Monthly Archives: December 2010

Christmas Challenge Week 4 Review – New Year Cleanse Week

Merry Christmas everybody!

So we’ve come to the final week of Minimal Student’s Christmas Challenge. It’s been an interesting few weeks since I started writing the prompts for the challenge, and I’ve been made to rethink some aspects of my life. For the final week I decided to do a general minimalist clean-out. Here goes!

Dec 20 : Pull out a storage box from under the bed/attic etc. Without opening it, can you name more than half of its contents?

I often see in cartoons when the characters are trying to clean up but they’re too lazy to do it properly they would just sweep the pile of dust under the rug. It’s funny when you watch it, but if you think about it, many people actually do a real life version of this ‘out of sight, out of mind’ principle. They would put everything in boxes, arrange boxes neatly and think they have become ‘organized’. Being tidy and being minimalist are two different things, once you realize this, you can start to pull out those old boxes of junk, get rid of them and start being minimalist for real.

Dec 21 : Does your wardrobe contain anything you haven’t worn in a year or more? That’s a whole cycle of seasons, if you didn’t need it, do you still?

My ‘wardrobe’ used to contain so many things that I didn’t actually wear. Apart from my daily clothes, I had clothes I was waiting for the right occasion or weather to wear, clothes I kept until I had lost enough weight, clothes I kept for sentimental reasons, clothes I wanted to wear but didn’t suit and even clothes I kept for no reason at all. Once I decided to get rid of it all, it was such a relief to not have that pressure on me any more. The best way to work it out is to say to yourself, “if I only had one suitcase to fit everything, what would I put in it?”. I did exactly that.

Dec 22 : Do you tend to carry something back and forth from the same place? Do you actually use it when you get home, or can you leave it there?

University textbooks are heavy. I didn’t need anybody to tell me that, so I always get a locker to put everything in there overnight, and come back in the morning to collect it. If I need something from it, such as a vocab list, I would write it down which help me to remember it anyway. I only bring them home when I have big tests to study for. It seems such an obvious idea, but if you just take a look around you will probably see most of your classmates/colleagues carrying things home and back again, even if they don’t use them.

Dec 23 : How long have you been waiting to fix ‘that thing’? How long has it been in your way?

I’m a little bit of a computer geek. So, I never wanted to get rid of old laptops and computers that didn’t work any more. I would try to fix them, even though nobody could use them but me, and I had my own laptop anyway. My house ended up storing several dust gathering machines. I finally decided to get rid of them all when I realized that they were barely more than metal boxes getting in the way. Other things I kept ‘to fix one day’ were old ripped clothes and jewellery, which I never had the time, skill or motivation for.

Dec 24 : How many people on your contact lists do you actually ‘contact’? How many people on you friends list will be there for you if you need them?

A while back my iPhone was accidentally wiped of it’s memory. I was pretty upset that I had lost all of my numbers, but soon I realized that it was a blessing in disguise because it cleaned my slate of contacts that I didn’t know I didn’t need any more. I just asked around for the dozen or so numbers I needed, and from then on I never missed the ones I lost. As for my Facebook friends, every few months I clear out old contacts that I don’t speak to any more. I’m determined that I will never be one of those people that have over 500 ‘friends’, because it would be rather obvious that they’re not really my friends at all.

Dec 25 : What’s the biggest thing that weighed you down this year? Make a commitment to get rid of it in 2011.

Even though I had managed to get rid of most of my possessions in order to move to Japan, I still store a few books at home. Every time I would tell myself that I would get rid of them, I recall the days when I held them lovingly in my warm bed reading them from morning til night. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with keeping hold of a few old books, but I think those books combined with the ones I have kept because I couldn’t be bothered to sell/donate them is way too much. For Christmas, I got a brand new Kindle (yay!) so this year, I think I will make a conscious commitment to digitize most of my books. I’ll let you know how that goes!

So that’s the end of the Challenge. You can check out the previous prompts here. Thank you everybody who took part, thank you for all your comments and emails and thank you for reading Minimal Student in 2010. I hope you enjoyed this year as much as I did!

P.S. I will be in Tokyo for the next couple of days, spending most of the time seeing the big city whilst being disconnected. I have one post lined up, and in the meantime, please check out the most popular posts or if you want to know what I’m getting up to check out my other blog 101 Things in Japan.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Christmas Challenge Week 3 Review – Health Week

Wow we’ve come to the end of the third week of Minimal Student’s Christmas Challenge! With the amount of Christmas parties and food going on around this time of year, I thought it would be a great opportunity to go against the flow and focus on health.

