Tuesday, December 30, 2014

On goals

Minimalists argue over the use of goal setting. For some it is superfluous, even obstructive. Others think great deal of it as a form of visualizing one's desires and influencing the subconscious. To me it is just a tool to bring awareness to what I am heading for. In some cases it works brilliantly, but sometimes it doesn't help at all.

It is important to understand that some activities just do not have a purpose. When children do role plays, they don't try to achieve something (although it is of great value for their psychological development). But then again, games like chess don't make sense without a target and definite rules. Applying this to personal goals we can distinguish two categories: present-oriented and future-oriented. Meditation is a perfect example for something that only happens in the present moment on the one hand. It may have long term benefits, but doing it for that reason means to miss the point. On the other hand consider writing a book. It is enjoyable while doing it, but kind of dissatisfying when not brought to an end. In my experience setting goals works best for the latter.

Funny enough, here are two examples where it is just the other way round:

I do sports merely because I love it. The sensation of my blood rushing through every cell of my body makes me feel alive. Of course I know of the health benefits, but the reason why I train is just that I enjoy it so much. Consequently I used to never set specific goals. My objective was to get stronger, but not by numbers within a certain amount of time. In general that worked fine, but for deadlifting I did not make any progress. Only when I decided to aim towards a definite weight, I found out that I had been afraid of injury. I never really gave 100%. After having set my goal I began to improve rapidly. So in this case having a goal helped me to become conscious about why I got stuck.

With songwriting I had once set the goal to add a new part to the song I was currently working on every day until it was finished. After a while I felt like running out of ideas. Retrospectively I ignored the principle of input and output. Only when I stepped back from my original goal, creativity returned and I was able to finish the song.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Do not follow these instructions

The act of buying is a conversion from a symbolic representation of value (money) into something that matters to you personally. Minimalist philosophy is not against doing that, but against buying without conscious reflection.

In the beginning you begin to wonder whether your stuff is really worth its price to you. Maybe you find out that you don't have the time to actually use it or all of it. Then you start decluttering and downsizing your belongings. Or perhaps you discover that how other people think great deal of something tricked you into believing you need it, too. Hence you pay closer attention to your own true desires the next time you long to have something.

Minimalism is no doctrine that tells you do think before you add something to your shopping cart. It is a consequence of following certain principles. Minimalist living is only a name that describes what happened. Don't look at it as a lifestyle to follow because it has been in the media or someone told you about it. Let it happen from the inside out.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Goal setting and enjoying the present moment

Don't forget your social life when setting New Year's resolutions. If it seems difficult for you to name a specific goal, keep on trying until you find one. This may be traveling with friends, getting to know new people weekly, or having extraordinary experiences with your loved ones.

Having something to head for makes it much easier to keep in touch and/or strengthen bonds. It also helps you to be conscious about how important certain relationships are to you. Being aware of their meaning lets you appreciate them and enjoy getting together more. This is how future plans let you be here now.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The bill is on me today

Presents used to be rare because people couldn't afford them that often. Nowadays they're rare because we lack occasion. Let friendship be reason enough. Be it little gifts like buying a round.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Goodbye to the all-you-can-eat-lifestyle

Minimalism derives its name from comparing it to the ordinary lifestyle. Its goal is not really to minimize stuff - although in relation to what most people own, it may appear like that.

Ordering a dish at a restaurant is minimalist in relation to an all-you-can-eat-buffet. However, it doesn't mean that you're abstaining from something.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Charity in a globalizing world

How can I preach minimalism when 80 percent of the world's population (as of January 2013) live on less than 10 dollars a day?

How can I pretend to contribute when I personally haven't lend a hand with fighting poverty yet?

These are serious questions and I know that there is something to them. Concerning the first one, I find that global poverty is rather an argument in favor of minimalism. Of course, someone who struggles to put food on his family's table won't see the point in it. But I am addressing the people who build, support and maintain structures that force these families into struggle for existence. It is you and me. Helping refugees in your town (addressing the second question) but buying clothes at stores that produce abroad is not only contradictory. In sum it means that you are part of a system that exploits poor countries.

I need to gain a clear attitude about charity service. Although I still think that destroying the exploitative structures is the most important issue, I agree that suffering cannot be brought to an end without helping each other firsthand.

Nevertheless we need to stop companies such as Monsanto from destroying local industries in less developed countries. And be assured that donating to an aid program doesn't do the job - it sometimes even adds to the problem. Moreover, before trying to fight enemies, one should stop to support them financially. Don't buy products of unethical companies (that is to say almost any company). A lot of problems in Africa for example would not exist if it wasn't for western companies "exploring" new markets and thereby leading them into dependence. Here minimalism comes into play, as it demonstrates how relinquishment is not only self-sacrifice for a higher purpose, but also raises one's own quality of life.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The most important question for mankind

When I talk about degrowth I often find myself having to justify it. But in world where half of the original forest stand has been cut down, new epidemics affect overcrowded meat production facilities almost annually, and piles of waste take up more and more space of the pacific ocean - why do you want growth?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Sunset for sale

Money is a system for assigning a numerical value to objects or services. Despite all advantages over bartering, it temps us to believe that things are worthless if you can't name a price for them. Today I watched the most beautiful sunset. It was a giant outburst of colors across countless shapes of clouds, from a flaming red to a tender turquois. To me it was worth a great deal, although I am not able to express it in numbers.

What I think is, that many people find it hard to enjoy something that they don't have to pay for. Or more precisely: They need a price to remind themselves of its value.

Let's take a step back and bethink of the good things - especially at this time of year

Sunday, December 21, 2014

A humble man's winter morning

You are standing on the top of a hill. Right in front of you lie harvested fields, but it is easy to image how the wind used to shake their blades of barley in summer. Now you can only feel it gently stroking the skin of your face. The landscape remains perfectly still and peaceful. The only thing that is moving are some birds in the distance that did not leave for winter. They are flying in front of a grayish sky that seems to be lit from behind by a giant sun that stretches all across the firmament. Below, most trees have lost their leaves but the earth vividly shines in various shades of brown and green. You breath in the fresh air and think: "If a moment of such preciousness is for free, how can I ever dare to want more and not be grateful for what I get to experience."

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Do what you want, but do what you want

My girlfriend's father loves photographs. He loves taking pictures, but he loves showing them to others as well. It is probably because he is into arts and just finds pleasure in creating a beautiful image. When he presents them to others, he shares this pleasure.

On the contrary I don't enjoy watching photos. I love arts as well, especially drawing, but I just don't like to talk about the past too much. When I do, it is for learning from mistakes, not for reminding me of good old times. That's why you rarely see me taking pictures. Instead, when I see something beautiful, I take a couple of seconds to just gaze and enjoy the view.

Although we have a different approach, there is one thing we share in common: We take action according to our predilections.

There is no use in taking photos that you never watch, just as there is no use in suppressing the wish to do the opposite.

Minimalist living is not about reducing the activities in your life for it's own sake. It is about integrity.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The end of half-heartedness

Relationships to things and people differ in the liabilities that come along with them. You can own hundreds of items and not spend a single second with them. But you can't call people your friends when you don't see them regularly.

Imagine things were like people: they'd disappear from your life when you don't care about them. Would that be a limitation or a relief?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Too much is lying idle

This year I decided to take a lot of books with me when I visit my parents for Christmas. In the course of the zero-thing-challenge I want to read or reread them before finally giving them away. It is interesting that we tend to hesitate when it comes to actually making use of given resources. We'd rather work on extending them (looking for new products to buy) or minimizing risks instead. These can be all sorts of risks ranging from financial insecurities ("I need to work so much to pay my bills, I don't have time to read") to fear of social isolation ("I prefer meeting my friends to reading").
Working and meeting friends is great, but then we need to ask ourselves why we bought the books in the first place. The root of this problem is that most purchasing happens without asking the right questions beforehand.

Now that Christmas is near, I'd like to encourage you to take a break and carefully consider the things you've bought this year but not used or fully used yet. You can learn two lessons from them:

1. Don't buy what you won't use
2. Use what you've bought already

Minimalists are the ones that truly respect the value of material things.
Materialists are like farmers that buy more land than the can possibly till.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Minimalism means eliminating needless backups

When you have two pairs of black leather shoes, that's a backup. When you have an old carpet, that doesn't look as fancy as the new one, that's a backup. When you still have a pair of skies, although you fell in love with snowboarding, that's a backup.

Backups are only needed, when you can't replace what you have lost with something similar. This goes for individualized belongings, such as data or souvenirs. But it definitely doesn't go for industrial goods. Get rid of what you obviously are trying to replace. Don't give in to the temptation of keeping it just in case you'll need it again one day.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Beware of what you want (you might get it)

I'm amused every time I want to get on a train and there's a queue in front of the entrance. People are hectically trying to get in first without appearing to be doing so. They desperately keep the balance between being selfish and not showing it.

