Day 30: The End of the First Leg; and Continuing the Journey…

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Here’s what has ventured to friends and local charities within the span of 30 days. These two bins are full of boxes. My wife is now in full swing and we’re paring down with more.

How quickly a month flies by!

I find myself at the end of the first month into this new minimalism journey. I feel quite good so far! This doesn’t simply feel like “spring cleaning,” it feels like something much more. I’d like to offer a couple of key reflections that are noteworthy, after paring down possessions, clothing, and other items. A preface, it was hard to order these, because they tend to cascade into one another. That’s really quite surprising. So here goes:

    1. Stuff.  What we’ve kept of our various belongings are ones we frequently use, truly care for, are meaningful and we find joy in owning and using. These things are much more noticeable and catch our attention too. When the time comes to journey elsewhere, this will feel much more manageable to move.
    2. Time. Because our living space is freed up, I feel our time has freed up. I felt less constraints on my time. I was able to spend much needed time with family, do a woodworking project with a good friend, feed chickadees out of my hand, and do some writing. Time itself felt less imposing. Also see: #4.
    3. Mindfulness. My mental space often feels less crowded.  Setting limits for screen time (9:30PM) is a huge piece of this. Going to bed by 11:00 every night has me feeling well-rested in the mornings. During the day, cutting digital clutter, trimming emails, and paying less attention to distractions has been freeing.
    4. Productivity. We have been consistently into work or up and about usually by 8:00AM. We’ve been much more efficient with our time and feel energized about getting work accomplished. This has left time to enjoy other parts of life wherever we see fit.
    5. Budget. We’ve been more intentional about cooking and eating at home, and been discretionary on things we purchase or things to do that hit our wallet.
    6. Lifestyle. Minimalism itself is quite malleable. You find how it works for you. It’s not about living as a monk — it’s about avoiding the traps that society tells us we should be wanting more. This made it less daunting.
    7. Habit. Once this starts to be built into habit and routine, the easier it becomes. We’ve become more adept at looking at something, and determining whether or not it’s useful or meaningful in any way. If not, we box it up.
    8. Helping Others. This has brought joy to folks whom we’ve found have need of things we’re paring down. In some strange coincidences, there’d be a person who needed or would find useful exactly what we were doing away with. A suit, a bike pump, a sled, suitcases, school supplies, cologne, and more. It was mutually beneficial.
    9. Cleanliness. Keeping the house clean is hardly as much of a chore. The fact is there’s significantly less clutter to move and clean around. As a result, we spend less time and energy on these tasks.
    10. Feeling Healthier and Happier.

 

What’s next?

I understand with this being new and exciting and only being a short span of time, there will be diminishing returns. However, we want to stick with these healthy habits over the rest of the year. The challenge will be to make sure we stick with them over the year. I think I’ll keep writing. Writing this blog has been cathartic and relaxing. I think there’s still some minimalism topics and ideas that I’ve yet to write about and share my thoughts and experiences around. So if you’re still interested, I hope you’ll be following along!

Kind Regards,

Blu

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Day 22: Minimalism and Hobbies.

 

BOTW-Share_iconDear Diary, Current Mood: Legend of Zelda – Breath of the Wild. It’s absolutely amazing.  (PC Nintendo)

This One’s For the Games.

Many of my friends and family know that I have two or three hobbies. One of them in particular, is video gaming. It’s something that I’ve enjoyed ever since I’ve been a young kid. Some of my favorite memories as a kid are beating the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Arcade Game with my parents in Virginia Beach. Or the first time I played Sonic the Hedgehog on our Sega Genesis. Maybe it’s the thrill I got from playing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time on Nintendo 64. I’ve had numerous favorite games over the years. Regardless, gaming has been a past-time that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed over the years and one that’s remained a constant in my life. This topic is going to explore this hobby and how I’m exploring it within my newfound respect for minimalism.

Why haven’t I written about this yet?

In the midst of writing this blog it’s a topic that I’ve consciously avoided so far. I didn’t quite know how to breach the subject. It’s certainly not anything that I’m overly concerned about. However, gaming is brings up a lot of stereotypes, preconceived notions, or stigma. It’s fair to say negative attitudes and perceptions are raised for any type of hobby or activity you enjoy in your spare time. I think gaming also carries its fair share. I’ve heard it all, from games being a waste of time and money, to creating antisocial behaviors, games not being representative or inclusive of all social identities, to their depictions of sex and violent content and the impact they have on the mind and broader society. For me, I think there’s unhealthy behavioral norms as well as extremes that exist for gaming, many of which I’ll share my own journey with the hobby. However, I think there’s also benefits as well when gaming is done in moderation. I think those pro’s and con’s become more pronounced and the issue becomes even more complex when you intersect the idea of minimalism into the equation. I’ve been trying to get down my thoughts in a clear and concise manner.

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A few years ago, my wife had her friend surprise-bake me a Sonic birthday cake. It was a lovely surprise and a great birthday. (PC: Justine Pinskey)

What’s Great About Gaming?

Gaming by far has been a social activity for me. Whether I’m enjoying a game with friends in the moment, or talking about a game with friends, it’s something I can bond with people over. Gaming can be a catalyst to form relationships with other people. I think that’s a huge component of the hobby for me. It’s a good ice-breaker. Between sharing a couch while playing a game, sharing tips or strategies, or sharing perspectives and experiences with a game, I truly enjoy those aspects of the hobby.

