A minimalist three weeks in

My New Year’s resolution is to go minimalist. I know what you’re thinking resolutions are silly, senseless, and seriously ineffective. But I’m not trying to be a minimalist forever, you know, just for a year. Forever seems impossible, but a year is finite. I mean I can do anything for a year.

Over the past few months, I’ve read several books on minimalism and started decluttering as a way to test the waters. I put a few possessions on three resale websites: letgo.com, eBay and Craigslist and wrote about it. The short story is if you price it right, it’ll sell. I also recalled a terribly vivid dream I had many years ago, and now I can’t shake it.

Three weeks ago as part of my New Years resolution kickoff, I started an inventory of my possessions. And I’m still working on it. The amount of stuff I’ve accumulated and stored in various drawers, closets, shelves, nooks, crannies, plastic bins, and storage boxes is staggering. It’s not simply the number of like items I own – how many pairs of running socks or Saucony shoes or copies of Into the Wild does a person really need. But also the sheer quantity of total possessions. I must have thousands and thousands of things.

Overall, I’m a fairly non-materialistic person. Expensive cars, clothes, and shoes don’t really do it for me. I wear almost the same getup every day. I put on the same Arc’teryx hoody, same Levi’s jeans, same puffy vest, and same SmartWool shirt only in a different color most days. When I feel like really mixing it up, I sport a button down shirt under a Uniqlo sweater. I don’t think there is a person more boring than I am when it comes to clothing. Even though I don’t wear a ton of variety, I still have a lot of clothing, shoes, belts, hoodies, etc. taking up space.

Let’s talk about books. I love them. All of them. When we moved from Chicago to San Francisco, I gave away or sold over three hundred books I had collected since college. All of my hardback copies of Stephen King and first editions. All of my dog-eared paperbacks. Even the small collection of spiritual books that I read and reread almost annually. I took with me only a few of my absolute favorites and a couple of cookbooks that were too expensive (and never sold) for me to be able to part with them in good conscience. In the five years since, I’ve accumulated another hundred or so books. And another hundred plus live somewhere on Amazon’s cloud or downloaded to my iPad.

Little did I know back then in Chicago that selling or donating those old books would be my first taste of what it feels like to embrace minimalism. I recall feeling good to see people dropping a few bucks on my coffee table while smiling ear-to-ear in anticipation of reading the story inside the book tucked under an arm or placed in a bag. I don’t really know if that’s minimalism exactly, but I want to keep exploring it.

During my initial inventory sweep, I picked out and sold or donated over fifty of my possessions ranging from books (again) to fitness gear to shirts, shoes, and suits. And it’s felt good.

In fact, every time I remove an item that I no longer need or use, the physical space that opens up on a shelf or inside a closet also opens up a figurative space inside my head, heart, and lungs. Space in my head to organize my thoughts, space in my heart to be more open to others, and space in my lungs to take in life a little more fully. It’s the strangest thing, but I can’t complain about feeling better.

Experts say the third week in January is just about the time when New Years resolutions usually go to pot and old habits come roaring back. But I feel even more driven to stick with it. 2018 is my year of minimalism. Let’s see if I’m this optimistic when I have to declutter my camping gear.

In the meantime, onward and upward with a lot less stuff and clutter.


Take Only What You Love

Many years ago, I found myself in the driver’s seat of a little car like a Fiat or an older tiny Ford Escort hatchback. It was packed to the brim, incredibly cluttered and disorganized. Boxes, papers, toys, stuffed animals, and other unidentifiable items filled the car to the rooftop. I was driving the car. Confused about what I was doing driving a packed car, it dawned on me that this mess and this vehicle belonged to me. I couldn’t out any of the windows because they were blocked by all of the stuff. The car swerved and swayed as I attempted to get a handle on it. I felt like I was driving one of those cartoon trucks, think 101 Dalmatians the cartoon movie, all over the road. It was so difficult to concentrate on driving that I was undoubtedly headed for a crash.

