Software Review: Google Chrome

I’ve been using Google Chrome as my primary web browser for several months now.  I switched to it to give it a try when it was still very new because I’ve always been a fan of Google’s products in the past (though they are fast becoming the next evil empire).  It was my hope that they’d bring the same blend of innovation, simplicity, and functionality to the web browser that they’d previously brought to search, email, and pretty much everything else they’ve gotten their hands on.

I’ve been very pleased with it so far, using it almost exclusively — the only times I run Firefox or IE anymore are if I find something on the web that blocks Google Chrome or if I’m working on web design and want to make sure my site works properly in other browsers.  Chrome is built for speed, starting up MUCH faster on my system than Firefox 3.  Tabs can be quickly and easily moved between browser windows, split off into new windows, and merged back into other windows quickly and easily.  Each tab is a separate process independent from the others, so if a web page in one of your tabs causes a crash, only that tab dies — the rest of Chrome is unaffected.  And if a plugin (such as Flash) crashes, it doesn’t kill your browser, and can easily be restarted.  The interface is full of little optimizations and has very few menus — not even a menu bar, just two little buttons to the right of the address bar that drop down menus when you click on them.  But the most noticeable feature of Google Chrome is also the least noticeable.  Without ever realizing it, I became so accustomed to Chrome’s quick, streamlined performance and usability that when I went back to use Firefox 3 for something, it felt amazingly slow and clunky.  The same Firefox that felt so much slicker and cleaner than its predecessor felt like it was obsolete and constantly in my way!  Google Chrome truly has the lead over FF in this user experience.  And for web developers, there’s a good document inspector that lets you see what’s going on under the hood.

All this speed, performance, and usability comes at a cost, however — you may find that you miss some of the more advanced features of your old browser.  If you’re a fan of Firefox extensions, you may be disappointed at having to leave Firebug, Greasemonkey, and your favorite session manager behind.  Rumor has it they’re working on extensibility for a future version, but it’s not quite there yet.  And those of you on Linux will have to wait unless you’re willing to use a development version (and accept the extra work and risks that are inherent in doing so).

Overall, I’m a big fan of Chrome.  I’m very happy with the feature set, speed, usability, and stability.  I expect it to be my browser of choice for a long time to come, although I understand why some FF power-users may not want to give up their browser customizations.  But when extensibility is added to Chrome, I don’t think there will be any reason not to switch.  I give Chrome 4.5 stars out of five.  Check it out and see if you don’t like it better than the browser you’re using today!  🙂

Minimalism: My Bottom-Up List

Here’s my bottom-up list.  There are a lot of things on this list that aren’t strictly necessary, but are conducive to my goals and contribute more to my life than they detract from it.  This list assumes living alone in a one-bedroom apartment (which I currently don’t) and that the kitchen, dining room, and bathroom have overhead lights.  It also excludes decorative items, which I don’t use much anyway.  Many items on this list are things I don’t have yet — there are plenty of things I could still acquire to improve my life, but many items I’d want to get rid of first.

Bedroom

  • Bed (with bedding: 2 pillows, fitted sheet, plain sheet, blanket)
  • Nightstand
  • Light
  • Glasses case
  • Phone charger
  • Small box of personal items.

Bedroom Closet

  • 10 business shirts (5x long-sleeve for winter, 5x short-sleeve for summer)
  • 10 pairs pants (5x Black [for winter], 5x Khaki [for summer])
  • 7 pairs short pants
  • 7 casual t-Shirts
  • 8 pairs underwear (one extra in case I’m a day late doing laundry)
  • 8 pairs socks (ditto)
  • 1 suit (dress shirt, jacket, pants)
  • 5 pairs shoes (sneakers, sandals, black dress shoes, 2x hiking boots [one regular, one super-warm])
  • Dressing gown
  • Laundry Basket
  • 1 set spare bedding
  • 3 file storage boxes of personal items, including items of sentimental value such as mementos of my childhood
  • 3 backpacks (1 for computer, 1 for gaming, 1 for other needs when the first two are unsuitable)