Dec 13 : Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. Give it a rest and a workout at the same time today by meditating for 5mins

For a lot of people, the word ‘health’ immediately implies body, and most of the time referring to weight. But the health of your mind is just as valuable. You can train and stimulate it by doing sudoku puzzles and so on, but there’s nothing better than just sitting still for a few minutes and letting it wander. People have no idea how hard it is to just sit without being distracted until they stop for a moment and try it.

Dec 14 : Only drink water today. It’s pure, simple and cleansing.

Water is the stuff of life. It may not taste like much, but it has no calories, fats, additives, sugars or anything, and yet it is essential for your body. It’s one of the only things that you can consume which is purely good for you. Drink a glass now!

Dec 15 : Have a meat-free day and/or try not to eat anything that comes in packaging for just one day.

Reducing meat consumption (and substituting it for tofu or at least white meat) can make a massive positive difference to your body. Packaged food is the same in many ways. We pay for the convenience of food, not only with our money, but our health too. I’m not saying we should ban either of them, but that we should be at least be mindful of the amount we’re eating, especially in proportion to fresh foods.

Dec 16: Incorporate exercise as part of your morning routine today. It’ll wake you up, even if it’s just 5 mins.

A lot of people reach straight for the coffee cup when they’re feeling drowsy in the morning. I love to drink coffee, but for me, exercise does the job of waking me up – it loosens my body muscles, gets my heart pumping and releases endorphins which puts me in a good mood for the rest of the day. By ‘exercise’ I don’t mean you have to go for an early morning jog or spend an hour in the gym before work (if you don’t want to). Literally a few minutes of equipment free exercise (see below) will make all the difference.

Dec 17 : No snacking today. Simple.

Ever since I read Patrick Reynolds post about Mallory Eating (I’m never going to stop linking to his amazing blog) I’ve been making a concious effort not to snack between meals. When I used to do it, most of the time I wasn’t actually hungry – I just saw the cookies on the table top and munched on them. Just moving them out of plain sight greatly reduced the amount I ate. Then I realized I didn’t really need to eat snacks that much at all and I stopped buying as much.

Dec 18 : Carbs – Cut out sugar today and/or buy the wholegrain alternative to your regular bread, rice, pasta, cereal etc.

Dorm life is a notorious opportunity for other people to steal your food. My friends used to wake up in the morning and find their milk, cereals and bread packets a little lighter than they remembered leaving them the day before. But I never encountered this problem. I found out that the reason was because my food was ‘too healthy’ (whatever that means) for them. They didn’t want to drink my skimmed milk, eat my bran flake cereal or my wholemeal bread or pasta. It made me laugh when  I found out, because it’s like killing two birds with one stone.

Dec 19 : Do 20+ minutes of equipment free exercise (except for clothes). No gadgets, no machines. Just run, jump, stretch and breathe.

I used to hate running in the gym because I thought it was a waste since I lived next to the beach. I still much prefer running outside, but the winters in Japan are so bitterly cold that it would be almost dangerous for me to do so. So even though I go to gym occasionally now, I still prefer to do most of my exercise without equipment. The main reason is because I can only use the gym at certain times, which isn’t always convenient for me. In the mornings especially, I have the urge to do a small work out, so I just do a few jumps, stretches, sit-ups, push-ups and a little karate. It’s quick, simple, and no set-up is required, just the way I like it!

If you haven’t joined the Minimalist Christmas Challenge yet, it’s still running daily on Twitter until Dec 25th. I hope to see you there!

Related Posts

Letting go of sentimentality

During this time of year, the post offices are getting completely swamped with Christmas present packages, last minute internet purchases and of course, Christmas cards.

When I was a kid, I used to love writing and receiving cards, but as I got older I sent fewer cards and received much fewer in return. Now, it’s been a few years since I’ve written one. If I want to wish my friends “Happy Christmas”, I would say it to them directly, or else just get in contact with them on the phone or online.

Personally, I no longer see the need to send Christmas cards. But there are many people who still do. And there are many more who believe in sending real letters, photographs, souvenirs, and postcards.

three questions

In this age of technology and constant connected-ness, I wonder about a few things.

1. Should we still be doing it?

There are so many other ways we can get in contact with the people we love. The internet may be a modern-money making monster, but it has enabled us to share our thoughts, photos, videos and stories with almost anybody we want. Letters were good in the old days when telephone was the only other option.

