Archives for Simple Living
One of the downsides of owning a lot of things is you have to care for a lot of things. Caring for copious possessions is simple if you have a team of people to do it for you — cleaning, maintenance, security — but not so simple when you’re the one with all the responsibilities.
I’m not an ascetic. I have stuff. My son has toys, and our family has a car. I’m not an advocate for a possession-free lifestyle. Rather, I adhere to smart consumer practices (spending less than you earn, researching products before your buy them, buying the best quality you can afford, only buying products you need or help you pursue the remarkable life you desire, and trying your best to refrain from acquiring clutter).
Another thing smart consumers acknowledge is that stuff is more than physical objects. Stuff is storage space in your home. Stuff is protecting your things from theft, pests, mold, mildew, and the elements. Stuff is taking time for dusting, cleaning, and returning things after you use them. Stuff is shipping costs, taxes, upgrades, accessories, and energy to power. Stuff is the tradeoff of time, energy, money, and space that you could have used for something else — something you might want more in your life.
Before making a purchase or acquiring a new object, pause and ask yourself if you are willing to accept all the responsibilities that accompany the object. When sorting through the things in your home, ask yourself the same questions. Recognize how the things in your life will impact your future. Don’t get caught off guard by the responsibilities of ownership.
Guilt and regret are powerful forms of clutter. They can be small, but continuously present at the back of your mind, weighing on you for years. Or, they can overwhelm all of your thoughts and be the ultimate distraction.
Obviously, if we could find a way to avoid guilt and regret completely, we would. This is an impossible feat, though, as we’re human. We aren’t perfect. We do things that disappoint others and ourselves, and we simply strive to keep these disappointments to a minimum.
How we handle the guilt and regret in our lives can play a large part in how much they clutter up our thoughts. Large regrets may never disappear completely. Even after apologies have been given and wrongs rectified the best they can, you still might carry some guilt with you the rest of your life. Conversely, and thankfully, most small regrets can be alleviated by taking actions to rectify the situation.
The following plan of action will not work in every situation, but in many situations it can help to assuage the guilt and regret that comes with unintentionally saying something hurtful or acting in a hurtful way:
- Stop being defensive. When we have done something wrong, it can be easy to turn to the defense. Being defensive, however, isn’t helpful when we’ve actually done something wrong. Fight this reaction, and try your best not to make the regret worse.
- Acknowledge your mistake. As quickly after you recognize you’ve done something to disappoint others or yourself, acknowledge this mistake.
- If appropriate, apologize. Not all guilt-inducing situations call for an apology, but many do. If your situation would be improved with a heartfelt apology, step up and give one. Even if the apology should have come years ago, an apology is almost always welcome. Don’t apologize, though, if you’re not sincere. An insincere apology will only exacerbate a problem.
- If appropriate, provide restitution. Similar to an apology, not all guilt-inducing situations require restitution. However, if your situation would be improved through an act of righting the wrong, do it. If you borrowed a friend’s car and got in a fender bender, paying for the repairs and a rental car while her car is in the shop are good places to start to provide restitution.
- Do what you need to do. Not all guilt and regret comes from wronging someone else. If you are carrying guilt because you have failed to act in some way or procrastinated on something that is important to you, now is the time to act. Schedule time to do the thing you need to do. Stop making excuses and take care of what needs to get done.
Stop guilt and regret from cluttering up your mental space: say the thing you need to say, and do the thing you need to do.
Scott Adams, the artist behind the Dilbert cartoon, wrote on his blog back in August about his desire to live in a more simple world — a world without so many options that he can stop wasting time and energy trying to make a decision. He rants about too many choices when booking travel reservations, too many features on his digital watch, and movie theaters with special seats and meals. From his post “The Less Feature,” discussing his travel preparations:
Over the next several hours [trying to find an airline ticket on Orbitz] I tried sorting by flight time, shortest route, and price. Then I tried JetBlue’s site because it’s not included in Orbitz. Then I tried United Airlines’ site because I didn’t know if they would have extra options, and I needed to check my miles. The flight I picked had all sorts of seating options and levels of travel that I needed to research. Then I needed to arrange the rental car, the hotel, and the airport pickup. Then I took all of the information and reformatted it in a way I could read. At some point in the process I crossed a line: The time to plan and book the trip took longer than it will take to fly across the entire country.
