Indisposable Income

When everything is virtually free, what is actually valuable?

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Giving nearly everything I own away has been an interesting experiment so far. It turns out much of the things I thought I valued are actually not that valuable to me or anyone else.

Being a practicing minimalist (-ish), I have fewer possessions than most people I know, but like most people, that is still a lot of things. Cleaning supplies, for example, unopened groceries, cooking utensils, kitchen appliances, silverware and dinnerware, which is to say nothing for the many pieces of furniture in the apartment (tables, chairs, desks, dressers, bookcases, etc. for two).

It has been difficult to give most of it away for free.

When I was just starting out in my first flat, I needed everything. I was happy to have any give-away decorations, furniture, eating utensils, and even unused groceries people were generous enough to give up. I think the world is a lot different now, though. Most do-it-yourself furniture is cheap. People do not need hand-me-downs when they can have brand new items at a decent price.

Walmart, Target, Ikea, and other big box stores have made most home needs accessible and affordable–a testament to Capitalist ingenuity. On the other hand, it seems the whole world is racing to zero. Google has nearly single-handedly transformed the world’s economy by trading services for personal privacy. For most people (including me), that seems like a fair trade (though it probably is not). Nonetheless, economies of scale and offering services without requiring payment directly from end-users has created a largely disposable world.

There are three ways to manage living in this new, bizarre economy, as I see it. The first, and most destructive, is ambivalence. Accept the world for what it is, buy whatever entices you and throw out the absurd amount of packaging provided with every item. When something breaks, do not fix it. Instead, toss it and buy a new one, which is probably cheaper and better anyway.

The second way to manage a disposable society is to decry it. Hold onto traditional values. Buy, and store, goods and services indefinitely. Fight an endless war of subtlety, trying to reduce, reuse, and recycle anything and everything. Use cloth diapers instead of disposable, glass instead of plastic, and never accept plastic shopping bags. This is a noble route, but it is also the most arduous.

Finally, we can embrace the new culture. Mark a line in the sand, toss out or give away everything you do not absolutely need and then, only accumulate things you need with few exceptions. For me, this is the best of all worlds. It allows the convenience of living as a modern citizen (albeit probably while stereotyped as a “hipster”) but still asks for responsibility for what you contribute (or do not contribute) to the rest of the world. This also ensures, while living in a disposable world, you are only burning your indisposable income, freeing your disposable income to focus on enjoying the experience of living rather than the products of living today.

 

Today’s Lesson: Since you can’t take it with you when you go, try not to accumulate it in the first place.

 

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Let It Go

It might be worth something someday, but today is never someday.

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Just leaving everything behind (which turns out to be a lot of work because, of course, I can’t just leave everything in my apartment when I move) is scary. I know I am going to lose a lot of valuable things that I have been holding onto, like my old comic books (which were old and valuable when I bought them) for example. I have been lugging them around for three decades, knowing I would one day turn them over to a collector and earn some dough for myself.

Part of my simplifying philosophy, though, is “if you haven’t touched it or missed it for a year, toss it out”. However, there are things like my comic books and music collection that have violated that guideline many times over. I am being ruthless this time, though.

I am just giving it all away. Sure, maybe the comic books or many of the DVD’s I owned are worth something. Let’s say, I could have made $2,000 selling them (which is highly unlikely–the “value” of a comic book and the price a collector will actually pay for it are often very different). How much have I paid in extra space to store them for 30 years? They have some sentimental value but considering that I have not opened them in years, they must not have that much sentimental value.

There are many things Nicole and I are leaving behind. Maybe someone else will waste their time reselling my mementos on eBay or something, but I will not miss them too much. It would not be worth the cost in time and effort for me to try to sell our stuff piecemeal, while still storing it and lugging it around.

I may lose a few hundred dollars (or even a few thousand) by giving up most of my furniture and keepsakes but I will gain that tenfold in freedom and simplicity of living in our new space.

 

Today’s Lesson: If it is not contributing to your life, then it is taking up living space. Let it go. It’s fine. If it turns out it was really important, you will find a way to replace it or learn to live without it.

 

 

 

 

 

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When Is “More” Enough?

If I could rid the English language of a single concept, it would probably be to do away with the idea of “More.”

***

I sat in my driveway listening to a story about immigrant slave workers picking tomatoes for Taco Bell and other big box restaurants. That was 2005. Now, at the end of 2014, they still live in the worst conditions I can imagine in the United States.

Up to 12 workers are packed into trailers as small as 10 square feet–essentially, a room with moldy walls and a single toilet. They work in fields 12 hours or more each day in the blistering Florida sun in hopes of earning a couple dollars (literally, a couple dollars). They are shuttled to and from work in rickety old buses and not allowed to travel anywhere outside of home or work. They live in enslavement camps, having come here, ironically, to escape their primary nation’s poor economy and chase the American Dream.

I remember my eyes welling with tears and anger while I listened to the story on the radio. I was sad about the obvious injustice and I was mad at myself. I was sitting in a 2006 Nissan Titan SE–an impressive (and expensive) truck with every luxury I could order it with. I made good money, then, and it was my first (and probably last) luxury car instead of just the best car I could afford.

It struck me that my truck was as big as the entire home of the 12 immigrant workers I was learning about, and many times nicer. The Titan cost more than 4 years of their salary, if they spent their money on absolutely nothing else, not even eating.

I was sitting in my spacious truck, parked outside of my house. Unlike their living quarters, my house had a fireplace, fully finished basement, 2 kitchens, jacuzzi tub, cherry wood flooring, a big backyard, and a large, covered porch complete with a love-seat rocking swing.

The Immokalee tomato pickers, I knew, would do anything to live my life. They could not even imagine having it this good. Clean, running water would have been a huge improvement for them. They would have collectively traded their lives for my truck–a vast improvement over their own mold-infested dwelling, let alone my house.

I was sad for them, but what really made me mad was that I had no idea how good my life was. Before the news story came on, I was feeling depressed and upset that I really wanted to trade in my Nissan Titan for a Tesla Roadster and my house was entirely too small for me, my estranged wife, and my 2 cats.

Worse, I was lamenting that I might never be able to afford the house I was going to visit that night–a mansion belonging to two millionaire acquaintances–a lonely, but friendly couple with a lot of money and time to spend. Their house was the one I imagined owning, with huge artwork murals decorating their living room with 20 foot high ceilings, a second level so large it literally had a bridge to cross from one side of the upper house to the other, and an expensive multi-level hardwood deck. I had two kitchens in my home but this couple had a gorgeous metal, marble, and wood professional grade kitchen with a preparatory island nearly the size of one of my kitchens. Their enormous house was lavish, tactful, and drool-worthy.

I was not prepared for our conversation that night. Much to my surprise they complained about their sprawling home and wished they had a bigger house! They pointed to the even larger mansion next door, which had turrets and was entirely built of stone like a castle, with a large rounded archway that doubled as a entrance-way and driveway. It was truly a stunningly large home. Nonetheless, I was flabbergasted. I glimpsed my future.

I knew, then, that I would never be happy with “more”. There is no end to what I will want. I had a Titan. I wanted a Roadster. If I had a Roadster, I would want a Porsche. Or maybe a boat, and when I had the boat I would want a yacht, and it would never end. Here I was, unaware that a low middle-class American making at least $30,000 per year (much less than I made at the time) fares better and is wealthier than 90% of the rest of the world’s people. I was the person that 90% of the world actually aspired to be… I have the lifestyle 99% of the world wishes they had. And I wanted more. The people who seemingly had everything I wanted… they wanted more, too. I wondered about the residents of the castle home. I wondered if they lamented over only having 3 homes, and a smaller yacht than their friends, and only a Tesla Roadster instead of a Lamborghini and a Roadster.

Well, flash forward about 7 years and I left most of that life behind. I took a job for about 1/5 of the pay I had then. It was definitely a harsh adjustment at first, but I started over and rather than embracing “More”, I actively chose to embrace “Less”. Now, I live a minimalist lifestyle, I make about half of what I used to, I own much less than half of what I used to, I even weigh less than I used to… and I have never been happier.

To be honest, I still struggle with wanting more. It is impossible not to think about all the “more” things you could have in a country that thrives on consumerism and marketing warfare. I am not decrying Capitalism, by the way. I am a staunch advocate for earning and enjoying the pleasures brought by technology and innovation, and I believe you should pay fairly for things that offer greater style, engineering, functionality, or design. No one should work for free or expect anything for free.

However, I find letting go of things that do not serve more than the purpose I need, or serve no purpose at all, frees me to live in less space yet have more freedom. For everything I can live without, I gain freedom over Space (less clutter in my life; more space to think), Time (I do not have to spend part of my life caring for trinkets I rarely look at or use), and personal Happiness (instead of wanting more, I am focused on wanting less and learning to appreciate what I have).

Businesses, of course, fall into the same trap of “More is More!”. The goal of every business I have worked for is a never-ending quest for the elusive “more”. There is never a definition of what is “enough.” No business seems to have an end-goal in mind of when they will be satisfied, of when their workers are generating “enough” revenue, of when their production is “enough” to make the shareholders happy. When your goal is merely to earn more and more money, how will you ever reach your goal? There is always “more” waiting for you.

On a social level, when your goal is only to be more thin, how will you ever lose “enough” weight? The body you see in the mirror will always be able to trim a little here or there.

When our goal is more racial, or gender, or religious equality, then how will we ever become equal? There is always some (person, group, or thing) that seems to have more equal opportunities than someone else.

When your goal is to always be “better” (a variation of “more”), then how will you ever be happy knowing you are “good enough” for yourself? When “more” is the goal, then “good enough” is removed by default. What would “enough” mean to you when it comes to being “good enough”? Do you know where better stops?

I know there are some motivated listeners and motivational speakers who would convince each other that some vague nonsense constitutes an actual destination (“being better is the goal”, “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey”, “just be a little better than you were yesterday”, etc.). The problem here is when you have no definition of when “enough” is enough, then you have removed the possibility of happiness and contentment. There will always be “more” and “better” waiting for you in life. “Infinity” is not a goal.
If I could remove just one concept from our ideology or one word from our language, I think it would be “More”. We do not need more. We simply need enough, and sometimes, sadly, we do not know when we have had it.

Today’s lesson: In a society where “More” is all we want, more or less, then I challenge you to start thinking about what the word “enough” means to you and consider that sometimes “Less is More”.

 

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The 5-Ingredient Meal

Use this trick to simplify your at-home meals…

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I enjoy thinking of new ways to embrace minimalism and live a simpler yet more robust life. Something Nicole and I have been trying lately and having some success with is 5-Ingredient meals.

I like to cook but I do not have much patience for the prep work and clean-up. Because I like eating more than I like cooking, I tend to favor eating out and skipping all the leg work of making a meal. I think eating out is a great way to add more diversity to your diet (unless you eat the same meal at the same place every time) but the food is highly processed, usually over-salted for flavor, and often cheap high-carbs and starches to fill you up at less cost and more profit to the restaurant.

In other words, it is good to prepare your own meals more often than not. Since I practice being minimalist and look for ways to simplify, Nicole and I have added a simple rule to our cooking. Our meals can have no more than 5 ingredients (spices not included, but also no more than 5 spices). To clarify, each dish has no more than 5 ingredients and each meal has no more than 5 components (including drinks).

Since a lot of our cooking centers on Mediterranean and Asian food, we have made one notable exception: we count garlic and onion as one ingredient! If they are both chopped fresh, sometimes we will count them separately. We play it pretty loose with those two.

Here is an example of what a simple meal looks like for us…

Tofu Scramble:
1. Smashed tofu (I love squeezing the water out of it with my bare hands and then crumbling it into the pan)
2. Spinach
3. Mushrooms
4. Onion and Garlic
5. Fresh tomatoes (right at the end)

Seasonings: Turmeric (to make the tofu yellow), Cumin, Salt, Pepper, Nutritional Yeast

Salad:
1. Spinach
2. Tomatoes
3. Cucumber
4. Chick Peas
5. Onion

Seasoning / Dressing: Olive oil, Mint, Salt, Pepper, Lemon juice

Normally, a salad and tofu scramble would have about 10 more items added between them, more spices, and definitely longer cooking time and preparation. The funny thing is, since we have started this little experiment, I have found limiting ingredients has actually expanded flavors. Now I notice the individual constituents of each meal and can savor each bite, identifying each flavor within it.

Today’s lesson: Eating can be super simple and simply delicious! Set limits on ingredients, focus on flavor, and enjoy more time eating and less time chopping, washing, soaking, and waiting…

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The Fastest Way to Come Out of the Closet!

Sometimes, the devil wears PraNa…

 

A friend shared an article with me titled, “The Science Of Simplicity: Why Successful People Wear The Sane Thing Every Day”.

