Watch This for Inspiration in Freeing Yourself from Stuff.
I got this brain food from a stimulating blogger I’ve been following for over a year, Ev Bogue, in this recent post. This video, along with other recent posts from him and a new e-friend, Tessa Zeng, was just what I needed to reinvigorate my quest for a minimalist, meaning-saturated existence (which has been on the back burner as I’ve barreled through the end of my degree program). What does this mean? That more posts, with greater focus, are coming soon! Namaste, Steven
Quick Update and Teaser!
Hi! I’m still alive!
I didn’t realize just how long it had been since I updated here. After the first few weeks of not posting, I admitted to myself that I have indeed taken on too much this spring, and the blogging simply has to take a back seat temporarily. This will change in the very near future - roughly the time when my classes end in May.
The hiatus has not been unproductive; I have used it to gain a sharper focus for the content of this blog, and if I may say so myself, it’s going to be awesome! There will be purging, yes, but so much more! Thus, the teaser:
As a work in progress, my greatest challenges have not been those usually addressed by minimalist blogs - reservations about parting from stuff, limiting beliefs about my potential, fears of dreaming big. While those have been minor obstacles, I’ve surmounted them with ease thanks to the existing literature (see links below). My major issues revolve around certain special needs, and I’ve come to realize that the same ways in which those affect my life academically and financially also impact my progress in this minimalist journey toward a better life.
As you may already know from the erratic format of this blog (and certainly do if you know me personally), I have ADD - not the “ha ha, I’m so scattered it’s funny” kind, but the genuine medical kind that derives from structural and chemical anomalies in the brain. Thanks to modern science, which released a plethora of information about the exact nature of this disorder in the first few years of this century, I have an asset now that I didn’t as a kid: understanding.
I’ve spent the past two years actively creating the structures and supports in my life that my brain does not naturally possess or produce. As a result, I have progressively increasing sustainable life-management practices and decreasing stress levels. I’ve made order of my disorder.
Over the next several months, I will apply these tools to these big plans I’ve been on about for so long, document that process, and turn it into instructional material - news you can use.
Among these features will be:
- Executive Functions: What They Are, How They Work, and What to Do if Your Brain Doesn’t Have Them
…as well as reviews of helpful literature, links to outside resources, interviews with experts in the field, and other fantastic things I haven’t even thought of yet!
- Man vs. Debt: Meet Baker, his wife Courtney, and their adorable kid, Milligan. They’re currently RV-ing it around the US helping average people look their financial demons in the eye and stare them down. Baker is also introducing a new venture, You vs. Debt, which will offer free and purchasable tools for winning the staring contest.
- Zen Habits: Leo Baubuta is a father of several who has found peaceful, independent living through minimalist pursuits. His e-book, The Simple Guide to A Minimalist Life, is an amazing resource for anyone looking to apply minimalist principles to their life - be that paring down your knick-knacks or preparing to live out of a backpack. Also, if you use this link to buy it, I get a cut! Yay!
- Ev Bogue used to teach people how to be minimalist, but he’s recently upgraded to teaching people how to be superhuman. His Minimalist Business is an invaluable resource for entrepreneurs who want to keep their overhead low to zero. I haven’t read Augmented Humanity yet, but if it looks like an interesting read, go for it. Again, ordering either of them through my link gets me a commission - wins all around!
New Year, New Focus: Taking This Blog to the Next Level
My last two posts have alluded to the impending arrival of something big, or at least something constant, in this blog. Today, all shall be revealed.
In his book The Art of Being Minimalist, Everett Bogue says, “Think of something impossible, an objective that you always wanted to achieve but that everyone told you was impractical. Make that your goal for next year.”
I first read that about six months ago, and it’s been marinating in my brain ever since. This blog was born out of that mulling, as was my purchase of the domain http://www.earthphoenixart.com (still under construction). I’ve been paring down my belongings and obligations, trying to reveal the core of myself in order to set the ultimate goal. During my trip to Paris, the facets have finally come together into a coherent, complete diamond, much like the rough-cut one that sits in a ring Lorena gave to me over a year ago, which the artist titled, “The Incredible Journey.”
Lorena gave this to me, set with a diamond in the rough and inscribed on the inner band with the mantra “Namaste,” both to remind me to follow my dreams and to honor the ways in which I have inspired her to follow hers.
Just after I received this beautiful gift, I applied to art school in New York - a dream I’d abandoned in high school because the expense made it impossible. I didn’t get in. But the trying was what I needed out of the experience; it breathed new life into me, and reminded my soul that it thrives on making art. I vowed to make this part of my daily life as soon as I was able.
Now I am preparing to do just that. Three weeks in Paris with my muse and only the belongings I can carry have given me a taste of what that ideal life would look like. I have my goal:
Do I need to do part one of that statement in order to achieve part two? Absolutely not. Do I want to? Absolutely so. It’s Paris, come on!