And it get's even funnier when they find out that a crowd of children is exiting right where they want to get in. Of course it's not just a couple of children - it's an army. People get nervous. More and more children step out off the train, one after the other. And they take their time. They fool around, chatting, laughing.

People begin to look around whether it would have been faster to choose another entrance. And if they see that the people there are already entering the train, the get even more uncomfortable.

"What if I don't get a seat just because of those foolish kids?"

Yes, what if? In a time where the average person sits ten hours a day ruining one's spine, what if?

Today this exact scenario happened to me. And I got a seat, which I am grateful for, because now I'm able to write these words. But even otherwise I'd have been grateful for the health benefits of standing upright, the chance to watch the landscape pass by and just let my thoughts wander.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Be amazed by whatever you're involved in

This is an idea that goes far beyond minimalism. But once you've understood it and start enjoying the little things, a minimalist attitude is inevitable.

Amazement is the spark that gave birth to all ideas ever perceived. Even if you didn't like chemistry at school - the first researchers where amazed by their discoveries. And so where historians examining new found sources. Whatever paradigm you view the world from, it is possible to find fascination in it.

The simplest tasks such as cutting your finger nails (as an kind of odd example) can turn into something amazing.
From a biological point of view, it is amazing how the nerves deliver such an accurate feeling for the position of one's hands.
From a neurological point of view, it is amazing how the brain coordinates their movements without much conscious involvement.
From a physical point of view, it is amazing how the cutter is harder than the nails and destroys the bonds of its atoms. (That you don't feel pain is again fascinating biologically)
From a historical point of view, it is amazing how a fast growth of nails was once necessary but became  superfluous. What change in historical conditions was it, that reduced the strain of our fingertips? It must have been around the same time that humans found a way to shorten their nails deliberately.
From a designer's point of view, it is amazing how the form of the nail cutter first appeared in somebody's head, was then probably brought to paper and finally manufactured in great number.
From a logistic point of view, it is amazing how people in former times found ways to deal with trash and wastewater (depending on whether you dispose fingernail clippings to the thrash or the toilet - it's getting a little random here, but you get the point).

As you see there are no limits to one's imagination. Being inspired is a matter of stance, not external conditions. As a consequence you don't need much to feel amazed by life. In fact, being bored sometimes helps to see its wonder. With regard to Christmas, I wish you to find joy in the ordinary and to not overwhelm yourselves. Instead expect good things to happen.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The zero-thing-challenge

This summer my longtime girl friend moved away. After years of hesitating she finally had the courage to follow her passion and now is doing what she always wanted to do: dance. In Berlin, one of the most creative and vivid cities I have ever been to, she is taking part in a one year program that teaches the essentials of modern dancing and choreography.

Now I am sitting in our formerly shared apartment left with all our belongings she couldn't take with her. I managed to put it all into one room so another roommate could move in. What a mess it was! We have got way to much stuff, especially clothing. When I first tried to bring order all those books, CDs, little framed photos, decoration, souvenirs... it felt like I was losing my mind. How could we possibly have purchased so many things? And I always thought we are rather moderate when it comes to shopping. Whether I'd follow her to Berlin or she'd return after a year - I knew something had to change in our minds. We need to become highly aware of every material thing we let into our lives, or we will be totally overwhelmed by it sooner or later.

About a year ago I first heard about the 100 thing challenge. I was deeply impressed and the idea over time changed my attitude to belongings in general. Often I find myself picking up something - like that old book, that I got for Christmas at age 11, I think - and start wondering whether this helps or limits me. And sometimes I even feel frightened that, 'though a certain object does not serve me in my everyday life, it seems hard to live without it. It immediately reminds me of how - according to Buddha - all suffering is caused by craving. And if I need to have my "best of Deep Purple" CD because it changed my life and got me into playing guitar as a teenager, than that`s graving, isn't it? An idea started to emerge - what if I would give away everything I have? Will I still be me? To be honest, I am sure I will. But I am scared when I think of letting go...

Since I wrote the words above two months ago, many things have evolved. The idea has become a detailed plan: I want to give away everything I own in a kind of lottery and write a book about the experience. You can take part in the lottery by ordering the book in advance online before I actually wrote it. The money earned that way helps me to pay bills during the writing process and gives me some reserve for acquiring things after the experiment. While writing I just want to live with borrowed things from friends.

The hardest part about this is deleting data on my computer before giving it away and disposing my diary. Yesterday I started reading it again. In a way it was as I expected - nice, but not as enjoyable as many other things. But on the flipside, against my anticipation, I did not become melancholic or nostalgic. Instead I learned a lot about the things I knew already back in 2007 and the skills I must have acquired in the meantime. It gave me an uplifting feeling to be so much more further down the path of unfolding my potential.

Here is the thing: I guess I wouldn't have picked up my diary in the next five years at least. Only thinking about letting go made me see its value. But I also see that I can easily live without it. The zero-thing-challenge has started as a project to break bonds to material things and overcome the fear of loss - and turned into a trigger for actually using the stuff I was afraid losing.

Now I feel almost ready to get started. It took me some time to let the idea sink in. As soon as I have put the major outlines of the book together and you can participate in the lottery, I'll let you know.

"Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free."

Jim Morrison

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The time-money-conversion-rate

This week I sung four concerts in a row. Returning home late every night I decided to take a break from writing in favor of sleep. But during that time a lot of ideas which I want to address in this blog came to me. This is one of them:

If time is money, then how do they convert into each other? Your relative income is how much money you make per hour. Everybody seems to be aware of that and trying to optimize this number. But there is also the other way around, that is to say how much money you spend in a given amount of time when not working. The minimalist approach of cherishing what's already there helps you to improve this often neglected parameter. If it wasn't for eating, mobility and accommodation, I would personally not need money. It is not only that by having to work less to support a cost-effective lifestyle you have more free time to actually enjoy it. Moreover you will find that these things are much more enjoyable in any case.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Living on a razor's edge, balancing on a ledge

If children play tag, do they take it seriously? No, and yes.

No, because it is a game. And they don't even need to be aware of that, nor do they need to understand the concept of differentiating between games and the real thing. What is it then that makes them play? What distinguishes playing from being seriously?

This is not a question that I have an answer to already, but I really enjoy thinking about it. I probably will write more about this in the future. Until then, I'd like to recommend American Beauty. It is a movie about being alive and having nothing to lose. And I guess the latter is essential to playing.

And yes, because they are involved. They devote their entire self to the moment and don't hold off. They honestly try their best. Still they play. Isn't that amazing?

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Individual minimalism, global degrowth

I do not want to live in a way that's environmentally friendly but not applicable for the whole world's population. Reason is that I don't mind how much I personally damage the earth (this is marginal), but what I am interested in is how mankind should live now and in the future. I want to find a lifestyle that everyone can take as an example for sustainability.

Yesterday I had an interesting conversation with an agriculture student who told me that it's impossible to feed 7 billion people on organic food. Scientific resources state the opposite. Maybe organic food would be sufficient in conditions of perfect distribution - but that's another topic.

This makes me wonder. Because even a system of perfectly distributed organic food supply has its limits. It does not even matter whether it would work for 7 billion people - some years from now we'll be over 10 billion.

The real question is not how to feed the number of humans that accidentally live on this planet. The real question is how many people the earth can accommodate. And I believe we have already surpassed that number. We need to think about models of society that enable and offer an incentive for degrowth.

Friday, December 5, 2014

We are computer programs

In the movie Matrix humans create programs that run on computers. But these then take over and exploit the earth.

In the real world biological systems create programs that run in the brain. But these then take over and exploit the earth.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

I am really busy at the moment

Deciding to keep stuff that you don't use is not an actual decision. You simply postpone it. And every time the object gets in your way you have to either decide or postpone again. So you stay pretty busy until you finally throw it away.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

I want less

There is a problem to the 9-to-5-schedule: People think that if it wasn't for their work, they could do whatever they want. But the truth is, that most people want more than they could do in 200 years of not working. So if you think minimalism is about doing less or having less - first of all it's about wanting less.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

How to buy stuff

1. Check whether you really want to buy this (or whether it is rather an idea than the actual product that you feel drawn to).

2. Check whether you really want to buy this (or whether it is better to rent it, for example).

3. Check whether you really want to buy this (or whether you want something else more than that).

4. Check whether you really want to buy this.

The first three steps are for everybody. If you don't act upon them, you are simply throwing your money in the trash. And letting trash into your life.

Step four is the only minimalist one. What the real purpose of acquiring something is, differs from person to person.

Maybe you know you are happy already, and therefore only buy stuff that you really need. Even if you feel a desire to have it, you might decide to let it be then.

Or maybe you want to buy only stuff that you truly benefit from. And when you discover you want something that does not actually contribute to this objective, you just don't buy it.

In any case, make sure you consider steps 1-3. If not, you're out of your mind.

Monday, December 1, 2014

They sell ideas

Today a friend of mine recommended the book how much is enough? to me. I was interested, but skeptical. Of course it is exactly the question that I have been asking myself for a while now, but does that mean I want to read the book?

Quite certainly "enough" does not include the book. I can lead a happy life without it, although I'd agree that asking that question over and over again made me appreciate the good things much more. The crucial distinction is: Does this book meet my interests or is it just the idea that fascinates me? In other words, when I buy such a book, do I really want to possess the product or rather identify with what its title refers to?

It is known that the quality of a book's content plays a much lesser role than its title in order for it to sell. The reason is that people market the title as it is short enough to attract attention. Since you can't literally sell an idea, you have to create a product about it. Sometimes it is a good one, but sometimes the title is misleading.

By the way, I read some further details about "how much enough?" and I am really interested in reading it. I am not sure whether that means I am going to buy it or try to find someone who lends it to me. And I am not sure whether that means I find it more interesting than other things I'd like to do. But these are other questions.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Life is but a game

If you compare what I wrote about the meaning of work to yesterday's post, it appears to be contradictory at first. On the one hand I preach meaningful work and dedication to a life's purpose, one the other hand I tell you not to take it too seriously and calm down instead of being overambitious.

We can look at this paradox from different angles. In a psychological sense the underlying cause for being torn between one's own professional aspirations and enjoying free time is that different parts of your personality come into play. When you are procrastinating, the subconscious does not quite agree with the plans you put on "consciously".

I am not advocating choosing the easy path and submitting to tendencies of laziness at all times. In fact I find it very helpful to use techniques such as visualization to influence the subconscious mind. It helps achieving goals by going with the flow instead of tilting at windmills. Watch this great video (and resign from possible petitions against real social dynamics).

But sometimes we do not see the wood in the trees when we aim towards goals that we have unknowingly already achieved. As an example you betray yourself when working long hours in order get wealthy, hoping that you will have to work less then and be able to spend more time with your loved ones. You can do that today.

So what I am saying is that when the subconscious mind "gets in your way" you need to carefully consider who is right. You might need to motivate yourself more or on the contrary accept that your goals are not what you actually want to go for.

That being said to the psychological aspects, here is a philosophical one: Unless you haven't discovered the purpose of human life, how can you pretend to know what you ought to do? What if the purpose was to find out that there is no purpose?

Saturday, November 29, 2014

True value

When you do not want to work, but rather spend time with your friends, it is not because you are lazy. It is because your soul knows the value of friendship.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Generosity needs initiative

The fear of demanding too much from others can become a hindrance to sharing. This includes both lending gear and lending a hand. Most people would not refuse to help a friend in need, but they seldom get asked to. It feels better to rely on possessions than on relationships.

One way to overcome this barrier is to be proactively generous. First of all you may uncover in how many situations your assistance wouldn't go amiss. Moreover, having done a lot to support somebody else makes it easier to ask for help as well. But you will find that you don't even have to say something.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The art of waiting

When you are waiting for the bus, are you looking forward to it with pleasant anticipation? Is its arrival such a relief that you wish it would happen as soon as possible? Or is it just that you can't stand to do nothing and just be?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

For free

Lucid Dreaming
This blog
Working out
Xhosa (representing the earth's richness in culture)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Everything is meant to be broken

This morning I looked around my room. All my belongings are gathered there, and I suddenly realized that this is what belongings are in the first place: a gathering of stuff.

To own things can be beautiful. It frees you up to choose what you like to have around you, gives you the possibility to shape your environment. Belongings are what makes your home a home to you.

But of course you can't be surrounded by all the things you like at the same time, can you? Supposingly it is just to much stuff. So you spread it over several rooms. Maybe you have a book shelf in the bed room and a TV in the living room. A good solution since watching TV and reading at the same time might turn out to be difficult.

But a question comes to my mind: What if somebody else would like to watch TV while you are reading? In a family or shared apartment, sure, but I mean in general. Why do we only share things with people we know well? Back in the day it was a matter of trust. In times of scarcity you would not want to lend important things to someone who might steal it.

But times have changed. First of all, we now live in a world of abundance. And when I say world, I mean the whole world. There is enough for everybody, poverty is just a result of distribution problems (food) or greed. Secondly, trust is nothing that you gain by directly interacting with another person over a long period of time anymore. Nor is it bound to that fact that the person you trust somehow depends on you. With the internet, trust is a currency and being trusted (or not) visible to the public. Sharing has become easier than ever.

In the example of watching TV it is rather superfluous, as most households own one (and the Internet is probably going to take over in the future anyway). But when it comes to special gadgets that you only need twice a year - do you really have to buy them? And if you have already bought them, why not share?

There are loads of apps and online communities for it. But what holds people back might be, that sharing something of value is risky. With trust as a a currency, the risk is not that the item gets stolen, but that it brakes or wears down much faster.

But isn't that what it is made for, to serve its purpose until it falls apart? With technological progress most things do not even come close to that. After a few years, there is a better, faster, and cheaper version of it available. The only way to keep abreast of the times and not throw away intact stuff on a regular basis is to share. It is the sustainable answer to an ever faster changing world.

Monday, November 24, 2014

When the barkeeper does the doorman's job

For some reason I always come up with party analogies to minimalist living. Today I want to point out how being very selective concerning the kind of information you let into your awareness helps staying focused. If you fail to reject bad influences, you have to deal with them later on. This takes up much more time and energy than the rejection in the first place.

Imagine your brain to be a night club. If the doorman carefully selects the people to get in, the barkeeper does not have to worry about riot. It is much more difficult to throw someone out than to not let him in. But first and foremost it is less disturbing to the guests inside.

Yesterday I got really caught up in the debate about self-appointed pick up artist Julien Blanc. Because there is a huge shitstorm going on around this topic I will quickly outline the facts instead of referring to a link. Blanc is an instructor at RSD (real social dynamics), where he teaches men success with women. He is known for making jokes that border on sexism, but the content of his seminars is about building self-confidence and letting go of social fears (which everybody has to a certain degree). Now he is accused of advocating violence and sexual assault against women. Blanc states that he just went over the top with his bad attempt on humor. Nevertheless, as a result he has been banned from several countries.

My opinion is this. But since I am writing about avoiding distraction, please do not get involved in the related videos. I did yesterday and now I find myself thinking about it lot, although I do not want to waste my energy on a discussion that is led by mostly uninformed people.

Anyway I am glad, as I learned an important lesson: It is better to recognize unwanted issues before the make their way into the mind entirely.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Of mayflies and men

The truth is hard to grasp. We build models to interpret reality, but they are merely abstractions and do not come close to what they display.

One model I came up with this morning is that our body creates us everyday anew because we are needed. Like it creates pain at the sensation of heat, it creates consciousness to maneuver through a world of complex social networks. It creates a mind that is able to predict the future based on assumptions and make thoughtful decisions.

Now imagine this self is established every morning when we wake up and vanishes when we fall asleep. How can you tell, if it is the same self on another day? It is legitimate to assume we experience every single day like a mayfly. And that we are a human being with a personal history is just an illusion which occurs because we have access to memories.

Have you ever heard of "chunking"? It is term that helps describe how the human mind works. What might be seen as a continuous stream of  perception is actually a series of "chunks" that last for about three seconds and overlap each other. You can watch it happen, just close your eyes and observe what is going on.

It is getting pretty deep into the realm of philosophy and psychology here, but from a practical standpoint:
Is lamenting all day long the reason why your body brought you into being?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

How would you describe being alive to artificial intelligence?

I often get asked what I do when I meditate. The honest answer is: nothing. But what does that mean?

Meditation is just "being" without doing anything else. It means to be highly alert while the mind is completely still. No thoughts disturb the awareness of what it is like to simply exist.

If this sounds like an unachievable state to you, consider the following question: How would you describe being alive to artificial intelligence? What does living feel like?

Asking these questions helps understanding meditation. Although there is no answer - at least no verbal one - you can spend a lifetime pursuing them. What you do then is to examine the present moment, to watch time pass without your hand in the matter. And you find infinite peace within.

Friday, November 21, 2014

You are an iceberg

...and what you consciously experience is just the tip of it. Underneath lies a fascinating biological system run by a subtle intelligence of unimaginable wisdom. So whenever you feel overwhelmed by urgent tasks that you need to accomplish, don't even think about skipping what you intended to do for your physical health. That would simply be saving at the wrong end.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Who do you think you are?

I almost died before I was even born. Somehow I managed to wrap the umbilical cord around my neck and the midwifes had to pull me out with a vacuum extractor as it was too late for a cesarean section. My head was blue and heavily deformed, they put me into a heated thermal bed with additional oxygen supply and my mom was not allowed to touch me for several hours.

Of course I don't remember any of this consciously.

But it surely had and still has an enormous impact on my life. My mother told me how after the period of isolation I demanded her affection with an unusual assertiveness. I was screaming and not giving in to being left alone. There is no doubt that the beginning of my life on earth shaped my destiny and changed it forever.

If you have ever heard of implicit and prenatal memory, you probably know that everything that happens to us is stored in our brains. Whether we can recall it is just a matter of access to certain capacities.

These days I've been thinking a lot about who we are apart from entities of consciousness. We have all gone through a period of non-being to this effect, yet existing and being influenced by the events. And it still happens every night when we're asleep.

One question arises: Who am I?

Or is personal identity rather an illusion?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A growing monster

"Sustainable growth is possible" I read in a magazine yesterday. It was an article about climate change and how the human race destroys the earth. To me this sounds like "sleeping in the cinema is possible".

We need to know our priorities better.

If you want to sleep no matter what, you should consider doing it in bed, not at the movies.

If we want the earth to be a home for future generations, we should consider taking a step back on our economical aspirations.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The meaning of work

It is funny how much time we spend earning money, yet most people do not think a lot about what money actually is. One exercise I got from Napoleon Hill's "Think and grow rich" is to finish the sentence "money is ..." in 10 different ways everyday and write it down. There are endless possibilities. For most people it is a mean to survive. They need to pay their bills, buy food and save money for the future.

If this is all that money is about, and you work only to earn money, and you spend the majority of your life working, then you just life to survive.

This is beautiful in a way, as it shows how life is for living (and living is free). But it is also a little sad, because a lot of people do not enjoy their job. A paradigm shift happens eventually when you do not have to work anymore. Either you got really wealthy or you simply retire. In either case you will find that life without work is not very meaningful. While you enjoy the freedom at first, after a while you start to feel an urge to contribute. To do something that makes the world a better place.

To me, this is what work is about. And money simply is a representation of the value you created through it.

Living minimalist helps you reach a point where you don't need to work anymore much earlier. You can actually live with little income and hence not much work is needed to make sure you can pay the bills. If you have a family to support it is more difficult, but if you are young and just about to start a career I highly recommend to take some time working just as much as you need to and enjoy the freedom that comes with it. This helps you to experience what I described above: We all need a mission. There is a reason why we are who we are and it is a basic need to give our best building something of value. Something that matters.

If you are still stuck in working exclusively to support your consumption orientated lifestyle, you will end up disappointed once you retire. Many people become depressive then as they feel useless. The truth is, they can still do something, be it writing a book, painting or simply keeping the streets in the neighborhood clean. But they can't make the past undone. Having spent their whole life not to create value, but to satisfy superficial needs. And as every material thing becomes meaningless in the face of death, they are left with regret.

Work is always a taking and giving. Minimalism puts a spotlight on the latter.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Avoiding interaction is not minimalist

Some people say that they don't need a gym to work out. You can do bodyweight exercises anywhere at any time.

Some people say that they need a gym to work out. At home they lack discipline and it is much harder for them to get started.

The thing is that you need a commitment. By going to the gym you pledge yourself to actually lift some weights. If you'd like to be more independent and do bodyweight training, but you struggle to do it on your own, go find some peers. There is a tremendous power in group dynamics and you can use that to your favor.

Today we have so many possibilities to connect via the internet, but instead of using it to expend our social life, it seems to be replacing it. Meeting like-minded people is not only for free and immaterial - that is to say minimalist. I am convinced that it satisfies basic emotional needs that get lost in a world dominated by reason.

It is a common tendency to use tools instead of dealing with other human beings. Think about whether this truly brings freedom or it just disconnects us from the real world.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Veganism and minimalism

There are two types of vegans: the ones that will tell you why you should become vegan too, and the ones that don't want to explain why they are. The second kind just behaves like that to differentiate from their militant peers. Even if you are interested you probably won't get too much information. So here it is.

One of the most striking arguments in favor of a vegan lifestyle is its sustainability. It is highly inefficient to feed chicken with tons of corn that we might eat as well. For this reason animal products require more than ten times the resources (water, energy, arable land) of vegan food. The exact factor depends, of course, on what kind of plant/animal you consider, whether it's organic or not, and so on. So for the future of our planet it is beneficial to restrict from animal products at least once in a while.

Minimalism and eating vegan go hand in hand. Get more out of less. Cherish what you have. Be lean. Smile.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Super Slow Food

Being gentle on resources sometimes doesn't even require resources. At least not additional ones to those you take for granted anyway. Take food as an example. While most people will say they love eating and enjoy it - especially when trying to justify being a little overweight - yet the majority is literally unable to eat a whole plate while obeying the following rule: after every bit take three deep breaths.

First of all you can't imagine how long it then takes in total and furthermore you will finds that you really will nervous after a while. One might argue that it is hunger that makes you feel uncomfortable eating slowly, but to me it seems that this is an illusion. We are trained to always keep going. We feel terrible when we shall truly rest for a while and not do anything. Funny enough almost everybody knows procrastination. So how come we can't even enjoy food without feeling restless? If you don't  believe me, try it.

It is because we think being lazy is bad. While there is certainly something to this in terms of how laziness affects self esteem - when it comes to sustainability, our constant hustling makes things much worse. For the solution of environmental problems it would be much more contributive to lean back from time to time. It is not only the sheer mass of humans on this planet, that causes global warming etc., but our need for consumption that got totally out of control.

Looking at it that way, eating slowly is not only gentle on resources as it makes you happy without having to spend additional money, but it helps saving the planet as well. Try the "three breath dinner" tonight and you'll be shocked how much you usually eat in a fraction of the time and amazed by the peace you feel afterwards. If you notice (as I did) the permanent urge to "do" something, be assured that whatever you do can't give you more that the present moment which you already have.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Boredom is a gift

We speak of boredom when arousal outweighs the challenges of a situation. You feel capable of doing more than your current surroundings demand from you. To overcome this imbalance you can either search for new stimuli or lower your level of arousal. Since being aroused is associated with the release of adrenalin and it is known fact that constant low doses of the stress hormone cause serious health problems, a minimalist approach to boredom seems a wise option.

There are various ways of dealing with boring situations that do not rely on external sources to draw your attention towards them. When you are occupied with a certain activity, it helps to entirely focus on that task, even if it seems trivial. If it is meaningful to you then so much the better, just reaffirm yourself with why you do it and what the benefits are.

Another reason why trying to escape boredom immediately is a bad idea is that over time you adapt to a certain level of stimulus and begin to feel bored a fortiori. The only way to get out of this spiral is to do something that you find meaningful, not just arousing. Thus, minimalism does not only help you to avoid sensory overload, but leads to solutions for more profound shortcomings.

You will find that by consciously exposing yourself to boredom you will not only be able to determine much more accurately what to do about it, but also have more energy in non-boring situations. Randomly completing tasks is like burning fuel with one foot on the brakes. In contrast, mindfully dealing with such situations empowers you to not just act out of psychological strain. Then your endeavors become an expression of true motivation.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Rural vs. urban

Today I meditated on the hotel balcony at sunrise. Listening to the sound of cars on the street I was reminded of this year's summer holiday in the mountains where all was quiet and I could only hear leaves of trees rustle and birds sing in the distance. How different it felt. Yet I consider myself a city person.

As the writer of a blog about minimalist living I started wondering why I chose to live in a place full of hectic rushing and constant noise. It is much easier to live a simple life on the countryside and although I plan to move to a smaller town when I have children - right now I would not want to trade off all the opportunities that city life offers.

I can meet people who share my interests, I can engage in any kind of activity. I have freedom of choice. These are huge advantages, the problem is that people tend to be overwhelmed by them. They can have anything and it makes them think they can have everything. Big city life makes minimalist thinking necessary and at the same time only here it is possible to explore it fully. In rural areas all people live rather simple, but there it is not a matter of decision. A minimalist mindset only makes a difference when it is theoretically possible to overstrain.

Minimalist living may mean being a little picky, but it is not about constriction. You don't have to take the veil. No matter the circumstances, what I am referring to is the inner attitude that enables you to have both: freedom of choice and a lifestyle of less.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Fancy some poison?

...is what I asked myself, when I discovered a chocolate bar in my hotel room fridge.

Check out the most powerful mindset for eating healthy.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Living lean

Recently I've been thinking a lot on why being lean is an ideal nowadays. Some time ago it was a sign of poverty. That's why former rulers let themselves be painted in expensive clothes and with a huge belly. Although pomposity was fashionable back then, I think that someone with a lean and modest appearance would have gained at least equal respect. The underlying cause for my assumption is that living lean is not just trendy, but based on virtue.

The first principle that leads to a lean life is pure pragmatism. The less you have (fat on your body, items in your household, appointments to keep in mind, ...), the more flexible you are. Additional stuff simply is a burden that you need to deal with. You need to carry it around as weight or take care of it in some other sense. In any case it loads you with responsibilities.

As a second reason living lean shows that you know what you need and what you don't. This non-neediness is a goal to strive for and comes along with great freedom. Only when you know yourself well it is possible to refuse a second helping. And it takes the same amount of awareness to not buy that ice crusher for cocktail parties you are never going to throw.

Being lean is not just to look the way society suggests you to in the 21st century. It is an essential part of minimalist philosophy and its foundations are sound.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

My life's a party

Minimalism is often misinterpreted as plain reduction. Instead it means to focus on the good - cutting out the bad is just a byproduct. Like the pareto principle stands for identifying the most profitable 20 percent of a whole and putting aside the other 80 percent follows naturally, the root of a minimalist lifestyle is not simply to decrease the number of activities/belongings/etc, but to increase quality.

What is the difference between a good party and a bad one? It is the people. I agree that cheering crowds of drunkards got something to it, but so does sitting together with a few of your closest friend. In reverse having your house full of guests you actually can't stand is no better than too few people on the dance floor.

In our lifes we often act as if more content would lead to fulfillment. Then our party is crowded, yet we don't see familiar faces. We are strangers in our own world. Living a minimalist lifestyle may mean that you invited 500 guests and still they come together as friends in a jovial atmosphere. But most likely it means that you'll find less people than average there. The point is not to mistake this for the actual purpose.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Change comes in small steps

Recently I made a list of lifestyle changes I've been trying to apply over the last while. Be it simple shifts like eating more raw vegetables instead of bread or other wheat-based food on the one hand, implementing new routines like doing Yoga regularly on the other hand, or just dropping bad habits like watching videos that I not actually visited Youtube for in the first place - I wrote them down on paper and marked the ones I successfully realized.

What I found out perfectly matched what's to be read everywhere: Permanent change only occurs after a clear decision and step by step. As I looked over the list I picked one of the items (practice piano sight reading every morning) and resolved to focus exclusively on that one until it becomes second nature. When no more effort is required to maintain it I'm going to move on and chose another item.

This procedure has two major benefits. Firstly it brings the quantity of wanted changes to consciousness and secondly it forces you to prioritize and choose which step to take first.

Evenings are great for reflection and my advice is to make such a list tonight instead of watching TV (if you do). It's not a big deal and it's not a thing to do on a regular basis. You just do it once and gain a lot of insight on why previous attempts to change may have failed, and most likely succeed in the future.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Defining minimalist living #1

Minimalist living is to accept the limited capacities of time and energy in life and accordingly set value on quality rather than quantity.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

A high-end lifestyle

Sometimes absurd word combinations can lead to understanding their components. Think about this article's title for a moment. Isn't it peculiar that today millions of people carry technical devices in their pockets, that a few decades ago would have been worth a fortune? And still we find ourselves complaining about them when they don't reliably work as expected? Your new smartphone really rocks, but will it still do three years from now?

The attribute "high-end" only makes sense in comparison. Compared to human life some hundred years ago our modern lifestyle is quite luxurious. Most of the readers will lead an objectively more pleasant life than the greater part of the world's population. So what makes us feel uncomfortable with it? Is it what we "make out of it"? The chances we take and our endeavors' results in relation to the circumstances we grew up in? Whatever angle you look at it from - there still is a duality. There is only a good, when we can distinguish it from the bad.

If we manage to accept competitiveness as human nature and do not deny it, we are free to focus on other things. We don't chase after status symbols as if our life depended upon them. We may still strive for success, but we just don't see it as the most important thing.

View the situation as a soccer game. Whether you play in a world cup finale or with friends in your free time - two teams are involved. If there is no opponent, the game doesn't make any sense. You can have fun, although you compete. But you don't need to cry when you lose. Or feel bad about winning, as long as you play fairly. With this kind of attitude it is much easier to shake each other's hands after the match and smile.

When you feel a desire for wealth and having an outstanding lifestyle, don't worry about it. Being minimalist can't take away the natural urge for rivalry in us. But it can let us laugh about our doggedness and help settling for less.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Roots to grow and wings to fly

Habits are fascinating. They shape us. They are cornerstones of the lifes we lead. They give us structure and continuity.

Too much structure and you end up like in Bill Murray in "Groundhog Day" (which I haven't seen, to be honest). Then you long for room to breathe. You dream of escaping the routine and just being free.

Not enough structure and you end up like Johnny Depp in "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" (I've seen this one but don't remember the story, to be honest). Then you long for a mission. You dream of systematically creating something big and just following through with it.

To find the sweet spot in between is where the art lies. Minimalist living frees up time for sufficient input and generates focus to produce output - a balance of inspiration and transpiration.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Of owls and other birds

As I said I am an early bird as opposed to night owls, who get productive in the evenings. These are two types or rather two poles that researchers use to classify people's sleep behavior. This post is going to cover the benefits of rising early, though, and I encourage night owls to read it as well.

What's the difference between going to bed and rising early on the one hand, and on the other hand staying up until late and sleeping in? From a scientific point of view, it is our biological clock that either runs a little fast and gets adjusted by the setting of the sun, or it drags behind and adapts at dawn. It is good advice for people on the outer ends of the spectrum to expose themselves to sunlight as soon as possible (for night owls) or to stay outside as long as the sun is out (early birds). Light is a key factor by which our body regulates sleepiness.

That being said about the facts, here's my opinion: When you go to sleep early, it means you do it on purpose (especially as a night owl). It means you do not just wait until there's no point in staying up any longer. The same goes for rising with the intention to do something, which gives you an instant boost of productivity. Sleeping in - or worse: hitting the snooze button - let's you start your day with a feeling of aimlessness. While sleeping in is certainly appropriate for recovering, the snooze button is the most futile invention that I ever came across. It diminishes not only the time you are awake, but also the time you sleep properly. As if this wasn't enough, hitting the snooze button becomes a symbol for your reluctance towards the day and furthermore gives you the impression of having failed to comply with undertaking. Stop it! Never do it again!

If you are a night owl, rising early may mean something different to you than for me. I love to get up a 6 a.m. and next summer I will probably experiment with 5 a.m. or even earlier. In winter it is hard, though, because waiting 4 hours until sunrise seems unnatural to me. For night owls 8 a.m. may do the job. The point is not to get up at a specific time, but to go to bed deliberately some time before your body tells you to. As an inspiration define a most important task for each day and view the night before as a preparation.

Finally, what has this got to do with living a minimalist lifestyle? A lot. Firstly, sleeping too little is just a sign of doing too much during the day. And secondly, minimalism is about reducing clutter (in your place as in your mind) and living a life of integrity and fulfillment. I hope my thoughts on sleeping habits inspire you to take action and follow your purpose.

Monday, November 3, 2014

How to set an alarm clock

Did you wake up today with a sudden fear caused by the realization danger? No? That's the definition of the word "alarm".

Your body can't tell the difference between serious threat and your clock. Otherwise you wouldn't wake up every morning. Understand: While you sleep the brain is not twirling its thumbs. It does essential work - and it takes a lot to interrupt it. If you have to, please don't do so while the brain is in the midst of a task. Learn about natural sleep cycles and set your alarm accordingly.

Let's say it takes 15 minutes to fall asleep, your first sleep cycle lasts 60 minutes and all following ones are 90 minutes long. A good time to wake up would then be 5h45min, 7h15min or 8h45min after you turned out the lights. This is just a guide value. Try it and see what works best for you. Since I first heard about this I abandoned the recommended eight hours. Instead I switch between 7h15min and 8h45min depending on how tired I feel.

I strongly recommend reading more on this topic although I'm going to share my knowledge with you here, of course. But not now. I'm tired. Good Night.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The importance of sleep

Some say if you want to be successful, you need to sacrifice sleep to a certain extend. I have always questioned that, but it seems to be common practice among ambitioned young people. The reason why I doubt its necessity is that I don't believe that (waking) time is the limiting factor for prevailing in a competitive situation. And that is because the hours you try to reduce your sleep by are not much in relation to 24 hours.

Furthermore, most people don't work from sunrise to sunset. What it comes down to is knowing your priorities. The career guys probably work most of their time, but pay too little attention to their loved ones. Instead, they spend their evenings at the gym since they know how physical shape affects their motivation and work capacity. Or they just work until late, but get up very early to workout. The priorities are set: "I am more important than us".

This is a stereotype, of course. The situation may differ from case to case, but what all high achievers seem to have in common is their attitude towards sleep. Even if they take care of personal relationships, that is most likely made possible by sleeping less.

I wonder if this really is a smart approach. For me, achieving certain goals is not to be ranked higher than happiness. And having a good night's rest is essential for being in a pleasant mood. Just because you can't measure the difference in your life's quality when sleeping 9 hours instead of 6, it doesn't mean their is none. And of course you can measure it: The health benefits are scientifically proven. What I mean is that as long as you measurably achieve more during the day, it is difficult to trade that off against the risks of sleep deprivation.

This is where minimalist living comes into play. Creating a lifestyle of less enables you to pursue goals without suppressing primal needs of the body.

The zen of taking a walk

In summer I used to take a walk every morning. I'm an early bird and usually wake up at sunrise. So in the warm months I'm up when most of the people still sleep. Then I enjoy strolling through empty streets with the mist slowly fading as sunrays fall upon them. Sometimes I listened to audio books while walking. Sometimes I just walked. Now that I think back, the same feeling of freedom and confidence rises up in me. Like a urge to do it again. Like my soul longing for slowness and tranquility.

If you are familiar to Zen practice, you may have noticed its commonalities with taking a walk. Walking meditation is an element of applied Buddhism, but I want to consider the ordinary western Sunday afternoon walk. Even in its simplicity and purposelessness it has a spiritual component to it - although it is never intended that way. Taking a walk just for the sake of walking is the perfect example of suchness.

This word is a merely a construction to describe the buddhistic concept of Tathatā. What it means or rather what meaning it points to is the nameless and characterless reality in its ultimate nature. While understanding it intellectually is probably impossible, we can experience suchness in every moment: When taking a sip of water. When looking at a flower. When shaking someone's hand. When walking just to walk.

I feel a tremendous relief when for a while I can forget about my mind's compulsion for purpose. There is a sense of liberation from endless judging and striving to achieve something. Walking without aim is an act of acceptance of what is - the present moment does not care about the future or the past. And the ordinary Sunday afternoon walk lets you tap into its essence.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Be here now

Yoga means unity - a thing I never quite understood. Today my teacher explained the meaning of the word. Unity refers to the mind body connection and thus Yoga is about directing one's awareness to the body (here) and the present moment (now). What you do ought not be in the center of attention, but who you are (be).

After a lot of thinking about how I deal with time and scheduling, this was an inspiring insight. While planning, your mind is in the future and out of the body. Walking home from the gym I resolved to not decide what to do in advance this evening. Promptly I met a friend at the bus station and found myself taking way more time than usual to talk to her. I was also able to listen closely and with an enormous interest. This is the power of now (referring to Eckhart Tolle's great book of the same name).

For the first time I had a glimpse of understanding why spiritual teachers attribute the absence of decisions to the state of enlightenment. A friend had told me about it, but I didn't know where he knew that from. So I just did a bit of research and found this article which names four sentences to be repeated daily:

“Today I will make no decisions by myself”
“I will make no decisions today because it is no longer intelligent to do so.”
“I will make decisions in silent counsel with the Infinite.”
“I will do what You have me do.”

If that sounds somewhat esoteric and unapproachable to you, regard it as an attitude of total trust in your intuition. And that just means that you know what you want and have no doubt that you are on the right track with whatever you engage in.

It seems as if the idea that came to me on my way home has been around for some time and had a huge impact on a lot of people's lifes. From eastern philosphers to (yet another) friend of mine, whose tattoo on his wrist reads:

Be here now.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The 25 hour day - a utopia?

I bet you have heard someone say "If only a day had 25 hours!" many times in your life. Or even more pessimistic under the disguise of being realist:

"A day does not have 25 hours. Period."

The truth is it doesn't even matter. Do these people really think that their life would be better if the earth spinned around a little slower? The only parameter that really makes a difference is how long you live. What intervals you divide that time into does not mean a thing. If you can't figure out how to get daily tasks done within 24 hours, it just means you can't figure out how to get your life task done in a life time.

More time is no solution for this problem. Clarity is. Set priorities and find out what you want to do with your life. Start now - because every step you take without a sense of mission might be a step in the wrong direction. Period.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Expect good things to happen

Yesterday a friend whom I hadn't seen for a long time called me. He just returned from his world trip and told me he was around for two days. I was excited but my schedule was already jam-packed and I first hesitated to invite him to my place. From experience I had learned that trying to do too many things at a time makes it impossible to truly enjoy them. Yet I didn't want to miss the chance and we met for breakfast this morning. As expected I couldn't help looking at the clock frequently, since we had so much to talk about but only limited time.

What lesson can I learn from this? Should I say no the next time? Certainly not! That conversation was one of the most inspiring incidents over the last while. We discussed cultural perculiarities of Europe and Asia, and how the word communication has an entirely different meaning depending on where you are. In the western hemisphere to communicate is to talk in terms of sending a message, while in eastern countries emphasis is being put on listening closely. I could sense the impact that the journey had on him - he was more grounded and calmer than before. I am very grateful for this encounter and glad that I made use of the opportunity.

If saying yes was a good decision, what then can I do better next time? The answer is to expect good things to happen. To not cram full my schedule. To leave space for spontaneity and be flexible. Optimism is the foundation of minimalist time management. It is that childlike attitude of joyfully anticipating what the next day might bring.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

From the inside out

The secret to minimalist living in terms of letting go of one's desires lies in orientation towards inner freedom rather than financial freedom. So instead of asking "can I afford this?", which is bound to monetary resources, you should ask "can I afford to live without this?". This paradigm shift frees you from depending on external circumstances to feel good and leads you to true happiness.

By the way, this mindset enables you to get off the consumption treadmill for good. So if your goal still is to become wealthy - adopting a minimalist attitude is first the step in any case.

Wantless and happy

Before the Wirtschaftswunder after World War II it never even occurred to people that fulfilling wishes might have a downside. First they were working hard to survive, then they were working hard to make their dreams come true. Nowadays almost all needs are being met in the western world and still we haven't stopped working hard. Instead we actively search for wishes to fulfill. Advertisements make us believe to purchase a certain product is our deepest desire, when in fact we haven't even heard of the product before seeing the ad. Funnily enough the German translation for perfectly happy is "happy without a wish" or "wantless happy". Taking this literally can open our eyes to a new way of consumption.

The first and only step is to view desires not as a mean to happiness, but as a burden. This may sound hard at first, since satisfying a wish makes you happy for a while. When it comes to material wishes, though, the temporary joy is diminished by the amount of work, time, money and space required to handle the increasing number of items in your household. This discomfort can be a fingerpost to letting go of your desires. From this perspective wishes are truly a mean to happiness - not when you fulfill them, but when you drop them.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Of inspiration and transpiration

I'm very glad to announce that I just ran out of fennel tea! That's amazing! Daily readers know why. And I am really looking forward to buying a different kind of tea. There are so many benefits of the decision to reduce my selection: Firstly, when I buy some new I know I am going to drink it. Secondly, I enjoy comparing different sorts of tea in a shop and choosing a fancy one much more now that it is a special occasion. Thirdly, I find it enormously satisfying to have a routine and be able to tweak it once in a while as opposed to (a) randomly hoarding tons of products or (b) tie myself down to just a few of them.

Writing this reminds me of some further thoughts I had on the post about traveling. I am a person who is really fascinated by routines and daily rituals. When listening to the audio book of the same name I could hardly stop and finished it within days. But then again, why am I so keen on traveling? I clearly remember being on a 3 month trip through Costa Rica and text messaging a friend that I missed the possibility to plan my days. He was certainly bewildered when he read that I'd love to trade my surfing lessons for a week at home with a fix schedule. Back home again, of course, I missed the surfing lessons.

So what is it that makes you want to break free from your 9 to 5 routine but then draws you back to a certain orderliness? In my opinion it is human nature to march forward in a definite direction but from time to time take a bird's eye view over the path you're on. Like a hiker stops an amazing outlook. The stop is not what hiking is about. And yet it is.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The hunger goes on

During today's meditation I realized that the reason why it is so difficult to stay alert and focused is that the brain constantly seeks stimulation. I've read about this before but it never appealed to me as strikingly as it did this morning. When I started bringing my attention to the distractive nature of my mind, it began to vanish. I became extremely calm and moved deeply into the now. There wasn't a spark of boredom - not in terms of dullness, but agitation.

There are three needs which the flow of attention depends upon according to Rick Hanson's fantastic book "Buddha's Brain" (view excerpt). He states that the brain balances "keeping information in mind, changing the contents of awareness, and finding the right amount of stimulation", which I had understood rationally before, but today for first time have been able to directly observe.

Thinking about it later, Maslow's hierarchy of needs came to my mind and how a hungry person can hardly understand first world problems. In fact the hunger never ends. Once you have eaten your fill, it is the mind that continues to agitate. To a certain extent this is legitimate when providing for risks or building up stocks. But in a world of stress and shortage of time, it is wise to critically reconsider what we strive for. Is it a true necessity or merely a chimera of the brain?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A virtual information buffet

We all know the buffet situation: There is much more to try than we can possibly eat, let alone does it all fit onto the plate. In a restaurant we would never order "a little bit of everything", but with all those delicacies right before our eyes it is hard to chose. We end up feeling ill because we couldn't refrain from at least tasting everything.

It is somewhat similar to bookmarking pages on the internet. Your computer is a plate and the web is an information buffet. But just because you have got enough disk space, it does not mean all problems are solved. When are you going deal with all the articles you stumbled upon, but didn't have time to read immediately? I personally faced the same difficulty when I found out that Seth Godin offers a lot of his ebooks for free. First I had the intention to download them all right away, although I knew that I wouldn't read them before finishing the books I already started with. Eventually I decided to wait. It is possible - yet very unlikely - that I will not be able to access those PDFs for free in the future. But otherwise I'd gradually accumulate more books than I can ever engage in.

Useless gathering and hoarding is part of a scarcity mindset as opposed to an "abundance mentality". When you pay close attention to its motives, you will discover a fear of missing out on something and foregoing opportunities. In the worst case this may distract us from landing a truly big shot when it is time to.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

We own the world (part 2)

What I wrote yesterday can be interpreted in two ways. One option is to take it literally, that is to work from a laptop only and thus be mobile. Of course this is a process and it takes effort to achieve such a lifestyle. A pioneer and master in this field is Tim Ferris, author of "The 4-Hour Workweek". The book title may sound somewhat utopian, but so does your tropical beach luxury villa. It is certainly an obtainable goal to work far less and rather than characterizing 4 hours as unrealistic, consider it a direction to head for.

The second option is to just view the idea of owning the world as part of a certain mindset. I already wrote about the importance of sharing, but it is far more than just making better use of stuff. An abundance mentality as described by Steven R. Covey leads to a totally different way of interacting with others. It takes you from "what's in for me?" to "what's in for us?", which closely related to the minimalist mindset "what matters?". From this point of view the dream house starts losing a lot of its attractiveness. Even if you decide not to travel the world instead: Once you are free from the desire for material wealth, you are free to venture to new shores.

Friday, October 24, 2014

We own the world

The biggest purchase in most people's life is the place they live in. Hence it is their self-chosen main task to earn enough money so they can afford a house or flat that suits their needs. You can't deny it: Eyes start glowing at the sight of luxurious mansions in the midst of green hills or at tropical beaches on photographs. The idea to own a villa one day is a strong motivator. But is it really the most important goal to strive for? Should you really devote your entire life to that single purpose? The minimalist doubts this and wonders whether it would be actually cheaper to inhabit a place that's much bigger and infinitely more precious: planet earth. What does it cost to travel the world from now on until the end of your days? Is it more expensive than your dream house?

This train of thought is a simple example that shows how a minimalist approach can make you question antiquated life scripts and thereby lead you to great riches - with a whole new interpretation of this word.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

How restriction breeds variety

Yesterday I attended a seminar about marketing. An interesting thing the referee noted was that overproduction is directly conditioned by the consumer's need for a full range of products until closing time. In bakeries for example this leads to lots of bread left over. In this case it isn't that bad actually because bakers can reprocess dry bread to a kind of flour which, added to the regular ingredients, gives their bread a longer shelf life.

Let's take this one step further. In a grocery store we can buy almost anything imaginable. But often we find ourselves buying inventories just to have a variety of products at home too. As a consequence of this we need enormous storage space in our kitchens and from time to time we find expired food we didn't use at all. This is not only a waste of money but also adds to the tons of groceries that merchants throw away on a daily basis.

The minimalist approach here is to limit the need for being able to choose. If you live near a grocery shop try to buy only what you know you'll definitely need. It will be very satisfying to see that you really use everything that's in your kitchen. I just started cutting down on my tea selection. So now I only have three different kinds at home and I only buy a new one when I run out of another. At the moment I am out of black tea which seemed unimaginable some weeks ago. But it feels so good to look forward to drinking it again while enjoying my cacao tea that has been waiting on my shelf for months to be discovered. Cheers!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

What I learned since 2013

I just reposted two entries from my old blog. They kind of fit here although they are not explicitly on minimalist living.

One is about the body and its central but often neglected role in modern society. It sort of continues the explanations on nutrition and I really enjoyed being reminded of that metaphor I devised about a year ago.

The second post is on habits and how to change them. Now, with a little more experience, I'd like to add that changing habits requires a definite decision. You need to be absolutely sure that you will benefit from the readjustment - which probably was the reason why I failed back then. Furthermore the changes I wanted to implement were huge: One hour a day is almost ten percent of the time you are awake! But looking back now I see how much my daily routines have changed and that I managed to definitely improve a lot of areas in my life, especially when it comes to time management. Becoming conscious about how you spend your days is something you naturally do when living by "less is more".

I hope you enjoy reading those old posts. The reason I deleted them from my other blog is that I want to use it as a platform to publish my poems. Poetry and writing in general is again one of those things that offer tremendous satisfaction at no or little cost. I find that by verbalizing what's on my mind, my thoughts get clearer and calmer. It's almost like meditation. By the way, I practice mindfulness meditation everyday for 20 minutes - I habit that started with a definite decision on my birthday this year. Mindfulness basically means you try to maintain focus on a single thing like breathing or acoustic perception. There is a great video about meditation with a lot of philosophical ideas, but from a man with a very practical approach. It's long, but worth watching!

Habits: It's about how hard you can get hit

Do you have a dream?
What would you do tomorrow, if all your appointments were cancelled?
What did you do on your last day off?

These days a lot of books on self-development are being pushed onto the market. And many of them are about habits and what you can/should/have to do in order to achieve goals and lead a happier life. Recently I've had a couple of weeks off. I am the type of person who never runs out of things to do, who never gets bored, who never sits at home on his goddamn couch and watches whatever on TV. I love life. I am riddled with dreams. But what did I do? I slept a lot. Got up late, ate, watched videos, read blogs about how life could be, cooked, ate, watched more videos, ate, slept again. I did not even get started on living my dreams. Back when I was busy I'd have laughed at myself. Then I realized how important healthy habits are to be successful. Without them I would just float from day to day without getting things done.

So I made a plan.

I called it the 1-hour-programm. It was a simple as it sounds: I just decided to do one specific thing one hour a day. In my case it was 20 minutes meditation, 10 minutes reading and 30 minutes sports (bodyweight exercises). I resolved to keep "my hour" as a daily habit for 2 months. Even if I should decide to scrap one or all of those three things, I would have to wait until the end of those 2 months. Guess what? It didn't work. First I thought that limiting the time to 2 months would make it easier for me to stick to my plan and commit 100%. But it didn't help. On some days I just "did not find the time" to do it. Which means I did not plan it properly or I just found other things to be more important. But then I saw a video of Tim Ferris, where he explains you should not expect to be "on track" all of the time.

That was the complete opposite of my approach!

Before that I just compared a new habit with brushing your teeth: There's no way you're not going to do it. But then again: Everyone has probably skipped brushing one's teeth at least a few times. Important is not the fact, that you skip it, but rather what happens afterwards. If you're really serious about it, you will not skip it twice in a row. It's not about staying on track, it's about getting back on track.

If your dream is to become a world champion boxer, you don't envision never being hit, do you? Of course you want to be the one who hits the other guy more often then he can hit you. But in the end it is just as Rocky says:

It ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward.

So the next time you skip a new habit: That's a hit. Can you take it?

Serve your Master

Imagine someone who's got the power to fulfill all your needs. Someone who can make things happen, so that all your previous desires seem trivial, meaningless. Someone who is even able to change the world as you perceive it. Someone who knows the door to heaven on earth and holds the key.

That someone exists. And from time to time that someone tells you to do certain things. Often you feel like a slave, but sometimes you're happy you did as you were told when being rewarded. On other days then, it seems as if that someone is getting in your way. And you start fighting that never vanishing someone like an overpowering enemy. But you always surrender. You give that someone what you're supposed to give just to get back to chasing your little dreams forgetting about the omnipotence that you're being confronted with. Missing the chance to profit from that someone's almightiness. You know it. But you ignore it.

That someone is your body.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A day in the life

Today I missed my train home. So I stood at the station breathing heavily because I had run hoping to catch it. The strong beating of my heart and the blood rushing through my body made me feel alive. I wasn't sad about missing the train and it should turn out that it was actually a lucky coincidence. On the next train, which arrived soon, I unpacked an Avocado which I had cut in half at home already so I just needed to spoon it up. For a moment I stopped, thinking about yesterday's post. I was hungry, but considered waiting until I got home to be able to enjoy my "meal" in a more pleasing environment. Eventually I decided to eat it on the train, but resolved to enjoy every bit to the fullest. Suddenly I saw the wonder and was grateful for how planet earth could produce something as complex and precious as an Avocado, and that I held it in my hands. Suddenly the woman to my right accosted me and offered me two granola bars and a bottle of water that she had taken with her but did not need for she was almost back home already. I denied but thanked her sincerely for her generosity. "They are still hard at this time of year" she said, pointing at the Avocado. I told her that it just takes a couple of days until they get soft. Noticing my bewilderedness she explained she only ate them freshly harvested when she was in Cuba. I got interested: "What did you do there?". "I have a godchild who's family I support financially and visit several times a year!", she said and when I told her that I admire people who are that dedicated to charity, she mentioned that she was born in Romania and knows what it means to be in need. I was deeply impressed. Listening to her story how she got to know her godchild's mother years ago, I couldn't help feeling a little egoistic. But after she got off I felt inspired and thought extensively about justice and injustice, capitalism and how my generation could make the world a better place. I am grateful for the chance encounter and that I did not put my earplugs in before eating the Avocado.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Invest in your game piece

We all love high quality goods. Do we thus have to restrain ourselves when it comes to living a minimalist lifestyle? Not really, but we need to shift perspectives. Nutrition is the minimalist's fetish. Eating out more is a way of cherishing the vibrant restaurant scene of your city, cooking and inviting friends strengthens social bonds. In general taking enough time to eat is not only highly enjoyable, but it's actually very healthy. Often we don't do so because we strive for things that last. From a rational standpoint expensive food is a bad investment because it disappears sooner or later. And taking a two hour lunch break just keeps you from doing what is really important, right? We tackle a lot of issues here. Firstly, is it really wise to accumulate solid things you can pass on to heirs? To a certain amount for sure, but I like to think that my children will not have to throw away tons of gear after my death. Looking at it that way, great food is something you should favor over other kind of luxury. Secondly, spending money on nutrition is an investment in your body. "It's your game piece" as Elliot Hulse greatly puts it. I love this idea! Make sure you nurture it right.

My face hurts

Minimalist living is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. It is not about erasing the unnecessary, but about seeing what's left afterwards. Minimalist living points to the core of our identity, but it must not be mistaken as our primal goal. While ordinary people want to know what's in for them, the minimalist asks "what matters?". And finds that it is most likely for free and always available. Like smiling - which you can do anywhere and anytime. Today I did while walking through the city. And I do while writing this post. My cheeks even hurt by now. If somebody had asked me whether I won the lottery, I would have said "sort of". Because this is the holy grail of happiness. You do not need a reason to smile, and there is never a reason not to smile. Only when in Russia. Maybe they should read this article. Never mind. Get started now, you won't regret it! Except for the charley horse in your face.

Sunday, October 19, 2014


Or one hundred percent equals one hundred percent. Think of your life as a pie chart: Whenever you add something to it, it does not expand but the distribution changes. This applies to all areas of life, e.g. you can meet hundreds of people every week, but if you want to really build an intimate relationship or become close friends with someone, it takes focus. Or a good questionnaire. But for now let's consider the traditional approach where getting to know each other takes time. Of course you can have seven different social circles that you each meet on another day of the week. But it would take seven times longer (at least) to build the kind of familiarity that you'd experience if you met the same people every day. In regard to your lifetime as a whole it doesn't make that much of a difference. The total amount of close friends is limited - even if this sounds somewhat abstract. Maybe a better example is sports. You can become a great tennis player and a fantastic swimmer, but if you want to be world class you need to focus on just one of them. This holds for learning any skill. It holds for whatever you endeavor. Your life is a pie chart - the fewer things you let in the greater their importance. 1=1. Less is more.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

We are what we repeatedly do.

Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

When we begin to question the identification with our possessions, a new self-image is created depending on what we do. This is, by the way, the reason why we tend to think "we are what we have" in the first place. Often activities require certain items such as guitar playing which of course requires a guitar. The mistake happens when I start to see myself as a guitar player just because I own one. If I don't play regularly I am subject to an illusion. To avoid this you need to understand that each purchase should be seen as a commitment. Promise yourself you will take action. If you are not sure whether you'll follow through, think it over again. Here lies the beauty of minimalist living: While getting rid of what you are not, your true self comes to surface. And with that clarity about what you really want to do arises the power and discipline to change habits and thus become another person.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Do you know your stuff?

Make a list of everything you own. You are not allowed to look around. Just create that list from memory. Don't cheat. Now imagine that what's not on the list will disappear forever. The interesting question is: will you forget something?

Sell the books you havn't read (or read them within 4 weeks)

Some books have already spent a long time on your shelf waiting to be read, don't they? They are projections of who you want to be or become. They are intentions and noble future plans. They are dreams and visions. Then why don't you read them? Two aspects come into play here. Firstly the books could be symbols for a certain ideal that you follow already. That does not necessarily mean you have to read them. E.g. you might have bought a book about yoga, but although you do yoga every day you just haven't read the book yet. If that's the case you should accept that you like yoga but you obviously don't like reading about yoga. Perhaps you really love to read in general, but when it comes to yoga you prefer learning from person to person. In other words: you have picked a symbol that you don't need. Sell it. Secondly unread books can serve as a stepping stone towards a goal that you want to achieve in the future. You probably bought it thinking that the book might help you to take action at last. The problem with this is that you can buy more books on thousands of topics than you can ever act upon in your whole life. Maybe you're just procrastinating. Then go, read the book and finally do whatever it stands for. Set yourself a time limit of 4 weeks and get started now! Or maybe it just isn't really your thing. My advice? Guess what: sell it. Whatever your unread books stand for - be aware of it and make a decision now if and when you are going to read them. If you don't they just add to your unconscious to do list and leave you dissatisfied.

Begin with the end in mind...

... when it comes to organizing your digital photos. I refer to Stephen R. Covey's great book The 7 habits of highly effective people in which he discusses two dimensions of creation: first you imagine it, then you take action to make your vision become reality. It is the second habit and what he means is you should always keep in mind where you eventually want to go. Or more precisely you should start by finding that out. So if you are like most people and tons of photos enter you hard drive every year, begin with getting clear about when and how you will look at these pictures."Someday when I'm old" is not a good plan because I bet you won't want to hand sort billions of files at age 90. Be absolutely sure about what you intend. For me personally it is the hard edge version: I don't keep photos on my computer. If my children want to see them in the future they will certainly find some online or when they contact my friends. Even if they don't - when I trade off the effort necessary to select the best pictures against the pleasure of being able to reminisce about the past one day, it just does not seem to be worth it. It actually even gives me an unpleasant nostalgic feeling to look at old photographs. My favorite time is the present. But if you want to approach this Herculean task, get specific: How many pictures do you want to keep each year? I'd suggest one hundred so that you do not end up with more than 10 000 photographs at the end of your life. By now that's probably the number of files you already have. Do not wait to change the way you manage your data - your future self will thank you.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

What are you grateful for?

If you are interested in leading a modest life and being truly at ease, there is a simple question you should ask yourself: what makes me happy, is for free and is always available? Gratitude is such a thing. By keeping track of it you demonstrably improve your mood and overall well-being. You will also find that what you are most grateful for is almost certainly not of material nature. And even if so, being conscious about it will help you enjoy it even more!

Sharing is caring

Do you care about your belongings? In Soccer some clubs are being criticized for not letting top athletes play. Often promising talents change to a more successful club but then spend their days sitting on the reserve bench. Intelligent managers have developed a rental system that enables their young players to gather experience in other clubs and return when the are ready for bigger challenges. Not only is it profitable but it is an expression of caring about their sportsmen. So if you really appreciate what you own: share it.