Simplicity and Minimalism

Yesterday I got a FaceTime call from my teenage protegee who was looking for assistance with maths problems based on Pythagoras Theorum. I am happy to report that I was able to quote the theorum off the top of my head and assist in the calculation of the height of a kite from the ground, and the bottom of a ladder from a wall. Go Aunty Linda. Not much help was needed and I fear I will soon be left behind on the maths front, however I do enjoy our little video homework hook-ups. (Clicking on the link to the Theorum is not mandatory.)

I enjoyed a thoughtful post titled Is Minimalism Naive? at The Other Side of Complexity. Mike has picked up on an interesting concept, that there is simplicity on the other side of complexity, but you need to get through some complexity to get there. This post provides encouragement to work through that complexity to get yourself into a better position. Anyone who has tried to do a significant decluttering project will probably relate to this concept. It also resonated with me as I was resolving my dispute with the internet advertising company earlier in the week. Letting go of my idealised view of what should be happening and taking on the battle was necessary to get out of a messy situation.

Joshua Becker wrote a post this week called 5 Live-Giving Truths From 5 Years of Living with Less, marking the 5 year anniversary of his minimalist journey. I could relate to his first truth, that “Desiring less is even more valuable than owning less”. I find it encouraging when people writing about minimalist lifestyles go beyond the benefits of having less physical clutter and express the deeper benefits of a less materially oriented way of living.

Leo Babauta from Zen Habits has recently released The Little Book of Contentment. There’s plenty of great advice and wisdom in this little eBook. I particularly liked his description of Where Happiness Comes from and Finding Happiness Within.

The most moving thing I saw this week was the video of My Last Days: Meet Zac Sobiech.  If you haven’t come across this story, then I suggest you take a look when you have 20 minutes of quiet time. The video is a celebration of Zac’s life, and a farewell to his family and friends as he faces death from bone cancer. I understand he passed away since the making of the video. What a wonderful young man he was. I hope I can face life and death as well as he did.


This week I have been feeling the need to cut back on ‘Self Help’ and ‘How To’ style reading, whether books or blogs. I need to reduce the level of input and work with what I already have. I know what to do, I just need to keep on with doing it.  What I do like to read is the personal stories of other people who are  getting on with it too, and creating their own unique lifestyles.

One task that has been on the back burner until this week is the Happy Music Project. Last year it was suggested that I listen to more music that makes me happy. You would think that would be easy to do, but I found it difficult to get into. I tend to operate more in the sphere of words and images, and don’t listen to a lot of music. This week I have made a small start and have been on the lookout for music that makes me smile.

At the risk of being uncool, I recommend you get your hands on the Readers Digest Wonderful World of Music For Children and put on Record 2 Side 1. This features guaranteed happy makers such as Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat, A Bushel and a Peck, and the Surry with the Fringe on Top.  Fun songs beautifully sung by an adult male choir. Great while doing the ironing. On a more adult vein, there is the Tom Jones compliationUnforgetable featuring Love is in the Air and Letter to Lucile. Great vocals for cleaning the bathroom. I see now that I am definitely am uncool. But thats the thing about happy music. Its light and fun and silly and makes you smile.

Since getting an iPad and discovering the blogosphere I have switched most of my reading time over to blog reading. However I feel the need for reading matter that is more detailed and weighty.  So another fun thing I am doing is reading Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. I mentioned this as a joke in a comment, but I do actually have it on the shelf, and decided to make a start. Its such a difference reading an old style novel full of detailed description.

Melville has a cheeky sense of humour and inventive turn of phrase. I thought I would pass on his very useful advice that you should not heat your bedroom in winter so that you can get the maximum enjoyment from snuggling under the blanket.

…have nothing but the blanket between you and your snugness and the cold of the outer air. Then there you lie like the one warm spark in the heart of an arctic crystal.

(Moby Dick Chapter 11)

The ship has not yet sailed in my reading of Moby DIck but I will let you know how we get on in with travels. I enjoyed this post from SMART Living 365 titled Love to Travel – Love to Come Home by Kathy Gottberg. She talks about creating the kind of life you enjoy so that coming home from holidays is not met with dread. Heres a quick snippet:

What it comes down to is that my holidays are no longer escapes to take me away from my life—instead they are just alternate journeys of discovery and adventure…. no matter where my home is, no matter what is going on there, whenever I return I feel welcome and glad to be home.

I went around the world last year, but since returning I don’t really have itchy feet, because I am happy at home. I will probably travel again, but its not a burning need.

On a similar theme Minimalist Joshua Fields Millburn talks about Subtractive Creation in a post called A Well Edited Life. He uses the analogy of a sculptor removing excess stone or clay to reveal an artwork to talk about building a more meaningful life by removing things that are superfluous.

I loved this line from a recent post by Courtney Carver from Be More With Less on the topic Simplify Your Life and Quiet Your Mind:

leaning on simplicity eases the stress of the more complicated things

I have been drawing inspiration from all these sources, particularly leaning on simplicity, as I try to get myself out of a somewhat disastrous internet advertising arrangement that I undertook six weeks ago. I am being presented as a cleaner rather than a professional organiser, and can’t seem to find anyone in the company interested enough to either fix the ad or take it down.

In hindsight I can see that going with a large company for my internet advertising was a mistake. Given the problems I have had so far with calls and emails being ignored, I have decided to push for cancellation, rather than fixing the problem.  Although this means I have to start from scratch with my internet advertising, I don’t want to continue a business relationship with a company that could let me down so badly, and then see no urgency to fix their mistakes.

Solving this internet advertising problem is testing my capacity to keep things in perspective. It drives me crazy that I get no response to my questions and complaints. Nevertheless, I am fighting back for happiness and simplicity making sure that I take time to think, write and blog on constructive topics that represent the direction I want to be heading in.

Valuing things is at the heart of minimalism.

If you have very modest means, you may only own one of everything.

My bowl, my dress, my shoes, my pencil, my notebook.

Each item is treasured, because it was hard to come by.

A new purchase is prioritised, saved for, carefully selected, and eagerly awaited.

A much loved item that wears out or goes missing is sorely lost.

Having less, we see the true value of each item.

How many dinner sets do you need? How many mugs? How many TVs? How many cars? How many houses?

Each new multiple reduces our appreciation of the value of the one, and what it does for us.

Choosing to have fewer things, we become aware again of the value of each individual thing, and what it brings contributes to our lives.

Minimalism is about having less, and appreciating what we have.


Yesterday it occurred to me how restful it is to be able to embrace a simpler life. I never knew who the Joneses were that we were supposed to be keeping up with, but I did have the sense of needing to scramble to stay in touch.

When I was a teenager the sophisticated magazine for girls was Seventeen. I borrowed it from the library and was struck by the number of products women needed to buy, and routines they needed to follow to be up to date with their grooming. Cleanse, tone and moisturizer. Day and night make-up looks. Hair removal routines. Make up removal routines.

Add to that maintaining a fashionable wardrobe and good shoe selection, regular hair cutting and dyeing, going to the gym, buying a home, furnishing and decorating the home in the latest styles, running a car….In every dimension of life there seemed to be a need to spend time and money on having the right things and maintaining them, and having the right routines and maintaining those.

The advantage of a simpler approach to life is it focuses attention on what is important in each dimension of life, and allows me to cut out the unnecessary complexities. I have decided to keep my hair in a short and simple cut, with natural colour. That saves me time and money at the hairdresser. I don’t run a car. I have a small range of clothes and shoes. The more I apply the simplicity principle, the easier everyday life becomes.

What struck me in my journal writing yesterday was is the benefit if a simpler lifestyle is not just about saving time and money, or having less chores. When I say “this is enough” for me, I am also saying “I am enough”. I don’t need to be running on a never ending treadmill of acquisition and improvement to be OK. I am OK with greying hair. I am OK with second hand furniture. I am OK traveling by bus and train.

As I travel more deeply into this journey I am appreciating that resting in simplicity is about self acceptance, and giving up the race.


This image was taken at the Botanical Gardens in Niagara Falls Canada. I was taking photos on a rainy grey afternoon which seemed to suit black and white photography.

A recurring theme in my life over the past few years has been a gradual realisation of the true cost of earning and owning. I sometimes wonder if an interest in minimalism or simplicity comes across as a shallow pursuit, focussed on the quantity of material possessions we own. From my own experience, and my observation of other writers, there are much deeper issues involved.

For many people who pursue simplicity, minimalism, or frugality, the change in direction has been triggered by a life event, such as a major illness, or a personal or family crisis. For others its a gradual realisation that the stresses and demands of their current lifestyle are not worth the benefits.

