Archive for the 'Minimalism' Category

The Right Productivity Tool

Oct 20 2017 Published by under Minimalism

I am becoming increasingly convinced that the reason someone’s not as productive as they want to be is not because they haven’t found the right stuff to organize their life.

It’s because they keep getting more stuff to organize their life.

Because here’s the problem: any productivity tool will have flaws. So if you’re looking for the “right” productivity tool, whatever tool you choose, its flaws will push you towards looking for a different tool. It never ends.

If, instead, you had less stuff — and by that I mean fewer projects and fewer responsibilities, as well as fewer possessions — you wouldn’t need the perfect productivity system. You’d have the space and time to get stuff done. You could use a piece of paper or a text file or a Google Drive document to keep track of your to-do lists.

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Minimalism vs. Frugality

Oct 03 2017 Published by under Minimalism,Self-improvement

Most of us need to control our spending.

Many people at some point realize that their finances are, well, not where they should be. Many of them respond with a focus on frugality, and look for cheaper cell phone plans, coupons, combined internet and cable plans, and streaming services.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with reining in your spending, and psychologically you may need to start with simple changes like this, it focuses on reducing your spending. It’s a bit like putting a bandage on a chest wound; while an important first step, it won’t solve the underlying problem.

Minimalism, in contrast, undercuts the need for frugality. A minimalist doesn’t need a cheaper cable service, because he eliminates cable (which you only need for one show which you can legally stream anyway). He doesn’t have to buy the cheapest possible laptop to replace his spare “travel” laptop, because he only has one laptop, which he take with him everywhere. Which means he doesn’t have to manage all the software subscriptions on that spare laptop, or figure out how to synchronize his files, by the way.

Now, there’s absolutely a tension between minimalism and frugality. Every so often, a minimalist will end up buying something that she might otherwise have kept in the back of a closet.

However, I believe that the cost of those moments are far outweighed by the ongoing costs of buying and maintaining a collection of possessions. Realistically, we’re not going to only buy things that we end up using later. Some of it will sit in a drawer until we die. And while we all run the probabilities in our heads, let’s face it: we’re all notoriously bad at predicting how much use we’ll get out of our stuff in the future. Otherwise, our garages and attics wouldn’t be full of stuff we don’t use.

So, minimalism says: cut out that spending at its root. Don’t buy things in the first place.

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The Power of the Scanner

Sep 26 2017 Published by under Minimalism,Self-improvement

'stack' by hobvias sudoneighm on Flickr

‘stack’ by hobvias sudoneighm on Flickr

We still receive a lot of paper. People hand us receipts and flyers. We get bills and statements in the mail.

I don’t keep all of these, of course, but all my life, I dutifully kept mortgage statements, credit card statements, any unusual financial notices, etc. I’ve gone paperless with as many bills as I can, but some places are still old-school. I told myself I’d sort through them all. I honestly thought I would.

And sure, enough, once in my life I went through and tossed a bunch of old credit card statements. The rest of the time, they piled up in my two filing cabinets.

As I began to pursue minimalism, I realized I didn’t need physical copies of almost any of these documents. I could just scan them in.

At first I thought I’d just need to spend a couple of days with a scanner and digitize everything, so I only needed to find or borrow a scanner briefly. But after a few days of planning, I thought about the future. What would I do with the next piece of paper that arrived in the mail?

So I looked around and invested in a USD $75 “mobile” scanner, meaning instead of a flat scanner bed it feeds documents through rollers. These used to be finicky and low-quality, but it turns out they’ve gotten a lot more reliable in recent years. They’re also compact, so I don’t have to haul out a flat bed scanner every time I want to scan something.

Oh man, this has worked beautifully. I can pull out the scanner, plug it in, fire up the software, and scan a 2-page document in about 60 seconds. At which point, I never have to handle that piece of paper again.

Now, you might say, what’s the difference between putting a physical piece of paper in a filing cabinet instead of dragging a digital file into a folder? Well, that paper takes up physical space. After enough time, I’ll fill up that filing cabinet, or I’ll have to spend a lot of time purging.

In contrast, a 2-page scanned document on my hard drive takes up 30 KB; I can just leave it there forever. And if I ever have to make a serious purge, that’s actually faster with digital files (I can drag and drop 50 files a lot faster digitally than physically).

But that’s not all. I’ve moved three times in my life, and I’ll likely move again. That’s just the odds in our increasingly mobile world, where it’s downright easy to get a better job in another state (or even another country), compared to just fifty years ago. When I have to move, I’ll have to bring all that paper with me, or attempt a purge just when I have less time to do it.

Now, I’m not anti-paper. I believe it takes less time to stick papers in a filing cabinet that uses alphabetically-labeled folders than to scan them, and paper is great for certain kinds of work.

But I now also believe that the saved time of storing paper comes with hidden costs, in stuff that needs to be physically managed in a way that digital files don’t. Even if paper is filed away, the container in which it’s filed is taking up space and needs to be cleaned and maintained (and pulled out to get at that pen that fell behind it).

In any event, this scanner has been a powerful investment. As of my writing this, I’ve processed (that is, reviewed and either scanned-and-shredded or trashed) about 3/4 of the papers in my house: a three-drawer filing cabinet and a banker’s box, all now empty. I intend to get to the point where I only keep a banker’s box worth of critical paperwork (like the deed to my truck), and every page that comes in gets either scanned or recycled on the day I receive it. It only takes a few minutes; slightly more time than it took me before to file it. And I won’t have to haul it around ever again.

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Pursuing Minimalism

Sep 19 2017 Published by under Minimalism,Self-improvement

'White out' by Matt Wiebe on Flickr

‘White out’ by Matt Wiebe on Flickr

August 3, 2017: the day my copy of Fumio Sasaki’s Goodbye, Things arrived on my doorstep.

Sasaki’s earned a reputation as one of Japan’s leading bloggers about minimalism, documenting his 5-year journey towards reducing his possessions. My curiosity got the better of me, and since Japanese self-help writers tend to be less aggressive than their Western counterparts, I figured I’d see what he had to write on the subject.

I devoured the book in 2 days.

The advice seems blindingly obvious: The more you own, the more you have to manage (that is, store, repair, keep clean, etc.). And just having an item in your view subconsciously triggers your mind. You can’t glance your eyes past a stack of unread books without some part of your brain noting it and filing it as something else on the to-do list. Your possessions drain your mind, besides their drain on your bank account.

Somehow, Sasaki got to me. I grokked his perspective, and it felt right.

Importantly, importance matters and remains personal.  I’m keeping my iRobot vacuum because I vastly prefer it to manually vacuuming myself (and it’s now my only vacuum). Sasaki doesn’t need a car, because he lives in the middle of Tokyo, where every conceivable shop is within a 15-minute walk or train ride.

In any event, I’ve spent the past month and a half paring down my board game collection (selling those that I’ve never gotten to the table), selling unused furniture, throwing away duplicate cables (how many spare HDMI cables do I really expect to use in the near future?), and doing the one most time-consuming thing: I bought a small desktop scanner and have been scanning all the paperwork I have in filing cabinets and banker’s boxes.

Why do I write all this? Because on Sunday, after scanning (or tossing) over half of my papers (credit card receipts, mortgage notices, RPG design notes, etc.), I stood up, stretched, and felt a strange emotion.

I felt free.

I know that’s a strange, loaded word to use. I’ve tried to think of a better one, but it truly felt—and still feels—like freedom. There’s less stuff rattling around in my head. I can actually formulate a plan for the evening, remember it all, and stick to it, because there’s nothing else to interfere with it.

It’s been revelatory.

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