In the last couple of posts, I’ve mentioned a few times that I will be going abroad this September. I’ve been keeping it pretty quiet so far, but now I feel I am ready to finally reveal where I will be going, and what I will be doing.
Firstly, I get a lot of people asking me what I study. I’ve been reluctant to reveal this previously because I wanted Minimal Student to apply to everyone studying anything. I feel that I’ve accomplished this by not focussing on a particular subject, and by giving tips, tricks and hacks that anyone can incorporate into their lives as they wish.
But many of you have been so supportive of me that I no longer feel I have to hold back. So here it is, drumroll please…
what I study
I am currently studying Japanese and Management at the University of Leeds, UK.
The reason why I talk about happiness so much is probably because of my awesome degree. It gets me up in the morning to go to uni and I love every minute of it. I love learning the language, reaching new levels and finding out new things about myself, my own language and my country that I’ve previously taken for granted. I love being able to communicate with people from the other side of the world. I love sharing ideas, opinions and cultural views on universal subjects. And most of all, I love the challenge of taking on a completely foreign language and building it up completely from scratch.
Thus far, I’ve been holding back this piece of me because I know that not everybody would share a love for Japan as I do. I think it’s an absolutely fascinating country, and many things from Japan has manifested itself onto this blog, such as Zen Buddhism and what makes an ideal minimalist diet.
On September 6th 2010 I will be flying from London Heathrow to Kansai International Airport (with a stop in Rome).
I will spend the year studying at Konan University in Kobe, Japan.
“What I propose is a spiritual revolution”
~ Dalai Lama
As political freedom spreads to more people and technology integrates into our lives, one would think that man’s quest for happiness is more obtainable than ever. And yet, there is still so much suffering in the world. There is still discrimination, war and violence. People are still hungry or ill when it can be prevented. Even those that seem like they have everything have their own stresses and worries.
Contrary to popular belief, money isn’t the answer to everything. We can try hard to fix the economy, invent new stuff to make our lives easier, even make environmental or political advances, these aren’t bad, but they’re not enough. What the world needs is a spiritual revolution.
By ‘spiritual’ I don’t mean in a religious way, rather that change needs to come to the hearts of people. We can try to fix external factors as much we like, but unless real positive change is made on an individual level, things will be different, but they won’t be better.
People need to want suffering to end. And they can start by trying to not create it for others. Even just doing a few little things can make a big difference.
Similarly, you can talk all day about how great minimalism is but without changing how you fundamentally think you’ll still be unhappy. Switching from consumerism to minimalism isn’t just a superficial act where you just get rid of stuff. It’s more than that. You have to be willing to change some of the most fundamental things you’ve been taught and really believe that the changes you have made were for the better.
Everybody has the power to change the world, even if for now it’s just their own.
Happy New Year everyone, may 2012 bring you the happiness and joy you deserve.
Live simply so others may simply live
~ HH Dalai Lama
Six billion people live on this planet. Each and every one is worth just as much as the next. But many of them have to struggle to obtain basic human needs such as water whilst others are wasting it washing their cars.
According to the BBC:
The world distribution of wealth and income is highly unequal. The richest 10% of households in the world have as much yearly income as the bottom 90%.
Wealth – total assets rather than yearly income – is even more unequal. The rich are concentrated in the US, Europe and Japan, with the richest 1% alone owning 40% of the world’s wealth.
Individually, we may not be able to do much about this problem on a global scale, but we can do the best we can to be content with what we have, so that we may give some to others that may not be as lucky as we are.
We don’t even have to physically give. If we live a little more simply and just stop consuming as much, perhaps we can stop taking from the poor and giving it to the rich. Perhaps we can stop cutting down trees in undeveloped countries to make cheap furniture and paper we’ll end up throwing away anyway. Perhaps if we didn’t desire so many cheap electronics every Christmas, we’ll reduce the amount of stuff we end up dumping into Asia.
Perhaps if we lived with a little less, others can live a little more.
Grab a bag and fill it with things you don’t need: clothes, shoes, books, toys and anything else that’s gathering dust. Give it away to a charity that will sell it to make money for a poor country or better yet, will take your stuff and send there for real people just like you and me to get some real use out of it.