The cost of earning a living was presented to me in the form of illness. Illness is a great teacher, but I am a slow student. I struggled with minor health issues and too many sick days throughout my working life, but it wasn’t until I contracted pneumonia, and battled for 12 months with consequent chronic fatigue, that I began to seriously question the viability of my lifestyle. I was working full-time to pay a mortgage for a unit near my work and I would need to continue to work full-time until I was 67 to pay it off. In the meantime, I wasn’t happy or fulfilled, and it seemed like my real life would have to wait until retirement. Even if I was willing to persist with this sorry situation, my health had other ideas, and I simply couldn’t get away with it.

Post-pneumonia fatigue is not so bad if you don’t try to do too much. Resting at home I was able to read and think and write. It was a very rich time for my interior life, in fact it was a much better life than my regular routine. Of course this made me feel very guilty, as I thought I should want to get back to work as soon as possible. Its not a good sign when being sick is preferable to being well.

When I returned to work part-time, I felt that I was able to maintain a reasonable balance between work and  pursuing my own interests because I was able to just do my work then switch off. However when I returned to full-time work, and more demanding projects, the balance was lost, and my stress levels and dissatisfaction began to soar. In order to do the job well I needed to focus all of my mental and emotional resources on the projects I was assigned. Such was the complexity of the work that it spilled over into my free time, consuming my thoughts in the middle of the night, in the shower, on the train. I had to watch TV or do other hobbies to switch myself off. Free time was recovery time, and there was little space for creativity.

I began to take on an idea of myself as a person with vulnerable health who didn’t like stress. However I was mistaking the symptoms for the problem. I now think that I am a creative person, who needs time and space for thinking, writing and reflecting. If I don’t have this time, I can’t thrive. I was trying to fit into a lifestyle that couldn’t satisfy me and it was costing me my health and sense of wellbeing. I was focussed on survival, and unable to find time to put into the activities that were going to make life fulfilling and meaningful.

Eventually I decided to sell off my unit. It had some features, such as a tendency to damp, that were contributing to my health problems and living there wasn’t working out. The process of selling and moving out of a unit while recovering from chronic fatigue taught me a lot about the costs of ownership.  I had a lot of things that I didn’t need or use and these had to be packed into suitcases and boxes and moved over to my Mum’s garage. Because the unit was so small I had to make multiple taxi trips to remove some of the surplus to be able to show the place to potential buyers, and to make space for further packing. This brought home to me the costs involved in owning, storing, moving and maintaining stuff.

Last year, when I did the great garage clean-up, I was going through all the furniture and boxes that had been dumped in the garage when I fled my unhealthy unit. The were all piled on top of each other so that for a couple of years I could not access a lot of my things. This indicated that I did not need most of it, although I did occasionally want something I couldn’t get to. I donated the big furniture because it was blocking access to everything else and turning the garage into a storage unit. Once that was gone, I paid to have a few things carried upstairs. I went through all the boxes and did the culling I didn’t have the energy to do when I moved. I have kept the essentials incase I want to set up my own place again, but thats just a few small pieces of furniture and some boxes of kitchen stuff and ornaments across the back wall of the garage.

I am very fortunate to be able to live cheaply with my Mum. We help each other out, and this is giving me time with her, and time to explore my own interests. It allowed me to give up work, to travel, and live on my savings while I make the transition to a different model of employment. The situation could change suddenly, and I need to be ready for an uncertain future. I don’t have a clear plan. In some ways I wish I could put in the long hours and rake in the big bucks in a traditional job, but I don’t want to do that if it means I have to sacrifice my health, happiness and creativity. Whatever path I take, its going to involve minimising the costs of earning and owning so that I can maintain my health and wellbeing, and live a meaningful life.

Thanks to Tammy Strobel for the writing prompt that led to this post.

I have written about disappointment before, and now I am getting to write about it again. Ah. On well. Last time I was writing about diappointment in the moment, when something you expected to go well suddenly goes wrong, like when your holiday photos are eaten by the printer. This time I am writing about the gradual realisation that a long term plan or dream might not be going to work out. Its a diappointment that creeps up slowly. You can see it in the corner of your eye, but you don’t want to look. It gets bigger and bigger and then suddenly its right in front of you.

When I was writing about giving up buying second hand goods to sell, the question of whether it was a good idea to be selling greeting cards was the back of my mind. If I don’t want to sell second hand goods because of the problems of transporting them without a car,  the storage issues, and reservations about getting people to buy more stuff they don’t need, why do I want to sell greeting cards which pose the same problems? I decided not to think about that yet because I liked selling the greeting cards. That activity was different because it was creative. I was using my own talents to make something, and I enjoyed that. I started expressing my concerns in an earlier post, the Minimalist Artists Dilemma. Now I am starting to realise what facing up to that dilemma really means for me.

I have been exploring selling to shops, at fetes and markets, and online, and have come to the conclusion that its going to take a huge amount of time and effort to make the exercise a financial success. Selling to shops requires physically going from store to store and asking them if they would be interested in selling  my cards. It takes a lot of time and effort for a small return. There are significant overheads involved in selling at markets, and without a car it would be very difficult to set up a stall. Selling greeting cards online is much more difficult than I expected. Its easy enough to list them, and people like them, but they don’t buy. To do well on Etsy a store needs to have distinctive products of exceptional quality in a contemporary style that has very strong appeal to a niche market. From my observations, the majority of shops have nice things but are failing to make a significant volume of sales because they lack the wow factor. My cards are nice, but not exceptional.


Disappointment has hit me hard in the last couple of days as I have realised that all the effort I have put into making cards is not going work out as a source of income. I am have been particularly disheartened that all the effort in setting up an Etsy store, linking up with other sellers and promoting Etsy products has failed to produce sales. Making greeting cards is going to be a hobby at best, and like any good hobby, its more likely to cost money rather than make money. I am already well out of pocket and it seems like it will be an uphill battle to break even. Its not just a theoretical issue anymore. While I invest a huge amount of time in the cardmaking project, I am not working on projects that have a realistic chance of providing an income.

So how is this disappointment sweet? I know about “Never Give Up” and “Expecting to Succeed” and “Giving it 110%”. But thats only worth doing if you are on the right track. I am resisting “taking it to the next level” because although I enjoy making cards, promoting and selling them is not really what I am passionate about. I am more interested in creating a simple and intentional life with fewer material possessions. I want to live a life that is not dominated by stuff, even nice stuff. I think I will allow the Etsy Store to run itself, and gradually time out as listings expire.

Facing up to disappointment is tough. Its awful. Its like being hit by an emotional truck. But thats part of the process of letting go so that change can happen. Its necessary to allow grieving for the loss of of a dream that didn’t work out.  Letting go of one dream is also means choosing to make space for something more important, and thats the sweet part.

I read some wonderful books and blogs and thought I would share a few of the things that caught my attention this week.

I finished reading Natalie Goldberg’s The True Secret of Writing in which she outlines the process adopted in her True Secret Writing workshops. Natalie Goldberg has been an long term zen meditation practitioner, and uses that foundation as a basis for her workshops. Having some experience in zen retreats, I could relate to her description of how she integrates writing practice with other forms of meditation. It got me thinking about taking my own writing more seriously, and treating writing as a practice to be sunk into, rather than a task to be ticked off.

One of my favourite posts this week was on Simple and Minimal blog by Regina Wong who writes from London England. The post is called What If Money Was No Object and contains a link to an audio recording by Alan Watts. He is talking about the advice he gave to students preparing to leave university and unsure of what to do. He asked the students to imagine what they would do if money was no object, and then pursue that. I found the audio very moving.  I have a book called The Way of Zen by Alan Watts on my bookshelf. He is someone whose opinion I value, and it meant a lot to me to hear him encouraging people to pursue the things that were important to them, rather than be limited by convention. I also enjoyed Regina’s reflections on her own life journey, and whether it would have been different if she had heard this advice earlier.

The Minimalists Blog has a link to quite a long talk on How Minimalism is Changing Entrepreneurship. It features some of the leading lights of minimalism, Joshua Becker, Joshua Fields Milburn, Ryan Nicodemus and Courtney Carver. I have all their blogs in my reader and it was nice to hear their voices and interactions. The talk is a good introduction to minimalism and gives a sense of these fascinating personalities.

For light relief there was an entertaining post on The Great Jollyhoombah blog.  In Mindfully Picking Up the Slack CJ shares his thinking on how to prepare for his wife Tammy’s return after a few days away. That was relevant to me as my two weeks of alone time were drawing to an end and I also needed to think about making home comfortable and welcoming. I did an online grocery order so that we were stocked up with essentials which seemed to hit the mark.

This weekend I am adjusting to having company at home which involves sharing and cooperating. Yes, they teach this on Sesame Street, but its a lesson we need to continue to learn. Much as I enjoyed my TV free fortnight, I need to let go of that for now and allow myself to enjoy the TV as a shared activity. I don’t want talk myself into thinking I can’t cope with the TV being on or I will make myself into a bedroom isolate or the grumpy TV police.