Games are an artistic medium for me. I love the history of them, how the technology and software have evolved over time, and how a series of games usually improves over time. I don’t understand how the language of how they are coded and designed. Games offer worlds that I can explore, stories and characters I can delve into, challenges and puzzles I can solve, and allow me to enjoy their beauty and intricacies often at my own pace. They provide social commentary in engaging and thought provoking ways other mediums cannot.

I also enjoy gaming because it allows me to get inside my head a bit. I’m an introvert. I tend to do a lot of thinking when I play games. My work also revolves around people, to the point where I need a moment for myself at the end of the workday. An hour or so allows me to decompress and shed the day’s baggage if I need to. This isn’t an alternative to getting outside or exercising. And I still end my screen time (usually) by 9:30PM. Limits are key, and sticking with them is the most important challenge.

What’s Not-So-Great About Gaming?

It can become quite consumptive. You can quickly form habits that simply drain your time and sap your productivity. There are moments in my life where I’ve let a game or two consume me, for a day, week, or even month’s worth of my time. That’s not a place I’d like to be anymore, seeing what the toll has on myself (attention span, energy, and my attitude). I realize now that the behavior can become addicting if you allow it. There’s one particular culprit that comes to mind…

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World of Warcraft. I have a love/hate relationship with you. (PC: Blizzard Entertainment)

TANGENT ALERT! TANGENT ALERT!

I used to play a lot of World of Warcraft (WoW), a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMO) I grew up with Warcraft’s strategy games (where the series began). The strategy games you could play a round or two and be done with after 45 minutes to an hour. They were great little games that offered a unique setting and a lot of strategy and skill.

At first, this was novel — Exploring the World (of Warcraft) was something awesome. However, WoW is designed specifically to capitalize on the investment of time you put into the game. It can feel sinister at times. There’s occasionally some skill-based aspects, but MMO’s in general and WoW in particular are consumptive gaming treadmills. Your focus is to upgrade your in-game character with new levels and equipment, gearing them out, sometimes for hours a week. You get an upgrade, feel a little dopamine reward, and you seek the next upgrade. After you hit one threshold, you’re back on the treadmill seeking another upgrade. It is an exercise in human consumption, one that costs $14.99 a month. I would love to see Blizzard’s analytics of the average time spent per user. They’ve made billions in profit, but did you know in 2012, over 5.9 million years of human time have been spent in the game? That is truly mind boggling.

For some people, they are able to limit themselves to how much they play WoW. They can play an hour or two and have no attachment. For me, I don’t think that’s the case. Whether it being competition to be the best for your group of friends you play with or the treadmill-based reward system, I often felt like I’d get sucked in and lose all sense of time. It can feel like a second job for what is actually intended to be a leisure activity. I enjoyed the relationships I built with folks over the time spent online with them, and some moments of exploring and playing the game but the overall game itself, is something I can’t bring myself to play any longer. I wish I had the capacity to moderate myself, but WoW feels like a substance I don’t want to be addicted to any longer. (End Tangent)

What’s Not-So-Great About Gaming Continued…

With the time and energy piece covered with WoW, video gaming also amounts to physical stuff. All three of those are antithetical in principal to minimalism itself. I have virtually all of the games I’ve had as a kid. Many of them were given to me by my parents, friends, and family over the years. Some I have purchased for myself. At some point along, I was both a collector and a gamer. I was interested in getting the newest games when they came out, often paying full retail. You could be in for a costly sum, depending on what you’re purchasing.

There’s the consoles, controllers, and software, which can all amount to significant amounts of money into a hobby. I’d argue that in terms of hobbies, it adds up quickly if you’re not budgeting what you spend. New consoles usually range in the ballpark of $300 to $500, controllers are $60, and software $60. Some have a $60 yearly subscription cost for online services. Given the cost, I’m often hesitant to be an early adopter nowadays of the newest technology, waiting for a price drop or a fantastic sale.

In terms of physical space I don’t believe it takes up as much space as say some other hobbies. The software I usually organize in a tidy manner, to keep it all in place and orderly. The hardware I display proudly, and tuck away my controllers in a drawer. Some people might see what I have and deem it a collection, or not see the point of owning it. At the end of the day, it is stuff. I suppose that could be a detractor, in a pure minimalism standpoint. There’s nothing wrong with that point of view. For me, I try to take a little liberty with this one aspect, because I do enjoy all the games I own and go back and play through them.

How To Find Balance and Truly Enjoy Gaming, Guilt-Free:

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At an Arcade in France. My wife was awesome and found an Arcade for us to explore during our honeymoon. (Photo Credit: Justine Pinskey)

Time: With the bulk of a month behind us, some of the limits we’ve put in place for ourselves have helped me keep a better sense of balance. By 9:30 on weeknights, I’m done with whatever it is that I’ve been doing on a screen. If it’s something on the computer, phone, or TV, I’m finished when that time rolls around. I feel like this set of guidelines really helps me avoid the overindulgence I had with games like WoW, where I lose all sense of time and what’s going on around me. I feel more mindful and present when I’m able to disconnect with technology, and it allows me to appreciate the time that I do have with gaming. I’m much more intentional about what I choose to play, and don’t get hung up on what I might be fearful of missing out.

