Things that matter

My first time in a kimono

Today is my birthday.

A whole year has passed since I wrote my first birthday post on this blog. I remember it was just turning midnight when I sat down, took a deep breath and wondered, what in the world will this year bring?

Little did I know, the best year of my life so far was about to come.

Flicking through old posts in the archives, I can tell that as I’ve changed, so has this blog. I’ve moved on from talking about a few trivial matters to things that really do matter. Not things that we think matter, but things that truly do. And there’s a big difference, because so many things that we think are important aren’t really, they just appear to be because they’re urgent or have ‘deadlines’, but in the bigger picture, few things really do matter.

I guess that’s what I’ve been trying to do. Find out what things are important to me. Then, minimalize. Focus. Do.

It hasn’t been easy, but if there’s anything I’ve learned it’s that there’s actually more to gain from cutting down not adding up.

The blog has grown so much, and I think I have too. I feel like a completely different person from who I was last year. I thought this year abroad was going to be a little bit of fun and adventure, but just from a bit of travelling, I’ve learned and seen things that have changed me in ways beyond even my own understanding. My host family has shown me kindness that is indistinguishable from real family love, and the connections we have made are the kind that will last a lifetime.

I can’t imagine how next year can get better than this, but at least I can hope for it.

thank you

So I just wanted to thank you all so much for supporting me all this way. For every post I write, fewer than 2% of you actually comment, but I absolutely love hearing from you guys, so please don’t be shy and speak up!

You can also find me and more minimalist morsels on Twitter.

Please keep reading, and help me spread the word. We’re all aiming for the same goal here, so the more that join us, the merrier!

Lastly, if you wouldn’t mind, how about buying me a birthday drink tonight?

If you can’t see the donate button, please click here!

[EDIT: I wrote this post before the earthquake in Japan happened to auto-publish on my actual birthday. In light of the disaster that has been unfolding, I will personally donate proceeds to the earthquake relief fund in Sendai, Fukushima and Miyagi. Thank you for all of your concern and support].

A bell for mindfulness


Just outside my window, a beautiful clock tower chimes softly every hour.

To me, it’s a bell for mindfulness. A reminder that time is passing, and that I should not waste a moment of it.

The things that seem like a big deal now, one day I shall forget about them, and realise the things that really do matter.

In the end, it’s the things that have done that I want to remember, instead of regretting that which I haven’t. It’s the things that I do have, and the people that I do love that my world is made of, not what could have, should have or might have been.

As each day begins, the sun rises over the tower and as each day ends it sets behind it. The hands on the clock turn regularly, not stopping for anyone or anything.

Likewise, I should strive to move through my life with the same determination.

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the digital generation

This is a continuation of a previous blog post: Minimalist Meditations – Technology

I’m often asked how technology helps minimalists.

My answer is that without technology, there would be very very few minimalists.

My thoughts are stored as words on 750. My most radical ideas are stored as post on this blog. My music and films are stored as files on my hard drive. My memories are stored as photos in the cloud.

All of this information amounts to gigabytes of data that can be stored on something about the size of my hand. Without technology, we would have to sacrifice all of that stuff just so that we’re not weighed down by junky folders, albums, diaries, books and CD/DVD’s.

Does this mean that minimalists are technology?

I know that there are people that are scared of technology. They’re scared that if they convert their lives into digital format, then none of it would be tangible and all would be lost.

But my question is, what is it exactly you are afraid of?

Admittedly, there’s a minuscule chance that you’ll lose some things in the cloud. But which is more likely, every single computer, server, storage unit and hard disk gets destroyed and/or wiped out… or you have a house fire? Or you are robbed? Or you simply lose or forget where you’ve put something? I hope it never happens, but nobody in their right mind would think “Oh my god my diaries are gone, now I have no thoughts or feelings!” or “Oh no, my photo albums are gone, now I have no memories!”

People who are scared are getting mixed up with putting their information online, and putting themselves online. They’re two different things.

I’m not made from the photos I took or things I wrote down, I’m made from what I learned from doing that stuff. My memories aren’t the things that I upload onto the net, they’re stored in my head, those things are just prompts or pieces that we took to remind us of them.

As a traveller, technology is invaluable to me. I need search engines, maps, tips, reviews, recommendations and all of the advantages of digital storage to lighten the load.

We are the digital generation. Never before has so much been available to us. Even just a few decades or even 5000 days ago what we have now would be a dream come true, let’s take advantage of it shall we?

