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Category: Introspection

Personal posts

Lessons from a minimalist

Matt D’Avella‘s last newsletter shared 10 lessons from 10 years as a minimalist. I learned about Matt from his work with The Minimalists’ film Minimalism. I’ve enjoyed his video work and like his newsletter. The one he sent today was a look back at 10 lessons from 10 years as a minimalist. That hits my sweet spot of lessons learned through introspection.

There were a couple that really resonated with me, as I turn 40 and haven’t had a crisis (yet) but have thought about how I got to where I am. And while I am no minimalist, I embrace its intentions.

The excitement fades but the value remains. When I first started practicing minimalism, I was truly giddy. I felt like I had a new lease on life. My perspective had completely shifted and I felt a rush of excitement as I purged my things. This faded as minimalism became my new normal. But that’s not a bad thing. Even though the initial honeymoon phase ended, the benefits of minimalism have remained.

I think about his entire idea in a few ways. First, the Shiny New Thing™ is always exciting and fresh but dulls in time. That’s true of any new endeavor or thing. Second, I try to think about this in terms of starting new things. Will I want to be doing this in a year? Is this a habit I want to continue with when it gets hard? What are the reasons behind my motivations?

If they aren’t for me or I don’t see a future with a product, project or habit, I don’t start it. I think about the impending divorce before I’ve even said I Do to the new.

We upgrade too often. Brands do a great job at convincing us we need to replace our phones, computers, and kitchen appliances every couple of years. But do we really need to make the upgrade? Will those extra pixels, different buttons, and a new sleek design really improve our lives? That’s up to you to decide. But you may find that the phone or laptop you have now meets your needs just fine. Maybe if you choose not to upgrade, you’d be able to pay down more of your debt, and you could save one less thing from ending up in a landfill.

I’m guilty of this in some areas. (We don’t talk about the number of computers in the house. They all serve as purpose.) The siren call of a new phone is one I am nearly immune from. I was waaaaay late to even having a cell phone. I held out through much of college (maybe all of it, I don’t remember). I enjoyed being able to leave my dorm room and be out in the world, unreachable and unfindable. Untethered to the desires of those outside my immediate vicinity.

Now, I upgrade when my old phone breaks every couple of years. Since switching to Android years ago, I’ve bought an evolving series of Pixel phones. When they launched their mid-tier line starting with the 3aXL my wife and I both jumped at it. Our combo 3a for her and XL model for me cost less than a single iPhone.

Even recently, when my phone took an accidental swim, I replaced it with a 4a. The non-5g model of course. Because why pay for something I don’t have access to, or even a need for in the next couple of years at least. I walked to our local Best Buy and for $350 walked out with a brand new phone unlocked and ready to activate with Google’s Fi service. Which costs my wife and I around $80/month for two phones. The benefit being we pay for what we use. It can fluctuate, but we’re not paying for potential.

In giving up the latest in gadgets and appliances and televisions we’ve been able to pay off huge amounts of debt and save for disasters (like when your washer overflows and floods your carpeted upstairs laundry room).

People overthink it. Should I keep the manual for my toaster? Should I get rid of my Harry Potter book-set? What should I do with that vase that my mom got me last Christmas? Listen, I get it. I overthink just about everything. But there comes a point when these questions become a stalling tactic. You’re afraid to let go because you don’t want to make the wrong decision. But ask yourself: What’s the worst that could happen? You recycle the toaster manual and need to look it up online. You give away the book-set and later decide to repurchase it on your Kindle. Your mom gets a little upset about the vase but understands that it didn’t match your design taste (good luck with that convo btw). Stop overthinking, and start taking action. You can apologize later.

I am so guilty of this. I keep everything. I have instructions manuals for everything. Even though I can readily find what I need online, and that’s where I do first. Ask me how many Ikea wrenches I have. (OK. Don’t. It’s an embarrassing number.) I keep so many things Just In Case™. Just in case of what I don’t know. But I feel prepared.

It (surprisingly) makes receiving gifts easier. Now that my friends and family know I practice minimalism, they really understand my values. I’m unlikely to receive random crap I don’t need (and that I’d eventually have to give away). Instead, the gifts I get these days are really thoughtful experiences, a nice bottle of whiskey or fresh-baked treats. It’s important to have these conversations before the holidays begin. If your family and friends care about you and want you to be happy, they’ll totally understand you don’t want random electronics from Sharper Image this year.

While no one in my house is a card carrying minimalist. It does make gifting easier. We’ve turned down things and instead asked for experiences from people who insist on getting us something. Pay for my nice meal out. Giving myself permission to get anything from the menu financially guilt-free is a fabulous present. We’ve gifted family money for their children’s 529 accounts instead of buying them more toys.

