When a minimalist buys an iPhone

My 2018 New Year’s resolution was to go minimalist. It’s been a fantastic and sometimes trying journey. Over the past ten months, I’ve given away, donated, tossed out, or sold hundreds of my possessions, ranging from camera gear to camping goodies, t-shirts to tableware, and nearly a dozen pairs of my favorite shoes. I’ve made incredible progress, my closet is down to only a handful of shirts, a couple of jackets, two pairs of jeans, and two pairs of hiking pants.

For the most part, I’ve stuck to my resolution and haven’t purchased anything, besides consumables or experiences, that wasn’t absolutely necessary to my minimalist endeavor, i.e., a hole opened on the sole of my only pair of Chuck Taylors, so I replaced them. (There was the scooter, but that’s a different story.)

In January, when I was claiming my minimalistic intentions, I hadn’t thought about the terrible weakness that would plaque me nine months down the road: Apple products.

With the launch of the new iPhone Xs Max, everything – my whole plan – fell apart. The previous nine months seemed like a sham. Before I knew what was happening, I was ordering the new iPhone as soon as it was available.

Although, I was gifting my current iPhone as soon as I had the new device in my Apple-loving hands, I realized, technically this was not a “consumable,” like the windshield wipers that had worn out and or the water bottle that had melted in the dishwasher.

Nothing was wrong with my current iPhone. It was in perfect working condition. I just wanted the bigger screen, the better camera, the faster processing. It would be a stretch to say the current device wasn’t really meeting my needs or it was broken.

So what was happening to me? Was this a bad habit? Consumerism at its worst? Me at my worst? Was I being vein? Gullible? Idiotic? I didn’t know for sure. I had gone almost ten months without indulging in commerce, retail therapy, impulse purchases – heck, I’d even gone without altogether when I could have technically replaced an item or two.

But it was an iPhone. My iPhone was my camera, alarm, wallet, email, calendar, messenger, blogging platform, notepaper, dictionary, news source, meditation tool, family connector – the list never ends. It was so much inside a single wonderfully designed, beautiful piece of magical glass.

Images of the larger screen, faster processing, and better battery life danced in my head. Eventually, needing no more convincing, I broke my resolution and bought it.

Being inside a mall was a surreal experience in and of itself. I hadn’t stepped foot in a shopping center in almost a year. There were the bright lights, shiny new goods lining the floor to ceiling windows, and hordes of people.

I had ordered the iPhone online and planned on picking it up at the scheduled time. I showed up, waited in line for about ten minutes, took a call for work, and by the time the conversation was over, I was being escorted into the store. In quick order, the store associate brought out the new iPhone Xs Max, and I left happy as ever.

Ten days later, I’m still loving my choice and the new device. I have not a sliver of buyer’s remorse or guilt. Without a doubt, I’d do it all over again.

My advice to anyone who might be struggling with buying or not buying an item is to run it through a few decision-gates in your own mind.

  • Are you increasing your total possessions by buying the new item or is it replacing something else to be donated, gifted, or sold?
  • Have you spent less than seventy-two hours contemplating the purchase or is this something you’ve been swooning over for the better part of a month or year?
  • Will this new possession make you happy for the next few weeks or will it satisfy your needs and receive daily usage for the foreseeable future?

If it’s the latter options, you might be beating yourself up for no good reason.

The wonderful thing about minimalism is there are no real rules, it’s simply a way of living. The goal is to focus on only the very important and remove anything that is not, so one might live an intentional and richly meaningful life.

If replacing your old shoes or sunglasses or dare I say it, technology, with the latest model is going to make you happy and help you focus on what’s important to you, then stop spending a minute longer on worrying about it, and go get it.


