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simplicity’s complexity

often as a minimalist we take for grated the complexity of the things that simplify our lives. think about the things that you use that are versatile or do multiple things, on a certain level they are simple but maybe on a scientific level they are complex. george whitesides talks about this specific paradox.

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i don’t want it i need it

in a harvard study juliet schor found a potential gem, in the idea of american work progression; she suggested americans were now spending more hours working so that they could buy things. this is nothing new because people have had an obsession with things for centuries. think about the glitz and glam surrounding some of the earliest societies.

juliet also sights a shift in the way the people spend money. she argues that keeping up with the jonses has turned into keeping up with the gateses or the jobses. suggesting that comparisons to people in the same income bracket are not the common focal points anymore. according to her media drives spending and there is a new trend of upscaling; always having the latest and the newest.

the media has a very pronounced bias towards showing upscaled or affluent consumption. a sitcom family that’s supposed to

be “middle-American/ordinary American”almost always lives a $100,000 year plus lifestyle. that is they almost always have an

affluent lifestyle only achievable with an income in that top twenty percent. they live in great big houses,they have two late model

cars,they have lovely wardrobes—it’s a fiction that they’re average. the popular sitcom friends is a good example of this. here’s

a group of young kids in manhattan,who may or may not even have employment, you know sometimes they do and sometimes

they don’t,and it’s not lucrative employment and yet they live in the great big fabulous new york apartment.

whether the argument is valid or not i cannot say yet because i have not delved that far into the video done to support the research, but let’s assume that through logic that this is true; that the media does influence the need to “upscale.”  well how can you break that influence?

a change in perspective

the truth is that you have a choice, you choose what you would like to value. do you really need an iphone, well do you? i own an iphone, and the reason is that it’s a phone that was made with high quality materials, and the most durable phone in existence in att’s current line. however, although i enjoy the bells and whistles, i could get by just fine with a cheaper phone. my problem was that for me cheaper phones always broke and i would have to pay for replacement costs because usually it was my fault.

so, on with the argument, you can change your perspective because all media does is give you an offering. become informed and start thinking longterm, as if you were an investor. by taking on this perspective you can actually quantify what standing you will be in in 10 years or 20 years. the thought could make you feel really secure. if you think about your savings account as profiting; which it is in a sense, you will turn saving into a game. how much money can you retain this week, how about next? here is a simple analysis to get rid of what you may consider unnessecary reguar spending; subscription spending. first you should code the formula by creating a list of all of your subscriptions, and applying a number of value to them depending on how many subscriptions you have. give them a ranking of greatest value to least value. after that it is simple (value x time (hours per week) = value added). this will help you consider the lifestyle you don’t want to lead. think about the friends analogy, how often in the script do you just see them in front of a television?  if what the researcher suggests is true then television and media are a complete paradox. you are watching people do and experience something that you could on your own. think about those things when you are assigning value to your subscriptions. finally, you could even make a chart to see if there is something that just does not give enough value added. create another list next to your assigned values that ranks the value added for each subscription. then in the value added list next to value added right the cost in terms of months, weeks, years, and think about your spending.

here are some strategies for getting passed upscaling stuff

think of the storage of the consumption of those offerings as a swiss army knife.

  1. it would be easy to imagine that you would have a limited amount of space in your swiss army knife. the tools in the knife are only useful at specific times.
  2. what is the most useful and enjoying tool in your knife?
  3. i once had a graduate student intern that suggested that slaying dragons was how she referred to overcoming problems. so that begs the question, which tools do not help you slay your current dragons maybe you can equip that tool later, and make use of something more effective now.
  4. are you truly convinced that the things you buy are the best for the job you need it to do. please do some research on information literacy, you could start by checking this post out. information literacy will help you become an intelligent consumer and allow you to make informed decisions.
  5. apply the value added analysis to all things you want to buy this year that you don’t necessarily need which ones will make the cut, its a potential value added analysis.

a swiss army knife of information

here is a list of previous posts that can be of assistance on this topic:

autodidact (for info literacy information)

new vs. old vs. leased (informed decisions about your auto bills)

media solutions (alternatives to cable)

minimalist definitions (quality vs. quantitiy)


versatility

as a minimalist the idea is to possess little, and give more. hence the quality of possessions is critical, you have more money free to ensure what litle “stuff” you do buy is of quality. no matter how you slice it you have things that you need as necessities. so in a way those things that you have should be “versatile.”  good decision making is a must as well. i hope to give you an idea of what i mean through a lesson my dad taught me when i was just a boy.