Budget: You might be wondering how I budget, given the price of gaming and I’m trying to be a minimalist. Over the past four years, I have kept track of every expense for my hobby. I don’t take any liberties on this either. If I purchased or sold something, its price is logged. I’ve continually reduced what I’ve spent on my hobby drastically over these four years. In 2014, I spent an average of $100+ a month on gaming. 2015, $80. 2016, $40. As for 2017, I haven’t spent anything. In fact, I’m $0.55 in the black/month ($6.50 ahead for the year so far, since I calculate a monthly average). How?

I tend to not purchase games at full retail price. It really is one of the most costly ways to buy games. If I wait usually a couple of months, the price drops drastically. A $60 game quickly becomes $10-15. So if I resist the urge to be current, I can still enjoy the game on my own time and pay a fraction of the cost. So far, the new Zelda game for Wii U has been the only full retail game I’ve purchased. This mindset really keeps me within my budget.

I also flip, trade, and resell games. If I beat a game, and I have no interest in keeping it any longer, I part ways with it. I did this with some of the games I had in my possession, especially when I was leaning towards a collecting mindset. Now, I’ve been much more selective of whether or not I keep a game. Will my friends enjoy playing it? Will my kids one day enjoy playing through it one day? Is it a series I love? Will I enjoy playing it again? Usually a game has to satisfy most or all of these criteria whether or not a game stays.

However, there’s a good resale market for a lot of classic games, especially if we’re talking some of the systems we grew up with as kids. I usually find some games locally, play what I want, and sell the rest and recoup all of my initial investment. It’s a break-even strategy, so I’m never in a position to make money. This does allow me to be selective of the games that I want to play right away while also being frugal about my hobby. I really take joy knowing the past few years have really tapered my spending down to something very manageable.

Stuff: I don’t collect games very much at all anymore. I am quite content with the games I have. I’ve pared down a bunch of games I have beaten and have no further interest in. However, with what I do have, I still go back and play them from time to time when the mood strikes or when I have people over. I have one favorite console (Sega Dreamcast) that I’m always on the lookout for a game or two, but that’s it. Now, the physical space my games take up is far less than it used to be and I’m proud of this. Going digital on some games also helps with the physical clutter. PC Gaming is great for that. I hope that between a couple of boxes, that’s all we’ll have to move when the time comes.

Closing:

I hope this article opened up some new ideas for you. I hope that it’s relatable in some way, whether you enjoy gaming as a hobby or there’s something else you enjoy in leisure. For me, it was helpful to explore some of the thoughts I had around being to enjoy a hobby that can be require time, money, and energy and still find ways to take a new minimalist approach to it. Do you all have hobbies that have costs associated with them? How do you budget and justify the costs while keeping minimalism in mind? Is this one area where you’re a minimalist, sometimes? Or do you have clever strategies to offset those costs? I’d love to know! One way or another, I hope you’re having a good week and thanks for reading!

Sincerely,

Blu

Day 18 Paring Down & Mindfulness Part II: The “When” or “If” Dilemma.

ifcloudPC: swrightboucher.wordpress.com. The image was great, but the content on the blog was inspirational!

Introduction

I’m just over halfway into this month-long challenge, I’m running into some small barriers. The items I’m left with are falling into the category of: “Oh I’ll use this when the right time comes along” and “Oh I’ll use this if (insert occasion/event)” happens. The items fall into the miscellaneous category, with some intersections into the sentimental category, applying KonMari’s method. I’ve also seen some parallels to the “just in case” article on The Minimalists, and the “just in case” article on becoming minimalist.

Josh’s line of thinking on the second linked article speaks around safety or comfort in owning our just in case things. The span of time does not matter, beyond a couple of weeks. If it’s several months or a year or more, does the item really justify staying here unused? A counter example I can think of: here in the midwest, having a snow shovel in the back of our vehicle is important. That’s an important when/if item. However, having some kitchen utensils for the right occasion didn’t make sense, nor did hanging onto old electronic boxes. I felt like this was easier to let go. But I also ran into some more challenging categories, which I think is synonymous with where I’m at in the KonMari method.

I’m not specifically talking about holiday decorations / etc. We have a fair amount of Christmas holiday decorations, and some seasonal ones for Easter, fall, and Halloween. They’re not too much and we get value from having them up and being festive.

A concrete example is music CD’s. Maybe we’ll go on a road trip and want tunes. I do know we haven’t used our CD’s in quite some time. We don’t have a stereo in our home. Conveniently, I store all of my music on a flash drive backup. Is keeping these albums a nostalgia factor? Do I really need to own the physical copies? Probably not, because I still haven’t used them in several years. I think it’s fair to say it’s time to part ways. There’s also many examples of other possessions around the house that fit this mold — the if/when I’ll need it. However, I think this same type of thing happens for the dreams we have in life. So I want to spend a little more exploring this premise because maybe we can get at the root of the issue.

The Dilemma of If/When

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This is usually me in the brainstorming phase of an idea and envisioning how I think it will turn out. Man, this is going to be so sweet! (PC: NBC)

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And here I am once more, letting my brain place those conditional if and when statements to my awesome dreams. Please pay special attention to my brain, dressed in a red, jerk-like polo shirt and his stupid blue pants, not even bothering to lend a hand. (PC: NBC)

I’m coming to find a lot of things I had been hanging onto include those conditional words, if & when. Sometimes they’re material things, but sometimes they’re immaterial. In the midst of a good title image search for this post, I stumbled across this blog entry, which I found impactful. How many things have been holding me back because of the way I’ve allowed myself to think. “Oh I’ll wear this shirt when we go out for an evening.” Not realizing I didn’t really enjoy the shirt to begin with. It didn’t fit. I honestly believe some of the same mental pitfalls we get trapped for our stuff also turn into mental gymnastics when we’re trying to leap over those proverbial mental hurdles for the goals we want to accomplish in life.