Because of the prevalence of the internet, there are people who want to go back to those good old days and handwrite everything. But there are other things to consider – such as the environment, money and of course what happens next.

2. What will I do with all these things for the rest of my life? Shall I leave it to collect dust in my parent’s attic? Or take them with me whenever I move house? Will I be able to endure keeping them now only to let my kids throw them away for me? Shouldn’t I be the one to let them go?

As much as I love getting letters, they’re not that much different from general clutter. They don’t provide any good use, apart from to make me feel better every couple of years, they’re a hassle to store and look after and they’re meaningful only to me.

3. Why do we keep stuff?

When we get special cards and letters, most people tend to keep them because we feel grateful for the time and effort a loved one put into writing them for us. It’s not something we want to discard easily, unlike other paperwork like bills, magazines and so on.

This was a very big problem for me because I found it so hard to let go of old birthday cards and handwritten letters, but I now I know I can’t  hang onto them forever.

how to let go

1. Realize what they really mean.

Here was the problem: I actually believed that letters and cards were a physical manifestation of somebody’s love for me.

But then I had to ask myself – is that what they really are? I came to the realization that a piece of paper had nothing to do with it. My family and friends would love me all the same, whether or not I kept them. It was the thought of sending the card that counted, not really the card itself. To be honest, most of them probably had forgotten that they even sent me that stuff, and there I was hanging onto them for dear life.

2. Think about the future.

The problem only gets worse the longer you leave it. The older something becomes, the more attached you get to it. One of my biggest fears is becoming an old lady hoarder with a house full of trinkets, ornaments and boxes of stuff I couldn’t bear to throw away. If something should happen to me (touch wood), who will the burden fall on to get rid of that stuff?

Nothing lasts forever. One day, that stuff will be dumped. You’ll have to let go sometime, so why not make it soon?

3. You can still save them.

Thanks to technology, a part of those letters, cards, trinkets and so on can be saved. During my summer purge, I scanned/took pictures and recycled/donated a lot of stuff.  And I have to say, it felt quite liberating to get the burden of those boxes off my back. I can still read the letters when I want to, even if it’s not the real tangible versions. To me, being able to read their words was more important than being able to touch the piece of paper they were attached to.

Also, because I have digital versions of them, I don’t have to bring them with me wherever I go. It would have been quite inconvenient to take them with me to Japan, or to anywhere I would end up living for that matter.

It’s up to each person if they feel it’s worth trading, you should do whatever feels right for you. Because of course, minimalism isn’t about throwing away everything, especially the stuff that really matters to you. If you’ve decided that you really want to keep something, it would probably only cause more pain for you to get rid of it.

In that case, keeping a little shoebox of photographs wouldn’t be the end of the world, would it?

Related Posts

Interested in more de-cluttering tips? If so, check out Minimal Student’s Christmas Challenge over at Twitter for daily prompts. See you there!

Picture credit: Jayegirl99

Christmas Challenge Week 2 Review – Digital/Info Purge Week

We’ve come to the end of the second week in the Christmas Challenge, I hope you guys are having fun decluttering! This week was Digital/Infomation purge week – designed to unload your brain a little from the million and one informational and digital distractions of life.

Dec 6 : Take 15 minutes to get rid of that pile of paper on your desk/shelf today. Scan and recycle!

As a student, it still amazes me in this day and age schools and universities are still using so much paper. However, there’s not much I can do about it except make sure it doesn’t build up on my desk and get in the way. Scanners are a minimalist’s secret weapon. Think about it, you can get rid of entire stacks and folders of paper within a day and they never have to bother you again! Plus, some scanners/software programs can literally ‘read’ the letters that you scan, making them searchable too.

Dec 7 : Unsubscribe from a blog/newsletter/magazine that you’ve been following out of habit instead of getting actual useful information from lately.

I’m one of those people who used to be terribly guilty of following too many blogs. I think I was scared I would miss out on some amazing tip/post that would change my life. But soon I realized that following so many of them did me more bad than good. I would have almost hundreds of items to read a week and it made me feel guilty. They took time to read (or at least flip through) and would even cut into my studying/book reading time. So I was harsh with myself and decided to unsubscribe to the ones that really weren’t helping at all. Now I feel like a big load has been lifted off my back.

Dec 8 : Skip watching TV today. No melodrama, no commercials. What did you choose to do with that hour instead?