the lesson


my dad was always a good cook, and as a boy i admired how he a man could go from working with cattle to working in the kitchen, doing what was percieved then and sadly still now as woman’s work. one evening as he was preparing supper i asked to learn to cook. i cannot recall exactly what he was cooking but it was definately the meal of a seasoned chef. my dad told me, “in the morning i will teach you to cook.”

the morning

a father taught his son that morning to cook an egg. why? well at the time i did not know but not only did i learn to make an egg scrambled, fried, and boiled, i also learned a great life lesson.

  1. be versatile, which means the egg can be adapted many ways. as i had more lessons in cooking i understood some of the foods that people eat in the black culture. a common theme amongst slave quarters were receiving scraps and finding ways to make meals. the manipulation of the egg is similar. and by starting with that as a foundation, i understood a key thing about cooking and about life. anything can be versatile.
  2. there’s more than one way to do something. the egg represents the fact that there is no one way of getting to a desired outcome or destination. in most cases there are far more than two ways to acheive an outcome. the egg allows you options, and it allows you to do something with flare, or just plain and simple.

my father taught me a great life lesson that morning, one which i will give back by teaching my daughter, and any kids to come after. it means a lot that a simple lesson can have so much significance. make sure the things you own are as versatile as the first meal i learned, and make sure you are thinking about every possible way you can to achieve something and even understand something that is important a key in decision making.


comedy and minimalism

March 18, 2010 1 comment

“there is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.” -erma bombeck

background of comedy

comedy relates to minimalism in many ways. i don’t regard myself as a funny person naturally, nor do i outwardly make that attempt, but either way as life goes on so does comedy and so come the laughs.

you always hear the fact that there are only a few stories in literature or other avenues, and that those stories are re-told and re-invented, but there are only a few originals none the less. take an early philosopher such as aristotle for instance. aristotle in “poetics”suggested that the epic, tragedy, comedy, and the lyric were the four forms of storytelling.

aristotles lists the qualities that form good versions of the arts, and says about comedy and others, “there are, again, some arts which employ all the means above mentioned- namely, rhythm, tune, and meter.” comedy then is an art form that takes on several qualities whereas others may only hold a few.

then it is not that difficult to relate comedy to minimalism. sure the two do not completely merge with one another, but let’s look at the positive aspects of comedy, and relate thoase to minimalism.

how it relates to innovation

“always do whatever’s next.” -george carlin

the comedian as a person is someone who stands out in a crowd. if you think about it the stand up comedy profession is built on one guy in a room doing something that most people fear to their very core; public speaking. as a minimalist you do something that people fear to their very core; loss of possessions. when people fear not being financially stable what does that mean? well it probably means that they can’t afford certain “things,” and for most it means embarrassment.

see most people do not fear public speaking, they fear the potential embarrassment. now most comedians thrive on a rush of defying people’s perceptions. the crowd looks on as a person who should be in a fetal position is mastering a stage. when people think about having to live with less embarrassment set’s in. we all know minimalism is a state of mind, so as a minimalist you are mastering the stage, and you are defying people’s perceptions because you are content with less.

in terms of material the comedian is always thinking about the next thing. as the above quote from a father of his own school of comedy suggests, in order to stay on top you must always think about what is coming. a comedian could just stay up on current events, but in order to make a successful career they must write things that no other comedian in the field is thinking of. i have made several posts on innovation which explained how minimalism inspires innovation. a minimalist has a greater potential to be

how it relates to minimalism

when you think about the comedians job description it lends itself to a minimalist form of entertainment especially in stand up. the comedian is often times, especially at the beginning; the writer, producer, and performer. all of their tools are at their disposal at little cost, and their investment in their success largely begins and ends with themselves. similarly as a minimalist you accept that you are in control of your surrounding world. you are likely able to do without many things and therefore adjust to any situation because you have the tools to do so, and i’m willing to bet you can carry those tools with you everywhere you go.