How about these modes of thought? “I’ll explore my passions a little bit more once we have more time. More money. I’ll find a new job when the time is right. If the right opportunity comes along, I’ll know for certain.” These things have really been holding me back. “I’ll go and get my referee certifications, my coaching credentials…” The list goes on. These are literal dreams of mine I am in the prime of my life to take advantage of. I think I need to change the way I think, so I’m going to start with some baby steps here, too.

My goal for the coming week.

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PC: USSF (USSoccer.com)

I’m going to look into local certification classes in my area, and the process to becoming a referee. It will be combining my passion, exploring some new opportunities in my community, and learn some new skills and knowledge along the way. Who knows what might come out of it, but it will be exciting! This post didn’t turn out quite the way I originally envisioned, but I think I’ll roll with it because it cracked open some ideas I’ve been resistant to explore or spark some change in my own life.

I want to challenge you to pick up something you own you’ve been holding on to, but don’t use. Why are you holding onto it? Is it functional, and do you use it? No? Try letting it go. Similarly, I want to ask you what’s a goal you want to achieve, no matter how large or small? What’s really stopping you from doing it? As I track down the logistics and start down an unbeaten path for some of my own dreams, I challenge you all to explore something of your own this week. I think that this is but yet another step along in my minimalist journey. Thanks for reading!

Cheers,

Blu

Day 15: Debt and Budgeting

 

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This pie chart, is simply a pie chart. I don’t know that it is an accurate representation of a budget. (PC: mygreatlakes.org)

Disclaimer:

I am not a financial adviser. I am not a fiduciary. However, a lot of the content here in this post is common, free, and reputable. This post may not be applicable to everyone’s current financial situation as social class is a convoluted social construct. I also believe that “pulling yourself up by the bootstraps” is a myth and is not the intention of my writing today. But, a lot of the information here has worked well for us, and has helped us form habits and we’ve stuck with them. Through these approaches, I feel this gets at the heart of minimalism. By organizing our finances, this has minimized our stress around money, knowing where each dollar is going and towards what. That has been an awesome feeling.

Graduation and Beyond

I graduated with my undergraduate degree in 2008. I had my first salaried position in 2009. With this new sense of purchasing power, I splurged on clothes, dinner, good times with friends, etc. Live a little, right? I also had five figures in student loan debt. What I was naive to: I didn’t immediately know what a good course of action was for paying down that debt, or what financial independence looked like. Thankfully, my partner at the time (now wife), provided me some great resources to get me started.

Enter Dave Ramsey. I believe Dave our experiences with Dave for handling debt and budgeting are really tough to beat. You have to conscientiously make a decision not to incur any additional debt, but especially consumer debt, where the interest rates can be much higher. After that, the steps are:

  • Baby Step 1 – $1,000 to start an Emergency Fund
  • Baby Step 2 – Pay off all debt using the Debt Snowball
  • Baby Step 3 – 3 to 6 months of expenses in savings
  • Baby Step 4* – Invest 15% of household income into Roth IRAs and pre-tax retirement
  • Baby Step 5* – College funding for children
  • Baby Step 6* – Pay off home early
  • Baby Step 7* – Build wealth and give!

*not covered in this post.

I personally swapped steps two and three early on. My loan payments were just losing their deferment status, and the area I lived in was fairly cheap to live. There’s some privilege to that, so let’s name it. For me, the goal was to quickly focus on getting 6 months of expenses into savings, then pay down my debts. Why 3-6 months? Because if for some reason, I lost my job today, I’d have a cushion to get myself back on my feet in that time. I’ll come back to steps 4+, in another post. But first, how did I get a plan to address steps 1-3?

Budgeting, my dear Watson!

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See this lovely document? This was my lifeline in my early journey with budgets. We still use it. (Photo Courtesy: DaveRamsey.com)

This cash flow plan is probably the reason I see finances entirely differently now, compared to early-twenties Blu. My wife is really the one who deserves the credit, as she spent time helping frame this to me and explaining how it really helps with managing your money. Dave often explains that paying yourself first is an important step for financial freedom. So this cash-flow plan lines it out with this principle in mind.

The premise: put your monthly take-home pay in the top right corner, then fill out the form, completing all the categories. The percentages on the form are where Dave usually recommends you spend for a specific category. Some areas are more expensive than others depending on where you live, etc. Food may be more expensive in one city. Or, renting may be the only option in your area for example.  But, the percentages do help align whether or not you’re overspending on any given category. For us, it was and occasionally still is, dining out.

The envelope icon for subcategories denotes an area to pay for your purchases with cash. The reasoning is: cash helps avoid paying with a debit or credit card, where the impact of a purchase isn’t immediately realized. Cash leaving your wallet does help with curbing impulse purchases. I use my credit card for emergencies only. That’s it. If you’re curious, the envelope system is explained really well here. I personally use envelopes for a few of the categories: food, gas, pocket money, and gifts. The rest of the categories we don’t purchase often enough to warrant keeping it in cash. As we need an item, like toiletries, we grab cash accordingly on that given month, buy what we need and are done with it.