Suddenly, I remembered there was a baby in the backseat. Oh no, a baby was buried somewhere under all this stuff. She’s buried and can’t breathe and I probably killed her. Oh God, please, baby, don’t be dead. I pulled the car over and ran around to the back driver’s side door, swung it open, and started pulling things out of the car. Like a dog kicking up sand, my arms moved swiftly as I unburied the baby in the backseat. First I saw a pink sleeve, then a small hand, and finally, there, under all my stuff, sat an unmoving baby with her eyes closed. Oh no, I killed her. She suffocated under all this stuff. I unbuckled her out of the carrier and pulled her to me. She was warm, but still unresponsive. Come on, baby, come on. I’m here. I’m sorry. You’re okay, I told her. I held her in my arms and talked to her, cuddled her, and felt her move. She squirmed a little and stretched. She was alive. She was going to be okay.

I woke up in a hot flash and lay still in bed trying to decide if any of that actually happened. I almost killed a baby with boxes and other useless stuff in my car. No, I thought, it was only a dream. I didn’t have a baby and I didn’t have that car. But what did it mean? I supposed it symbolized something. It felt so real that it must be the heavens sending me a wake up call. Think. You minored in psychology, try to remember, what did dreams mean?

I guessed that the vehicle in the dream represented my life or my body and mind. It was a container holding a mix of precious cargo and crap. There was way too much stuff I was carrying around. I was scattered and my small life, possibly small mind, was cluttered with mostly useless things. Under all of the junk, I had an amazing, valuable, beautiful baby. The baby represented the best part of my life, joy, happiness, potential – all the things a baby embodies and it was buried. I almost smothered it with the other useless junk in my life or mind.

After thinking through this, it wasn’t like I hopped out of bed that morning and got right down to cleaning out my crap. In fact, I did almost nothing. Not out of spite or disbelief but because I doubted myself and people have weird dreams all the time. I had a lot of work to do and bills to pay and I’m sure my subconscious hadn’t taken any of that into consideration. In fact, I wasn’t really sure exactly what the dream was telling me. And in a couple of days, I had forgotten all about it. Never said I was a quick study.

Eventually, I connected the dream back to my life, and it reinforced my thinking and actions when I had already started the process of decluttering. It wasn’t until I had had the mind shift and discovered what I didn’t know then but now has the name, minimalism, that I could point back to that dream and say, there, that’s when deep down I knew even though at the time it wasn’t in my waking consciousness, something needed to change.

Today I’ve only just started figuring out what minimalism means in my own life, but it feels a lot like what my grandmother told me many years ago when I was a just a teenager. She said, “Take only what you love from your life and leave everything else behind. Make yourself a beautiful life.”

It was the best advice I’ve ever received.


Cage diving with great white sharks

A few years ago, I went cage diving with great white sharks. The experience was incredible. While living in San Francisco, I wanted to take full advantage of as many activities local to the surroundings like eating fish and chips in the Wharf, kayaking out of Sausalito into the bay with whales and sea lions, sailing a twenty-two foot sloop under the Golden Gate Bridge, and visiting the Farallon Islands, affectionately called the devil’s teeth, for some cage diving with great white sharks. The last was one of the most memorable and hypothermic experiences of my time on the Pacific Ocean.

For context, the Farallon Islands or Farallones if you’re channelling your inner Spaniard are a group of islands that sit about thirty miles west of San Francisco. In the fifties and sixties, it was reported to be a radioactive dump site. Get ready for some three-headed shark encounters. But all that apparently stopped in the seventies when a whistle-blower made it public. Before sailing out to the islands for my planned cage dive, I read Susan Casey’s The Devil’s Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival Among America’s Great White Sharks. The book was interesting and definitely sets the stage for what you can expect on the islands. Her own story is a little creepy and so self-serving, you can’t help but to strongly dislike the author for her lack of common and rational sense. Nevertheless, a good book to get you in the mood for the great white shark, bone-numbing cold adventure that awaits you at the Farallon Islands.

There are many outfitters who are more than willing to take your money and give you a ride out to the islands so you can put on a wet suit, get inside a fishing cage, and submerge yourself under the 56 degree Pacific Ocean. I tend to find any business is just as good as its people, and people tend to come and go, so check out recent feedback and comments on a sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor before you pick one.