Zen in a toothache

What good can come from a mere toothache?

As I have recently experienced, there are a few life lessons to be learned from a small (yet extremely painful) toothache.

A few summers back, when I stayed in Plum Village, the monastary of the famous monk Thich Nhat Hanh, there was one day when he made us imagine that we had woken up in the middle of the night with a very painful toothache.
Since the dentist wouldn’t be open until the morning, most people would be counting down the hours until it could be treated, all the while hoping that the pain would go down, or go away.
We live most of our lives without physical pain like this. Even right now, unless you have a broken arm or leg, or any other major chronic aches or pains, you spend most of your life in relatively good physical health.

At the time, I listened carefully to the lesson, but never did I dream that this scenario would actually happen to me.
About two weeks ago, I woke up one night from a sharp pain in my head. It wasn’t a migrane, as I had thought, but instead the premolar on the left side of my top jaw was throbbing pretty hard. I tried to sleep it off, but the pain didn’t go away. I tried to ignore it, but the pain was so sharp, and constant, that it couldn’t stop thinking about it.
During the last few weeks, I walked, worked, and slept with a winced expression on my face as I tried to put up with this horrible and constant physical pain. I booked an appointment to see a dentist, but the nearest available appointment isn’t for a few weeks yet. In the meantime, I just have to take some painkillers and deal with it.

The good news is that there is a bright side to all of this. Well, at least I searched long and hard for one because I absolutely forbid myself to go through something like this without gaining anything good from it. One day, I remembered Thay’s lesson on learning from my pain.

An important lesson about pain

The experience of having a pain that is strong enough to take over your life, and distract you from doing anything else is not something that can be easily understood until you go through it yourself.I learned this lesson the hard way, but since doing so, I could imagine that the hard way is one of the only ways to learn it.

I genuninely hope that most people do not experience a pain like that, but the bright side for those who do is that, in the end, you will know how to be so damn grateful for not having any pain.
Thich Nhat Hanh taught me that sometimes we need some pain in our lives to give us a basis to compare against, so that we may be grateful for what we have right now.
People who never go through any pain don’t know any different, and so may not appreciate what they have as much as somebody who lost their health. If you are lucky enough to gain it back, then you feel like you’re given a second chance to appreciate what you have.When we are mindful of the good things we have in life, we are aware of how lucky we are, and we feel good about ourselves. In this case, happiness is born from pain. So pain isn’t always a bad thing.

Now, I’m not saying that a toothache really compares to some of the really bad things that can happen to your health. But now that I’ve experienced something as painful as this, I’m reminded that even if there are some difficult things going on in life, at least when I am not in pain, I can be grateful for that.

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Zen and the Art of Minimalism – Part 2: Mastering the Art

In part 1, I discussed Minimalism and Zen Philosophy. This is part 2 of 2 of ‘Zen and the Art of Minimalism’ where I explore the connection between minimalism and art.

What does the word ‘art’ really mean? People can spend years answering this question. Quite obviously, it doesn’t purely mean paintings and sculptures. The first result of the definition of ‘art’ on is:


/ɑrt/ Pronunciation [ahrt] –noun

The quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.

Here, art is defined as a type of ‘expression‘, which can be interpreted as ‘transferring one’s thoughts and emotions into the material world’. Minimalists believe in the virtues of not having more than what is needed, and therefore ‘expresses’ this attitude by not hoarding material things. At first glance, a minimalist home looks bare, cold and neglected, but a closer look reveals that every item is touched with the minimalist’s love for it’s indispensable value.

What’s more, a lot of people think minimalism is synonymous with depravity. These people are confusing minimalism with frugality. Not all minimalists are frugal, and some invest quite a bit of money on higher quality and longer lasting possessions, which can be simple, but very beautiful. Each item is chosen with intention and care, just like how an artist chooses colours and carefully mixes them together, so that they all work in harmony with each other.

On a superficial level, there is little doubt that minimalism has a lot to do with aesthetics. Getting rid of stuff, means that there is less clutter and  more space, which in my view, is more aesthetically pleasing. For me, there’s nothing more beautiful than empty space, clear surfaces and simple design.

And just like most pieces of art, minimalism is all about what is essential. The really exquisite pieces aren’t tainted with superfluous flourishes or ostentatious garnishes. Each line, carve or brush stoke is done intentionally because each one has a direction, meaning and purpose.