Throw that Axe, You’ll Feel a Little Better

Who would have thought axe throwing would be so badass? Well, probably quite a few folks who’ve been doing it a lot longer than me. It’s not just the badass-ness of the sport that is so intoxicating, the act of throwing just feels good.
While in my hometown of Chicago, I was able to hit a Cubs game and the annual Lung Run, which I’ve run every year since we lost my grandmother to lung cancer. My weekend would have been complete had I done nothing else, but a friend suggested we try axe throwing.
“Sure, why not,” I said, totally game.
Not only could axe throwing be a useful skill in a zombie apocalypse or in a SHTF situation, but I was curious how well I would do. It was for these reasons, I found myself at an axe throwing bar around 10pm on Saturday night taking a lesson from twenty-something year-old Ashley at Bad Axe Throwing on the north side of Chicago.
Bad Axe Throwing was opened in Ontario, CA in 2014. Now they have over twenty locations throughout Canada and the US.
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The place was set up like batting cages but a little closer together. You don’t need that much room to throw axes, just a high (or protected) ceiling, strong flooring, and some fencing that will hold. The back wall had a couple of wooden planks with bullseyes drawn on them.
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After we signed a few waivers, Coach Ashley gave us a quick lesson.
“Hold it straight above your head, keep your wrists straight, and release so it rotates once and then hits,” she said.
She released the axe and the blade landed on the board with a resounding, whack! My friends and I nodded and exchanged glances. We were impressed. There’s a satisfaction in hearing the axe land right into the wood and stick.
Although it’s a little fuzzy, as all history seems to be, axe throwing was used in war mostly as far back as the vikings, Celts, and other cold climate hooligans. They actually go way back to the Neolithic period.
In general, warriors didn’t throw them, unless they were urgently trying to kill someone before that someone killed them and wanted to avoid hand-to-hand or axe-to-axe fighting, but axe-making and usage in combat was in full swing thousands of years ago.
Even with that violent and bloody history of the axe, I still wanted a piece of the action.
It did not disappoint. There was a feeling of toughness, self sufficiency, primitive strength, and badass-ness that went into the motion.
And when you hit a bullseye, boom!
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There was a feeling that came over you, like being in what psychologists call flow or the zone, but you feel — no, you know — it’s going to hit as soon as you let it go.
When it didn’t it, or when it was dumb luck, it was a different feeling. But, that right there, that knowing in flow or presence, was so worth the time and money.
In Chicago, we paid $20 an hour plus tax and we tipped our coach, which came out to around $28 per person.
For an hour or so, I was completely present learning, throwing, watching my friends, celebrating, and throwing some more. I worked up a nice sweat too. Not only was it fun to learn a new “sport,” but the repetition and physical exertion made any anxiety or stress I might had been carrying melt away.
Almost anyone can do it. It’s about technique, not strength or athleticism. Way more interesting than darts, and blows any other target games away. Take a seat, skeet ball.
Axe throwing – highly recommended. Go do it. Pick up that axe and let it fly. You’ll know what I mean when you hit the bullseye.

An Ode to Montana

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Montana is an incredibly beautiful, not to mention enormous, state. From east to west it’s about the equivalent of driving from Chicago to New Jersey. Crazy big.

About a decade ago, I had the opportunity to do some backpacking inside Glacier National Park. It was one of the most memorable backpacking trips, from seeing a massive and somehow majestic moose standing only a few meters away to crossing a waist-high, ice-cold mountain river hoisting my camera and the rest of my pack above my head in an attempt to keep it dry. We also came across a mama bear with her two nine-month-old cubs. Luckily, no mauling ensued.

When I arrived in Bozeman earlier this month, the little airport felt welcoming and cozy. It was built like a mountain lodge with raised wooden beams supporting a roof that takes on an average of seventy-two inches of snow each year. Outside, the Montana that I recalled entering many years ago, with it’s clean air, grand mountains nestled on an eternal horizon, and impossibly large clouds somehow not blocking the warm sun that fell on my face, greeted me kindly. Although many years ago, I had landed in Kalispell almost three hundred miles away, this was the same big sky country. It felt like an embrace from an old friend.

