Buy For Less

I've already touched on the topic of buying into minimalism, but let me expand on that.

Sometimes I get into this weird frame of mind where I think, "I should replace what I have with something else." I'm not sure what triggers it - I suspect it may just be an impulse to buy more stuff. In any case, I think, "I should buy a new thing that limits me even more." For example, I considered buying a Netbook to limit what I use my computer for.

The problem with this approach is that it doesn't attack the core issue. You're not mindfully reducing, you're trying to buy something that will do it for you. Instead of confronting the reduction and dealing with your issues, you're sticking with the mindset of "the new thing will fix my problem" that minimalism usually works better without.

Instead of pushing yourself down by buying a new product, consider the usefulness of the tool in the first place. I wanted to get a new eReader with less features. Here's what I said to myself earlier this week: "You don't want these extra features. Do you really need the eReader at all?" Then I had to justify to myself, yes, it's my entertainment device, it's the best thing since pumpernickel bread, and so on. Then I'm not so worried about the features I don't use, because my mind is thinking on the broader, bigger picture that we lose when we analyze the minutia.

You don't need a smaller wallet to convince yourself to carry around fewer cards and less cash. You can do it without a new wallet. It's not about the new product, and it's not going to magically make everything better. It's about you coming to terms with what you want and how you're going to get there. You can do that without a trip to the store.

The Minimalist Minimum

Someone asked:
"What is the minimum for becoming a Minimalist?"
I have bad news for you, but let me start at the beginning. 
I checked with M a few months ago (he used to be called Lord Almighty Minimalist, but then he downsized) and seeing as he recently revised the demands that every Minimalist must follow. It took him a while to get off of his clean, perfectly polished white throne made of nothing but straight lines and right angles, but once he got down to me he gave me a sheet of paper with his revisions. Unfortunately the paper was blank save for a single back dot in the middle.
"Why did you do that?" I asked him.
"To make the black dot more important" said M. "In addition, I have also deleted the single letter in my name. I am now known as."
And so he was called. And 's rule was that we were to follow his rule to the very end, lest we be cast out of the Minimalist Minimum. None of us wanted that. It was a cruel world outside of the castle, where people rode bikes with ten speeds and used Windows 7 PC's. Following the rule of was hard, because a single dot is no way to live a life, but Minimalism Minimum offered no room for interpretation. We already had 100 items, and interpretation was simply one item too many.
"My dear and royal," I called out to as he sat on his throne. "Please tell us what we must do!"
But he would not speak, because he had deleted speech in his effort to become pure. And soon he deleted thought, and even breathing, and then life. The Minimalist Minimum was devastated by his death, but soon realized that to be even more ultra-Minimalist, we must disband our group of utopian dreamers. Community, we reasoned, was simply something we could not afford after buying the Minimalist Castle and 's beautiful throne.
So unfortunately the Minimalism Minimum was destroyed, thus removing any objective definition for both what it is and how to live it. I know many people come to this small subreddit hoping for the clarity of this once great establishment, but it no longer exists.
Thankfully, we have been given the insight of interpretation. Instead of looking for answers in the collective, we must look to our own lives to understand what we should focus our passion on. Minimalism is a magnifying glass, not a passion in its own right. Use it to focus on what you love. And for the love of all that isn't in your life, do not go back to the Minimalist Castle. They turned it into an Apple Store, and it's not even a good one.

Less versus The Least

Another post defining minimalism, because those never get old.

Less: removing the cruft, getting down to what matters to you.

The Least: no exceptions, get down to as little as possible, remove all wants.

I'm starting to see a divide in these two factions. I've usually trumpeted Less for most of my blogging history, though I've drifted into The Least lane for a bit when necessary.

The Least strikes me as very Kantian. If you're going to be minimalist and take that concept to better your life, take it as it very much literally is: as minimal as possible. Any exceptions will break the rule, so don't have any exceptions.

While this is a useful idea and can be used to conceptualize things, it doesn't strike me as utilitarian. It seems to be in love with minimalism as a concept to the point where you forgo what matters to you in an effort to live up to the possibilities of minimalism to its theoretical end.

I moved into a new place in the past week. While I eliminated more than I ever have in my entire life, I still moved over some non-essential items. Why shouldn't I? These things aren't evil. Keeping them isn't evil. I'm not trying to impress someone with my minimalism. I'm just trying to make my life easier and more fulfilling.

I'm not saying that The Least can't be fulfilling. I'm just saying that it might not be useful as a universal definition of minimalism.

The Perfection

There's an idea in some minimalist blogs that there is a One True Path. Down the road of clean desks, white furniture and Apple products, there lies the nirvana of minimalism - a perfection, if you will.

Thankfully, not everyone believes this. But the notion that you can perfect a certain aspect of your life through the little that you do own is both more general and even more pervasive. So you've decided you need an MP3 player in your life? Time to buckle down and find the perfect one. If you have issues with it, it's because it isn't perfect. Eliminate what isn't perfect and keep hunting.

In this endless hunt for quality, we waste our time and attention. Sure, it's good to have passion for what you do, and there's no honor in settling for something lesser. But something lesser than what? This ideal of perfection in your mind? The endless walk towards the horizon of potential perfection. It never comes.

The things in my life that give me the greatest pleasure are the ones I never thought to replace or upgrade. Coming to terms with "this is good enough for me" is a very powerful action. To be direct, the reason why anyone sticks with a platform (such as OSX or Linux) and defends it is because they arbitrarily decided that this is the one for them, which lead way to fanaticism and nationalism. Ignoring the latter part, perhaps it's just healthier to throw your hands up in the air, say, "I'm not doing this anymore" and sticking with what you've got if it bloody works.

I'm not saying you should put up with something that doesn't work or something that doesn't match you. I'm just saying that expecting too much more after "good enough" is pointless.

Where to begin with ownership minimalism?

I find myself fascinated with the beginning lately. What kind of minimalism are you pursuing?

Aesthetic minimalism? Go check out blogs like this and get some ideas for physical design space, or blogs like this for digital design space. Or any number of the blogs on tumblr. There's tons of inspiration there, but realize we're talking about different things.

Ownership minimalism? Now that I can help you with.

The first step to ownership minimalism is to press the stop button and think. Look at what you have. Be mindful of what you have, and what you don't. Think about what you have, and why you have it. Think of the utilitarian purposes. Think of the sentimental value. Think in terms of money, of mind, of matter. Think about what you have and never stop.

To achieve ownership minimalism, you become content with that. You pressed stop, you're here, and you're happy. Realize that ownership growth itself is not inherently a positive action, and that where you are right now is perfectly fine.

From there, you expand your mindfulness. The entire process here is mindful. You are thinking about every step you take, every little shuffle. You begin to become more aware of how your mind works, and what makes you more content and what is easier for you to manage given your lifestyle.

Eventually, once you know yourself and how you treat your ownership, you might find yourself considering eliminating something. The key here is to think about what you're removing. Don't do it lightly. Stress about it for a while if you have the energy. Think about it longer than you would with a purchase. This makes the elimination memorable and with a full mind. Don't flippantly throw objects out. That doesn't leave a lasting impression.

I'm not saying you should concern yourself with making too many mistakes. You should also realize that you will probably, in the steps toward ownership minimalism, eliminate too much, or in the wrong area for you. But if you do something, you should remember why you did it later. It wasn't just because you were in a spring cleaning phase, or a minimalism moment. It was because of a specific set of reasons and this is how you felt when it left you. Concentrate on the positive aspects of the elimination: why has this made your life easier? Even if it's a small thing.

Example. I eliminated iPods. I knew the players were nice to use, but there were issues that I could not overcome. They weren't cross-platform and required bloated programs to maintain. They didn't support audio files I wanted to use. I already had other players I was actively using instead. So I removed them, but not without understanding the above reasons. I didn't have to concentrate and think back on why I eliminated the iPods, and that's why I'm never tempted to buy another.

Sometimes you may find that replacing one with another is something that might work for you. This is a harder proposition, because expectations come into play. Understand that there is often a disparity between what you think something might be and what it actually is. We're often predisposed to think more highly of the new as opposed to the old, and you have to fight that and become a realist. Be mindful of the assumptions you jump to, and don't fall in love with potential.

Remember that replacement is a two step process: addition and subtraction. Both are risks. You can minimize the risk by only doing the first half. In a theoretical example, I enjoy video games, and I want a new PlayStation 3 to replace my old PlayStation 2. I buy the new PS3, but I find myself forgoing it to enjoy the old PS2. Then I can remove the new PS3. Sure, I lost out a bit from reselling the new PS3, but at least I didn't try to replace my old PS2 and magnify the risk. I fully embrace alternatives before eliminating something.

But all of these things just boil down to my first step. Just think about what you have. These are different methods in doing so, and it's a very robust, simple framework for helping with that, but just thinking about your stuff can make a world of difference.

Minimalism and eBook Readers

One of my most popular blogs is the one about the Amazon Kindle. People are definitely looking at minimalism and how an eReader can assist them in such endeavors. So in my endless quiest to become a useful resource to those who wanted to do the same but aren't sure what the end result can be, here's some more updated notes about how eReaders and the Kindle in specific change the way you read.

I'm not trying to sell you on an eReader. I'm trying to make sure everyone knows what it's like so they don't waste time on something that won't work for them, because the experience isn't perfect.

What eReaders don't do well

-Ergonomics. Some eReaders seem to be ignoring them entirely. I strongly recommend that all users find store displays of every model and test them out with the shape and size of their hands. Take these results into heavy consideration.

-While the devices themselves are pretty inexpensive, the pricing structure of certain types of books is a joke. I strongly recommend researching the prices of books available for the eReaders and understanding what type of reading the reasonably-priced content is useful for. For people like myself, it might be capable of replacing paper books; for others, it's an unnecessary supplement.

-While I'm not concerned about my Kindle dying anytime soon, I do wonder about the sustainability of the platform and the device. How long will this last? The battery is pretty strong and powerful, but it's not user replaceable. I also fear major market turbulence.

-Portability between eReaders is not impossible (the DRM limitations on the file formats are easy to break if you nose around), but it's a hurdle that should be addressed. In addition, if you want to manage a library any larger than a few hundred books, you'll need Calibre, which while legitimately useful and feature filled is also headache inducing, inefficient and very confusing.

-The ads on the Kindle aren't terrible, but they're mainly geared toward thirty to forty year old women. I am not in this demographic, unfortunately. The good things about these ads is that they bring your attention to book sales, some of them Kindle-ad-exclusive. But overall, I would just recommend paying the extra or jumping to a Nook to avoid them.

What eReaders do well

-Space. One device, your entire library. You may have to be creative if you want to replace your old dead tree books, because finding the various ebook files may take you a while, but once you do, it's hard to go back. I may never move an entire box of books again.

-The battery life is magical, and eBooks take up no digital space at all. This is the number one reason why I use the Kindle so much: I don't have to maintain it. It's the gadget I use the most as opposed to keeping charged and updated with new books. I just stuff it full of random books and I'm good for the next month or even year.

-While the portability of ebooks between devices is sub-par, the devices individually are all effortlessly cross-platform when it comes to syncing with the computer. Depending on how you use it, a computer may not even be necessary.

-They get you to read. And not in an advertisement sort of way. I say this because the eReader makes reading more pleasant, easier to access, and offers so many new book options in an immediacy that's initially breathtaking. It's the good kind of choice.

-They make reading better. The contrast is better than smaller paperbacks, while the lightness of the device is far better than any hardcover. The ability to change font size helps me focus on each word, and the variability allows me to change the size based on content and battery life left. (Smaller font = less page turns = less battery used)

-eReaders are excellent at shutting everything else off and concentrating on just the text. Some new eReaders seem to be trying their hardest to integrate Internet content and distractions into the text, but it's optional. The one great thing is being able to look up words in the text through a dictionary - you miss that when it's gone.

-eInk is one of the few modern pieces of technology that actually feels like a revelation as opposed to pure marketing spin. It looks incredible. I say this even years after I bought my Kindle.

-They present web content beyond anything that Readability can do. By using any number of "Send to Kindle" services or Instapaper for batch jobs, you can read long-form internet material using the eInk screen, which is so incredibly lovely. In addition, you can get RSS feeds and news reports by setting up a few services or doing it yourself in Calibre.

-While eInk isn't designed for Internet browsing, you'll be surprised what it can do in a pinch. The 3G services are awesome as well, if you can still find an eReader that hasn't limited what you can access. Also on the topic: some small games are pretty fun. Every Word for Kindle is amazingly simple and addictive.

What I wish eReaders did

-Standardize more. Stabilize and update the software more often. Charge money for OS updates if you have to. Tying these updates to specific hardware is a quick way to get people to shrug off legitimate eReader progress because only the most dedicated users will upgrade their hardware unless it breaks. There's so much more to be explored here and it's all getting ignored.

-Integrate a better MP3 player if you're going to have sound. I realize this kills battery life, but the Kindle offers a shuffle playlist anyway, so you might as well include something more substantial. At this point, all I have on my Kindle is Music for Airports to help me focus.

-Kindle supports the Audible service, which is good in theory but burdened by DRM. It works pretty well. This shows me that a podcast service would work wonders on the eReader system. Integrating them into the library and saving progress is not a difficult task.

-I want Interactive Fiction. I want to play/read Photopia and Zork on my Kindle.