Simple Philosophies is a series of short posts about small things we can do to live a happier life. Please let me know what you think in the comments!
Two shoe makers go to a remote village.
One of them immediately gives up and goes home, declaring, “It’s hopeless! Nobody here wears shoes.”
The other, smiling, declares “What a glorious business opportunity! Nobody here wears shoes”.
Opportunity is something that you discover, not something that you wait for
Whether it’s new business idea, a new career direction, a new journey, or a new friend or lover, however you define it, the opportunities in life are endless. They surround you like air.
You don’t have to have an expensive education, or special training to see them. You don’t even have to go looking for them.
You just have to keep your eyes and mind open.
Right now, there are countless problems that needs to be solved, people who need help, places to go, people to meet, and so many things to learn and discover about the world.
Most people trundle through life, blindly, on auto-pilot. Like the first shoe maker, they may see a glass, but they can’t help but think it’s half empty.
It’s not complicated. If you’re waiting for a new opportunity to come to you, you should know, it’s already there.
Can you see it?
This is the final part of a five part series on Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life.
A typical person living in the Western world is expected to live until about 70-80 years old. There are other factors that come into play, such as income, lifestyle, and access to healthcare, but all that aside, the average life span of a healthy adult is about 70 or so years – if you’re lucky.
Do you know how many days that is? Answer: it’s about 25,000.
That’s about 25,000 sunrises, and 25,000 sunsets for you to enjoy during your one and only time on Earth.
Sounds like a lot, right? But there’s a small catch. If you’re like me, in your mid-20’s, you’ve actually already used up about 9,000 of them.
Okay… so that leaves about 16,000 – still, not bad right? But that’s supposing you really are going to live until your mid-70’s… which, of course, isn’t a guarantee.
What if you only lived until you were 60, or 50, or even 40? (If you’re roughly my age and you only live until 40, that’s less than 6,000 days left).
Now consider how quickly, say, the last 7 days went by. Hm, pretty quick right? It seems like it was just a day or two ago that I was in spin class, but I only go once a week, so that was a whole week ago… Now that I think about it, the last month went by quickly as well… I can’t believe we’re halfway through the year already… and it seemed like it was just a few weeks ago I was living in Japan, but that was an entire year ago now… wow, where did those 365 days even go? 365 is a sizeable chunk out of 6,000!
… and so on. So far, I’ve realised two things:
- That we all have a set number of days left, and,
- They’re going by stupidly fast.
If this is a depressing subject to you, then you might be thinking about it in the wrong way. It’s only when you realise that your time is finite that you can start to do something about it.
Knowing this, what are you going to do in the next 7, 30, or 100 days? Would you live your life differently?
Well, if you are already making the most out of your life, then the answer would be, ‘Nope! Everything is perfect!’ and that’s fantastic. But if you’re unhappy because you’re putting up with a life/job/relationship you hate, then Seneca has something to say to that:
“How late it is to begin to really live just when life must end! How stupid to forget our mortality, and put off sensible plans to our fiftieth and sixtieth years, aiming to begin life from a point at which few have arrived!”
How do we know we’re going to live until we grow old? We don’t! Nobody does. So I can’t help but think – why do so many people waste their precious time being unhappy? Why do people put up with jobs they hate for 40 years, just to save up holiday time for when (or if) they reach 65?
I’m no exception to this kind of thinking. We can’t always do the things we want to, and we’ve got to make a living somehow, but if we’ve really only got a few thousand days to live, why spend them doing things that our heart isn’t into?
I’m not advocating a hedonistic lifestyle in a ‘let’s-spend-every-penny-and-destroy-everything-because-tomorrow-might-never-come’ way, but even Seneca realised it thousands of years ago, when he said that,
“[Only when life] is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realise that it has passed away before we knew it was passing.”
The saddest thing is that most people don’t realise how much of their lives they had wasted until they reach the end of it. Usually, these are the same people who don’t like thinking about death at all, because they’re living in a deluded world where if they don’t think about it, it won’t happen to them. But by then, it’s too late to do anything about it.
all their labours were but for the sake of an epitaph
At the end of your life, if everything you did could be summarised into an epitaph, what would it say? What would you want it to say?
You might not get an actual epitaph, but no matter what, you will have a legacy.
Your legacy could be celebrated by millions, or remembered by no one. At the end of your life, it wouldn’t matter to you which one of those it is. You won’t be bringing it with you anyway, wherever you’re going.
All that will matter is how you feel about it. After all, how you feel about your legacy is how you feel about the life you lived. Seneca also wrote,
“Learning how to live takes a whole life, and, which may surprise you more, it takes a whole life to learn how to die.”
Which is true. But it doesn’t have to take your whole life – you could wait until you’re on your deathbed to lament on the time you could have spent on the people and things that mattered. Or you can start now, while you can.
Choose to spend today wisely, as if it was a single precious gold coin that you could never get back.
While we’re at it, we can do the same for tomorrow as well. And the day after, and the day after, until we reach the end, whenever that may be.
You could be happy from right now. Start today. Who needs a lifetime to learn how to live?
Back when I was an aspiring career girl who thought the epitome of success was earning a Director’s title and a generous bonus package every year until I retired comfortably at 65, I used to be obsessed with productivity. How could I get more things done in less time? How could I fit more into my busy life?
After years of cramming more and more work and other commitments into each day until I barely had time to sleep, I became exhausted with the long hours and complete lack of free time I had to do the things I really enjoyed. I realised I had been going about it all wrong.
I used to think that doing more automatically meant living more, but that’s not true. Life shouldn’t be about fitting more of just anything into it. There will always be more things you can do to fill a thousand lifetimes. Instead, it should be about making time for the ‘right’ things and eliminating all the other stuff that doesn’t matter.
There is a difference between being efficient, versus being effective. One is about doing something that takes up limited resources (time, energy) with the least waste, and the other is about intentionally doing things that make an impact.
In other words, being efficient is about doing things right, while being effective is about doing the right things.
Productivity advice is too focused on the former instead of the latter. Doing things right is fairly easy. That’s what how-to books and productivity blogs are for. The harder thing is choosing the right things to do. We are swamped in work, meeting requests, invitations, the media, places to go, new things to try out, TV shows to watch… there isn’t enough time to do it all, even if you can do it all efficiently in the least time possible.
What counts as a ‘right’ thing? There’s no easy answer, but you’ll know deep down if what you’re spending your time on feels right. Is it important to you? Or important to someone you love? Are you enjoying it? Does it make you feel good? Are you making other people’s lives better? Is it short term or long term? Is it fun and challenging? Are you growing? Is it meaningful? What if you died tomorrow? Can you think of a better way to spend your time? Will you remember this day years from now?
If we pared down to the things that mattered the most then we would feel less FOMO, and wouldn’t need to be in such a hurry. There are some things that aren’t meant to be rushed. How unfortunate would it be if we didn’t have the time to take our time on things like making a delicious home-cooked meal, getting engrossed in a good book, or making memories with loved ones.
These moments are the stuff life is made of. Choose wisely, and enjoy every moment.
‘On Productivity’ was originally published via Minimalist Meditations.
It was my 27th birthday this month. Although I don’t feel that old yet, almost every day I’m reminded of memes I don’t understand, trends I haven’t heard of, or technology I didn’t know existed. I feel a big difference between myself and ‘kids these days’. In fact, I have a brother who is 11 years younger than me, but it often feels like he’s from a different generation.
Amongst all of this change in the world, I realise there has been a lot of change within myself too. I wasn’t always so comfortable with not being up-to-date on the latest fashions and gadgets. Like most teenagers, I overcompensated for my self-confidence issues by trying in my own way to be as cool as possible. For me that meant having cool stuff like the latest iPhone or laptop to show off with. People would gather around me and it would make me feel better about myself, but only for a while. Obviously buying stuff wasn’t a long term fix for my insecurities. Those times sowed the seeds for the minimalist lifestyle I developed soon after.
As a teenager I dreaded getting older, but a decade later I’m in a much, much better place. The biggest lesson I learned is to not give a f*ck. Who cares where I live, what job I do, or whether I have the latest iPhone? No one! Or at least, no one cares nearly as much as I thought.
Realising that and being okay with it has been huge. Once I let go of other people’s expectations of me, I was free to do whatever I want—it’s unlikely people care enough to judge me for it, and even if they did, who cares! Certainly not me.
Hence living minimally to avoid debt and save up enough to be able to quit my job in my mid-twenties to start my own business. Could I have done that if I was concerned about what people thought of me? Probably not. I would have felt too self conscious to say no to spending $100 on a night out, worrying about what outfit I was wearing, or which car I was driving, or staying in a luxury hotel so that I could instagram it, instead of saving up the start up capital I needed to be free of those kinds of traps.
Two years on, I only work a couple of hours a week but earn twice as much as I did in my soul-sucking job. I have the freedom to pursue anything I want to. I can sleep/read/travel whenever I want, and thanks to not being tied to a desk all day, my health is better than ever. On top of that, I can give more to people and causes I care about, because I have more to give.
It wasn’t easy getting here, but neither was it that hard to be honest. It was a series of small sacrifices and good decisions that paid off. I only wish I started started sooner. That is, if I could go back ten years and give advice to my 17 year old self, or indeed to my younger brother now, I would say, “Hey, you. Stop worrying so much about what other people think, they don’t know all the answers themselves. Breathe. If you do what you feel is the right thing, you’re going to find happiness. I promise.”
‘On Maturity’ was originally published via Minimalist Meditations.
An often misunderstood part of minimalism is that it is an all or nothing deal. With popular books, articles and videos showing ‘minimalists’ living in white boxes with just three shirts, two plates, and one pen, it’s no wonder why most people get the wrong idea. A minimalist lifestyle is defined by each individual’s own terms. For some, owning less than 100 things is their definition. It’s not wrong, but it’s doesn’t fit every aspiring minimalist. Rather than being defined by how much you have or don’t have, it’s about being mindful of the things we introduce and keep in our lives.Sometimes things have a use, and that’s okay.
A case for stuff
It has become fashionable to demonise acquiring material things as a waste of money and a pointless exercise. Most of us know that buying more won’t keep us happy in the long term, but that doesn’t stop us from doing it. The feeling of satisfaction or superiority that comes from buying certain things is superficial, which is why the rush doesn’t last long. But some possessions can actually be meaningful to us.A new suit gives us a much needed confidence boost at work, a set of paintbrushes reveal our creative side, a language course booked to learn something new, a tablet computer connects us to family and friends, a skiing holiday pushes us to take risks, a photo album full of memories makes us smile, a full bookshelf reminds us of how much we’ve learned over the years… Things like this are needed as part of a life well lived. It may be an unpopular conclusion to come to on a blog about minimalism, but perhaps sometimes buying stuff is not a complete waste after all. Importantly, however, is the realisation that just having useful possessions is not enough by itself to transform us for the better. Even religions like Zen Buddhism which encourage the use of mindfulness bells acknowledge that a bell by itself is not enough to make us paragons of calm. But for many monks and laypeople, every ring feels like it’s tuning them little by little into the kind of person they aspire to be. Approached in the right way, material goods can help us become happier people, but achieving the right balance can be difficult. Here is where minimalism as a practice comes in—helping us become more disciplined with our desires and mindful of distractions that tempt us away from the kind of life we want to live. — ‘On Materialism’ was originally published via Minimalist Meditations.
— Related Posts
A lot of people mix up travelling with ‘escaping’. They think that people who travel are trying to run away from bad things in their lives, or bad things that will/might happen to them like work, debt or demanding bosses.
But the problem is, it’s not simply enough to ‘run away’. That’s what a vacation is for. Real travelling isn’t running away, it’s running towards something – something new, different, mind-blowing and world-rocking, things that challenge the way we think people are or should be. Travellers may not have much, but what they gain is invaluable, even if you can’t see it.
