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.

Use it or lose it

Until recently success used to have exquisite byproduct: survival. That makes sense if you define success as getting what you want. Since everybody (most likely) wants to survive, it was the prior thing to strive for - and a privilege. Nowadays success manifests in the most various ways, because survival until the age of sexual maturity is almost guaranteed and the goals of people vary. You could say we skirt evolution. If we still want to thrive it seems a good idea to apply some fundamental principles from the "survival of the fittest" days. One is use it or lose it. The human body starts to break down muscle tissue even after days of inactivity. Muscles are great, right? Nevertheless evolution takes its toll. What can you afford to lose?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Clean up your desk now!

This week my boss asked me for advice about scheduling - so we made a prioritized to do list. After getting rid of all worries about deadlines and urgent tasks we figured out that cleaning up the office was the most important thing to do. It took us almost two days, but in the end she smiled from ear to ear, hugged me for what seemed ten seconds and told me how energetic she felt now that the clutter was gone.
Things can serve us and they can limit us. Sometimes they take more than they give. Take a close look at the stuff you deal with every day. Does it help you achieve your goals or just take up your time?