Kitchen

  • 3 skillets/frying pans (different sizes)
  • 3 pots/saucepans (different sizes)
  • Roasting pan
  • Oven-safe Pyrex dish
  • Vegetable steamer
  • 1 set wooden or plastic spatula/spoon/fork/pasta fork
  • Knife block
  • Carving set
  • Cutting board
  • 1 set assorted measuring cups and spoons
  • 1 set assorted containers for leftovers (including plastic bags, plastic wrap, and aluminum foil)
  • Vegetable peeler
  • Can opener
  • Corkscrew
  • Up to 6 cookbooks
  • 2 wine glasses
  • 2 ice cube trays
  • 2 sets silverware (May replace with service for four later.)
  • Plastic flatware (ditto)
  • Paper plates (ditto)
  • Paper bowls (ditto)
  • Plastic cups (ditto)
  • Dishes brush
  • Dish towels
  • Drying rack
  • 1 package sponges
  • Dishwashing detergent
  • Rubber gloves
  • 1 roll paper towels
  • Coffee maker
  • Coffee filters
  • Trash can
  • Assorted food

Dining Room

  • Table
  • 4 chairs

Living Room

  • Computer table
  • 3 computers (1 Windows XP desktop, 1 Fedora Core desktop, 1 Windows XP laptop) w/ accessories
  • 1 printer/scanner/copier
  • 1 package extra printer paper
  • 2 extra ink cartridges (1 color, 1 b/w)
  • 1 large binder CD-ROMs
  • 1 medium binder audio CDs
  • ~20 DVDs
  • 1 spindle blank CD-Rs
  • 1 spindle blank DVD+RWs
  • ~1 dozen computer books
  • 1 file storage box spare computer parts/cables/occasional-use accessories
  • 1 file storage box user manuals and other documentation
  • Trash can
  • Paper shredder
  • Lamp
  • Drawing table
  • Drawing supplies (paper, pencils, kneaded eraser, pens, ruler, etc.)
  • 1 file cabinet (contains important documents and financial records going back seven years)
  • 1 drawer office supplies (envelopes, stamps, stapler, staple remover, scissors, etc.)
  • Small bookshelf
  • ~1 file storage box worth of “keeper” books
  • Spare batteries
  • Change jar

Bathroom

  • Plunger
  • Toilet brush
  • 1 bottle toilet cleaner
  • 1 bottle Liquid Plumr or the like
  • Candle
  • Lighter
  • Cup
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • 1 box floss
  • Mouthwash
  • Hand soap
  • Body soap/bodywash
  • Shampoo
  • Hairbrush
  • 1 box Q-Tips
  • 1 stick deodorant
  • Buzz cutter
  • Electric shaver w/ charging stand
  • 1 bottle electric shaver cleaning fluid
  • Bathrobe
  • Medical supplies (as necessary, including cold medicine)
  • 1 set towels
  • Trash can
  • Utility Closet
  • Swiffer
  • Swiffer pads
  • Broom
  • Dustpan
  • All-purpose cleaner
  • Glass cleaner
  • 1 set bathroom towels

On Me:

  • Glasses
  • Keys
  • 2 Wallets
  • Cell Phone
  • Moleskine
  • Pen
  • Glasses cloth
  • MP3 Player
  • Ear buds
  • Small bottle of Tylenol and antacids

Whew!  That list is actually longer than I expected it to be.  But now I can refer to it and any time I have things that aren’t on it, I know I need to get rid of them if there isn’t a really good reason it should be on the list!

What about your list?  Did I miss anything?  If I think of anything, I’ll come back to the list and add it!  Could I cut anything off of this list without missing it?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Minimalism: My Story

(Note: This is the fifth and final post in a short series on minimalism.  Please check the archives for the previous four posts.)

In May of 2005, I moved from Silicon Valley, California, to Portland, Oregon.  All I took with me was what fit in a friend’s Ford Expedition — a large collection of file storage boxes, mostly.  More stuff stayed at the same friend’s house until several months later when he came for a visit and brought it with him.  At first I lived in one bedroom of a shared house, moderately crowded by my collection of stuff, but I never gave much thought to getting rid of things, and indeed thought often of the things I’d left behind in California and how to retrieve them or replace them.