Many small steps and intermediate goals must transpire to lead me to this ultimate goal. From here on, this blog will document that journey. In my next post, I will unveil the overall structure of those steps, and how they intrinsically relate to the stated purpose of this goal - art, minimalism, and interconnectedness. Stay tuned.
Update - I’m Still Here! BRB…
Minimalism has gone on the back burner as of late, due to a combination of a reading-heavy semester and some physical health issues that have impeded my typing abilities. Thus, the blog has been neglected. I apologize for the lapse and hope you all will bear with me until I get back to it regularly.
My major setback has involved problems with my joints, particularly in my hands and shoulders. After about two months of debilitating pain and mobility problems, a couple of blood tests, and a lot of frustration, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia last week. Good news is that it’s not progressive and is treatable through minimal drug therapy and increased physical activity/yoga/stretching; bad news is they don’t know what causes it, so it’s not curable. The effects on my hands have meant that despite my better time management this semester, I still got behind in all my classes because typing was so unpleasant.
At any rate, I’m getting treated, already feeling better, and will return to regular blogging once the semester is over (first week of December).
Until then, a brief progress report:
*In terms of stuff, I have successfully located the one jacket to replace all six others, along with one pair of all-purpose boots and a pair of versatile athletic/casual shoes to replace my 10+ pairs. I’ve also begun gradually scanning photos and journals onto an external hard drive to keep what I want for posterity without the bulk of the physical items.
*In terms of time commitments, I’m still struggling with the inhibited executive function of time management that is part and parcel of my ADHD, but I’m getting much better. I’ve found and implemented some strategies that are helping on a micro-level at work, and am working on implementing them at the macro-level in life. I have pared down to 5 major commitments + 1 general category: Relationship w/ my fiancee, Care of my dog Jack, Work, School, and Youth Group advising; plus the general category of social interaction. I’m still trying to determine how physical well-being, maintenance of my home environment, and short-term projects/to-dos fit in all this - but I’m somehow managing to keep better (if not perfect) track of these than I ever have before!
In upcoming blog posts, I will share with you:
* My strategies for minimizing stuff and commitments without getting rid of that which you actually want
My List of Things: Baseline
My List of Things:
As part of my artistic minimalist journey (which is actually what this blog is supposed to be about, and I promise I will explain soon how the randomness up to this point ties into that), I’m keeping a running total of the items I’ve gotten rid of and those I’ve kept. The ultimate goal is to get down to 100 items or less. As evidenced by this partial list, I have a long way to go. However, considering that I have, in two weekends over the course of two months since my move (it’s been a hectic summer), gotten rid of (or at least placed in the “out” box), over 160 items, I think I’m doing fairly well!
Clothing, Shoes, and Accessories:
Additionally, I have work clothes that are solely for my job at the hotel, which I feel a need to count separately. These include:
Still left: Desk/files, photos, audio music, sheet music, art supplies, electronics, entertainment items, luggage, camping supplies, childhood artifacts, and miscellany.
Next: I finish unpacking from my move and determine what to do with my sizeable collection of movies on VHS, My DVDs, my NES and SNES systems, my stereo (sell), and my DVD/VHS player (note I have mentioned no TV to which to hook it up).
Hopefully this post was interesting to someone other than me. Again, I promise to explain how this all fits together soon. Patience. Enjoy my ADD brain in the meantime; it does have a point.
How Do We Conquer Consumerist Clutter?
Today I am supposed to be studying. Reading. Catching up in my online classes. Whatever phrasing you prefer, that’s what I’m supposed to be doing. “Being productive” is a favorite of many.
This morning, as is usual for me before I have to be productive, I spent some time catching up on news, blogs, and the dreaded Twitter (which I avoided joining for so long until a favorite blogger convinced me of its value as a networking tool). I came across this blog post on Beliefnet, which is devoted (ironically) to paying better attention. When I shared it on Twitter, I saw a tweet for this blog post entitled “How to Be Insanely Productive and Still Keep Smiling.” Both provided some relevant food for the thoughts that have been churning in my brain for a few weeks, and especially for the past few days. And both convinced me that it was worth taking 15-20 minutes to write them out. Productivity applies to personal pursuits, not just obligations.
My current goal/pursuit/lifestyle is minimalism. That’s how this blogging business began (a story I will tell in a future post). What started with a feeling of being bogged down by my stuff turned into an epiphany that the clutter is everywhere in my life — in my mind, in my psyche, in my schedule and commitments, in my approach to life, on my computer — and that it needs to go, because humans (in particular, this one) weren’t meant to live this way. (That’s a common phrase I’ve found in minimalist blogs, so I hate to repeat it at the risk of sounding cliche. It’s true, though.) As is usually the case, once that epiphany came and the blinders were thus removed, I could not help but continue to see this truth — more of it each day.
