My Thinking On Various Topics

S.T.O.K.E.D. – Six Minimalism Tips

A few months ago I gave a presentation on minimalism as part of my company’s ‘Hearsay Talks’ series. I wanted to share the general themes here in written format.

My apology for minimalism is this:

It is not about less of something.

It is about more of something else.

You give up things so that you have more room for something else. We each only have 168 hours in the week – our lives are finite. If we want more of one thing, the only way to make that possible is by having less of something else.

From 2012-2014 I lived in a 400 sq/ft studio apartment with my growing family. Because of the time and money we were saving, we were able to spend much more time pursuing outdoor activities we love – including some of my challenges. That was our way of having less of something (housing space) in order to have more of something else (outdoor time).

With that in mind, here is a simple mnemonic I made to help remember six minimalism tips designed to focus on what is important: S.T.O.K.E.D.

I’ll list them each here and then discuss each in more detail below.

Savor Memories, Don’t Store Things

(Your) True Self Should Define Your Possessions

One In – One Out

Keep Your Inputs In Check

Experiences & Consumables as Gifts

Delight In It Without Ownership

Savor Memories, Don’t Store Things

Simply put, too many of the things that we have in our homes are neither useful nor beautiful. They are things we don’t want to look or use but can’t part with because they are emotionally tied to some person, place or period. They go into storage. We Americans have so much stuff that we can’t even fit it all in our huge houses. In fact, so much that storage rental units in the United States have a combined square footage of four times that of Manhattan.

Memories are important, but our lives don’t need to accumulate items in order for those memories to have value. We can remember things in other forms. Perhaps fewer items, of which some are useful or beautiful. A few of my grandfather’s tools still serve me well, as does a painting by my grandmother we have hung in our dining room. Another option is to take pictures of certain items or the events and people themselves so you can look back at them to remember, rather than using a souvenir for that purpose.

One of the areas I’ve found is hardest to do this with is gifts that other people gave you that you know you don’t need, but can’t part with due to the fact that it was a gift from a significant person. One thing I’ve done is to take that item, look at is as a method for the person showing you their love and then accept all of that love out of it, so you can then part with the item. It might sound hokey – but remember, there is a mental reason that you can’t part with the object, so there should be a mental solution to help you.

(Your) True Self Should Define Your Possessions

Often, who we are today isn’t exactly who we were a few years ago. Perhaps our hobbies have changed, or our life state. Our possessions should reflect that. We should part ways with things we no longer use in order to better reflect how we actually spend our time. By doing that we allow our lives to be more streamlined and less burdened down by items we don’t use often but still have to navigate around, clean, look at, etc.

One of the worst offenses I often see is the ‘aspirational purchase’. The idea is that by buying some new thing, you will then change your life to do more of the activity you wish you did – perhaps running or playing the guitar. This often results in a person that still doesn’t do the activity, but now has some extra objects in their possession and a bill to pay. Instead make an agreement with your future self – rent or borrow the items you need and if the habit sticks, give yourself permission to get the items that make the activity enjoyable for you. In fact, you might learn that your initial purchase isn’t what you would actually want once you become proficient.

One In – One Out

This item is one that I borrowed from the book, ‘The Joy of Less’ by Francine Jay. I highly recommend that book.

At a certain point in your life, the amount of objects you have should reach a maximum. If every item in your life serves a purpose, most new items you might get will be taking over the purpose of something else. So as one item comes in to your life, another should leave.

For example, if you have a bike that you ride to work and you get a new bike, that previous bike no longer has a purpose and so you should pass it on. Often people accumulate items because they invent new purposes for items they have. Perhaps they keep that old bike as a backup or in case guests come. It is important to ask yourself why you have been able to make it so far in life without a backup bike and if you really need one now. It is likely that you don’t.

There are some cases where an object serves a new purpose though and that is ok. Perhaps a new purpose arose in your life, like the need for a tent because you recently took up camping as a hobby. In this case, the one in – one out tip still applies, you will just have to think a bit more about what you’re trading. You still only have 24 hours in the day, so if you have now taken up camping, you likely gave up something else in its place. You had to give up time to find a new hobby and as such you should also give up stuff. Whatever camping took the place of should be the area you look to find something to pass on. Perhaps you are taking up camping on the weekends instead of playing golf, so for each item of camping gear that comes in, a similar item of golf gear should go out.