becoming your own personal  comedian

“you’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” -robin williams

improvisation

a good quality to have as a minimalist and as a person is the ability to improvise which is accepting whatever comes. the ability of improv assumes that you cannot control anything but yourself. the better you get at this ability the better you will be able to predict the outcomes even those of other people, but you accept that you can never fully control or prevent certain reactions from your audiences.

timing

“my friend asked me if I wanted a frozen banana. I said ‘No, but I want a regular banana later, so… yeah.’” -mitch hedberg

allowing yourself to live without things gives you focus and gives you room for opportunity. a big part of life, and comedy is timing. when opportunity knocks…..well you know the rest. a minimalist lifestyle gives you the ability to sacrifice little to get what you want and need to prepare for the next step. the ability to move, or to accept being without a small convenience. being a minimalist allows you to work on yourself that way when an opportunity comes you can accept it fully.

being honest

“i live in a neighborhood so bad that you can get shot while getting shot.” -chris rock

any good stand up comedian merely makes health observations  and embellish them when re-telling the story. to become a minimalist is to become honest with yourself. we all have flaws, and recognizing a flaw is one of the healthiest forms of honesty. for all of your flaws you are still successful in some arena so those flaws are things to laugh at. think about the good qualities you have and embellish those to no end.


a journey to minimalism | lemonade and a good year

when i think of what drives the minimalist in me i think about conversations with my father about what things were really important in the world. these conversations usually happened between him and i over a glass of lemonade, or amongst him and his friends while doing mechanic work. every journey to minimalism is different, but we can all find value in stories of how people got to their minimalist place. for this reason i decided to take this blog to recommend a movie, which is about a journey of a man who lived a severely excessive, and socially driven lifestyle but then discovered the serenity in the simple things.

in this ridley scott movie max skinner a hot shot on the london exchange finds his way back to the simple life he once lived. while i recommend this film i do not want to give the story away for those of you that haven’t had the pleasure yet. so let’s focus on the things that motivated max to live the simple life.

  1. the experience of past pleasures, you know the simple things. max was put into a situation where he had the opportunity to experience things that he experienced as a child. an old house he grew up in and the games he played there. as my story goes i did something similar and rediscovered the pleasure of discourse as a child over a glass of lemonade. think about it, if it is lemonade for me how many places can i experience lemonade and a discussion with a loved one? there is ample opportunity right, well it’s something i love which doesn’t have a huge price tag hanging from it.  minimalism for me is about appreciating those simple things.
  2. “we can buy our way out of jail but we can’t buy freedom, we buy a lot of things but we don’t really need them, the things we buy to cover up what’s inside.” -kanye west max comically realizes what this quote means during the movie. for a guy that is used to luxury vehicles and expensive tailored clothes he finds that the most basic of vehicles do the most important thing, getting you where you need to go. he also finds that clothing does not make the man, but the man makes the clothing.
  3. max struggles with finding entertainment in his situation. early in the movie we get a snapshot of max’s life in london, which consisted of a high-social status which was accompanied by fine meals and hard alcohol. the hard alcohol was symbolic of max’s pace in life. everything fast, and of high impact. he eventually finds another symbolic object when re-discovering his childhood; wine. the idea of wine was to suggest that a slow, tasted (taking time to smell the roses) life was far more rewarding than a fast high impact lifestyle which often has an equally fast resolution.

if there is anything that my own journey has shown me, it is the pleasure i find in the most basic things. having a long drawn out discussion about the simple philosophies of life for instance. i have re-established this ritual in my everyday life, and not only is it entertaining but it is highly beneficial. you learn the most exciting things when having a discussion with a person who has had different experiences than you. so think about the simple activities that you love and make it a priority to experience those things often, they are a constant reminder of what you don’t need.

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living like a soldier

living a minimalist lifestyle often includes motivation. that’s why there are so many blogs on the internet they are sources of motivation for those who read them as well as those who publish them. i like to think outside the box, and so i often find motivation for being minimalist in a variety of places. find a little variety in the things you  research for  your path of minimalism.

we often talk about the benefits of minimalism but do not focus on the idea of minimalism itself. you’re probably asking how many ways can you define minimalism? bare with me while i give you a snapshot of the way one form of minimalist lives.

live like a soldier

there are about 1.4 million active duty military personnel  around the globe. a small percentage of military personnel are actually ground troops or combat forces. the way that a soldier in combat packs accommodates things like climate, terrain, and tactics. the soldiers equipment is broken down into three primary bags.