That truth — that clutter is everywhere — has expanded (rather, my view has) to include the world and society at large. We live in a ridiculously cluttered society here in the urban U.S. Everywhere you look, you are bombarded by billboard ads, storefront ads, ads on the sides of buses or trucks. You need this, you want that, you’ll save money by buying this, you’ll make money by buying that, all of your life’s problems will be solved by this Snuggie. It’s overwhelming. I already knew that much, of course, and attributed it to a sad by-product of American consumerism. But yesterday, I realized something important: it’s not a by-product. It’s the main product.
What I mean by this is that overwhelming retail environments are not an accidental result of an increasingly consumerist society; they didn’t just happen while no one was paying attention. More accurately, they happened while we, the consumers, weren’t paying attention — but I think that the CEOs and marketers certainly were. Most of us are aware of the general psychology of advertising: appeal to consumers’ ideals to make them think they need a product; make it look appealing, appetizing, sexy. We can generalize this to the psychology of marketing as a whole, where the idea becomes cruder: overstimulate the consumers so they become confused and buy more junk.
Think. How many times have you gone into a CVS, a Wal-Mart, a JC Penney’s or a supermarket for “one thing” and come out with a basketful? How do you feel in that process? Do you go in focused and purposeful and come out a bit dazed and disoriented? I know I do. Here’s a recent example:
Yesterday I went to a Sam’s Club for the first time in years — I try to avoid big-box stores for many reasons, chiefly related to sustainability, fair trade, and local business support. I decided to go yesterday because my truck (which, after a year and a half of car-free bliss, I took over from my dad in June in the interest of having an escape route should Katrina’s little sister decide to head for NOLA this year) needed a new battery, and Dad said I’d save a good $20 by getting it from Sam’s. I figured a car battery was something inherently unsustainable anyway, and on my budget, $20 can be a week’s worth of lunch, so I bit the bullet and called a couple of friends with a Sam’s card.
My friends, who are getting married in a few weeks, are of the same socially conscious ilk as myself: environmentally aware, friends of the farmers’ markets, staunch supporters of local business, concerned for the ethics and sustainability of their lifestyle, not big on material possessions, and broke as can be. We all do what we can to maintain our ethics and our budgets at the same time, and sometimes, that means we have to shop places we’d rather see put out of business. In this case, they were looking for supplies for their wedding (which is almost entirely a DIY affair on a tight budget).
They were looking for one item at Sam’s yesterday, as was I. In the course of about five to ten minutes in the store, I watched them — and myself — go from scoffing at the ridiculous array of items in the aisles to asking each other, “Do we need this?” I even called my fiancee to ask the same question. Almost an hour later, they never found the item they were looking for, but still spent at least $40 in the checkout line (mostly on bulk food items), and I spent an additional $30 on top of the battery (mostly on the same, some of which was definitely not sustainable). All of us, upon entering, had stressed that we couldn’t spend much because we were all broke. Somehow, we still left with extra items and no qualms about having bought them.
My point is this: Marketers lay out stores in a purposefully confusing fashion under the guise of organization and good selection so that consumers will succumb to overwhelm and buy as an escape route. According to Everett Bogue (who cites a reliable source in a post I can’t find right now), the human brain can keep track of no more than 150 things at a time; after 150 things, details and distinctions blur. Bogue discusses this in terms of personal clutter — we can’t find things when we have more than 150 of them because our brain can’t keep track of specifics such as location. I think the concept can be applied to consumerism. We see 150 things in front of us in a six-square-foot section of an aisle in a store; we look closely to determine differences between 200 bottles of 30 different sunscreens, read ingredients and weights, try to determine the best value… and after a while, make a decision when we get tired of looking. I’m not saying choice is a bad thing. But excessive choice is unnecessary. In the sunscreen model, I found that at least 25 of 30 sunscreens had exactly the same ingredients in exactly the same proportions. This is excess. It is gross. It takes up an enormous amount of precious space in our brains. And it wears us out to the point that we pick something — maybe something a few dollars more expensive than the one we need, maybe something we didn’t want in the first place — and head to the checkout so we can get it over with.
So how do we avoid the overwhelm? How do we beat the marketers at their own game?
One solution is to avoid those big-box stores in favor of your local market or corner store. But even good ol’ Mom and Pop’s Drugstore can overwhelm the senses sometimes.
Another idea is to make a game of your shopping experience. Give yourself a set amount of time in which to complete your errand. Set a timer on your watch or phone — five minutes for one or two-item purchases, 15-20 for a regular grocery run — and play beat the clock. It’ll help you stay focused on the task at hand, and the alarm sound will snap you out of a haze if you’ve gotten distracted on your way out of the store.
Thanks for reading. My 15-20 minutes of writing has turned into nearly an hour, so I must go and do that obligatory productivity thing.