And the same can be said of minimalism too. When we get rid of stuff, we’re not simply ‘getting rid of’ a piece of furniture or clothing. It’s not about the negative, but the positive side of the coin too. When we refuse to buy something we don’t need, we’re welcoming something better than a second car into our lives – the least being the chance to give back in our own way, no matter how small, to Mother Earth and to fellow human beings.
a case for ‘no’
Despite what most people think, saying ‘no’ can open up as many possibilities as ‘yes’ can.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m always looking for new opportunities and when I feel it’s right to say ‘yes’, great things can happen. Projects get started, I get to meet new people, ideas get pushed into reality and so on.
But the opposite is also true – saying no can be just as important. We don’t have unlimited time in our lives, or resources on earth. We have to stop saying yes to more and more stuff and start saying no to over-consumption, pollution and debt. ‘No’ can be a powerful weapon as a minimalist’s best friend.
‘No’ gets a bad rep because it’s mistakenly only thought of as a door-closer. But if you think about the kind of things ‘no’ unleashes – time, freedom, resources – you’ll see that in most cases, ‘no’ is not the opposite of ‘yes’, just it’s (sometimes more practical) counterpart.
The last time I wrote about my minimalist bedroom, I was living in Kobe with a host family. My room was simple – just a futon, a chair and a desk. There was also a piano in the room that belonged to my host sisters, which I would use from time to time.
It turned out that it was all I needed. I learned a valuable lesson that year – that the less stuff I had to hold me back, the more I was free to do what I liked, and enjoy my time in Japan.
Since then, I have lived in a couple of different rooms and apartments. Amongst them, in the UK, I lived in a beautiful apartment with a wonderful view of Leeds, then in a small flat in London, and then, after a short time back at home, I moved back to Japan.
In Kochi prefecture, I was lucky enough to live in a countryside house with three tatami rooms. I would love to share photos of all of these places one day, but since people have been asking, here is where I’m living right now.
my minimalist bedroom (tokyo edition)
When it was time to move to Tokyo, I spent a long time trying to find a place to live. It was difficult to find an apartment that I liked the look and feel of, but after many, many hours of searching, I settled on an apartment near the centre of the city, pictured here.
The bedroom isn’t large, but it is comfortable. I liked the clean white walls and the simple flooring. The big window lets in a lot of natural light, and the large shiny desk felt like it was inviting me to sit down and write.
Notice that I don’t have a wardrobe. Initially, it wasn’t out of choice, but now I’ve realised that I don’t even need one. I own very few clothes anyway, so I just hang a few work shirts and my black suit jacket on the rack, and fold the rest of my clothes on the shelf.
I shifted the desk slightly after taking these photos so that I would have space to roll out my yoga mat. I don’t own much else except for a few books, which I put on the shelf, and my trusty laptop, which sits on my desk.
my minimalist workspace
I prefer to keep the top of my desk as clear as possible. My laptop has a permanent position in the middle (unless I’m studying from a textbook), and I usually allow just a few notes, and a cup of coffee, of course.
I find that having too many bits of paper, knick-knacks, and even my phone on the desk distracts me from my work. (I’ve since moved the lamp pictured above to my bedside instead.) Perhaps I’m easily distracted, but this has always been my style.
The kitchen and bathroom is just as you would expect in a big city. Small, yet functional, it has everything I need, and nothing more.
from minimalism to freedom
I’ve talked before about how minimalism, far from restricting you, actually can grant you more freedom. Not having suitcases of stuff to drag around with me every time I move means that:
I can move all of my possessions in one trip. I can take all of my necessities without breaking my back while dragging things across train stations and airports.
I can live relatively small spaces. In a city as expensive as Tokyo, that makes a big difference.
I can live more comfortably. It’s easier to maintain a place that isn’t overflowing with stuff. I spend very little time cleaning – just brushing the floor and wiping down surfaces every couple of days. This gives me plenty of time to do the things that I want to do, from reading in bed to exploring the city.
I don’t earn much money, and I don’t have a lot of free time, but not having to worry about all of the above is especially beneficial for a nomad like me. It’s time like these that I’m really grateful that I found the minimalist way.