  • the rucksack which is commonly known in America as a backpack. in the rucksack is nothing but the essentials, if a soldier had to camp out for the night it would be with this bag. the rucksack typically has 27 items in it which includes things like a pancho, an entrenching tool, extra clothes, soap and shampoo.

  • duffle bag number one which has about 18 items in it including things like socks, bdu pants, combat boots, and a sleeping mat.
  • duffle bag number two which includes about 13 items of outfitting to endure cold weather like bear suit pants, field jacket, wool scarf, and a parka.

why are you telling us this?

well if the boys and girls in the armed services can literally survive with so little equipment for an extended amount of time why can’t we at home. i am not saying live from three bags, but rather divide your priorities into three categories to weather all of the factors and concerns in your particular situation.

here is what i am talking about, think of the three most important things in your life right now. to be honest they may originally break down into the most time consuming. below is a generic list. under each category evaluate your necessities and what you need to do the best possible job. think about how you can improve the quality of your categories while creating your list.

eventually your three categories will change as we as human beings adapt.  you should keep evolving your list items as you evolve, maybe a 6 month review will be effective for you, or maybe an annual review.

  1. the dream
    • what equipment do i need to be successful in my pursuit of….?
    • what will i sacrifice to make more time for practice?
  2. family
    • what are the essential things my family needs to be happy?
    • what does my family not need to be happy?
  3. the day job
    • what are the essential things i need to do my job well?
    • in what ways can i make room for creative work on the job?

so……what are your three categories?




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pocket full of dreams

February 25, 2010 2 comments

i interact with dreams all day long, i work on a college campus, and there is no greater pleasure than seeing people pursue better lives. there is no greater pain than seeing some of those dreams not realized, and no longer pursued.

why minimalism leaves you open to pursue the wildest of dreams

a lot of times dreams are not reached not because we are not passionate enough, but because we prioritize other things. some things are definitely worth prioritizing, but others we can do without. a lot of people say chivalry is dead and even though it isn’t completely you get the point. the same way that chivalry is dead i believe sacrifice is close to taking the plunge. what are you willing to sacrifice to realize your dreams, and for how long are you willing to sacrifice it.

when you choose to take a path of minimalism you are basically willing to put yourself in a position where you will sacrifice, possessions and relationships. what things do you need, and what people do you need for the next month, or year, or beyond?  these are questions that you have to ask yourself. one problem with the college students i work with is that many of them limit themselves to sticking close to home, and there is little opportunity if you limit your proximity. hence you may have to sacrifice family for a particular amount of time in order to succeed. it isn’t a requirement for success, but it is an option to create easier and more accessible opportunities.

here are a couple of methods i came across on the zen habits blog

  • Make a list of your top 4-5 important things. What’s most important to you? What do you value most? What 4-5 things do you most want to do in your life? Simplifying starts with these priorities, as you are trying to make room in your life so you have more time for these things.
  • Evaluate your commitments. Look at everything you’ve got going on in your life. Everything, from work to home to civic to kids’ activities to hobbies to side businesses to other projects. Think about which of these really gives you value, which ones you love doing. Which of these are in line with the 4-5 most important things you listed above? Drop those that aren’t in line with those things.
  • what are my dreams?

    after college and after any turning point many people ask themselves now what? this is more ironic in college because you get handed a degree that is supposed to tell you what to do, and still…..now what?

    we have answered this question since we were kids whether blatantly or quietly. this question was answered for me long ago but realized only recently. looking back i loved only a few things; my imagination, learning, and growing up on a ranch. now, my goals are to achieve those things at full force. i have defined all of these things and thought about how to achieve them and all of them are multi-layered but for today i will let you in on step one of achieving something that let’s me express my imagination.

    imagination, as a kid my cousin and i would play with action figures all day long, and between ages 4 & into the teen years (kind of embarrassing now, but not really because we loved it) we would create complex feature length events. when i sat down at the drawing board getting my wiley coyote on, if you will, i realized these childhood memories were some of my happiest moments. what could give me the same feeling; film! one thing i want to succeed in is filmmaking. one goal for this year is entering a script into a contest. now all i need to do is sacrifice. and if you are sacrificing something important for a certain amount of time the more ambitious you are the sooner you will get that thing back….positive thing ambition.

    ……so, what will you give up?