On Maturity — What would I tell myself if I could go back 10 years?

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.

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On Materialism

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.

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‘No’ the difference…

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.

My Tokyo Minimalist Bedroom and Workspace

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.

My Minimalist Bathroom

Ok, so this week we dive further into my personal life…the bathroom! 😉

…But don’t worry, by bathroom I basically mean the toiletries and lotions and potions I use. After all, how minimal can you go with basic hygiene?!

When it comes to bathroom products, I try to keep everything down to just a few products that I can find cheaply and  anywhere. I’ve been through phases of buying really expensive stuff, to going without and I’ve found both ways kind of unnecessary.

For example, I used to spend a lot of money on hair products, thinking that the more I spend, the more it will look like a celebrity’s hairdo. Similarly, I used to buy really expensive make-up, telling myself that I’m paying for better quality. But after a while, I just realised that I was literally flushing money down the drain and simple, cheaper products will do the job just as well. On the other end of the scale, I’ve gone without a few products such as moisturiser and my skin felt the consequences, no matter how much I kept hydrated!

So here is everything I use, although I have left out a few things that should be available anywhere I go anyway, such as toilet paper, sanitary and body towels and handwash.

To be honest, it is possible for me to live with even less stuff than this but since I’m not travelling at the moment, there’s nothing wrong with having a few more bits and pieces, like I’ve said before, minimalism is about only having what you need, not going without to the point that you are suffering! Whenever I’m staying somewhere apart from home, I literally take just the essentials, namely my makeup, moisturiser and toothbrush.

I think it’s in the ‘bathroom area’ that women differ from men the most. Guys can do things like cut their own hair or go without hair altogether! There are some women who have shorter hair and do this and I really admire them for it. However, I’m just not as awesome as them, so inevitably, I have to spend time and money on haircuts, products and getting ready in the morning. But I don’t mind too much since I know that I have pushed the costs down to the minimum.

The most important thing to remember when creating a minimalist bathroom is to never buy anything new until you’ve finished the old product and if you can try to use one product for several uses (eg. ‘body’ moisturiser for face, legs, hands etc.)

It’s quite comforting to know that everything I need to take care of myself would fit into a small bag that I can take anywhere.

Do you have any minimalist bathroom tips? Let me know!

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Moving From Home to Dorm – Part 1 : Decluttering

Moving away from home is hard. You might have lived there for many years and now you get to move into your own ‘house’ – even if it is just single room. But what to take? And more importantly, what to leave?

Apart from the easy answer of ‘whatever is on the list your uni gave you’ there are a lot of things you might be wondering if you could live without. Should I take my guitar? What about these books? Maybe my old photo album? What about this top I really like? Should I take those over there, just in case?

This post is about letting go of what you don’t need to minimise the amount of junk and clutter in your new dorm room.

When you get to your new room, the only place where the space is truly yours within those four walls. Unless you’re very lucky, those four walls will unfortunately probably be a little bit too close together. Unlike at home, you can’t really chuck all of your possessions all over the corridor or flat without it getting in someone’s way, so now is your chance to get rid of everything you literally don’t need almost everyday or week.

Minimalism is about reducing the clutter in your life. It’s about just having exactly what you need, nothing more. When you get rid of things you don’t need, you’ll be left with:

  • a lot of space – in your closet, under the bed, on your shelves, any where there used to be junk that you never used.
  • a clear mind – your desk will be clear, leaving you with a clear and organised mind, which increases productivity. There aren’t a lot of really productive people with piles and piles of papers and knick-knacks all over their desks.
  • only the things you love – you’ll only have the things you absolutely cannot get rid of, which means you probably use it or cherish it a lot.

Here’s a great post about minimalism:

Zen Habits – The Ultimate Guide To Conquering Your Clutter

How to Declutter for University | 5 Steps

So, moving on to how this directly applies to us students. You may want to follow these steps close to the time you are about to move, or you can choose to implement them a little bit before to make actual moving day easier.

1. Identify an area you want to concentrate on first. Try to pick an easy place to start, such as your desk or shelf, before you move on to places like under your bed and wardrobe. Block out time to do this, give yourself a lot of leeway, decluttering can take some time but it’s worth it.

2.Grab a big box or bag and label it ‘Uni’. Grab another and label it ‘Keep’. And grab another and label it ‘Throw/Donate’. Pick up one item at a time and think carefully about which box to put it in. The ‘Uni’ box is all of the stuff you absolutely want to take with you to uni, such as an item of clothing, or your desk lamp. The ‘Keep’ box is stuff that you won’t take with you, but you want to keep, such as an old photo album. The third box, ‘Throw/Donate’ is for things you literally don’t want, need or to keep. This stuff can be old clothes, books, old gifts, papers etc. etc.

3. Ask yourself. Is this item something I use regularly? If it’s not something I use regularly, is it something I love? Am I saving this just in case?

4. Be honest. If you’ve ever tried lying to yourself, you might know that it never works. Answer the questions honestly, and then act upon them. Don’t decide that you shouldn’t keep it and then you do, really really try hard to follow through with your decision.

5. Just get rid of it. If you’re unsure it’s probably because you don’t want to get rid of it, even though you know you should. In this case, you can put the item in a box, label it for a date, such as six months in the future, and if you haven’t made a claim on the anything in it, chuck the whole box.

Another approach for the ‘not sure’ items is to consider that maybe you should just get rid of if. The best thing about moving to uni is that you get to leave a lot of unwanted baggage behind. So do it now, leave it behind, university is the beginning of a new life, don’t let old things weigh you down.

It’s onwards and upwards from here.

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Moving back home – 5 ways to get rid of unwanted things

Finally, it’s nearly time to move out of our beloved dorms back home and enjoy a well-deserved summer break. But moving home can be a pain, especially since we’ve all probably gained more stuff during the course of the year.

Moving from home, all of my stuff only just fit into the car with the driver and me as the passenger, so I don’t have much extra room for the books and clothes I’ve gained. On top of that, I’m going abroad after this summer, so I want to get rid of as much as I possibly can before I leave. That’s why I’m doing a complete re-haul of all of my possessions.

Every now and again, I take a look around and ask myself ‘what should I do with all this stuff?’

Picking up each individual item, I try to mindfully put it into one of the following categories:

1. Donate. First stop – charity shops! They’re a great way to get rid of stuff, whilst doing wonders for your karma. I’ve got a whole bag of clothes waiting for me to give to various local charities. Sometimes it’s hard to give things away, but I just tell myself that I’ve had my time with the item, if I’m not going to use it any more I may as well pass it on to someone who will. Just keep in mind that charity shops aren’t dumping grounds, if they don’t think something will sell, they’ll probably chuck it away, in which case you’re better off with the following options.

2. Sell/Give away. If there aren’t many charity shops willing to take your stuff, don’t forget to ask around your flatmates, friends and family if they would want a few of your things. If they’re not as minimalist as you, you’re bound to have a few people take up on your offer. Also, some university bookshops can help you sell your old books, otherwise hit up amazon or ebay in advance to offload some weight before you leave. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure!

3. Recycle. Since many students would be moving out at the same time, hopefully the student dorm officers will have set up various recycling bins, even for old clothes and shoes. The bins are less fussy than charity shops, since the contents either usually go to be recycled or are shipped off to third world countries. Don’t forget to recycle all of those notes and sheets of paper you’ve collected over the year. Be really strict, if you  don’t think you’re ever going to need them again, why keep them? There’s no use transporting it home, only to collect dust and be thrown away when you graduate.

4. Re-purpose. A lot of the time, if you’re creative enough, you can turn things you don’t need into things you do need! If you’re good with the old needle and thread, you can cut up jeans to make shorts, turn old t-shirts into a pillow or even a laptop case, and if you’re like me and lack sufficient creativity, just cut them up into cleaning rags! There’s a whole range of possibilities out there, including customizing shirts with printing (which make great birthday presents), or even making sock puppets for baby cousins 🙂

5. Throw away. The last wasteful resort should be avoided if possible. If there’s nothing you can do with it, you can simply throw it away. It’s probably better for you to get rid of something you don’t need than to hold on to it. Please make sure that whatever it is, it’s disposed of in the least polluting way. Although it doesn’t happen too often, I always feel a bit guilty when I have to put something straight in the bin. At least every time it happens it makes me think a bit more about buying new stuff later! If you haven’t already, please check out The Story of Stuff – it’s enlightening.

So school’s out, but don’t worry Minimal Student will still be going. Please help me share the love by recommending MS via Stumbleupon or Digg etc!

And I would love to hear what you guys decided to do with all your unwanted things, please share in the comments!

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Minimalize, Focus, Do

How do you get things done?

David Allen, amongst countless other life coaches, business men and women, time management ‘experts’ and so on have spent and earned millions trying to figure out this question.

As people, we can do more than just spend our days hunting, eating and procreating. We’re lucky in that way because we have the chance to do something really world-changing or life-fulfilling, but only if we choose to.

Coming back from a year abroad in hot and busy Asia to a breezy summer in my seaside home in England, it’s been all too easy to slip into a lazy routine of reading, surfing the internet, hanging out with friends and going on the occasional jog. Short of writing one essay, a few songs and getting through a pile of books, I admit I haven’t ‘done’ too much since I’ve gotten back. I haven’t felt so relaxed in such a long time and it’s quite a relief just to lay back for once.

However, the inertia is starting to get me and lately I’ve been feeling a little restless again as I try to find ways to output all of the energy and momentum I’ve built up whilst travelling. I feel like a train that was travelling at full speed and has come to a screeching halt. I need to get back on track, even if slowly but surely.

Back in March, for my birthday post I wrote about things that matter. Even though this is a minimalist blog, I’ve long since learned that it’s not enough to just ‘minimalize’ your life. Just cutting down on things and getting rid of things is only half the battle.

We have to minimalize, then focus, then do.

What to minimalize, focus and do is something I’ve written a lot about (these posts remain some of the most popular). I feel I’ve concentrated a lot on why as well – happiness is one of the most important things in our lives, and yet there are too many people who have forgotten about it or are trying to ‘chase it’ in the wrong ways.

But one thing I haven’t talked too much about is how.

How do we go for what we want? How do we make our dreams into realities?

These are the kinds of questions I hope to be tackling over the next few weeks.

Minimalize, Focus, Do Part III – Push Publish

Part III of the Minimalize, Focus, Do series.

“There are three types of people in this world, those who finish what they start and those that don’t.

People have spent entire careers wondering whether there was something special about ‘successful’ people – was there a common characteristic? A secret ingredient? Or just something they ate?

Of course, there are many common characteristics that contributes to ‘success’, but to me, the difference between a successful person and one that comes down to one thing (at the risk of sounding like Ms. Norbury):

Successful people push.

In other words, they:

  • actively put their ideas and themselves out in front of people.
  • make themselves vulnerable to criticism
  • believe strongly in their ideas
  • believe strongly in themselves
  • have the ability to keep perspective
  • strive to finish

On the other hand, unsuccessful people:

  • wait for things to land on their lap
  • hold on to old ways
  • take the path of least resistance
  • stick to only what they know
  • let others put them down too easily

shipping – push your ideas into the crowd

Not everything you think of will be great. Actually, a lot of ideas that have been adamantly stuck to have turned out to be quite bad, but you’ll never know unless you try.

Amazing ideas could be wasted if you don’t bring them to life. Imagine if the greatest inventors and writers cared just that tiny bit too much about how they would look to other people, then we wouldn’t have some of the most useful, innovative, sensational, ingenious, and moving songs, stories, poems, devices, products and services of all time. History is completely made up of people flying into the face of their naysayers (sometimes literally) and going against the crowd.

Imagine all of the ideas out there right now, waiting to change the world. I’m willing to bet there’s one right now, inside yourself. Until you’re willing to ship, no one will know about it.

You have to persevere with your ideas. Don’t be a pushover and let other people put your down. Don’t be pushy and force your ideas onto other people if you haven’t taken a step back to see if it’s right.

Instead, be a pusher – a special kind of person who acts on their passions and gets their creations out there.

how to be a push publish

1. Passion is number one. You can’t push for something you don’t believe in 100 per cent. It can take all of the energy and motivation you can muster to push something to where you want it to be and if your heart isn’t in it, then you’ll burn out before you can get there. Choose something that means everything to you.

2. Be willing to put your neck on the line. Put yourself out there and don’t care about what the trolls have to say. There are people out there who will try to put you down because they’re just too scared to do something great themselves, so they’d rather drag you down with them. It’s a tragedy, but it would be much worse if your joined their ranks. Nobody knows everything and nobody can predict the future, it’s up to you.

3. Take a step back. On the above note, if you receive actual constructive criticism, take a step back and see if any improvements can be made. Remember, don’t be a pushover or pushy – it’s extremely important to remain mindful as much you can. It depends on a person’s character and strength of conviction whether they let people put them down or if it leads to improvement and eventually what is just a good idea becomes a real idea.

4. Keep a balanced standard. Have faith in yourself and aim high. Setting a challenging standard for yourself is a very good thing but don’t aim for perfection, because there’s no such thing.  Try not be too self-critical, otherwise you’ll always be waiting for something that’s impossible.

5. Create something of value to other people and you’re bound to succeed. It’s as simple as this : if people need or want something you can give them, you are already on the way to success. All you need to figure out is how you can give it to them and how you can receive something valuable in return (this doesn’t necessarily mean cash). Something of value in return can be anything from useful criticism, encouraging comments or spreading your name via word of mouth.

Pushing publish doesn’t have to be hard, but unless it’s good, people won’t take notice. Posts like these take me some time to write because I always have to make sure I’ve done my best before publishing something I’ve created for everyone to see.

Anybody can change the world. But not everybody does. Don’t let it be you.

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