After a year or so, I moved out on my own.  I got myself a 700 sq. ft. one bedroom apartment close to my work.  It was built in the 1920s, and it was clearly designed for people from a different era.  There was no good place for a couch or a TV (which made it fortunate that I did not have these things), the living room was long and narrow like a bowling lane, and the bedroom was a postage stamp — there was barely room for my hand-me-down queen-size bed and a narrow space to walk around it.  The kitchen was similarly tiny, but the living room and dining room were spacious (though, as mentioned, the former was oddly long and narrow).

I had little furniture, but living there I discovered that I really didn’t need much.  A tiny computer desk, a bed, a table for the dining room, and a gaggle of chairs were plenty for my lifestyle there (though had I been the sort to have people over, I’m sure a couch and perhaps an entertainment center would have served me well).  I still had stacks of file storage boxes containing the belongings I’d brought with me from California, but the longer I lived in Portland, the more I realized I could do without them.  Nevertheless, there they were, stacked up around my dining room, living room, and bedroom, always in the way.

After several months of this, I decided to give minimalism a try in my postage stamp bedroom and see if it would make the room more comfortable and presentable.  I stashed all the boxes in another room, save two empties which I stacked and covered with a colored sheet, turning them into a nightstand.  Atop the nightstand, I put only a clock radio, a case to put my glasses in while I slept, my cell phone charger, and a small wooden box containing some personal effects.  I removed everything from the windowsills, cleaned them, and placed a decorative candle or two on each one.  And for the remainder of my time there, that was all that I kept in the bedroom: my bed, my makeshift nightstand, and a few candles.

This worked fantastically.  The room was so easy to clean, so perfectly appointed to perform the one and only function it was intended for, so open and clear (considering that the bed occupied 80% of the available floor space).  This was truly where I learned to love minimalism.

I never did finish giving the rest of my apartment the minimalist treatment before returning to Silicon Valley in August of 2007.  When I came back, my apartment’s worth of stuff was mostly stuffed into a single bedroom.  Ever since then I’ve had my heart set on once again living the dream of minimalism.  Now that I have some free time for a change, I’m working on sifting through and figuring out what I can get rid of (lots of things), what needs to be dealt with before getting rid of it (about three boxes of books that I want to read before selling or donating them, for instance), what to keep, and what to add to simplify my life (such as the computer desk I mentioned in the previous post in this series).  I still have far more stuff than I need, but I’m moving in the right direction, and I have visions of a room devoid of clutter, a spacious, clean, well-lit space where I can sleep, work, think, or play games unhindered by things, always in my way, always too close at hand, always underfoot.

I am still working on my bottom-up minimalism list, and I will share it when it’s done.  In the mean time, I hope you’ve enjoyed this series on minimalism, and as always, your comments and questions are welcome.  Till next time…

Minimalism from the Bottom Up

(Note: This is the fourth post in a short series on minimalism.  The first, second, and third posts are available in the archive.)

So far, I’ve been working on implementing minimalism from the top down in my own life.  But while I was working on this series, I had a thought — what if I approached minimalism from the opposite direction?  Instead of getting rid of things I have and whittling down my stuff collection to a manageable size, what if I approached it from the opposite direction?  I could start from scratch, make a list of everything I need, and then get rid of everything that’s not on the list.  This would reduce ambiguity over whether or not to keep things, allow more insight into the value and purpose of everything on the list, and could result in an even lighter load of “stuff”.  I haven’t tried this yet, but am beginning the process now, starting with this post.

Foundations of the Bottom-Up Method

To make the list, we start out with a blank sheet of paper (or electronic document).  The default in top-down minimalism is to keep everything you don’t consciously decide to get rid of, whereas the bottom-up method defaults to getting rid of everything not on the list.  This method is more extreme, but pays greater dividends in terms of minimizing the burden of ownership.  Imagine you were moving abruptly to a new country and could take almost nothing with you to start with, and had limited funds with which to re-establish yourself — what would your priorities be?  Mine would be something like this:

  • Survival necessities:
    • Clothing
    • Food
    • Toiletries
    • Medical supplies
    • Glasses
    • Bed
  • Important Documents:
    • ID (card, passport, birth certificate)
    • Access to whatever money I have (cash, debit/credit cards, checks, etc.)
  • Computer with Internet access and programming environment (gotta make a living somehow)
  • Transportation (bus pass)

That’s actually a pretty good start — I could survive for a pretty long time with just those things, particularly if I had access to use things I didn’t own.  I’m sure your list of your top priorities will be different from mine, so take some time to sit down and think about what you truly need to get by — what would be first on your list if you suddenly found you had to replace all your stuff?

Even if bottom-up minimalism is too drastic for you, it may be enlightening to sit down and write out a list like this — it can provide perspective on what’s really important and what isn’t.

Fleshing It Out

Once you’ve got the basics down, it’s time to break it down a little and cast a wider net.  Now that you know what’s absolutely necessary, take a look at things that would make life easier, though they’re not strictly necessary.  Add things to your list, keeping in mind the costs (both concrete and abstract) of each item before deciding on it.  Here are some other things that may help make your list more useful:

Be specific.  You should know what you need, but you should also know how much.  Try breaking down what  you’ve already written into more detailed lists.  For instance, looking at my list above, I’d break clothing down into categories: I need shirts, pants, underwear, socks, shoes, etc.  But even that level of detail still leaves wiggle-room for overindulgence.  I think almost everyone would agree that shoes should be on the list, but most of us would agree that Imelda Marcos is overdoing it.  Much better to say something like “one pair sneakers, one pair sandals, one pair hiking boots, one pair dress shoes”.  The more specific you can be, the more honest you can be with yourself about what you really need.

Be honest.  While you’re expanding your list, I’m sure you’ll think of things that aren’t particularly useful, but have sentimental value.  There’s no reason not to use this as a reason to put something on the list — so long as you’re not trying to claim that all your stuff and clutter has sentimental value.  😉  Think seriously about how important any given object is to you before putting it on the list for emotional reasons.  You’re not doing yourself any favors by getting rid of something that holds deep meaning for you, but neither do you benefit from fooling yourself into thinking that’s the case if it really isn’t.

Go room by room.  I find that it’s helpful to think about what I’d like to have in each room of my house.  What do I want in the bedroom?  What do I want in the kitchen?  What do I want in the bathroom?  This helps me think of things that I might otherwise miss.  Be sure to include everything — furniture, lighting, the works.  It’s a little like playing The Sims, but with your real life.  😉

Don’t be afraid to add things if there’s a good reason.  You may realize that there are things that you should have that you don’t, or even that you could simplify by adding or upgrading something.  For instance, I currently have a small computer table, a chair that my printer sits on, and my computer books are in a box nearby.  By buying a proper corner computer desk, I can eliminate the table, chair, and box, and even have extra desk space for the few DVDs and CDs and such that I’ve decided are worth keeping.  That computer desk is on my list instead of the things I have now.

Have fun!  Although starting from scratch may seem daunting, this method can actually be more fun than top-down, because you get a chance to design your holdings from the ground up.  Instead of thinking about giving things up or what’s too much trouble to keep, you can approach it from a perspective of thinking about what’s worth having, what you want in your life, what is more beneficial to you than it is costly.  It’s more of a positive approach.

Putting It Into Practice

There’s not too much to be said here that I haven’t already said in Minimalism from the Top Down.  The practical implementation of bottom-up minimalism is mostly the same as with top-down minimalism — get rid of stuff! — it’s just that bottom-up minimalism gives you something to shoot for.  If you approach things top-down, how do you know when you’re done?  With bottom-up, you know that when your list of things you should own and the actual things that you do own match each other, you’re finished and it’s time to celebrate — and keep an eye out for stuff creep, of course!

There’ll be one more installment in this series, in which I will share my story of how I came to appreciate minimalism and where I am in my quest to apply it to my own life.  I may even share my own bottom-up list.  In the mean time, I’m interested to see your list, and hear any experiences you may have had while making it and while applying and practicing minimalism — if you have a story to tell, leave it in the comments below.  🙂

Restaurant Review: GuGu’s Pizza & Pasta

I recently visited GuGu’s Pizza & Pasta to get some lunch before returning to the library.  I had discovered this brand-new Italian café on Yelp, searching for lunch spots within walking distance of my “workplace” — Santa Clara City Library.  It was listed as inexpensive and rated well with the few reviewers who had posted there, so I decided to walk the 15 minutes to Homestead and Scott and check it out.