The end goal: we add up all the categories, then subtract it from our total take home pay. It should end up with zero. As the month goes on, we keep track of purchases, and pay attention to what’s in the envelopes. What’s next? At the end of the month, we go back in and double check what we actually spent in a given month. We did this usually when we were first starting a budget, or we were reevaluating our current budget or goals. An important piece, is: you do NOT, take money from one envelope to pay for something in another category. If this happens, reevaluate your budget at that month, and see if you’re under-budgeted on something like food, or if you’re over-budgeted somewhere else. Which brings me back to

This all doesn’t happen in the blink of an eye. After a few months of troubleshooting my monthly spending, and getting an emergency nest-egg (which you don’t touch under any circumstances, except for emergencies!), I was ready to start tackling my debt using a snowball method.

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Protip: you’re pushing the snowball (your debt) down the hill, not running away from it. That’s the premise here.

Finishing the baby steps and learning how to walk…

After getting a good monthly budget, and my emergency fund stocked, it was time to pay down my debts. I knew how much I could throw to my debt on a given month. So I did just that. I consolidated my loans for a more competitive rate. I took on no additional consumer debt, and avoided using my credit cards. Long story short, by sticking to my habits, living frugally and responsibly, I had paid off all my debt by 2013. I still enjoyed life, traveled a bit, spent time with friends, celebrated special occasions and holidays. There may have been instances where I still overstretched my budget from time to time, because no one is perfect. But we were finally on the path to financial freedom. 

I want to cover more, but I think this post could drag on if I did. So, I’ll revisit some of the later steps and incorporate some other resources we’ve used in our pursuit of financial independence. Again, I hope you don’t take this as a one-size-fits-all approach, but if you adhere to some of these principles, I think you can find ways to make your money work for you, and not the other way around. Thank you for reading, and hope to see you tomorrow!

Warm Wishes,

Blu

Day 14: Papers. AKA, Tackling the Filing Cabinet

 

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I share this kitty’s feelings about sorting our filing cabinet. As in, I open up the drawer, become exhausted, and then take a nap. (PC: /u/Hyloo – Reddit)

For some reason, this was the toughest area within the KonMari method for me to start. Marie Kondo is just as ruthless when it comes to papers. Either it sparks joy, or get rid of it. Don’t we have a filing cabinet for a reason? I feel like we already have a good sense of organization, including labeled folders and alphabetization, but what we’ve kept certainly could be trimmed. But, papers can easily sprawl out and require a decent amount of space to sort. Furthermore, it takes considerable time to scan through for thoroughness. So this seemed daunting, because Kondo’s method panics me. For example, tax returns do not spark joy, but I certainly won’t spark joy at the prospect of an IRS audit and somehow lack the past 7 years of necessary returns. From this I wanted to ensure that there was a method to make sure anything that we needed record of was still accessible.

Once I got moving, this proved to be just as easy as the other categories. I had a variety of papers that were no longer needed. I followed through with the three rules in the method, sorting by category instead of location, keeping only the things that bring you joy, and discarding everything before you organize. Marie Kondo takes this a little further, sorting by: needs attention, should be saved forever and should be saved for short term.  So from this I went through this exercise creating four subcategories of my own:

Keep:

  • Taxes, legal documents, titles, insurance policies, and medical records.
  • Some nostalgic items that carry meaning.

Scan, then Shred:

  • Explanation of benefits statements, medical billing statements, for past visits.
  • Various college items: transcripts, loan payment statements, notifications.
  • Car payment statements and invoices.
  • A small number of sentimental papers that we said farewell.

Shred, then Toss:

  • Anything with our address.
  • Past prescription information (usually has sensitive information on it).
  • Old checks for an account we recently closed.

Toss:

  • This was vast and accounted for probably 80% of the paper we had filed.
  • Instruction Manuals (Especially if warranties were expired).
  • Accompanying materials, like prospectuses, HR benefit summaries, etc.

Pending:

  • My wife’s life’s work in science. This spans an entire drawer, and she’s taking a crack at it as we speak. I anticipate some scanning and shredding in the near future.

Going Digital:

This is something that I pay more attention to. As I wrote earlier about clearing digital clutter, I also am attentive to what statements we actually need. So for some of the items, before I shredded them, I thought keeping a digital record might be helpful. Scanning them as a .PDF format, and then filing them on a backup drive seems to be a workable solution for record-keeping purposes.

Secondly, We don’t get statements in physical form anymore. We’re all digital for auto insurance, banking, pay-stubs, retirement, etc. Often we check these for receipt or fraudulent activity anyways, then discard them. Electronic delivery is actually helpful for us in this the paper we receive, and is arguably a more sustainable solution. So what does it all look like?

The Results:

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The simplicity is so lovely. I am appreciative of this. And, no papercuts! 🙂
img_2369I spent nearly my whole afternoon, and a portion of my morning, doing this. Left: Toss. Middle: Shred. Right: Scan, then Shred.

Everything is in a single file now, or we have a digital backup.This actually feels quite freeing, because there’s anything we ever need to access, we have a fix on its location. We currently have a four drawer filing cabinet, and this is likely going to downsize into something much more realistic. Regardless, I hope this post has been useful in some form or fashion. So as you approach the tax deadline, perhaps it’s time to go through the rest of those files that might be deserving of some attention! If you have any suggestions or tips of your own, I’d love to hear them!

I hope you have a great week.

Warm Regards,

Blu

Day 10: Progress Report

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Ah, Marie Kondo, your chair looks neither comfortable nor ergonomic. However, your methods are brilliant and effective. (Photo Credit: Ten Speed Press / Vox.com)

ROLL CALL!

I wanted to use this entry to check in with everyone and see how folks are doing. Also, I’m ten days in and I wanted to clue you in on what’s been going on, in the midst of a busy week. Here’s what’s going on:

KonMari. KonMari method everywhere.

I took KonMari to heart when we got back from our weekend retreat. I find the criteria of “Spark Joy” to be quite subjective and challenging. I mean, at its essence it is subjective, right? Do others find that this is easier to do at a specific time of day? Or do I need for some celestial parameters to all be met in the universe, that I’m simply not seeing? I truly enjoyed some of the insights of her book. I love the one full swoop strategy she employs. Gathering everything from the same category all at once, deciding on keep/donate/discard, then putting away is brilliant and helpful. Other strategies I found myself being slightly critical. She tends to use the work discard quite freely, which makes me fearful about wastefulness. This could just be the prose in which Marie Kondo was writing, a cultural attitude around discarding unwanted items, or an issue resulting from translation. So, I’d love to know a bit more  before I rush to judge. Truly, I felt she tends to speak more around discarding rather than donating.

In the midst of this minimalist movement in our lives, it has been fulfilling to part with things and give them to friends. That has been a spark joy moment helping friends out or simply giving gifts in a thoughtful manner.

1. Clothes.

So, using KonMari, I went back into the clothes, and was able to get it trimmed down even far. I’m at 45 items of clothing. After factoring athletic gear and undergarments, we’re certainly under 80 pieces of clothing total. A definite improvement. The folding method for clothes will take some getting used to, given our dresser drawer dimensions.

2. Books.

Books was an easy category. We don’t own many books. My wife uses a kindle, I have been on a library kick. We typically gift books and receive a book or two a year, read them, then pass them on. So it wasn’t much other than a few old Nintendo Power magazines that I’ll be parting with so someone else can enjoy them.

3. Papers

We are currently on, Papers. That means our filing cabinet could have its days numbered. This will be one that might require the enlistment of a larger shredder.

4. Komono

What are the most helpful strategies to attack what I feel is the largest category? It seems so nebulous and broad, and is where we might own the most possessions here. I found this website that broke it down in a nice visual manner, but do folks try other ways? I feel like we might have some overlap already, having done a packing party. I am truly curious about people’s thoughts on this matter. We both have a good number of items dedicated to our hobbies (crafting and gaming, respectively) However, my wife has already attacked some crafts and office supplies, so it seems we’re already heading into the thick of it.

Our Approach (Realistically):

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Watch out, we’re about to do some scientific research. This could be dangerous, you’re forewarned. (Courtesy: JEPS Blog)

Truthfully, there’s no one-size fits all method to diminishing what we need or want in our lives. I think it’s a mode of thinking that only comes with discipline and forming/sticking with habits. But, I think combining strategies from The Minimalists and Marie Kondo and fusing it into our approaches are yielding good results. The 333 Project gets a shout out too. However, we’re not storing things in every space, and we’ve got plenty to send off to those who could truly need it or enjoy it. I hope this little glimpse about a third of the way into the first month is helpful. I’ll be back tomorrow, please share your thoughts with me. Have a great remainder of the week and an enjoyable weekend!

Sincerely,

Blu

 

Day 6 & 7 – Disconnecting & Reconnecting.

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Most would agree, that less is more. This weekend was a good reminder for me of this principle.

This past weekend, we took a brief retreat into the wilderness of Northern Michigan. We were able to spend a day and a couple of evenings with good friends doing a quick camping trip. Between the isolation, good company, great meals, and fantastic times, this post is affirming the importance of getting off the grid. This past weekend was filled with a snowshoe trip along untouched trails, board games inside a cabin, an outhouse, a cute pup, and wonderful friends. This is one of my favorite ways to recenter myself and evaluate what matters to me. I was able to disconnect from work, technology, and distractions in general to just be in the wild. In terms of a minimalist lifestyle, this allows me to reconsider what exactly I need, and what becomes extra. I hope you enjoy the photos!

 

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Heading into a cedar grove.

 

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Creek running through the forest. It was a warm day, around 50*F.

 

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Blu. We capitalized on this weekend to use our snowshoes, since it’s been so warm this winter.

 

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Nova pup. Having the best time out of all of us. Not pictured: Nova sleeping the rest of the afternoon.

 

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Blu warming up and finishing The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up…

Day 5: Trying to Eat a Sustainable, Excess-Free Diet.

 

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PC: Public Domain Pictures

Beyond a New Year’s Resolution…

I feel by this point in the year, I’m already over a New Year’s resolution. I’ve gone off-the-rails. Off a cliff, even. There’s no return by this point. Most resolutions or goals are not sustainable without having specific plans, benchmarks, and guidelines/expectations in place. For us though, we had two goals: eating food that makes us feel good and keeping a budget-savvy mind when purchasing food . We’ve been sticking with it. This entry’s a two-fer!

Disclaimer: I want to name the socioeconomic privilege where I am coming from on the rest of this entry. This is representative of my own experiences, not others’. I am especially mindful of the disparities where regional and/or social class differences limit access to healthy, fresh food, for millions of people in this country. Food deserts are a blight for this country and widespread hunger and malnutrition are huge problems in many parts of the world.  It is something I try to retain a sensitivity and empathy towards. My goal from this post is: I am trying to challenge my mindset of trying to eat healthier, fresh food on a budget. I hope by voting with our wallets we can try to eliminate food-related waste and the processed foods that commonly are forced upon us due to systemic inequality. I really want to name that before I jump in any further.

Don’t try this at home…

When we started paring down at home with personal items, it also came up we wanted to start eating more healthy home-cooked meals together. It was an overall goal that helped us center at the end of the day around each other and a meal shared. I think this might be one instance where I’ll differ with The Minimalists’ views on diet. For example, we love bread (understatement), cheese (another understatement), and a sweet from time to time. We eat meat sparingly. Anywho, before we arrived at this goal our frequent routine was:

  1. Get home.
  2. Check what food we had in the pantry or cupboards that was convenient or easily prepared.
  3. If option #2 not appealing, go to our building’s dining hall (we live on a college campus).
  4. If the dining hall had a menu we were picky about (I think we all have those moments), find something locally nearby.

We collectively decided that this simply wasn’t working for us. In some ways, we could deplenish our food budget quickly if we weren’t paying attention. We agreed we could be more intentional about planning out meals, more budget-friendly, and have healthy, fresh food on hand. Then, if we were in a pinch, we could go to the dining hall instead of default on going out to eat. So our revised framework is:

  1. Allocate 75-80% of our monthly food budget to groceries.
  2. Plan meals ahead of time. Make foods that are nutritious, good tasting, and freeze well. For this, we usually make double batches of a recipe.
  3. When in a pinch, use the dining hall as a budget-friendly backup.
  4. Use our remaining 20-25% of our food budget on a nice meal out, for a special occasion, like a date night, or meeting with friends from out of town.

Do try this at home…

So what needs to change in our behaviors to make these goals come true? When brainstorming the menu, I’ve be trying to think of menu items where I’ll only need a few complementary ingredients based on what we already have on hand. We are making chicken enchiladas this week. We’ll have some leftover salsa and frozen chicken, and are planning to make chicken barley chili the week after. By preparing meals that have overlapping ingredients, I can keep a budget conscious approach when building our menu.

When I pay a visit to the grocery, I’m going to stick try and stick to what is on the list. I mean, really try. I won’t head there on an empty stomach, and I’ll try to avoid going after work. Have you ever heard of decision fatigue? When we’re tired, it’s when we’re most susceptible to impulse buys. We’ve already made a lot of decisions by this point, and we can be really persuaded on buying things we don’t need. So, my approach is, get up and head to our local grocer in the morning, usually around opening. I’m a morning person. I used to work at the grocery in question (it rocks and so do the people there) the crowd is small, the store is stocked, and I’m in a mindset of getting in and out. It’s a great way to start the day.

The final thing we’ve been paying attention to is what’s in our pantry and making sure we’re using food before it expires or goes bad. Wastefulness is something that I really want to diminish as an aspiring minimalist. We’re going to eat through the fresh fish in our freezer my wife’s father has given us. I don’t want to see greens wilt or rot in our fridge because we haven’t eaten them in a timely manner. We both noticed that we’ll get on a kick for something — leafy green salads for example. We’ll eat them a bunch, then get sick of it a week or two later and things will slowly go to waste. Lesson: keep things in moderation, always.

I hope this helps us live into a more minimalist and mindful approach to our diet. Between enjoying homemade meals together, eating lots of fruits, veggies, and nutrient-rich foods, and keeping it all in a framework of our budget, I hope this is something you’ve got similar ideas to share. What do you all do to try and keep a minimalist approach to your diet and the foods you eat? Please let me know your thoughts in comments, if you’d like.

As always, thanks for reading!

Respectfully Yours,
Blu

Day 4: Pursuing a Minimalist Wardrobe

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My goal: focus on fit, quality, and complimentary/interchangeable items that make good outfits. (PC: Real Men Real Style)

How do I make this work?

This is a topic on minimalism that I’ve seen some people do amazing things with (Here’s a fellow blogger for example). I am actually quite in awe of some of the folks who are able to get the maximum mileage out of the fewest number of articles of clothing. I, on the other hand, have an abundance of clothing. There are plenty of great resources I’ve browsed through already, like Project 333. It’s absolutely wonderful, and I found usefulness in their quick start guide for newcomers. For men’s wardrobes, I’ve seen some value in the article 32 Essential Wardrobe Items for Men. That seems to be in the same school of thought as project 333. So I think my practical approach will be to experiment within the Project 333 guidelines and make it work!

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Somewhere, sitting on his fashionable throne in the fashion kingdom, His Royal Majesty, King Tim Gunn is cheering for me. Thank you Tim! I will make you proud!

What is the aspiration?

I want to get to a sweet spot that is comfortably close to 33 items of clothing.  We have four seasons here, so having clothing that’s usable across all seasons is an important consideration. I want at least ten items minimum from each season to overlap. I will use a capsule building method to do this. To get there, I will pull everything out of my drawers and closet, and I will play them on my bed (this might sound familiar). From there, I will try everything on, sort into love, like, doesn’t fit, and trash piles, and make decisions on what to keep, getting as close to 33 items as I possibly can. I’ll also stick to the packing party method, so if it stays in the box for 30 days and I don’t use it, off it goes. I also don’t want to feel a rush to buy anything to replace something I’m getting rid of, so that’s the only lens of conservatism I’ll adhere to here.