Usually you can rent a wetsuit, fins, etc. from the outfitter, but you might consider obtaining your gear ahead of time if possible. There are no guarantees the suit will fit unless you tried it on ahead of time and there’s no guarantee they’ll have enough when the time comes, unless you want to slide into someone else’s suit after they pissed themselves while in the cage. I recall a guy needing to use two right boots because they couldn’t find any lefties in his size. Same with the goggles. You want a pair that fits well and doesn’t let the water in or it’ll be a frustrating and probably painful experience.

It’s a fairly miserable boat ride out to the rock islands. If you’ve never sailed or boated around San Francisco, the winds are unlike anywhere else, as is the choppy water. The boat leaves around six in the morning so hopefully you skipped breakfast or it’s likely going to end up over the rail. I’d recommend packing a breakfast or CLIF bar to consume when you get to the islands and the up and down of the boat stops. For anyone with sea sickness, load up on the dramamine or skip it altogether. There are other ways to dive with the great whites and not spend almost three hours of your life puking on the rail.

Upon arrival, it’s still a balmy 50 degrees, foggy, with a slight wind coming from who knows which direction. Pack a beanie, waterproof coat and pants, and warm gloves if you plan on spending any time on deck.

As you look out from the boat, you see there is nothing else around but the jagged rock islands, which are in my estimate completely uninhabitable despite knowing from the book that humans could live on at least one of them, the boat under your feet, the people next to you on the boat, and the sharks.

Once the crew begins moving the cage into the water, setting up the air machine (technical term), and requesting their patrons change into their wetsuits, shit got real. The realization of what I signed up for hit home. I’m going into great white shark infested waters inside a fishing crate.

To lighten the mood, the crew pulls out cooking grills and tosses a few dozen burgers and hotdogs on. They also warm up a huge vat of chicken noodle soup. Hot chocolate and coffee is ready to ward off hypothermia for the poor souls emerging from their time in the cage. Make no mistake, the water is freezing cold and you’ll feel it.

Once in and under, the adrenaline kicks in and you realize you need to breathe through your mouth or you’re going to die, and you forget about the cold for a little while.

Even start to enjoy yourself. Hello.

I spent a lot of time looking at nothing. A few jellyfish, lots of really cold, green water, trying not to think about how long nuclear waste actually lasts in any given area and what long term affects this might have on any offspring, and wondering if I’ll actually see a shark up close.

Oh hey, there’s another jellyfish.

Knowing these killers are less than a football field away from you, lurking in the liquid green fuzz is still terrifying. Every shadow is suspect.

Then, bam!

Oh wait, that pic wasn’t actually taken by me, I poached it from a luckier diver.

After emerging from the thirty or forty minutes endured under the teeth-chattering ocean surface with those man-eaters – seen or unseen – one might feel like a complete badass.

The ride back to San Francisco is far better for what it’s worth. Traveling with the wind, it’s faster and smoother. With a belly full of warm soup, an adventure completed, and tiredness setting in, the ride is quiet and fairly quick.

The beautiful Golden Gate Bridge greets us and we’re back on land, oh lovely land, minutes later.

A few tips if you plan to go on your own shark diving adventure. In your duffle bag, bring a formidable plastic bag for storing wet clothes, wetsuit (if you bring your own otherwise they’ll take them from you), and anything else that is wet after your dive. It’ll save soaking your other clothing and your bag.

After you get out of the 56 degree water into the 50 degree air you will be cold. Don’t stay under water if you start shaking inside your wetsuit. Get out immediately and into dry clothing. Drink the hot soup whether you like it or not. At the time I was a vegetarian and all they had was chicken noodle soup. It was steaming hot and I was freezing so I drank it. And it was delicious. I witnessed a guy shake uncontrollably after his dive. According to the captain, once that starts, it’s tough to stop on the boat. He spilled everything he tried to hold to drink to get warm. Once he got out of the wetsuit and into the slightly warmer cabin, the shaking subsided.

There was a woman who brought a small pillow full of popcorn seeds. I had never seen one, but it was incredible. Pop that pillow into the microwave for thirty seconds and it was wonderfully hot for up to ten minutes. Place it on your hands, neck, feet, wherever you need to warm up, and it did the job.