Adams continues on to talk about Apple, and how he believes they’re one company that is more in-line with his “Less Feature” desire:
Apple often gets the less features thing right. The iPad didn’t add a fast boot-up speed, it subtracted a hard disk. It didn’t add a touch screen, it subtracted a keyboard. You want to print? Forget it. The iPad is awesome precisely because it has fewer options. If I want more complexity I can purchase apps.
With an endless supply of applications you can download from their app store and the numerous models of computers, I’m not so certain Apple has the “Less Feature” perfected. However, I agree that they’re better at uncluttering their product lines than many other companies.
Where do you stand? Do you believe that too many options clutters up your daily experience? Would you prefer fewer options, or do more options mean you are able to find exactly what you need for your clutter-free life?
Thanks to MinimalMac for leading us to this interesting Scott Adams blog post.
My fourth and final set of 2010 resolutions started the first of October, but have been delayed a bit as I’ve been trying to wrap up my third quarter “Finish It!” goals. My son’s baby book is almost finished, and then I’ll have worked through a page and a half of previously unfinished tasks.
In the third quarter, I’ve had my house’s electrical box rewired, the clothes dryer fixed, the garbage disposal repaired, I sold my spinning wheel and roving, went through a home re-uncluttering effort, and finished my next book proposal (though I haven’t had the courage to send it on to my agent yet). I also passed along all of my son’s baby clothes to my nephew and dozens of other small tasks that had been hanging out on my to-do list for far too long (some unfinished items had been there for a few years). For those who are new to Unclutterer, so far this year I’ve also worked on increasing my energy levels during the first quarter of 2010 and embarking on new adventures during the second quarter.
My fourth quarter resolutions for 2010 are all about nurturing the things that matter to me most.
Like most of you, my friends and family are at the top of my list of what is most important in life. I’ve cleared the clutter so I can spend more time with those I love and laugh with them and let them know how much I appreciate them — but I still don’t feel like I’m doing enough. Actually, I know I’m not doing enough.
I have nine things on my list of what truly matters to me in this world. Over the next two and a half months, I’m going to focus all of my energy on nurturing these nine things. I have very specific goals related to my nurturing theme, but since most of them are extremely specific (naming friends and family members outright), I’ll post just a few here to give you a general idea of my actions:
- Make a care package for my mother-in-law for her to enjoy after her surgery in November. (Nurturing family.)
- Acquire a treadmill so I can continue to run four times a week even when the weather is nasty cold. (Nurturing my health.)
- Take a music class with my son. (Nurturing my son.)
After clearing the clutter, have you invested in the things that matter most to you? Or, are you still letting not-so-important matters clutter up your time? During the fourth quarter, consider creating resolutions that are focused on nurturing the things that really matter and enjoying the benefits of an uncluttered life.
Interesting articles and services relating to uncluttering, organizing, and simple living:
- Patrick at Minimal Mac asks “A Most Important Question.” If you don’t know where something belongs, it may “… not have a place in your home, in your relationships, in your job, or or in your life,” and, “perhaps it should not be there.”
- Alton Brown, the celebrity chef who is the inspiration behind our Unitasker Wednesday posts, wrote a diary about his (bizarre?) minimalist eating practices when he travels in last week’s New York magazine: “Alton Brown Makes His Own Avocado Ice Cream, Does Shots With John Hodgman.”
- Learning Express Library is an online resource for practice tests on hundreds of topics. The free and digital tests range from the U.S. Citizenship exam to college entrance tests. Save your money and some trees with these helpful resources.
- Lose the equipment and your gym membership, and get an uncluttered workout using only your body weight. From Nerd Fitness, “Beginner Body Weight Workout.”
- The Art of Manliness has a tribute to all things minimalist in “Go Small Or Go Home: In Praise of Minimalism.”
- Clean up your iTunes digital music collection with Tagalicious — a simple and easy to use application that gets rid of all of those “Track 01″ files you have in your directory.
- Are you on Twitter? Does it bother you when someone attends a conference and floods your stream with messages that don’t interest you in the least? Use DeClutter to remove specific keywords from your timeline. (via Swiss-Miss)
It’s Monday, and a week’s worth of possibilities are in front of you. Do you:
- Drag your feet, groan, and wish it were Friday already?
- Excitedly jump out of bed, sing in the shower, and rejoice that it is Monday?
- Fall somewhere in between option #1 and #2, where you’re glad to have a new week ahead of you but wouldn’t mind crawling back into bed (at least for a few more minutes)?
Even if you chose option #1 this morning, it doesn’t mean you’ll never have a Monday where you feel like option #2. I woke up feeling like option #3 today (fall has come to the Mid-Atlantic and there was a crispness in the air that made me want to stay curled up under the comforter), but am now on track to feeling more like option #2. In addition to all the ways we’ve written about in the past to help you start your week on an organized footing (Plan your perfect week, Streamlining your morning routines, Preparing on Friday for Monday’s workday, to name a few), there are even more strategies you can implement to be excited about your new week. Here are some ideas for you:
- Fake it. I’m usually the world’s biggest supporter of being authentic in your actions, but when it comes to Monday mornings I don’t see much harm in pretending to be excited for the week ahead. Acting as if you are in a good mood can often put you in a good mood. Your feelings change to match your behavior, and you end up having a positive outlook on your week.
- Embrace your morning routine. Organize and plan your mornings so they include something you love. I love coffee and a few minutes each morning to sit in silence and enjoy my brew. So, I wake up 20 minutes before my son so I can have that much-needed jolt of caffeine and time to myself. If you love to run, try adding this exercise to your morning routine. If video games are your thing, set a timer for 20 minutes and play your favorite game. Your morning doesn’t have to be filled with getting ready and nothing else.
- Take the scenic route. Travel to work on a route that takes you past turning leaves (in the northern hemisphere) or budding flowers (for those of you in the southern half of our planet). The different path might help you to see a work problem in a new perspective.
- Make a list. Take a few minutes to list all of the things you like about your job or whatever you have on your schedule this week. Even if your list is extremely short, refer to it when your mood starts to turn south. You may also find you have more items to add to the list over the course of the week. Keep the list and reference it next Monday, too.
The more organized you are and the less clutter you have in your way, the easier it is to feel excited about Mondays. Keep working on your uncluttering efforts, and give one or more of these positive mood-boosters a try. The happier you are, the more productive you’ll likely be. I wish all of you a wonderful week.
On Monday, the BBC published the article “Cult of less: Living out of a hard drive” about a group of 20-something hipsters who claim digital technologies have replaced all but a few of their possessions.
One of the men interviewed for the article says he only owns “his laptop, an iPad, an Amazon Kindle, two external hard drives, a ‘few’ articles of clothing and bed sheets.” Another says he only has “a backpack full of designer clothing, a laptop, an external hard drive, a small piano keyboard and a bicycle – an armful of goods that totals over $3,000 (£1,890) in value.”
Owning just a few electronics and pieces of fabric is an interesting take on extreme minimalism. In contrast to most ascetics who eschew the conveniences of the modern world, it’s current technologies that make these hyper-digital ascetics’ lifestyles possible.
[Kelly Sutton of Brooklyn, New York] … says he got rid of much of his clutter because he felt the ever-increasing number of available digital goods have provided adequate replacements for his former physical possessions.
“I think cutting down on physical commodities in general might be a trend of my generation – cutting down on physical commodities that can be replaced by digital counterparts will be a fact,” said Mr Sutton.
The tech-savvy Los Angeles “transplant” credits his external hard drives and online services like iTunes, Hulu, Flickr, Facebook, Skype and Google Maps for allowing him to lead a minimalist life.
However, the tech-savvy minimalists are quick to point out that their decisions have made some aspects of their lives difficult:
Mr Klein says the lifestyle can become loathsome because “you never know where you will sleep”. And Mr Yurista says he frequently worries he may lose his new digital life to a hard drive crash or downed server.
What do you think of these modern minimalists? Discuss your reactions in the comments.
Most children, if asked to draw the house they’ll live in as an adult, will sketch a home resembling a bloated Graceland or Cinderella’s castle. A rare child might draw something akin to Skylab, but rarely will you see a home that is an apartment or small cottage. Kids dream big, and they almost always want yards, trees, and all the amenities of a suburban mansion.
Many of us then have a difficult time altering that vision of our future home as we get older. We think that by the time we’re 30, we should have a house, a big yard, two cars, and a beautiful family to go along with all of it. So, we go to work and earn as much money as possible to make it all possible, but may never stop to ask our adult self if this childhood fantasy is really what we want.
These things might actually be what you desire. And, if you’ve taken the time to evaluate all your options and concluded this is the perfect path for you, then I think that is amazing.
It’s not such an amazing path, however, if you’re stumbling into this way of living because you’ve never questioned the dreams of eight-year-old you. It wasn’t until I was in my late 20s that I realized I didn’t want the big house and all of the responsibilities that go with it. And, even now, I occasionally find myself looking at the large, beautiful homes for sale in our neighborhood and fantasize about owning them.
But unless you make enough money to pay someone else to mow your lawn, a large house on a big lot means a minimum two hours of yard work each week during the spring, summer, and fall. Home ownership also means cleaning gutters, paying for home owner’s insurance, and replacing appliances when they die and windows when they break. The more square footage you have in a home, the more you have to pay in taxes, to clean, to heat and cool, and to protect from disasters and thieves.
Houses take considerable time and money to maintain, and choosing to buy one should be a truly soul-searching experience.
I’ve learned to look at the big, beautiful homes for sale in our neighborhood and appreciate that they exist, but know I don’t have the real desire to live in one and take care of it. I like that my tiny backyard is a brick patio. I like that I only have two toilets to clean. I also like that we never had to install a baby monitor because there isn’t anywhere in the house we can go and not hear our son cry (or sigh or giggle).
I’m not saying that one way of living is better than another, I’m simply saying that a big home and all of its responsibilities are not for me. I’d like to encourage you to take a few moments and decide if the dream home you’re pursuing or currently maintaining is really your dream. It might be. But if it’s not, I hope you are able to figure out what really is.
Michael Mandel, former chief economist at Business Week and current editor of Visible Economy, wrote yesterday about US consumer spending trends in a post on his website titled “Where Americans Are Spending More.” The post explains that since the recession began in 2007, personal consumption expenditures have actually increased:
Right there up at the top is America’s love affair with mobile devices, where spending has soared almost 17% since the recession started. Also supporting my thesis of a communications boom-spending on wired, wireless, and cable services have risen by 5%.
In addition, Americans still care about their pets, their children, their hair, and their guns.
Mandel’s post has a couple charts that show the actual numbers and percentage increases in spending as reported by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, so I highly recommend checking out the original article. In contrast to the areas of growth, it is interesting to note what segments of the market have experienced decreases:
Americans are spending a little bit less on clothing and hotels; a lot less on foreign travel, video and audio equipment (think televisions), and furniture. The big drop, though, has come in motor vehicles and associated goods and services, like gasoline.
During this recession, it’s not that consumers have stopped buying, it’s that they have stopped buying large, conspicuous, luxury goods, and have instead bought smaller, less flashy items. As a nation, we’re not really cutting back, we’re just giving the outward impression we are.
From a simple living perspective, I have mixed feelings about this report. I’m encouraged that the personal consumption increases seem to be on things that bring people together — communication, food, and caring for the people you love (child care, education, health care). However, it’s still an increase in spending. The media speaks incessantly about American society tightening their belts, but that is not really the case. Instead, it appears our consumer priorities have merely changed to smaller, less obvious purchases.
A Sunday New York Times discussing the happiness benefits associated with simple living in its article titled “But Will It Make You Happy?” The main point of the article is that people can easily adapt to living with less, without suffering many negative consequences, but that when we are constantly pursuing more, we have to get even more to stay happy:
Another reason that scholars contend that experiences provide a bigger pop than things is that they can’t be absorbed in one gulp — it takes more time to adapt to them and engage with them than it does to put on a new leather jacket or turn on that shiny flat-screen TV.
“We buy a new house, we get accustomed to it,” says Professor Lyubomirsky, who studies what psychologists call “hedonic adaptation,” a phenomenon in which people quickly become used to changes, great or terrible, in order to maintain a stable level of happiness.
Over time, that means the buzz from a new purchase is pushed toward the emotional norm.
“We stop getting pleasure from it,” she says.
And then, of course, we buy new things.
The phrase “hedonic adaptation” was made popular by Shane Frederick and George Loewenstein in chapter 16 of Well-being: The foundations of hedonic psychology (the article begins on page 302). Much of their research focuses on prison inmates becoming comfortable in their confined prison cells — a process that surprisingly occurs quickly — but it also looks at the growth side, when people acquire new and larger things:
Although hedonic adaptation confers enormous benefits by reducing the subjective effects of adverse conditions, it has associated costs as well. The most obvious cost of hedonic adaption is that it occurs for goods as well as bads, creating what Brickman and Campbell (1971) have called the “hedonic treadmill” — the tendency for transitory satisfactions to eventually give way to indifference or even dissatisfaction. Scitovsky (1976) comments that “the attainment of a goal seems, when the moment of triumph is over, almost like a let-down” (62). Adaption to pleasurable experiences may also be responsible for destructive addictions, which are due in part to the decreasing pleasure from a given level of a good or activity and in part to the displeasure (craving) when consumption of the good or activity ceases (see, for example, Koob et al. 1989; Loewenstein 1996).
In short, if you are constantly in pursuit of keeping up with the Joneses and conspicuously buying, you’re more likely to become addicted to shopping and feel less pleasure and happiness each time you buy. Conversely, reducing your consumption, living more simply, and focusing instead on experiences will ultimately — as this research shows — make you happier.
What also exists in this research is an explanation for why it is difficult to see your clutter the more you have. You adapt to your cluttered surroundings and become immune to its presence. (Hoarders, for example, are often in denial that they’re hoarders because they don’t see the mess.) In the text, researchers Frederick and Loewenstein liken it to how your nose becomes numb to foul odors the longer you stay in a stinky environment.
Thanks to reader Tim for bringing the New York Times article to our attention.
I’m rereading Colin Beavan’s No Impact Man right now. I mentioned it in the “Ask Unclutterer: Best methods for recycling” post a couple weeks ago, and decided to reread it when I saw it on my bookshelves a few days later. I’m not much of an environmentalist — I’ve never tried to save the whales, or even just one whale — but simple living advocates and proponents of waste reduction often find themselves in the same professional circles. I thought Beavan’s words might have something to inspire me in the work I do, and I was correct.
Beavan’s book, with the phrase “save the planet” in the extended title, is more about saving himself than saving the Earth. It’s obvious from the first page of the text he doesn’t know what he wants from life. He feels disconnected, like he’s only going through the motions of living, and that his priorities are out of whack. He wants to make a change for the better, and living without impacting the environment is more of his path to discovering what matters most.
The similarities between choosing to live without distractions (being an unclutterer) and choosing to live without damaging the planet (being an environmentalist) are arbitrary since both, at least in this case, end up in the same place: a remarkable life. When Beavan talks about his previous habit of constantly eating out at fast-food restaurants, he’s really talking about getting rid of the clutter so that he can focus on what matters most to him. From pages 45 and 46:
So much of my trash-making and waste is about making convenient the taking care of myself and my family. It’s about getting our needs out of the way. But is this so? When did taking care of ourselves become something so unimportant that it should be got out of the way rather than savored and enjoyed? When did cooking and nourishing my family become an untenable chore? What is more important that I’m supposed to do instead?
He continues on page 47:
Even modern replacements for priests, rabbis, and Zen masters — the positive psychologists — have something to say on this point. That new breed of shrinks has discovered that happy people spend a lot of time being grateful for what they have and savoring their experience. They don’t rush through “now” to get to later. They don’t make taking care of themselves or taking care of their families something they have to get over with so they can get to the good stuff. Instead, they insist that this moment, whatever it is, is the good stuff.
What is it that matters most to you? What is your vision for a remarkable life? What path are you taking to get there?
These are all good questions, with limitless sets of answers, and ones that I keep asking myself and discerning on a regular basis. If you’re searching for a more remarkable life, maybe they’re questions you also want to be asking yourself.
There is a new addition in Ikea’s Vika build-your-own-table series that is wonderful for people who live in small spaces. The Vika Veine begins as a small table, perfect for all your small table needs:
but then transforms into a really great office for a laptop user:
The Vika Veine comes in white and a black-brown and works with the VIKA table legs. The interior of the desk includes cable outlets inside the desk unit, so only one cable runs to the table/desk. The inside lid pockets are made with a heavy felt that Ikea says “absorbs sound and can also be used as a notice board.” And, like so many of Ikea’s products, the Vika Veine is pretty reasonably priced at $100 — not too bad for two highly functional pieces of furniture.
Alec Farmer, a graduate student in Glasgow, Scotland, is spending a year living in a micro-structure and is blogging about his experience on the new UN v2.0 site. The UN in the blog title is an abbreviation for urban nomad, and it aptly describes Farmer’s interesting project in small-space living.
The structure Farmer built to live in for the year was designed more than 30 years ago by famous minimalist architect Ken Isaacs.
If you’re unfamiliar with Isaacs’ work, Dwell magazine created a design leader video series that included Ken Isaacs and the structure at the center of the UN v2.0 blog. (The structure first appears in the 4:16-long video around 1:26.)
Farmer’s adventure begins in September (I’m assuming at the same time the Glasgow School of Art, where Farmer attends, starts its fall classes). His first entry on his site explains the reason for the experiment:
Having studied [the Urban Nomad] subject for a few years now, one can only speculate so much. Reading can only get you so far, before you have to take another step and actually try it.
So thats what I’m doing.
Follow along on Farmer’s micro-structure living journey at his blog UN v2.0. You also can download a free copy of Isaacs’ How to Build Your Own Living Structures through the PDF library at The Pop-Up City. This document includes architectural plans to a few micro-structures designed by Isaacs.
(via The Pop-Up City)
An unclutterer is someone who chooses to live without the distractions that get in the way of a remarkable life.
Contrary to what you might assume, the most important word in the definition of an unclutterer isn’t distractions (or what we also call clutter) or even the goal of a remarkable life. The pivotal word in the definition is chooses.
The pursuit of an uncluttered life begins with a choice — you choose to practice simple living. No one can force you to be an unclutterer, and you don’t stumble into a simple life by mistake. Even people who lose all of their possessions in a catastrophe are not unclutterers, as they might choose to fill up their homes and lives again when circumstances permit.
Choosing to live an uncluttered life starts with wanting to get rid of distractions. Once this desire is present, you begin to see your life from this new perspective. When your mindset has changed, your actions will follow. Getting rid of clutter is usually the first outward sign of your choice to be an unclutterer.
From these first steps, you continue to choose to live simply every moment you’re awake. There will come a time when you stop acknowledging this moment-to-moment choice, but you continue to make it (or not make it). Then, when you turn your focus to the things that matter most to you, your reward is the remarkable life you desire.
It all begins with a choice …
Trent Hamm at TheSimpleDollar.com on Saturday reviewed the classic book Voluntary Simplicity. When I read the book seven or eight years ago, I interpreted the focus of the book to be about reducing one’s impact on the environment. However, Trent points out in his review that there is a larger theme beyond responsible environmental behavior that speaks to the heart of simple, uncluttered living:
“… you don’t have to overconsume in areas that aren’t important to your life. If you don’t watch television, don’t buy a television or have a cable box. If it’s nice outside, don’t run your air conditioner. If you’re not into clothing, wear clothing until it’s actually worn out — and then even consider mending it. In other words, if it’s not all that important to you, don’t consume [it].”
It is so easy to buy, acquire, and own things that aren’t important to us simply out of habit or because other people have these things. If you don’t want the responsibilities of home ownership, rent. If you aren’t looking forward to an episode of Wipeout, turn off the television. Stop consuming for the sake of consuming, and buy and spend time on only those things that you need and matter to you.
The phrase, “If it’s not important to you, don’t consume it,” is now hanging on the bulletin board next to my monitor. I think it’s as important of an uncluttering phrase as “a place for everything and everything in its place.”