GuGu’s is a small, colorful space with only eight tables and some bar-style seating.  Its many windows let in plenty of natural light in the daytime, and the decor is cheerful, mostly in vivid red, yellow, green, and blue.  the tables are small, just about right for two diners (or one diner with a laptop computer), though I imagine larger groups could push a few tables together.  The website and the signs on the windows advertised free WiFi, but I had trouble connecting to it and had to resort to my cellular connection.  Oldies were playing loudly on the restaurant’s speaker system, pleasantly drowning out the kitchen sounds coming from behind the bar.  The walls were decorated with Italian-food-themed art, various photographs, bits of Americana, a map of the South Bay, a Hall of Fame for those who’ve endured the restaurant’s touted Habanero Hawaiian pizza, old-fashioned food ads, and entries in the restaurant’s coloring contest for children.  Their web site advertises that they show 

The menu is brief and printed on paper, clearly designed to be a tri-fold mailer, but it has all the core favorites that you’d expect to find in inexpensive Italian fare.  After looking it over very briefly, I decided to order the spaghetti and meatballs and a cherry Italian soda, which came to $10.80.  The salad came out shortly after I had a seat, a large-ish plastic bowl with lettuce, tomato, onion, mushrooms, and fennel.  It was fresh and tasty topped with some red vinegar.  Before I was done, the spaghetti and garlic bread arrived on a small oval paper plate.  I was a bit surprised that the portion size was so small.  The noodles were *almost* as soft as I like them (they were past al dente, but not quite fully cooked), and the marinara sauce was tangy and flavorful.  The garlic-bread was non-descript, but the real downfall of the meal was the meatballs, which were curiously absent.  I will assume that this was an oversight on this occasion, and not that they serve a dish called “spaghetti and meatballs” which contains no meatballs.  Overall the food was good, though the portions were small.  I’ll give them a try another time and see if the lack of meatballs was a fluke.  😀

I stuck around at my table after finishing my meal to type up this review.  It makes for a nice space to work in, though I can see it getting distracting if it gets crowded.  The web site advertises Buster Keaton movies shown daily, and indeed, when I eventually turned around I realized I’d been sitting with my back to a large wall-mounted TV the whole time.  😀

Overall, a nice space serving good food in small portions.  I rate it four stars out of five, with a chance for 4.5 if the meatballs are good.  😀 Check it out if you’re looking for a casual, inexpensive Italian dining experience, or if you’re watching your weight and want some help with portion control.  😉

(Update, 4/2/2009: Today I returned to GuGu’s and ordered the spaghetti and meatballs once again.  This time they arrived as promised, three flavorful medium-sized meatballs.  They were quite good, and tasted like they might have had some cheese mixed in.  The proprieter was also kind enough to offer me a free sample of their cheese ravioli, which I also enjoyed.  Fresh, moist pasta and rich, flavorful cheese in a marinara sauce.  So 4.5 stars it is.  Next time, I’ll try the pizza, and now that I’ve had a sample of the cheese, I’m curious about the meat ravioli, so that will probably be on the agenda for the next visit.)

Product Review: Golden Oreos with Chocolate Filling

I recently discovered the number of varieties of Oreo cookies available at the supermarket.  When I was a kid, it was just Oreos, Oreo Double Stuf, and for a few blessed years, Oreo Big Stuf.  (Tangent: does it bother anyone else that they can’t even bring themselves to call the filling “stuff”, mis-spelling it in the manner of a company that wants to use a term that the product doesn’t legally qualify for?  How bad does your product have to be before you’re no longer legally allowed to call it “stuff”?)  Now there are several more flavors, with peanut butter, mint, and so forth, and this one, a “reverse” Oreo with vanilla cookies and chocolate filling.