Take lots of pictures and enjoy the journey.


Favorite apps for decluttering

Adventure doesn’t always need to be about travel, cage diving with great white sharks, or trekking to Everest. Recently, I’ve taken on a new exploit spurred by the minimalist movement. Decluttering.

A couple of years ago, I read the New York Times bestselling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. It interested me, and the idea of items sparking joy in order to stay in the house made me smile. I never thought about my stuff sparking joy, but it’s a charming way to think about the things we own. Or, depending on your view, the things that own us. Much of the rest of Kondo’s book I found a little out there. However, I took one big life-changing tip from it: folding clothing sideways so t-shirts look like books inside drawers. This little gem has been super helpful in both creating space and finding folded clothing quickly. Outside of that, I kind of forgot about the book until I came upon a newer book called Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism by Fumio Sasaki.

In this quick read, the author shares his own experience going from an unhappy, somewhat of a drunk “maximalist” to a happier, healthier minimalist. I can’t say I feel unhappy with the things I own, but I do feel scattered. There is so much vying for our attention including our things, it’s hard to really focus on just one at a time. Even while reading the book, I found myself doing other things trying to stay productive while consuming information, as if reading a book isn’t enough to do at one single time.

Anyway, applying a few of his recommendations, namely leveraging auction and resale apps or websites to sell some of the things that no longer sparked joy, I tried letgo, eBay, and the old standby Craigslist to get rid of stuff. Here’s what I found:

It seemed like all the cool kids were on letgo, so I tried it for myself by posting a ruggedized camera. It was easy to take a picture from the app, post it for sale, pop in a dollar amount and bam, wait for the offers to roll in. But that’s where things got a little iffy. No offers or chats rolled in. I got one message asking if the camera was in good condition, in which I responded promptly. Yes, it is, only used once, never dropped or submerged in water. Then, nothing. She never responded back and no one else bothered. Overall, I think this is a great place to get rid of free stuff or simple, straightforward items quickly, the kind that don’t need a lot of explanation, like an article of clothing, baseball card, or dresser.

eBay worked best for reaching a large audience and shipping smaller, easily packed items. I put the same camera mentioned above on eBay’s auction site and it was bid on in the first seventy-two hours. Unlike letgo, there’s ample amount of space to put in details for the product, it even has a search engine that helps you find your item and makes a suggestion on how much to sell it for based on what’s sold in the recent past. In my opinion, eBay is where you can make the most money, if that’s your goal and you’re willing to take the time and energy to pack your stuff securely, make a trip to the post office, and understand/be comfortable with eBay taking a cut of the sale.

Craigslist worked wonders for me when I lived in Chicago. There are so many people near you in the city, the odds are someone is looking for what you’re selling. Over the years, I sold multiple bikes, a snowboard, even a Kitchen Aid, and had great success. Living on the peninsula in the suburbs outside San Jose, I didn’t quite have the same success. The bicycle I posted has been on the site for many weeks, me faithfully renewing each week, bringing the price down with every passing week without a nibble. And it’s not the price, it’s listed for a little more than half of what I paid for it only four months ago – and it’s been for sale for one of those months. But I have had success with cheaper items that I didn’t want to ship like a couple of skateboards. They were also dirt cheap, but this is a skateboard kinda town.

There are other websites and apps that can help you get rid of the stuff that doesn’t spark joy, of which, I didn’t test out. Going wider than three apps seemed like a maximalist thing to do. But if you’ve got a success story on a different app or website, let’s hear about it in the comments.


Five must haves for trekking in Nepal

Below are five things I was most grateful to have in Nepal. There were dozens of other necessities that I was happy to have along the way, but these stood out most upon reflection.