While discussing the topic of getting rid of items, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few thoughts about this. I view it as my responsibility to find a new home for every possession I have taken ownership of. Natural resources are precious and it pains me to think of items going into the landfill. An easy option is to sell the item to someone that wants it. Anything that fits in a medium box and is worth more than ~$5 I list on eBay and anything larger than that and worth more than $50 I sell locally on craigslist. I donate everything else that is useful to a local charity. Some things end up in the trash still, but I try to limit that.

Keep Your Inputs In Check

Happiness is reality minus expectations. If you set your expectations too high or on the wrong things, achieving them will become impossible and you will be miserable even if your reality is pretty great.

We live in a world where there are a lot of ways to raise your expectations. Advertisements, in an attempt to show the benefit of their product can create an expectation that their ‘solved’ state is how life should be. Social media shows us the best parts of the lives of the people we know – their vacations, purchases & achievements. Fiction and even semi-fiction in the movies and TV often presents us with people who seems to always be experiencing something fun and exciting. The people you spend your time with and the things that they value will also affect your perception of reality – they might spend more money than you on possessions (whether or not they can afford it) and that can affect your expectations about life.

I like the wording ‘information diet’ to describe what inputs you accept into your mind. I am not suggesting you cut those all off, but simply to be aware and intentional. I personally try to keep pretty tight control on mine – I don’t spend very much time with any media that has advertisements – tv, magazines or certain websites – and I also take steps to make sure that I am pulling in information rather than having it force fed to me. I also carefully select who I spend time with and let influence me, making sure I balance various aspects that are important to me.

Experiences & Consumables as Gifts

I mentioned above in the tip about memories that many items people hold on to were gifts from someone they care about. One way to help that particular problem is to go straight to the source. I’ve found that in a world of same-day-delivery, it is very hard to get people something that they really need but don’t already have. The solution we have in our family is to focus our gift giving on experiences and consumables – neither of which will linger and collect.

For experiences, some great examples include; tickets to concerts or events, a nice dinner out or a weekend away. Since we got married I get my wife tickets to something every year for her birthday. We’ve been to the symphony, the opera, the ballet and a concert so far – all of them were memorable nights and none of them crowd up our closet now.

For consumables there are plenty available. Last Christmas I got my wife some scented soy candles. She could think about how nice a gift it was each time she lit them and then once they burnt out there was no lingering item going into storage. Other examples include makeup, perfume, a nice bottle of whiskey, etc. I’ve also found that food is a great gift. For my birthday this year my aunt had bagels delivered – it was a pleasant surprise to not have to think about breakfast for a few days.

Delight In It Without Ownership

One of the reasons people end up having so much stuff is that they want to enjoy the benefits of using those items. Sometimes, however, it is possible to enjoy the item without owning it. That can often even be more enjoyable because there is less worry about selecting the right item, maintaining it, transporting it, etc.

You might have heard of the term ‘sharing economy’ which is often used to describe services like ZipCar & AirBnB where a person can make use of a shared asset that otherwise wan’t being used – like a car or bedroom. Those are just two examples, but you can find similar websites or apps for all sorts of items – power tools, bikes, surfboards, musical instruments, etc. Thanks to them, it is possible to enjoy certain items without having to own them long term. If, for example, you only go surfing twice a year, it might make more sense to rent a board from a neighbor using an app rather than owning it throughout the year.

Along with these recent apps, there are plenty of more traditional ways to rent gear – rental shops or borrowing from friends. I snowboard & kayak almost yearly but have never owned either. I’ve found at my frequency of use, I can enjoy those activities more if I don’t have to worry about owning and transporting the gear. It works out great because both are in ample supply in the places I want to use them and I can make a game time call based on weather conditions – meaning I’m never carrying around a bunch of stuff I don’t actually use.

Another way to get the benefits of an item without owning it is utilizing public assets. I’ve written before about how our family is a huge fan of local parks, libraries & community centers.

A final pro-tip I’ll offer is what I call ‘renting from craigslist’, which is a slight derivation of a concept introduced by another author in this blog post. The idea is that sometimes you need something for a period of time longer than would make sense to use a sharing economy app or rental shop for, but not so long you want to own it for life. In these cases, you can simply ‘rent’ from craigslist. What you are actually doing is buying, using and selling the item – but because of the short(ish) period, and the fact that used goods don’t depreciate rapidly after their initial ownership, you can often sell the item for exactly what you paid for it – thus renting it for $0. There is some overhead in finding and buying the item and then again in listing it, but this is a skill you can get very efficient at. I’ve used this technique with great success on some triathlon training equipment, surfboards and even a trailer. I’ve known people that did it effectively with cars as well.