Detaching yourself from stuff makes you less of an ass. When I was in college, my brother gave me 4 really tall beer glasses… they didn’t last very long. One by one, each of them shattered, and I remember feeling pain and frustration each time I had to sweep up the broken pieces. This was likely in-part because I was struggling financially and they would have been difficult to replace. But I was also way more emotionally attached to stuff than I am now. Cars will get dinged up, my phone’s screen will crack, and coffee will spill on my clothes. But now that I’m less attached to stuff, it doesn’t affect me at all.

I don’t have any stories that come to mind of particular things getting ruined. But the overall lesson applies. When I haven’t spent Top Dollar on new things, I don’t feel as bad if they become dinged, dented or destroyed. When I dropped my phone in water, it was a $400 purchase a few years old. Replacing it with another $350 wasn’t the end of the world.

All of my cars have been used and I’ve driven them until they expire. My last car decided when it hit 100,000 miles, it was time to no longer have a transmission. So it was donated. I’m giving my current vehicle pep talks as it approaches the six-digit mile mark. But when it dies, I won’t lose sleep over it. It has dings and dents from mishaps in parking garages and being bumped into by persons unknown. But it’s not a big deal.

My clothes are bought to fit, with an eye for comfort. It’s not brand name, nor fancy. Shoes are an absolute joke. I buy shoes by walking into a store and looking at size 14, wiping tears of sadness from my eyes, then buying whatever basketball shoe they can muster.

I don’t place value in things. They’re all replaceable.

Minimalism is a practice. As your life changes, the stuff you own will need to change as well. And that’s because what we own today might not be useful or helpful one year from now. When you move into a new apartment, adopt a pet, give birth to your first child, you’ll need to buy new stuff (or get hand-me-downs from family). And when you find that stuff is no longer adding value, you can find a better home for it.

I’m actively in the midst of this lesson. Working from home and truly living in my house for the past year has taught me a lot about what I will use or not. What is valuable and what’s just taking up space? There are things that hold value in my head I think that someone might want. The reality is more stark. No one wants that old thing. I’ve got some things I need to find a way to donate. Or give away. Or generally get out of my house and into the hands of someone who will find value in it.

It won’t be long before every community standard is violated

“Conservatives -Things are good the way they are, or that they WERE good at some point or points in the past. Want things left alone or to go back the way they were.

Progressives Things are not fine the way they are, and they need to change in a way that they have never yet been. Want change.”

Why Are Conservatives Obsessed with Pedophilia Right Now? | David M Schell

I think about this post a lot. The difference in world views. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. One group is looking to return to the past. The other is looking to the future for change. Nobody is happy with where things are now. Whenever now happens to be.

There’s so much fear wrapped up in the idea of the future. Especially if it’s a future that feels scary and alien to what you know. And who you know.

It won’t be long before every community standard is violated.

Think about how scary that is. The beginning of change is scary when that change is unfamiliar. It feels like things you don’t and can’t understand are happening around you and there’s a tectonic shift happening in the world.

It doesn’t help the change is packaged and sold to you as fear. Change is bad. Those who want change are bad.

It’s the beginning of the slipping of standards. The slippery slope. Careening down the muddy bank into uncertainty and fear. The refrain of It won’t be long before every community standard is violated is visceral.

It’s not just words. It’s tradition. It’s family. It’s a way of life. These things are extremely important in smaller towns. These issues feel like other people’s problems. It feels like people in big cities, who can’t possibly understand my way of life are.telling me I’m wrong.

It’s an attack on identity.

When your way of life is under attack. When you identity is questioned. You’re going to defend yourself.

It won’t be long before every community standard is violated.

That’s scary. And if you feel the change is getting further from where you want things to go, of course you’ll fight against it.

I grew up in a small town. I live near a big city. I’ve marinated in both ways of life. I can see things from both sides. I can see we are all just trying to do our best for ourselves and our families.

It won’t be long before every community standard is violated…………

Day 92

The weekend is here again. Or is it gone already? How is it already 7pm on Sunday? They fly by without a trace.

Well, there is some trace. The new butterfly bush we planted yesterday after finding Country Nursery, a lovely little nursery. It meets my internal passing grade of a quality mom-and-pop nursery because you can never quite tell whether you’re supposed to be where you’re standing or not. Everything flows together.

Butterfly bush with purple flowers in green grass.
Butterfly bush, pre-planting.

We didn’t know this nursery existed until passing it on the way to Meadows Farms, the only nursery I know from frequenting one near the farm where I grew up.