  1. CLIF bars. When I got sick, they were the only thing I could eat without the risk of getting sicker. They were my breakfast and lunch. For dinner, I’d opt for steaming hot, well-boiled plain soup or French fries when available.
  2. iPhone 7 plus. I know it seems a little counter to trekking culture to have a piece of technology like an iPhone on the trail, but it was my camera and when on airplane mode, the battery was solid even in the freezing temperatures. It was lightweight, convenient to store in a jacket or pants pocket, and access quickly even with frozen fingers. When I happened to have wifi coverage in a village, it was easy enough to connect, send short texts to friends and family to let them know where I was, how things were going, etc. It also had a wealth of other uses, weather and temperature forecasts, access to social media, compass, calculator for currency conversion, a place to capture thoughts or ideas in an instant, and much more.
  3. Moleskine notebook. Most of the time I was too cold to write. I had to bury myself into my sleeping bag and position a flashlight just right so I could see the pen hit the page. Even then, my writing was barely legible because I’d be shivering and shaking so violently. Regardless, I was happy to have a journal, albeit mostly abridged, of my travels, my thoughts and feelings at the time, and descriptions of what happened along the trek.
  4. Antibiotics. Enough said. Word to the wise, do not go to Nepal without them and a lightweight, yet respectable first aid kit.
  5. Hard candy. These came in handy many times on the trek. They helped ease some of the mild altitude sickness and relieved dry mouth that comes with all the dirt along the lower part of the trek. Hard candy was also optimal treats to share with your sherpa, guide, porter, or other trekkers on the path. In addition, I often left a couple of them as small tokens of appreciation to the women who brought me a hot water bag for my sleeping bag.

I’d love to hear from you. If you’ve trekked in the mountains, what was on your must have list?


Revised gear list for trekking the Himalayas

This is an update to the Everest packing list I posted before my trip to Nepal. Looking back, there were items I wished I’d brought or brought more of, and a few things I didn’t use and subsequently gave away to save my porter and me some extra ounces.

Things I didn’t need or need as much of:

  • International plug adapters. I brought three, only needed one with a USB input.
  • Baby wipes. I brought three packs of 42-count, only needed half of a single pack.
  • Paper shower wipes. I brought a dozen, and only needed four for the coldest and highest parts of the hike where there was no running water.
  • Gaiters. Never needed them.
  • Laundry detergent pods. Never needed them. I was able to pay for a three or four, small pieces of clothing to be laundered during certain stops along the trip. Underwear would have been considered rude to give to the Nepalese to wash, so I was glad I brought enough for the whole trip. At lower altitudes, you can also wash and dry underwear yourself and leave it in the sun to dry.
  • Camelback water bottle. I should have tested this out on a few local hikes before bringing it to Nepal. But like a rookie, I tested it out on the trail and hated it. I was so grateful I was able to pick up a trusty Nalgene bottle in Namche Bazaar.
  • Hand and feet warmers. I tried once to keep them in my gloves for a 15,000 foot trek and either the altitude impacted their effectiveness or it was too cold to feel them. They were useless.
  • Rugged camera. I took a single test picture below 12,000 feet, and then kept it packed the rest of the trip. All images were captured by my iPhone 7 plus.
  • Keen sandals. I donated the them to one of the girls who worked in a hut. They were heavy and clunky and unnecessary. My gyms shoes were softer, more comfortable, and warmer in the huts.

Things I used every day or almost every day:

  • Deodorant, chapstick, sunscreen – all of it religiously
  • Toothbrush, floss, and toothpaste – same
  • Body soap, shampoo, and body sponge
  • Moleskin or some kind of blister repair tape
  • Talcum powder surprisingly – reduced moisture in socks and kept feet fresh
  • Backpack (no brainer) and hiking poles – saved a few tumbles
  • All of the jackets I brought – raincoat, down puff, fleece hoody, fleece jacket
  • Beanie and buff – everyday above 13,000 feet
  • Baseball hat – everyday below 12,000 feet
  • Sunglasses – everyday no matter what
  • Jolly ranchers – they were nice to have on a the dusty trail, plus made for nice gifts for the hut staff and breaks with the sherpas or porters

Things I wished I brought or had more of:

  • Airborne chewables instead of EmergenC powder
  • Nail clipper (purchased in Namche)
  • Nail file
  • Pumice stone
  • More moleskin or blister tape

Trekking the Himalayas especially over 16,000 feet is tough and grueling. But it can be made oh so much better with the right gear. Most of my feedback on gear and supplies is completely personal preference. Test all available and reasonable options and do what works for you.