We stayed at a newly built dwelling called the Sage Lodge in Pray, MT. They were still putting the finishing touches on the rooms. When we checked in, we were missing oddities like lightbulbs and the sliding screen door handle. Strange, but the staff were mostly friendly and you couldn’t beat the location, which was almost on top of the Yellowstone River and a thirty-five minute drive straight across the Wyoming boarder into Yellowstone National Park.

Since taking on the minimalist way of life, there wasn’t much packed in my suitcase. It was light as a feather. Two t-shirts, an athletic long sleeve pullover, a SmartWool shirt, hiking pants, jeans, socks, hiking shoes, sandals, pjs, undergarments, a hat, sunglasses, and a toiletry bag. (Minimalism aside, I was glad the lodge we stayed in had laundry because by the third day, I needed them all cleaned.)

I’ve heard fishing is good for the mind, body, and soul, and we were in the best fly fishing spot in the world, so I figured why not. And it did not disappoint. On the Yellowstone River, there are rules about which fish you can keep, which you must release, and others you must keep or kill. According to the law, we released all our catches.

Every time I’d get a bite, I’d “set” my pole, which basically means pull it up as hard and fast as you can, and hope there’s a fish on the other end of it. I missed most times, but managed to net two beautiful rainbow trout. The experience of pulling them in, feeling their weight on the other side of the pole, and then guiding them gently into the net was invigorating. I’d wet my hands, hold them for a quick picture, and then they went back into the water hopefully a little wiser for the wear.

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We also spent a day in Yellowstone. Did a six-mile hike out and back to the Imperial Geyser, saw a few bison, a bighorn sheep, and watched good ole Ole Faithful do its thing too. Impressive.

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When the four days were over, I was sad to leave Montana. There is a rugged wildness, a real wilderness, about the state. And yet, I felt safe and supported by the mountains, the rivers and streams, the vast earth. Maybe it was just nice to get out of the city and see the stars. Whatever it was, I want to go back.

People say Montana winters are a “dry cold,” which I guess is supposed to be less cold somehow. I don’t know about that, but I might go back this winter just to test out the theory. I’m thinking snowshoeing or cross country skiing. Anything to get outside, even in the freezing temperatures, to be with those mountains and rivers, and under that big sky again.


Less stuff, more meaning

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It’s been almost six months and yes, I’ve lost a little steam, but no, I haven’t given up.

I’ve continued to whittle down my wardrobe to just five button-down shirts, two jackets, three pairs of jeans, four Smartwool shirts, and a handful of t-shirts. I went from almost a dozen pairs of Chuck Taylors down to three. I’ve still got a lot of work to do on my socks. I don’t know why, but I just can’t bring myself to go there, as if I might – or they might – run out on me.

I haven’t bought anything new since – no strike that. I haven’t bought any new clothing or shoes or socks or undergarments or hats or things to wear since January. But I did buy a new bike.

In my attempt to cut down on gasoline consumption coupled with my desire to ride a motorbike, after much debating, I finally purchased a little Honda Ruckus. However, I did sell all of of my other so called transportations possessions, with the exception of my little GTI, before I bought it, including two road long boards, a beautiful Specialized road bike, a skateboard, and did I mention all those shoes?

With the purchase of the scooter came a few other possessions, mainly a helmet, faux leather jacket and gloves, all for safety. Because my closet was cleaner and more austere than ever, it was easy to find a spot for each. The helmet looks badass on the shelf where once upon a time too many pairs of mom-jeans sat folded and unused.

On the whole, I feel good about the new possessions because every time I get on that bike, I smile. I feel alive and happy. I have fun. Most people who ride a motorbike will tell you there is something wonderfully therapeutic about the experience. It’s inexplainable but palpable and real. One day we might want to swap Xanax or Zoloft or Prozac or Percocet for a an hour or just thirty minutes on a bike to see the results. