Posts Tagged ‘minimalism’

3rd June
written by Randy

Last night this came to my attention. Kristy Powell is wearing just one outfit for an entire year… and to get attention and support, she’s asking others to join her for one month (a year would be a long commitment), starting today.

As you know, minimalist weekend is tomorrow, but my flight to Houston leaves tonight after work so my minimalist weekend actually began today, the moment I walked out the door.

I’m going to be wearing only one outfit for the next three days anyway… so what’s stopping me from doing it for the rest of the month, and joining Kristy in her One Dress Protest?

I can’t guarantee that I’ll make it for the entire 30 days, but I’m going to give it a try. At the very least, it will be an opportunity to learn more about what I really use, what I really need, and exactly how much I can live without, on my way to owning 100 things or less.

26th May
written by Randy

On my minimalist path to owning 100 items or less this year, I have sold a lot of things on Craigslist — a lot! — and I’m starting to get kind of good at it. I’ve figured out a few tricks to getting good results, quickly.

The most important thing to do when selling something on Craigslist is to put yourself in the buyer’s shoes. Ask yourself “would this ad interest me?” If you were looking for this item, would this price interest you? Would these details interest you?

Often when people list an item on Craigslist, they write a simple title, and an uninformative one-sentence description of the item. Many times they don’t even include a photo. I don’t know about you, but I want to know about an item before I buy it.

Photos are a must. There is a box on the search that lets people see only the results with photos. Don’t let your ad be filtered out before it ever has a chance. It takes a few minutes to snap a photo and attach it to your ad. Do it.

Use a descriptive title. List important details: manufacturer, model number, color, size. You’ll get more people to look at an add for “Apple iPad 16gb WiFi only” than you’ll get for “ipad wifi”, just like an ad for a “Canon EOS Rebel XSi digital SLR camera” will attract more attention than an ad for “Canon Rebel dSLR”.

Give a detailed description of the item for sale. Far too often I see people write a short, one-sentence description of the item for sale. Ads like that scare me off. Knowledge is power, give people knowledge and let them feel powerful.

When I list an item on Craigslist, I begin with a descriptive sentence, usually formed by copying the title I used, and adding “in excellent condition” to the end. Then, I add a bullet-list of information about the item, telling the important features and what is included with it. Details like “in original box”, and “includes original manual” do a lot to attract responses.

Check your spelling. Read, re-read, proofread your ad. Make sure you’ve spelled everything correctly, especially the important details like brand name and model number. These are details that people are searching on, if you misspell them, you may never show up in a search. But even if you do, spelling is still very important. People feel safer buying from someone who writes properly.

Set a reasonable price. Let’s be realistic. This is Craigslist. You’re probably not going to sell a used item and get back what you paid for it. If there’s not much difference between your price and the brand new cost, people will prefer to buy new and get the warranty.

As I said above, put yourself in your buyer’s shoes. Would that price attract you? If a new camera is $250, I probably won’t buy a used one for $200, but at $175 it might be a good deal. A new iPad at $500 (plus tax) doesn’t cost significantly more than the used one at $450, and it’s guaranteed to have never been dropped, but I might take the chance on a used one for $375.

Expect attempts to negotiate. People want to feel like they got a bargain. Whatever price you set, make sure you’ve left room for the buyer to try to talk you down. If you’re willing to take $375 for that iPad, list it for $400. If you’re willing to take $175 for that camera, list it for $190.

Use the rule of give-and-take. Most people play their cards too soon. They will try to get you to reduce the price during the email or phone call. When they do this, they give you the upper hand! You’ve already priced the item with room to come down, so you’re not losing anything. When they ask you to take a reduced price, tell them “I can do that if you come today. If I have to wait, I know I’ll get what I’m asking.” Now this person will feel the pressure to come right away lest they risk losing a great deal.

Never deal with someone you don’t like. You don’t have to respond to every email you get. If you get offers you don’t like, just ignore them. If you don’t like the way someone writes, or you think they seem rude, don’t respond. Don’t worry… if you’ve written a descriptive ad, used a photo, and set an attractive price, you’ll get another response soon enough.

When I sold my iMac, it was more than three years old, yet I sold it in one day and got more than 70% of what I had paid for it. When I listed my original 16gb iPad for $375 (price firm), I got more than 25 responses to the ad in just the first hour!

Over the past few months, I’ve sold furniture, lamps, tools, DVDs, video games, cameras, film, lighting gear, darkroom equipment, video gear, and computer equipment… and I’ve continued to pay my rent every month, without a job, while I traveled all over the world. When you know what you’re doing, you can get a lot on Craigslist.

11th April
written by Randy

I’m starting to see a pattern developing. Travel is really affecting me. But when I travel to the sites of tragedies, I really grow. A lot.

Last winter, I traveled to several landmarks of American tragedies, all within a few days of each other, and I noticed that doing so had a profound effect on me. And I felt a strong connection in the Colosseum when I saw it in Rome, in February.

Well, I don’t think I can raise the stakes any higher. Today, I visited the site of history’s worst tragedy ever: Auschwitz. After this, it’s all downhill.

Walking around in Auschwitz feels like walking around in a summer camp. You’ve got the plain buildings, the dirt and gravel walkways, the barbed wire and watchtowers. Okay, so it’s a summer camp that doesn’t want you to leave…

For me, the profound moment was when I saw the hair. An entire room, filled with human hair. Everything else was a fact – a piece of history being recited. But seeing all that hair, suddenly I had a very tangible appreciation for the scale of the horrible thing that happened in that place.

The last thing you see on your tour at Auschwitz is a crematorium: the smallest one – a death-factory the Nazis thought was so insignificant that it wasn’t worth destroying. Then, you go to Birkenau, where all the style points disappear, and you learn about scales of quantity. Here are the ones they did destroy, but you can see their size, even in the rubble.

This entire experience was probably amplified by my visit to the museum in the old factory of Oskar Schindler yesterday. And even moreso by the memorials and reconstruction and monuments I saw in Warsaw last week.

Poland has been through hell. This country and its people know more about suffering than most of us in the US can ever imagine. And yet the people here are amazingly proud and upbeat. Jews or not, oppressed or not, these people are Poles and they’re proud of it.

Whether it’s the people I’ve met, who live in simple apartments with barely enough possessions to fill two suitcases, or the people I saw in photos in Auschwitz who packed everything they cared about into one suitcase… the theme has resonated with my own minimalism project this year.

Poles don’t derive their identity from their possessions. They don’t measure themselves by their jobs or their cars or their clothes. From the guy in the suit behind the hotel desk to the girl in the embarrassing uniform at the pierogi restaurant, everyone here walks proud. They love their family, they love their friends, and they love their land, their home, Poland.

After these two weeks, I’m finding myself surprisingly content with the simple fact that I’m alive. For 35 years, I’ve passionately chased hobbies, I’ve fed controversy, I’ve chased adventure, and I’ve done it all with a chip on my shoulder and an appetite for destruction. But today, at this moment, I don’t care.

Today, I’m just content – happy to be alive, and to have people I care about. Happy with my possessions that fit into two suitcases, and my right to travel to places like Auschwitz with a tour-guide rather than a gun in my back. And I’m happy that tomorrow I can go home, because I have something the millions of people in Auschwitz never got: a return ticket.

3rd April
written by Randy

The hot new fad is minimalism. It seems like everywhere I go, I’m meeting minimalists and talking about minimalism. It’s like a club, where people sit around quoting other people.

It’s become like a religion. A lifestyle choice so sacred that the world gets shaken up when a beloved minimalist blogger does an about face and says “fuck minimalism.”

But underneath it all — underneath the surface of practicality and frugality, after the acceptance of fitting into a group, beneath the glamour of elitism, beneath the obsession with counting possessions — there’s a truth to which most minimalists still seem blissfully ignorant…

Minimalism is bullshit.

That’s right. It’s a joke. A lie. It’s a load of crap.

Minimalism is a cargo cult. It’s literally someone taking something away from you and then making you pay them to give it back. Minimalism is bottled water.

You see, most minimalists decide to become minimalists to get unstressed, or to declutter, or to reduce debt. Most of them eventually want to travel. They want to see the world.

But you know what’s waiting out there for them when they finally do travel? What’s waiting out there is a world filled with minimalists. The rest of the world is all minimalists.

Think about that. There are approximately 7 billion people walking the face of this earth. Out of those people, approximately 400 million live in North America. A quick bit of math reveals that almost 95% of the world are already minimalists. Only they don’t call it minimalism, they just call it life.

People in Italy, Poland, Korea, Thailand… people in the rest of the world are online right now, seeing this wave of minimalist blogs swallow the internet, and they’re hating us. And rightly so! Who the fuck are we to wear some big badge of accomplishment for catching up to what everyone else already does, and has always done?

Minimalism isn’t a lifestyle. It isn’t a growing experience. And it damn sure isn’t a religion. Minimalism is nothing more than a correction: it’s a path to the solution for a problem we Americans created for ourselves.

Don’t stop. It needs to be done. Keep throwing out all that clutter. Keep reducing your wardrobe. Don’t stop donating books. Don’t stop selling the things you’re not using. It’s good that you’re doing it. It’s necessary.

But don’t think you’re special. You’re not special. Minimalism isn’t special. It’s not a badge, and it doesn’t make you better than anyone else. Minimalists are just Charlton Heston, unaware that the Planet of the Apes isn’t some other world, it’s earth, and in spite of what they may think, it is they who have been acting strange.

22nd March
written by Randy

This week was a major turning point in my minimalist mission. Since my return from Italy, I have removed at least one item from my closet every day. Most days more than one. After four weeks, I had amassed such a pile that it filled six large plastic bags.

And this wasn’t junk. Remember, I got rid of everything that didn’t fit or look right back in November, right after getting rid of everything white. No, in this huge pile were designer shirts, designer pants, suits, sportcoats, wool winter coats, sweaters, dress shoes…

Gosh, I had a lot of clothes! Think about that for a moment: I’ve been dumping clothes since November — that’s almost five months! I’m certainly not a hoarder, and I never thought of myself as much of a consumer, but holy cow, I had an unreasonable amount of clothing!

But think I’ve finally gotten down to a what is reasonable. Now that everything has been donated, this is all the clothes I own::

  • 2 pr of jeans
  • 1 pr of gray cotton pants
  • 2 pr dress pants (1 black, 1 gray)
  • 3 t-shirts (2 black, 1 gray)
  • 7 long-sleeve button-up shirts
  • 3 short-sleeve button-up shirts
  • 3 polo shirts
  • 1 gray sweater
  • 1 black zip-up sweater
  • 2 suits (1 black, 1 brown)
  • 1 long wool winter coat
  • 1 short nylon winter coat
  • black leather boots
  • black leather shoes
  • brown leather shoes
  • athletic shoes
  • 1 Adidas workout suit
  • 4 pr boxers
  • 4 pr socks
  • 1 pr shorts
  • 1 pr swim shorts

I suppose it’s possible that I’ve missed something, but I’m pretty certain this is everything. So if you count everything, that’s 42 items. And if you cheat the way popular internet minimalists do, you can group the underwear and group the socks and call say 34.

For now, I’m going to leave it at 42, because it’s a lucky number, and because I’ve still got things to dispose of on my bookshelf and in my desk. I know I’m still over 100. But the really exciting detail is that finally, after more than 4 months, I’m done with the topic of clothing! I may drop one or two more items, later in the year, but I can say now, without any doubt in my mind, that I have a minimalist wardrobe.

And on the topic of donating, I also donated an older laptop to someone in need of a computer. I probably could have sold it, but the money I’d have gotten wouldn’t compare to the feeling I get from helping someone. So while I was taking everything else out of the apartment at the beginning of this week, I carried that laptop off to UPS and sent it away, too.

27th February
written by Randy

One of the things that makes this modern minimalist movement possible is multifunction electronic devices — basically, computers. These days your computer can be your phone, your mailbox, your photo album, your library, your radio, your television, your movie player… and tons more.

The ability to turn one device into a replacement for all those other things has the potential to greatly declutter your life. But it also brings with it a new kind of clutter. Included with a computer you also get boxes, manuals, software discs. And then all of your peripherals all come with more boxes, manuals, and software. Then you buy still more software, which comes with more boxes and manuals… and license codes that need to be saved.

Every camera comes with a different battery charger, and three different cables. Every music player has a sync cable and headphones. And all of those extra cords and connectors all get saved, cluttering drawers or boxes or shelves.

Today I purged the bulk of that mess. All of the boxes are gone. Most of the manuals are gone. Instructions and warranty cards are gone. All but the most important CDs are gone.

All that remained to be dealt with was a big pile of cables and adapters. For those, I used a false book — basically, a small box, designed to look like a book. I filled the false book with all of the adapters, cords, cables, headphones, and accessories that I felt needed to be kept, and now they’re neatly tucked away, out of sight where I never have to see them unless I want to.

Having all that “junk” out of my drawer left the drawer nearly empty! In fact, most of my desk drawers are rapidaly approaching a state of “empty.” The desk was perhaps the worst of my clutter spots. As I wrangle it under control, I grow closer and closer to the point where I’ll be ready to do an actual count on my possessions.

Maybe in a few more weeks. There’s no rush — I’ve got until the end of the year to get down to 100 things. Of course having an actual count is really going to put a lot of things into perspective…

22nd February
written by Randy

I’ve been home for 10 days now, which is the longest I’ve been in one place since November. For more than two full months, now, I’ve basically been living out of a backpack.

I had two brief stops at home in December, which allowed me to make changes to my packing strategy, before spending 30 days overseas. Each time I was able to apply things I had learned, and improve my experience.

The experience has been immeasurably helpful in understanding what I’m getting into with my 100 things challenge. I’ve got a much better idea what’s necessary, as well as what’s simply not necessary at all.

I had packed an additional pair of pants — gray dress pants, in case I decided to attend something fancy. That never happened, but I did wear the pants one day, half way, just because I found it necessary to launder my jeans after two weeks.

I did get more use out of the one dress shirt I had packed. I chose one in gray, which was a good versatile color choice, but the shirt itself was too “stylish”, making it less versatile overall. Also, having one dress shirt and one pair of dress pants, I should have chosen them in different colors. Gray with gray wasn’t good planning.

In getting down to 100 items, I think the most versatile solution is going to be pants in gray — most likely as part of a suit — along with one or two pairs or jeans. I’ll probably stick with just two dress shirts, one black and one white. And I’ll probably make use of one or two sweaters as layering options, to turn those few garments into multiple outfits. I’ll need a couple of shirts for warm weather as well, but I’m going to wait until it warms up before worrying about that.

I’ve already described my strategy with undergarments, though I’ve found REI brand t-shirts, underwear, and socks all to be higher quality and more comfortable than the Under Armour brand products I started with, so I’m cycling the UA stuff to my workout gear, and any new purchases will be REI brand. Granted, I probably won’t be making any new clothing purchases for quite some time.

Every day I remove at least one item from my closet. A this rate, I’ll reach my minimalist wardrobe pretty quickly. I had a lot more than I ever realized, but it’s finally getting notably empty. I expect that within a few weeks, I’ll be ready to do a count of my clothing, even if I’m not yet ready to do a count of everything else…

7th February
written by Randy

I’ve done an incredible amount of traveling in the past few months. And it hasn’t been the recently trendy “permanent travel, professional blogger” kind of travel, where people basically move to a new part of the world and then stay there for a few months.

No, I’ve been doing the hard kind of travel: sleeping in a different city every night, carrying everything with me on my back all day. Going back to mid-November, the longest I’ve been in one place was a week in my new apartment. But I’m learning a lot.

First, and most obviously, I am learning a lot about minimalism. I’m learning that no matter how cool a thing is or how good of a discount it’s offered at, the idea of adding its weight to my back keeps me from buying it 99.7% of the time. When I do buy something, it’s to replace something else which I will then dispose of. (The only exception has been a hair-clipper, which cost the same as a professional haircut, but is reusable.)

I’m finding it very easy to dress every day from a limited selection of clothing, and in spite of only bringing a handful of items with me, I now know that I could have packed even less. I’m very tempted to travel with no bag whatsoever on my next trip.

I’m also learning about taking opportunities immediately, rather than browsing, thinking, looking for something better or more convenient. In Italy, I’ve found that you will often return to a store or restaurant after very little time only to find it closed. And you may not find another one open for a long time.

So when I see someone selling water, I generally buy a bottle even if I’m not thirsty. If I see an ATM, I generally withdraw some cash even if I don’t need it. And when I see a restaurant, I don’t bother looking around town for one that might be better. Having learned to take what’s there, right away, has greatly improved my experience here compared to my frustrating first week in this country.

Quality also means a lot more to me as a nomad than it ever did before. Bad shoes make their presence known with every step. An awkward backpack will have your shoulders hurting before noon. And a poor-fitting shirt, jacket, pants, etc will irritate you at every opportunity. Those things end up in trash cans just minutes after a suitable replacement is found.

Italy is far less modern than I had expected, and that fact has made itself painfully well-known in the lack of Internet access. A month of prepaid data access for my iPad has turned out to be a great decision. Using a smart phone as my primary form of internet access for a month would have been a painful experience.

Of course that’s not to say that a month of using an iPad isn’t painful — it certainly is. Autocorrect is becoming my #1 enemy, mostly for the words it learns incorrectly. And after three weeks of typing against a glass screen, my hands really started to hurt. The last week has been hell. I’m going to strongly consider a MacBook Air this year.

The iPad also brings other complications. It’s large enough, and conspicuous enough that you don’t really want to take it out in a lot of places, so when it’s your only connection to the internet you often put off using it. By comparison, an iPhone is more inconspicuous when you need to check a map or confirm a reservation. And while I was able to find a no-contract micro-SIM for iPad in Italy, I was not able to get one in Spain.

Finally, I’m finding more and more value in being nondescript — blending in, rather than standing out. After ditching my terribly “American” loose-fitting coat and athletic shoes for a more snug, stylish jacket and more typically Italian shoes, people have begun treating me altogether differently. On arrival, people would walk up to me and ask “you speak English, yes?” Now, Italians stop me and ask for directions, the time, train schedules, etc, all in Italian, and seem surprised when they hear me respond with an accent.

It seems that throughout the places I’ve traveled, if you wear mostly blacks and grays, keep your hair basically short, and look people in the eyes as they pass, they will assume you’re just another passer-by. It probably also helps if you’re not dragging a suitcase behind you.

7th January
written by Randy

I’ve always had a tendency toward minimalism and reduction of personal possessions, but as a human there is still a tendency to want to keep what’s yours, and as an American it’s all too common to buy things.

My last week of 2010 — from Christmas to New Year’s Eve — was spent packing and moving to an apartment almost exactly one-half of the size of the one I was in, and that experience was a painful lesson in how much stuff you think you have versus how much you actually have.

Whether it’s clothes I don’t wear any more, or electronics I don’t use any more, or books, or equipment for hobbies for which I no longer have time, the bottom line is that there is a lot here that I don’t need to keep and didn’t need to move. And I don’t need it in my life.

The idea of owning 100 items or less is well-known among internet minimalist bloggers, so it’s a good place to start. I have a feeling that my target might change a bit as the year wears on, because the definition of a “thing” is different for everyone. Most people count all the accessories for an item with that item. Many people group things together, such as counting all socks as one item.

So the target is still kind of vague, and it will need to be more well-defined as the year goes on. I have some ideas about that, including the possibility of defining the goal as a certain total weight of all possessions, or perhaps a total volume, to measure portability. We’ll see.

I spend most of December living out of just a backpack as I jetted around the US, and I will be spending the next month in Iiving the same way as I wander by train around Italy. These experiences are giving me a really clear idea of exactly how little I need in life, and how much of this stuff I can live without.

When I get back home in mid-February, I will begin the process of selling off everything of value and throwing away what’s left, as well as searching for a the best way to define my target for success this year.

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25th November
written by Randy

Over the past few months I’ve had a lot of attention on simplifying my wardrobe. I’ve already shared with you how I’ve reduced laundry complications and improved my peace of mind by getting rid of the whites, and how I’ve reduced the size of my wardrobe by only keeping what fits. The next thing I’ve focused on (and will continue to focus on) is convenience for travel.

I like to travel light. In fact, I prefer not to ever check any luggage. Even if I’m traveling for a month (or more!) I only want what fits into a backpack. But I don’t want to wear dirty clothes, and I’m not comfortable with the idea of wearing undergarments two days in a row. The key is fast-drying. If you have fast drying socks, underwear, and t-shirts, you can wash them every night or two, and live comfortably with only 2 or 3 of each item.

For many years, I’ve been the guy with 30 pairs of cotton underwear, 30 or more pairs of cotton socks, and dozens of t-shirts, all of which could only be worn once and had to be tuble-dried because cotton holds moisture, aka sweat.

Recently, however, I’ve made a point of buying undergarments with more synthetic material, rather than cotton. These synthetic materials do not hold moisture, which means they hold less odor. It also means they can be hand washed and they will easily dry overnight. This makes them perfect for travel, but it’s also pretty convenient at home, and it’s allowed me to significantly reduce the amount of undergarments I need to keep on hand.

Two t-shirts, one black and one gray, are enough to fit almost any situation. They can be worn alone, or layered for versatility or warmth. When you buy solid t-shirts with no prints or patterns, they work with everything and make your wardrobe more versatile. Two items go a really long way. And I can buy them to fit without worrying that they’ll shrink.

For all of these items, I’ve started with Under Armour products, which are easy to find at the local sporting goods store. They cost more than Hanes (or other commodity brands) but that price is easier to justify when you only need a few items. I’ve got three briefs, three pairs of socks, and those two t-shirts.

I’m aware that Thorlo is a popular brand for socks, and that Ex Officio is a popular brand for underwear, for their high quality, good fit, light weight, and fast drying. Perhaps in the future I will try them out and compare them. But for now, this is all new to me, and I’m happy so far with what I’m using from Under Armour.

It was a little hard to get used to at first, as I’ve always loved the feel of cotton. But since I’m buying slightly more expensive, higher quality items, I’m finding that I haven’t sacrificed anything in the way of comfort. The same would probably not have been true if I’d bought cheap polyester items.