I love the filling in regular Oreos, but I’m not a big fan of the cookies.  They’re alright, but too chocolatey, and they can overwhelm the flavor of the filling.  I went into this realizing that there was no traditional Oreo filling involved, but hoping that the vanilla would be a stronger component of the flavor and the chocolate still strong enough to make a difference.  I was pleased to find that’s exactly the case.  The cookies have a robust vanilla flavor and the chocolate filling still makes itself known.  It winds up being a good mix, although as with regular Oreos, I usually eat the filling and the cookies separately.  Fortunately, although the chocolate is creamier than traditional Oreo filling, it still separates from the cookies easily enough to eat it on its own.

I enjoyed the reverse Oreos, and have purchased more since then.  I think they also come in a Double Stuf variety, and I might try that out for a chocolatier experience.  I like the flavor of the chocolate cream better than the chocolate cookies of regular Oreos, so I might just ditch the regular ones altogether, sticking with Double Stuf and Golden Double Stuf with chocolate filling.

I give them four stars out of five (to leave room for the Double Stufs to be better).  😀

Minimalism from the Top Down

(Note: This is the third post in a short series on minimalism.  Please visit the first and second posts first!)

So how do you get started on the path to minimalism?  One possibility is a top-down method: start identifying things that you don’t need and getting rid of them.  It doesn’t really matter where you begin so long as you’re making progress. Choose something that you can get rid of, and do it!  Then do another, and another, and another.  The first thing you get rid of probably won’t help much, but the effects are cumulative, and soon you’ll be enjoying the freedom you’re creating.  Where you start is up to you, but here are a few ideas:

  • If you find the prospect of paring down daunting, start small — get rid of whatever would be quick and easy.  Things you won’t miss, things that have no value and can simply be thrown away, or things that you can give away immediately.  Get going promptly with some small victories so you feel the progress sooner.
  • If you already have the motivation to stick with it and don’t feel like you’ll need the boost of early, small victories, start with whatever will make the biggest difference to get done.  If you have a few CDs lying around that you don’t need, but a library of hundreds of books you know you’ll never read again, start selling, trading, or donating the books right away — a big project means a big victory and big benefits from having it done.  You can tie up loose ends (like the CDs) later.
  • If you have lots of boxes of things (like I do), you may be able to squeeze out a little bit of extra benefit by consolidating boxes after getting rid of some things.

But what about those things that you still use?

Simple Substitution: Improve Your Life By Giving Up One Thing For Another

One powerful strategy is substitution.  Many possessions provide benefits we can duplicate in other ways.  By simply substituting one thing for another, we can abandon the burden of ownership while still enjoying most of its benefits.

Here are some examples.  You can substitute:

  • Netflix for DVDs.  When Netflix can put a movie in your hands in a day or two, there’s no need to maintain your own DVD library.  I kept a few of my favorites, but sold off the bulk of my collection.
  • Library books for your book collection.  Make liberal use of the library and you can get rid of your books.  If you return your books on time, you can’t beat the price!  If you’re not good at returning book in a timely manner, try using the used book store instead.  Sell off all the books you don’t read anymore at the used book store, then use the money (or store credit — some book stores give you a better deal this way!) to buy new-to-you books that you will read.  This is “substitution light” — you still own the books, but your collection shrinks over time, as you receive less for your books than you pay for them.  Keep trading in books for new ones until you only own the books that are really important to you.
  • DRM-free MP3s for CDs (or cassettes, or record albums…).  Many CD players now support discs burned with MP3s, and you can fit a lot more MP3s on a disc than plain CD audio — so if you truly need physical media, you can have more music with fewer discs.  MP3s are also more portable than CDs, and don’t skip when you’re listening while you exercise.
  • Legally downloaded software for shrink-wrapped software.  Similar to the MP3s, there’s no reason to have physical media for things that are electronic in nature.

By borrowing, renting, and going digital as much as possible, you can benefit from using things without having to bear the burden of owning and maintaining them.  Win-win!

Some other ideas: Give up the newspaper for news websites and blogs, TV for Hulu and DVDs on your computer, and big heavy reference books (dictionaries, atlases, phone books, encyclopedias, etc.) for online equivalents.