I have tried this approach.

I took my wardrobe to a very basic level: black and gray only. That way, I never had to think about what to wear any day of the week. I grabbed whatever pants and shirt were next on the rack and did not have to think about what I was going to wear. It lasted about 6 months and overall, I liked it but realized it made me miss dashes of color, especially during summer when I want cooler clothes with lighter colors on my body.

I still love the simple approach. I do not like wasting time worrying about what to wear and I enjoy not having a completely monochromatic closet.

The approach I use now is to keep my wardrobe small and simple. I have 3 guidelines:

1. For every new thing I buy, I donate or give away 1-3 things. The things I give away are usually in the same category as the thing I bought (for example, my new shirt might replace 2 older shirts) but that does not matter so much as the act of minimizing itself (so if you buy a shirt and give away a pan and an old printer, that still counts).

2. Because my wardrobe is much smaller, I am willing to spend more per item. I have less clothes but they are of higher quality, which means they will last longer and are usually more functional and better-looking.

3. I plan ahead. I choose my clothes for the week usually on Sunday. During the week when I wake up, I don’t worry about what I feel like wearing. I just grab the next set on the rack and get dressed. I buy my socks and underwear 7 at a time, and all at the same time, so I have a week’s worth of clothes that wear out at roughly the same time. All my socks are black athletic socks. I don’t have to fold them or bunch them. They are all the same and all get tossed into a drawer. The ones that are fresh from the laundry basket go in the back so the ones that were not used so far this week are in the front of the drawer. That does not matter so much because I can grab any two and move on either way. No thought or additional effort required.
When it comes to wardrobe, as with many things, less (thought, agonizing, organizing) can definitely lead to more (free time, energy, and focus).

Today’s lesson: simpler taste, higher quality, forward planning… a wardrobe strategy (that can be used as a strategy for many other things) that works for me!

Would you try it?

 

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The Lesson I Learned Today… 140704

Multitasking is something we do in an effort to save time but with the result of losing value.
I listen to podcasts every chance I get. I love learning but I am always on the go and they make it easy to fill time with knowledge. I listen to them while I brush my teeth, while I drive, while I wash dishes, while in the shower, while waiting in line, etc.

I divide my attention in other ways, too. I eat breakfast in front of my laptop. I listen to music when I sit on the balcony. I respond to emails between helping employees or customers. I check Facebook while I eat. I think, though, I am losing the essence of quiet time and focus by never centering my attention and allowing room for contemplation.

If I fill every space in my life with multiple projects, then I am also crowding out my voice. I lose sight of what is truly important to me because I am in the habit of always following the next cue for the next three things on my task list.

I am working on being mindful and giving space to hear my inner voice and desires.

My intention is to listen to podcasts the way I used to listen to LP records when I was younger. It was an event, even with friends. Sometimes we would just close our eyes and listen to the music while doing nothing else. I really enjoyed music then. Now it is merely something I use to temporarily alter my mood or fill quiet space.

Life does not have to be lived like a One-Man Band (those street performers that play the drum, harmonica, cymbals, tambourine, and accordion all at once..). I don’t want to waste time busking and hustling to create a cacophony of noise but never being really great at any one thing. Focusing on one thing at a time may get a little less done immediately but I bet it will but produce far, far greater results (consider: Jimi Hendrix was a legend because of his singular focus on mastering the electric guitar… can you name a famous One-Man Band?).

Perhaps, to put it another way: Less is more. I’m going to focus on that.

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Do You Want More Time In Your Day? Try this!

 

We are consumed by what fills the space around us, and we are trained that every space needs to be filled. We buy junk (or if you prefer, mass-produced art, decorative furniture, and trinkets) and hold onto things for sentimental reasons, even if they no longer provide practical use.

Albert Einstein saw Time and Space as inseparable. He referred to them as a singular concept: Space-time (popularized in Star Trek as the “Space-time continuum“). It is easy to see Space and Time are the same thing (or so interwoven as to be indistinguishable) when you consider what happens when you take any action in space, such as walking across a room. When you walk across a room, time passes. When you lift your finger, it takes a moment to do so. It takes time even to blink. When you move through Space, you move through Time.

Unfortunately, we never seem to have enough time (space). We say, “There isn’t enough time in a day” to get everything done. I think the pressure of Time in our lives comes from the pressure of our space being too full.

My living room used to have nearly every niche, nook, and cranny filled. There was furniture, trinkets, pictures, decorations, shoes, a pile of mail on the table (that kept growing), a television, XBox, controllers, video games, stereo system, speakers, TV stand, a cabinet full of DVD’s, CD’s, and games, etc… a lot of “stuff”. All that stuff taking up all that space demanded time and attention–just dusting was an ordeal because there were so many little trinkets and decorations and piles everywhere that I would put off dusting and cleaning (or just dust the open areas around things). Just like molecules become more excited when you force them closer together, my life became busier (and I became more irritated) as more things took up my space (time).

I began a journey to simplify, de-clutter, and edit my life the way I edit my writing. I looked at all the stuff that took up my time and realized I was wasting a lot of my life. I thought of the sculptor Alexandros, who started with a slab of marble and removed every bit that was not the Venus de Milo until all that was left was his vision. I still work to edit my life and remove what is not needed or useful to my day until what is left is what is important.

Steadily, I chip away things that are not contributing to my being the person I want to be.

With my living room, I sorted through movies and tossed out the ones I don’t watch regularly or can rent online (no need to keep a physical copy of anything I can store and back up digitally). I stopped wasting my time playing video games so I could spend more of it experiencing my loved ones. I traded my TV and TV stand for a projector and the wall, and got rid of cable television. I have a couch and a table now; I don’t need much more furniture than that.

There are no pictures on my walls (I never look at them and visitors don’t know the people in them anyway). I traded my stereo system for one nice high-end bluetooth speaker that sits under the projector. As I convert my CD’s to MP3’s, I get rid of the discs. There is one candle and 2 coasters on my table; nothing more is needed. And there is a lot of empty space, of breathing room. I love it, and so do my cats, who use the empty space to romp around (ever notice how children are overjoyed by large, empty spaces? They understand that freedom and space gives us room to run, to play and create).

It feels good when I open the door and walk into a large, uncluttered area. There is not a bunch of stuff demanding my time. It is so easy to dust and keep things clean (saving time). I can clean my entire apartment, top to bottom, in less than an hour. I unsubscribed to every mailing and call list I could find and pay my bills online so I never have to stare at a huge pile of junk paper that will take more space (and time) in a landfill. I only have to check my mail once per week instead of every day. All the things that took up space for the sake of taking it up are no longer demanding my time.

It has been an adjustment and I continue to work to create space but I’ve been doing this a few years now and I have not regretted giving up any of it. It’s great!

Even this blog has become easier to keep up since I started looking at how I could create more space with it. I recently stopped using photographs in my posts. I spent more time finding just the right picture to fit the post than I sometimes did writing it. I pared down the links and removed a full sidebar. When you visit my blog, I want you to feel unhurried, to experience a moment of space-time and stay long enough to enjoy thought-provoking material you can share with others.

I wish employers took the same approach to work–focusing on creating space instead of always filling it. I hope one day I can bring the principle of Creating Space to the workplace and that it will eventually come from the top-down instead of from the bottom-up. I try to apply it as much as I can. For example, when I delegate a new assignment, I try to find something I can take away–this frees my team to focus on what is really important, instead of on things like reporting on what is really important. It encourages creative thinking and flexibility. I have yet to find an organization that says they do not cherish creative thinking and flexibility, yet, I have yet to find an organization that embraces such things as core principles (I have to give a special shout-out to my former ROWE colleagues here for pioneering the first step in the right direction, though–ROWE definitely creates space).

My rule of thumb is (whether looking at furniture or looking at my career) if I have not worn it, touched it, or looked at it in six months, then it must not be that important. I can always buy a new one if throwing it out was a mistake, or go back to reporting on an old metric if it turns out it was needed, but I see no reason to let my apartment or life become a storage facility for mementos. In fact, I am able to live in a much smaller and cheaper space because I don’t come with a lot of baggage (and the money I save contributes to time for me to spend doing things I enjoy in the space of my life!).

We spend a lot of time thinking about how to have more hours in a day. Instead, I challenge you to stop thinking about how to create more time and instead look around your life (everywhere–your house, hobbies, work, car, etc.) and think about how you can create more space.

There is an easy way to create more time in your life and, to me, it is so simple it is profound:

 

Create more   s   p   a   c   e  .

 

Try it. See what happens and let me know about it in the comments if you have some success or if you need help getting started.

 

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