little bit of organizational skill in that you have to think ahead to make sure you haven’t left anything out, especially if you’re going to make a trip to a particular place. It’s no good getting halfway back home from X and then remembering  you had one more thing to do! Which brings me to…

3. Write things down. Maybe it’s the people I hang around with (or me) but you’ll be amazed at the number of times I’m walking around campus with someone who suddenly ‘just remembered’ they had to collect or hand in something and turn in the direction we just came. One of my friends even spent one whole day mumbling “I know there’s something I have to do today…” (It turned out she had to ask our lecturer something important, but by then the lesson had already finished and we were on the other side of campus). By jotting things down on a daily basis you can save countless minutes from trying to recall all of the things you had to do.

4. Listen to podcasts. Ok, this one doesn’t save you time, but it’s a way to fill up those idle minutes. It’s no secret that I love podcasts. The best ones are educational and intellectually stimulating. They could be news in an area you are interested in, or debates and discussions around your degree. There’s so much stuff out there, I’ve dipped into so many different subjects, including (and not limited to) economics, astronomy, travel, philosophy, history, nutritionZen,…you can even learn languages via podcasts. They’re a great alternative to looping the same album (however amazing) on your ipod whilst walking or waiting for the bus. Please remember to look out for traffic!

5. Be minimalist. Yes, you knew it was coming. In this case by minimalism I mean having fewer things, which generally means you will be in a much tidier environment. You will save minutes if not hours if you can find everything and anything you need because it’s not lost under a pile of clothes or crumpled at the bottom of your bag. Find a place for all of the things you need everyday. For my keys, I actually hacked a key hook using some blue tak and a piece of wire (the kind you get wrapped around cables of electronics) shaped into a ‘J’. I stick it just above the handle of my door, so I always know where they are. Try to keep sheets and notes as organised as possible, or at least keep them all in one place, so you don’t spend ages looking around for them.

With these tips, you can probably save upwards of ten minutes a day, which doesn’t sound like much, but could add up to an extra hour or two every week.  At the moment, I’m conducting a bit of a hack-slash-experiment which I am trying to reclaim up to an hour and a half each day, but more of that coming soon…

If you’ve just joined Minimal Student, or just want to read more, why not have a look at my current series, The Recipe for Student Success, or check out the Most Popular MS Posts.