When you eliminate the excess, you’re left with what has more than ordinary significance. Having only a few things that you know you can’t live without means that you are bound to cherish them more than if you had a house full of clutter. Minimalists may look like they don’t care for clothes, gadgets or books because they own so few, but we do care. Everything we own matters to us in some way, otherwise we wouldn’t still have it.

An elegant painting begins with a blank canvas. Each brush stroke is precious, building up, around and intertwining with each other to create an exquisite masterpiece.

A magnificent sculpture begins with a lump of rock. The artist chips away the excess stone to reveal the statue waiting inside to show itself.

But art isn’t just paintings and sculptures.

It could take a short time, or it could take a lifetime. But your home, or your life, is like a large rock or a white canvas waiting for you to express your own unique brand of  art on it.

The art of minimalism, that is.

I’d love to hear your opinions. Do you think there is a relationship between minimalism and art? How do you like to think of minimalism? Please comment below!

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What’s left after minimalism?

So you’ve pared and pared and pared. You got rid of most of your stuff and you stopped buying what you didn’t need. It was hard work, and it took years, but now you only own the essentials.

Congratulations, you’re a minimalist, now what?

Do you just sit in your minimalist apartment/travel van/atop your only suitcase, twiddle your thumbs and admire the empty space around you?

Of course not. What’s left after minimalism is… all the stuff that matters. 

That was the whole point. To get rid of distractions, so that you have the time, money and energy to do what you’ve always wanted.

For me, that means writing a book. Yes friends, I am working on putting together a guide on minimalism, digging deep on how it relates to various aspects of life—work, money, travel, relationships… After nearly seven years of writing this blog, it’s about time. More updates to follow.

Even if you haven’t reached the level you’re aiming for yet, it’s worth thinking about what you’re going through all the effort for. Remember, it’s so that you can be who you really are.

Now go write, sing, paint, cook, travel, dance, play, create, start a business, learn French or whatever else it is you’ve always wanted to do.

Go spend time with your partner, friends and family. Meet new people, try new things. Make the most of life. Be happy. That’s what comes next.

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What minimalism taught me about love

What does it mean to love?

To love is to care. To care about something, to care for someone, to appreciate its importance in your life and to be grateful for it.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of things that we say we love and care about, but we don’t act upon it.

Life gets in the way. We get distracted by work, money, commitments and a thousand other things which take our time and attention away from the things we care about.

In this way, minimalism can save us.

Giving time to the ones you love
When working long hours to pay the bills takes our time away from our friends, partners, and families, minimalism gives it back.

A minimalist lifestyle asks, ‘Do you need to be working so hard? What for?‘.
To pay the bills,‘ you might say, or ‘because I have to,‘ or even, ‘what else would I do instead?
Well, what if your bills weren’t so high? What if you didn’t have to? What if you had better things to do?

When I was growing up, my parents owned a hotel and restaurant and worked long hours from noon until past midnight. They would drop dinner off and go back to work. We didn’t see them for most of the day, and they were too tired to come to any of our shows or football games. They missed us growing up, but what for? We didn’t want or need much, but they couldn’t resist the feeling of security they got from earning more and more money. In the end, everything turned out okay, but there’ll always memories we never made because they were away working.

Doing the things you love
Unless you love your work, you probably spend most of your time doing something you dislike to fund a few weeks off a year to do something you do like. For a lot of people, it’s hard to find more than a few snatched hours during the week to do the things they enjoy.

A minimalist lifestyle asks, ‘Are you working to live, or are you living to work?‘.

Your time is limited, so making time for you means you are prioritising yourself. Do you have something that you’ve always wanted to do? Then for goodness’ sake, get started and do it. You’ll be making the most of being alive, which is the same as saying that you love life.

Loving yourself
It sounds like I’m telling people to quit their jobs, but work isn’t the enemy. It’s the things that people get obsessed with—possessions, status, wealth—that trap them into lifestyles that they’re not actually happy with. It turns them into people who they never imagined they’d be.

Distraction is the enemy. If we eliminate the distractions in life, take away the need for designer clothes and the status car, we’ll find that we’ll uncover the person who we are underneath.

Being true to who you are, who you’re supposed to be, surrounded by who and what you love is a form of loving yourself. Which is the most important love of all.

Book I’m reading now: The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own

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What I learned from 7 years of minimalism

When I started this blog back in 2009, I was on my way to college and living away for the first time. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life. I only had a vague idea that I wanted to enjoy it, whatever that might mean.