Simplify

Another tactic is to simply cut back.  If there are things you truly don’t need, then even a substitution may cost more than its value to you.  Maybe you have clothes that no longer fit, tools of a trade you no longer practice, collections of music or books or movies that you’re no longer interested in, old cars that no longer run, knick knacks that you don’t have room for, items you’ve kept only because they’re expensive and not because you use or enjoy them, keepsakes that have lost their sentimental value, and so forth.

Have a garage sale.  Give things away to friends and family.  Donate to a thrift store or a cause that’s taking a collection.  Find a way to get those items out of your way and into the hands of someone who will appreciate them.

If you’re having trouble determining what you should get rid of, one tactic I’ve used is to ask myself “do I really need this?” and make three piles: yes, no, and maybe.  Then sort the maybes — anything that’s easily replaceable is really a no, and can be gotten rid of.  Only the maybes that would be difficult to replace or do without are keepers.  I often find that if I repeat this a few months later, I find that some of the maybes that I kept have become nos in the mean time.

Stem the Flow of Acquisition

No matter what strategy you use to get rid of things, it will do you no good if you’re just going out and getting more things.  Just as spending less is an integral part of repairing out-of-control finances, you must stop getting things you don’t need if you want to enjoy the benefits of minimalism.  Fortunately, these things go hand-in-hand, so if you’re looking to get rid of stuff AND improve your finances, you’re in luck!  😀  Cut your spending, slow down, and stop getting things you don’t need, 

Conclusion

Top-down minimalism is probably the best choice if you’ve got WAY too much stuff or if the project is otherwise daunting.  It can be implemented a little at a time by making small changes in your lifestyle.  In my next post, I’ll take a look at minimalism from the opposite direction with a much more dramatic way to make the change: bottom-up minimalism.

The Benefits of Minimalism

– or –

How To Do More and More With Less and Less, Until Finally You Can Do Everything With Nothing at All

(Note: This is the second post in a short series on minimalism.  You can view the first post here.)

Well, okay, I won’t claim that you can really do everything with nothing, but you can do an awful lot with surprisingly little — and you might be surprised at how much easier it is!  The solution to the burden of ownership is to embrace minimalism and unburden yourself of the unnecessary.

What is minimalism?

Minimalism is the conscious rejection of unnecessary complexity.  Best known in the art world, these days minimalism is making strides as a lifestyle principle.  There are different ways of applying this principle to your life, but the one that applies here is minimalism of possessions.  You can enjoy its benefits by owning only what you need and use regularly, the things that have the most value to you.  I’m reclaiming my space, time, money, attention, efficiency, and happiness by implementing minimalism in my own life.

There will always be things whose benefits outweigh their costs, and those things are truly owning.  For instance, the tools of your trade (in my case, my laptop and several reference books for programming and writing), basic necessities (a bed, a modest wardrobe, a reasonable amount of cookware, etc.), and the like probably offer a great deal of return on the resources you invest in them.  But when owning turns to hoarding (do I really need 50 t-shirts, or could I get by with a fraction of that number?), it’s time to turn to minimalism to help us maintain a nimble and efficient lifestyle.

Here’s a review of the six costs of ownership I identified in the first post in this series, and how minimalism addresses each:

  • Space.  Minimalism frees up space so that we need not feel crowded, surfaces are clean and clear and ready for us to use, and the things we need are readily at hand and not buried under lots of other things that aren’t as necessary.
  • Time.  Minimalism reduces the amount of housework that needs to be done.  Tidying up, washing, dusting, sweeping, and so forth go so much faster when we only have what we need.
  • Money.  Every time you decide not to buy something you don’t need, that’s another dollar that you get to keep and use for something important.  You’ll save on upkeep and storage costs as well.
  • Attention.  With less clutter consuming up your valuable attention, having fewer possessions can pay dividends in the form of greater focus.
  • Efficiency.  When we’re not spending our valuable space, time, money, and attention on storing  and maintaining possessions, we have more resources to dedicate to the things that are really important.
  • Happiness.  All these benefits add up to the conclusion that it is possible to be happier with less.  With a greater ability to focus on your most important work, your family and friends, and your personal life, you can find greater happiness with fewer possessions.

Now that I’ve established the costs of ownership and the benefits of minimalism, in my next couple of posts I will consider two approaches to simplifying your life by getting rid of the things you don’t need.

