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.