Since coming to Japan, I’ve almost completely given up on television. The TV here is absolutely full of commercials, not to mention it’s in Japanese. Sometimes I will watch a show if it’s about travel/culture, or for language practice, but I’ve basically got TV hours down to about a total of two a week. I’ve certainly noticed I’ve been able to do more with the hours I’ve gained. I’ve got more time to study, to write, to read and to practice guitar, all things which I know I would much rather do in the end than wasting time.

Dec 9 : There are millions of books in the world. You’ll never read all of them. Give away a book that you’ve been meaning to read for too long.

As a book lover, this was a hard thing to admit. In fact, I had an entire shelf labelled ‘To Read’ – it was dedicated to books people have recommended, books I was given, books I bought on the spur of the moment, classics I should have read by now and books made into movies I love. Every now and again, I would pick a book from it to read, but the matter of the fact was, the shelf was growing quicker than I could read them. After a year or so of books gathering dust on that shelf, I had to admit that I’m probably never going to read them, and just like the blogs, letting go of them lifted a giant weight off of shoulders.

Dec 10 : Until just a short while ago, there was no such thing as browser tabs. If you go online today, only have one tab open. Focus!

I started using Firefox about three years ago, before I switched to the faster and more minimalist Chrome about a year ago. I didn’t realize how much I utilize the tab feature until I discovered that at university they use Internet Explorer (ew.) which didn’t have it. As much as it hurt to search on google, for other things it actually worked out quite well because I only had one window open, which meant that I wasn’t tempted to click around to other tabs whenever my focus waned. Although I can’t completely give them up, it really helps to close all other tabs when you really have to focus on writing or reading something important.

Dec 11 : Clean your computer today. Get rid of all the apps/icons/shortcuts/bookmarks you don’t need, reg errors, history…does it feel faster now?

Back at home, I was always the ‘had-no-choice-on-call-computer-doctor’ for my friends and family. I had to deal with crashes, bugs, viruses and when the sluggishness of the machine reached unbearable levels. In my experience, about 90% of the time, the problem occurred because the person didn’t regularly clean out their computer of junk. They would still have programs they hadn’t used in years, or downloaded files they never scanned for malware, some even had the crapware that came with their computer (ie. Norton). I know computers aren’t the easiest thing to understand, but a little flossing by software such as CCleaner can go a long way.

Dec 12 : Spend today disconnected. Don’t touch emails, blogs or social networks. Did you actually miss anything important?

As a person who has a love-hate relationship with Facebook, I have had days when I checked it every other hour, but I’ve also had weeks of not touching it at a time. I also don’t have time to read my RSS feeds everyday and I probably only check my email about once or twice a day. However, in all that time, there has never been a single thing that had required my attention and reply immediately.

As much as I love technology, and the fact that we live in an age when almost any piece of information is accessible at our fingertips, and that we can connect to almost anybody in the world, sometimes it feels even better to be disconnected.

If you haven’t joined the Minimalist Christmas Challenge yet, it’s still running daily on Twitter until Dec 25th. I hope to see you there!

Half the battle

“Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little”.  ~ Edmund Burke

Welcome Becoming Minimalist readers! This is the second half of the guest post I wrote over at Joshua’s blog, please check it out if you haven’t already!

As minimalists, we’ve given up a lot of stuff.

We’ve stopped buying, eating, driving, watching TV and generally consuming as much as we used to.

We’ve changed our lives for the better and for many of us, there’s no going back.

But as Christmas appraoches, I’m beginning to wonder, is it enough?

Is it enough to just stop taking?

half the battle

We’ve gotten very far to be where we are now. But still, I can’t help but feel we’re only halfway there.

Yes, as minimalists, we’ve given up a lot of stuff, but as human beings we need to start giving too.

For many of us, we are lucky enough to have the choice to stick with having less. But there are many people who didn’t get to make that decision.

Minimalists choose to have enough, but there are some people who don’t even have that.

what can we do?

Spread the word. Show people there is another way instead of spending hours in a shopping mall fretting over which perfume to get their loved one this year. People have forgotten that Christmas is a season of giving (and I don’t mean pointless presents) – we’re supposed to be generous, kind and caring. Instead, it’s become a time for wanting, taking and demanding for things we think we need to be happy.

Before I get any emails about it, I’m not saying let’s abandon Christmas. I have some very fond memories of Christmas with my family and friends. Actually, it’s especially because I love Christmas that I hate to see it transformed into something ugly.

If you think about it, it’s spending time with other people and making other people happy that makes you happy. The present giving tradition probably stemmed from people wanting to make their kids or their friends happy by giving them something from the heart. But TV and magazine advertisements, card companies and shopping malls have made Christmas into a season of over spending, competitiveness, material desire and stuffing ourselves.

If only we spent a little less money on brand clothing, toys, cards, decorations and the like, we could help people who don’t even have clothes to wear or even a home at all.

If only we ate a little less just because of the date of the year, we could help people who don’t have much to eat the whole year around.

If only we spent less time shopping or working so much, we’ll have more time to give to our family, our friends, our community and those that need us.

We can’t do everything, but we can do something. You don’t need more money, you just have to spend less. And you don’t need a lot of time, you just have to simplify more.

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one”.  ~ Mother Teresa

From our cosy houses sometimes we forget that winter is a cold season. There are people in the streets. There are people who are hungry. We may not be able to change the world, but even if we help one person, we can make a world of a difference to them.

Change somebody’s world this Christmas.

Related Posts

PS. Speaking of giving, thank you Lip from The Lazy Pixel for helping me fix a few broken links in previous posts.

PPS. The Minimalist Christmas Challenge is still running, subscribe to the Twitter feed for daily de-cluttering prompts!

Christmas Challenge Week 1 Review – Minimal Money

Wow, so we’ve come to is the end of the first week of Minimal Student’s Christmas Challenge. I chose money as the theme of this week, because I thought it would be appropriate considering it’s something a lot of people are thinking about during this time of year.

I’ve received a lot of emails and comments on people’s thoughts on each prompt, thank you! 140 characters is so little, if there’s one skill I’ve honed this week it’s the ability to cut down what I want to say to an absolute minimum. So, for today’s review post, I’ll do the same and stick to brief notes on each. If you’ve missed the prompts, you can read them below and follow new ones on Twitter.

Dec 1 : Does your wallet contain more than just money? Empty out old receipts and cards you don’t use at least 2x a month and feel the difference.

I see so many people lug impressively huge wallets and purses around with them. They carry stuff with them everyday that they only use once or twice a month, or maybe even never! This not only includes old receipts and way too much change, but tons of membership cards, bits of paper, gum and so on. I used to be a ‘just in case I need it’ person too, but since I’ve given my purse (and the rest of my bag) the minimalist treatment, I literally only carry a bit of cash and my ID, and I can’t think of a time one of those ‘just in case’ moments actually happened.

Dec 2 : Make your lunch today, or bring your own water/tea instead of buying a coffee… then drop the money into a charity box, how do you feel?

If you spend about $5 everyday on your lunch, imagine how much you would save if you made your own. Normally, I could buy ingredients such as pasta, salads, bread and fillings that would last me a week for about $15. Not to mention how much money I’d save just by cutting out buying coffee at school/work and just bringing my own. There are charity boxes at almost any till in Japan, and it always makes me feel  a little better to drop a few coins into them every now and again. It may not be much, but it’s the least I could do.

Dec 3 : Leave your cards at home and pay for everything with cash today. Do you feel different when you actually touch the money?

One of the many culture shocks that I experienced when I moved from England to Japan was the Japanese’s tendency to pay for everything in cash. In England, people would use cards to pay for even the smallest things. In Japan, the most common method of payment by far is cash, even for things that cost over hundreds of dollars. Because of the (amazingly) low crime rate,  it’s not uncommon for people to carry upwards of $300 in cash with them all the time. For me, it was interesting to see how I felt a bit more resistance parting with cash that I physically touched because I could see it disappear from my purse.

Dec 4 : Today is the weekend. Can you still have fun and not spend a penny?

This weekend, I spent some much needed time with my host family. We talked about our different cultures and I learned a lot of things about Japanese language and life. I played with the kids, taught some English and learned how to make some more delicious Japanese dishes. I exercised, I read, I studied. I had the best time, and I didn’t spend a penny.

Dec 5 : Look around you. What kind of things can’t you buy with money? How much do they mean to you?

Generally, I can replace any of the material stuff I own. But, there are only one of the each of the people I care about. I made this prompt because I was thinking how much better Christmas is when I’m surrounded by the things that are most valuable to me – I don’t mean toys, food, or any kind of shopping mall gift – but the things money can’t buy.

Thank you to everyone who have participated so far. Feel free to leave your comments below, and I hope you enjoy the rest of the challenge!