For Gmail Users… Keyboard Shortcut Guide!

As far as I know, this isn’t new, but I just discovered it, and it’s exactly what I’ve wanted for some time now.

To see a guide to Gmail’s keyboard shortcuts, just type a question mark when focus is not in a text-entry field.

Never knew that was there, but always wanted to see it! 😀

Many thanks to LifeHacker for this one.

The Burden of Ownership

(Note: This post is the first in a short series on minimalism.)

Ownership is a burden.  The more you own, the less freedom you have.  Our possessions act like an anchor, holding us down in one spot, keeping us from moving freely and nimbly.  They consume our space and time, cost us money and attention, and weigh us down with maintenance tasks.  They create drag in our lives, leeching our energy as we pursue our goals.  Anything that doesn’t actively help us in that pursuit is just holding us back.

As you can see, I passionately believe ownership has its drawbacks.  And while I don’t advocate a vow of poverty, we gain a lot when we divest ourselves of things we don’t need.  Technology reduces the importance of ownership day by day, as new services let us benefit from the use of the things we need and want without owning them.  But before exploring the solution, let’s get a clear understanding of the problem.

The Trouble With Owning Things

I’ve accumulated quite a lot of stuff in my lifetime.  A great many books, games, DVDs, CDs, computer parts, papers, office supplies, and just plain old junk.  I used to think it wise — important, even — to save anything that might come in handy in the future.  But keeping the item, storing it, and keeping track of it is a hidden cost of having it when I need it, and sometimes it’s cheaper to get rid of something and replace it later.  Here are some of the costs of stuff ownership:

  • Space. Things take up room.  The more stuff you have, the more room it takes up, and the less space you have to move around, work on projects, and generally use your home and office.  It’s hard to use a table or desk when it’s covered with stuff.  It’s counter-productive to feel crowded when you’re working, eating, writing, drawing, etc.  Some people have so much stuff they have to buy more space (e.g. a storage unit) just to hold it all!
  • Time.  Stuff costs time, too — especially when you’re doing housework!  Everything that needs to be tidied away, washed, dusted, or moved out of the way when you clean just makes the chore take longer.  Books, papers, knick-knacks, dust-catchers, and so on just get in the way and slow you down when you’re trying to maintain a clean home. Acquiring things takes time as well, though this is probably already a sunk cost — most of us already HAVE lots of stuff!
  • Money.  This is a simple one — things cost money!  Also, some things (such as cars) cost money just to maintain, continuing to take money out of your pocket even after you own them free and clear.  And again, some people pay for storage units and the like just to keep their stuff in.  It also costs money to protect your possessions, through insurance, security systems, and so forth.
  • Attention.  As I noted many years ago, everything around you consumes a little bit of your attention.  Right now, I’m focused on my computer, but everything in my peripheral vision is poking at my consciousness, threatening to distract me at any moment.  My things are costing me attention, putting my concentration at risk.
  • Efficiency.  These costs of space, time, money, and attention combine to create inefficiency, or drag.  It’s harder, takes longer, and costs more to accomplish our goals if we’re surrounded by piles and boxes and shelves and drawers of unnecessary things.  The busier you are, the more this inefficiency problem will affect you.  It may be a tiny drag at any given moment, but the cumulative effects are staggering.
  • Happiness.  And, on top of all this, consider the worries of loss if you find yourself the target of a burglary or robbery.  The more invested you are in your possessions, the more it hurts to have them taken away.  All these costs combined make possessions a heavy burden.  They are riddled with hidden costs that hold us back and drag us down.  Owning too many possessions makes us less happy, not more.

Conclusion

By choosing to own something, we also choose to accept the costs implicit in its ownership.  When we’re surrounded by material things that we are responsible for, we sacrifice some of our freedom, some of our bandwidth for more important aspects of life.  Some items provide more benefit than the sum of their discrete and abstract costs, and these items are worth keeping.  But many things simply cost more than they’re worth, and in sufficient quantities, these things can have a strong negative influence on our lives.  If you value your space, time, money, attention, efficiency, and/or happiness, it is worthwhile to look into alternatives.  In my next few Uplift! posts, I will explore one of these alternatives, minimalism.