Eventually I came to understand that the key to making the most of life is to be sure that there isn’t anything holding me back—to make sure that I am free.

When I look back at my earlier posts, I see that in some ways I’m still the same person, and in others I have grown a lot. Minimalism for me started out as just decluttering a few things so that it was easier for me to travel. Over the years, it has taken on a deeper meaning beyond getting rid of stuff. It’s a tool I used to get the most of what I want from life.

Like every practice, the beginning was easy—how to pare down, how to fit everything I owned into a suitcase, etc. The harder stuff came slowly over the years—like how to be grateful for what I have, and how to let go.

Here are some of the easier lessons I learned quickly, and the more advanced versions that took a few more years for me to put into practice.

Lesson 1: Essentials
Easy: Having only what I need—identifying the useful from the useless. Easy.
Advanced: Learning that what I need changes, and adapting to it—growing an awareness to what I wanted from life at different times was harder. When I travelled a lot, being able to move with just one bag was essential, now I’ve settled down and running a business, things are different. Without material distractions, I am constantly reviewing my goals and making sure I make steps towards achieving them. I can’t hang onto ideals like having  less than 100 things like I used to (there is such a thing as being too attached to minimalism) but I also have to be aware that the things I own don’t end up owning me.

Lesson 2: Life
Easy: Decluttering my home—throwing things in charity bags was easy, and so was not buying new things that I didn’t want just because it was fashionable or because other people had it.
Advanced: Decluttering my life—my distracted mind, unnecessary commitments, toxic relationships, are all things that were harder to get rid of. I took up meditation to focus my mind, I refused to do more work than I had to, and I phased out people who were emotionally taxing on me. It might sound a little selfish, but because of it I was able to concentrate living a better life, and helping other people who needed it more.

Lesson 3: Time
Easy: Minimalism helped me make time for what matters—not caring what other people thought, and learning to say no lead to fewer commitments, which gave me more time to do what I wanted, and what I felt was important to me.
Advanced: Once I had time, I needed to actually make the most of it—I had goals and dreams, and after minimalising distractions I had no excuses. It was time for the harder stuff. I studied hard and graduated. I worked and travelled. I trained and ran (a lot). I quit my job and started my own business. People who misunderstand minimalism are missing the harder lesson—it’s not about getting rid of stuff, it’s about making room for what’s important. And then actually doing it.

Lesson 4: Relationships
Easy: People can’t be ‘converted’ to minimalism—I learned very quickly that talking about minimalism in daily life to people who haven’t heard of it before made me sound like a new-age hippie.
Advanced: I can show them the benefits, or just not care—instead of just talking about it, I learned that a better approach would be to live my life how I want, and if people take notice or ask questions, then they are ready to listen. Otherwise, I’ve learned to not really care too much about what people do and how they live their lives.

Lesson 5: Charity
Easy: Practicing minimalism to make a better life for myself—I’ve lived abroad, moved several times, and now I live in a beautiful apartment. I don’t work 9-5, I wake up at whatever time I want, and take holidays whenever I want. Save a small student loan, I have no debt, and I don’t live paycheck to paycheck.
Advanced: Practicing minimalism to make a better life for others—instead of wasting my money on car payments or branded perfumes, I can donate to people in need. Instead of wasting my time on pretending to be busy at work, I run my own business which gives me more time to give to people I can help. There is still so much more I can give, and instead of just talking about it, minimalism has helped me find the path to do it. You wouldn’t believe how much time/money/effort/anguish you save when you don’t care about impressing anyone.

Lesson 6: Sentimentality
Easy: Digitizing—books, CDs etc. I buy digitally if I can help it. I scan important papers and take photos of things to make it easier to throw them away.
Advanced: Learning to let go altogetherI’ve come a long way but still have a lot to learn. I just can’t bring myself to throw away some things from my childhood, or keepsakes that mean a lot to me. So I keep them. There are no minimalist ‘rules’ to dictate me, or anyone. I’m not as strong as some people who really aren’t attached to anything. Maybe I’ll never be like that, but for now I don’t care. For me, learning to let go is an ongoing practice.