How did it turn out?

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The aftermath.

This actually proved to be quite difficult! It took a lot of time, and required some objectivity to sort things out from what I own. There was a lot of stuff that didn’t fit. After much deliberation and a couple hours of trying everything on, here’s where I ended up:

  • 1 Slate Gray Suit
  • 1 Winter Coat
  • 1 Leather Jacket (it’s super awesome, have had it for a long time, and it fits nice plus has weathered really nicely)
  • 1 Sport Jacket
  • 1 Kuhl Half-zip Pullover
  • 1 Pair Slate Dress Slacks
  • 1 Pair Khakis
  • 1 Pair Gray/Light Gray Slacks
  • 1 Pair Jeans
  • 2 Pair Kuhl Pants
  • 5 Pairs Shoes
  • 2 Belts
  • 3 Ties
  • 2 Knit Henley Thermals
  • 2 Regular Thermals
  • 7 Button Down Shirts
  • 2 Polo Shirts
  • 2 Sweaters
  • 2 Hooded Sweatshirts
  • 6 Plain T-Shirts
  • 12 Casual Printed T-Shirts

56 Items of clothing. It’s a work in progress. I boxed up over 40 items the first night we did the packing party, and I was able to trim down another 30-40 this evening after trying everything on. It feels good to have virtually everything in my wardrobe hanging, and in a couple of drawers too. That’s a relief, because most of the things pictured are clothes I absolutely love.

A couple of these button down shirts will need to be replaced — the neck no longer fits and/or the print isn’t particularly suited for the ties I own. A lot of my shirts are patterned and I’ll need one solid and one gingham shirt to round out my shirts. So as time goes on and as I phase them out, I hope I’ll find something that’s more fitting and suited for my needs.

Bonus Round, Workout Clothes Minimalism!

My summer routine consists of weightlifting and conditioning, running, but most importantly, soccer. I try to play 2-3 days a week on average in the summer, and once a week when Fall arrives. That carries with it (at least to me) a need for a well-equipped set of athletic apparel, so that I’m not being irresponsible doing frequent washes. Currently, I think I have a surplus of what I actually need.

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Here you can find Blu in his natural summer habitat. Sometimes nearly falling over. Photo credit: Mom. 🙂

At the bare minimum, I probably need:

  • 3 Shorts
  • 3 Shirts
  • 3 Soccer Socks
  • 2 Thermal, breathable undershirts (for cool or cold days, and to warm up)
  • 1 Pair of Athletic Warm-up pants
  • 1 Pair Running Shoes
  • 1 Pair Soccer Boots

I’m curious for others that live an active lifestyle, how do you find the right number of athletic clothing pieces without going into excess? How do you also keep sustainability in mind while also being sanitary? I want to make sure I have enough to get me through the busiest moments in the summer without stinking up the house in between washes.

Day 3: Minimizing the Digital Clutter.

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Preach, Bernie! As you can see Bernie is about to go on a stump speech about Amazon’s lightning deals and how the 1% send you 99% of the emails in your inbox. That probably has a grain of truth to it.

Enough About The Emails!

Today I took on the task of trying to cut down on stuff that clouds and litters my digital landscape. I thought the best way to do this would be to start with the first and largest source of clutter I could think of: my personal email inbox. This is like ground zero of the digital bombardment I’ve opted in for over the past decade: Facebook notifications, eBay, PayPal, Target, Best Buy, Ticketmaster, Amazon, political campaigns, causes, various banks, insurance, and other service providers. The list goes on. I couldn’t believe how many there were that I either knowingly or unknowingly had opted myself into.

When I first sat down for this task, I had around 2000+ emails in my personal inbox. It was several gigabytes worth. This included a mixture of personal, social, and promotional emails. I use gmail, which divided most, but not all things into a primary, social, and promotions tabs. Reflecting now, I don’t know why I didn’t do this sooner. I’ve honestly felt that some of these retailers emailed me almost on a daily basis, reminding me of deals I shouldn’t pass up, things left in my cart, or the performers that were going to be in my area. Not only does it prevent me from searching through my inbox in an efficient manner, it also clogs up my phone by what gets pushed to it. So here’s my inbox after an hour or two of my time…

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Pristine. It’s bringing me a gentle, calming, peace.

What are your Initial thoughts? I think this is a good start. There’s been a few that slipped through the cracks, even a day after, as if some have a delay in removing me from the mailing list. Or they’re a virulent strain of flu that’s hard to immunize. I didn’t realize that Facebook sends you an email for virtually anything that happens to you by default. That’s far too much. Zero seems enough. I’m curious how I’ll continue to feel without the constant email reminders about what I should be consuming. I doubt I’ll even notice.

I also started sorting through the inbox labels I have, and what’s visible, to start some streamlining there.  After that, I did some bookmark trimming in my browser, removing things I haven’t used and are no longer relevant or applicable. These few things helped think this was a worthwhile effort and I think there’s some trimming I can do in my computer drives at work and on my home computer that I can also minimize. After some first steps, I’m going to explore more of the 25 areas of digital clutter to minimalize, and some other web resources and report back later with results, observations, and sentiments.

Hope you all are having a great week!

Kindly Yours,

Blu