Their prices on everything were far below anything Meadows Farms or Home Depot/Lowes can offer. As we talked to the woman behind the counter, she said “We order what people want to buy.” Which seems like a perfect way to do business.

We did buy a selection of indoor plants form Meadows Farms. A found a pair of cacti I allowed myself to buy after keeping the one I bought last year alive and doing well. Add to that a coleus (the red fuzzy one).

Annie got a Snake Plant and a ZZ Plant. Both hearty for shady indoor climates, which is our house.

This is our life now. Watching the birds at the feeders. Clearing areas to plant more bushes and flowers around our house. Annie is on a mission to remove anything that’s only green. It has to flower. It has to look pretty. And if it’s going to, it has to look pretty for as long as possible.

She lived in California when she was young and remembers the flowers everywhere, all the time. So while Maryland isn’t the same climate, replicate as much beauty as possible.

Purple flowers of butterfly bush up close.
Butterfly bush up close


I feel I’ve been hibernating.

I changed jobs in early March and the pandemic hit. I spent my days of government contracting waiting… Just waiting…

Then I took a job supporting Web Conferencing Platforms. You know what that means?

I support Zoom and Webex.

I had no idea the world would soon revolve around Zoom. It would be on the lips of millions of people across the world. Suddenly I had a skill set in massive demand.

My LinkedIn emails have never been so glowing. So many people are looking at your profile it crows seeking approval.

But while professionally I was a hot commodity, my days became a blur. I would stumble into my office at home and sit down to work.

Thankfully I had worked in that room for the past two or three years. It was well suited to the task at hand.

I was not.

I was learning Perl and how to call APIs. I was trying to sprint on the treadmill of Zoom’s constant changes. Their legal troubles. The public relations issues. But thankfully, no downtime. Say what you will of the company and their questionable choices, it has been solid and did not break under the weight of the world.

I would spend all day in that room. With periodic trips to fill my body with water, coffee and Coke then and relieve myself of the after effects of the same. My days were a blur. Even when I was able to stumble out of the room, I was often called back by the ding of an instant message or chime of an email requiring my skills or knowledge.

I wish I had kept a log of that time. It’s all a blur to me now. As the days continue to be. I wake up Monday morning and go to sleep Friday night in the space of a day.

The weekends come, or as my wife says, “that’s when I get to spend time with you.”

My week days feel short and frantic. My weekend days feel long and fulfilling. The weekend itself passes in the blink of an eye but those days I cherish and spend the time with my wife in our yard. Watching the birds at the feeder. Exploring post-apocalyptic West Virginia in Fallout 76 and finding the time to record a podcast.

It is somehow June. We are 12 days into June officially. Though I continue to insist it is February 243rd. That’s what it feels like.

The world has stopped and melted away into a fog of memory and remember whens.

At the same time, The World has become larger and more urgent. There was a protest march a block from my house this week.

There is a pandemic raging on.
Fueled my inept, uncaring leadership. The government has failed my wife and my family at every level.

While I am overwhelmed with work, my wife has seen 80% of her business vanish in a flash. She is self-employed and if it were not for telehealth she would be entirely our of work.

The Federal Government has failed her.
The State of Maryland had failed her.
Montgomery County has failed her.

She had applied for aid and waited… and waited… and waits.

Waits for aid that will never come.

We are living opposite lives in the same house. She is a Night Walker while I struggle to maintain a daylight schedule.

She looks at a business she spent 5 years building successfully get destroyed in a heartbeat. I look at a career that went from pause to hyperspeed.

I struggle to contain my work day and still have something left for her at the end of it. She stares down 22 hours in most days and tries to fill them.

I feel I’ve been hibernating since this all began. I don’t know what day it is. I have no clue what month we are in. Are there important events or milestones approaching?

I can only see the current day. Then I collapse. And start the next one underslept and overcaffeinated.

We have been in lockdown for 90 days.

You have my permission

You have my permission to delete.

You have my permission to mark as read.

You have my permission to skip.

You have my permission to step away.

You have my permission to log off.

You have my permission to ignore.

You have my permission to breathe.

You have my permission not to feel bad about any of it.

Your podcast queue is overflowing. Your stack of books is gathering guilt dust. Netflix and Hulu and Amazon and HBO and and and and…

There’s so much content out there. Endless feeds to scroll online. Twitter. Facebook. Mastodon. Instagram. Tiktok. They’re all there with new content engineered to suck you in and keep you there.

There’s email. Both invited and not. Newsletters are stacking up with interesting information.

You have my permission to ignore it all. You have my permission to not feel bad about ignoring, deleting, skipping and moving on with trying to get through your life.