Lesson 7: Gratefulness
Easy: Learning about mindfulness and gratefulness—I’ve read dozens of books about the subject, including almost anything published my the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh (I even went to his retreat in Plum Village, France).
Advanced: Actually practicing it—remembering to be mindful, or grateful is hard. Whenever I realise, ‘I should be really grateful right now’, I find myself staring into blank space trying to do it, whatever that means. It’s hard. But I’m slowly getting better at appreciating small things, seeing the beauty in the ordinary, and recognising moments of happiness. I expect to be practicing this lesson for the rest of my life too.

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The True Meaning of ‘Success’

What do the most successful men and women in history all have in common?

Not all of them were smart, or good looking, or had either poor or wealthy backgrounds. They weren’t all gifted from birth, or went to college, or happened to be in the right time and place. They were from all walks of life, and were completely different except for one thing.

They changed the world.

Isn’t that the true meaning of ‘success’? To be remembered for doing something remarkable. It’s not about making money, being famous or inventing something. It’s about changing the world, even if just a little bit. Even if it’s just for a few people. And preferably for the better.

It all begins with a vision of the future, of a better place. And then with a little bit of persistence, fearlessness, and yes, even a dash vulnerability, they made it. Of course, it takes a lot of courage. It’s not an easy road to take, being a world-changer.

Children have an amazing ability to see things through rose-tinted glasses. This isn’t a bad thing. They think they can change the world, and they probably could have, except as they grow up, they slowly become sceptical about their chances. Most people call this ‘coming to terms with reality’ but the truth is, as adults we make lot of excuses for not even trying.

If only we could all leave the world a better place than before we entered it. If only we were all brave enough to keep on our rose-tinted glasses for just a little longer.

The Real Meaning of Minimalism

Minimalism. The word has so many ‘new-age’ connotations attached to it that when people outside what I like to call the ‘minimalism/simplicity sphere’ hear it they immediately think of somebody living in a hut in a forest without a phone, computer or television. Or they think of bare and boring houses with cheap furniture and everything hidden away.

I’ve found from what little experience I have that when I say ‘no thanks’ to buying more clothes or carrying more luggage on trips in front of people I tend to get puzzled looks.

‘But it’s so cheap! Why not buy it?’
‘Don’t you want to take that with you just in case?’
‘Don’t get rid of that! What if you need it one day?’

When people walk into my bedroom they’re a little shocked by the simple lack of stuff. My wardrobe is only half full, I don’t have papers all over my desk or knick-knacks on my bedside table. All I own is just my guitar, laptop, some clothes and a few books. Everything else, including my furniture and bike, is rented. Some would say that my room looks cold and impersonal . Actually, I think it’s the very opposite.

Minimalists only buy what is essential. This means that almost everything they DO have was subjected to intense scrutiny before purchase. Each item has to pass all of the questions: ‘Do I need it or do I just want it? How often will I use it? Is it worth it?’ With a little perspective and willpower, not very many items pass the minimalist tests.

So, you see, instead of being another ‘throw-away’ or ‘why not’ purchase, each item is actually carefully chosen by minimalists, to make sure that they have enough love and time to care for it. Believe it or not, for every item you own, you pay for it in some way, whether it is by the bigger house you rent to store it, or the time you spend cleaning, maintaining or fixing it. If you have fewer things, you have fewer costs. If you have fewer costs, you have more freedom.

It’s so simple and seems to obvious, and yet too many people clutter up their lives with unnecessary things. Think about the millions of home with basements, attics, lofts and sheds full of boxes, crates and tubs of things that they haven’t touched in years. If these people had a fire, most of that stuff wouldn’t be worth grabbing. If they wanted to move house, or start an adventure, the only way they could do it is by dropping everything that they don’t need and hit the road. If they don’t need something that much, then why not ditch it now?

I’m not saying that everyone should be ready to go backpacking in Australia tomorrow. What I’m saying is that minimalism allows a person to not be weighed down by all of the material things they own, or want to own. Instead of spending one’s life earning more money so that they can buy more stuff why not just buy what they need and use the money to help other people. Instead of working eight hours a day to pay for the second car or a larger house to store all their stuff, they could use that time to nurture meaningful relationships with their partners, getting closer with family or making life long friends. They can pursue their passions, broaden their horizons or just spend time sitting back, relaxing and enjoying life.

So, those people that thought minimalism is living away in a hut, they got it half right. Perhaps not the hut part, but definitely the part where you can get away from the stresses and expectations of life. Minimalism is about living life how you want, to the fullest, because, after all, the person with the most toys isn’t the winner, it’s the person who has the most fun with them that wins.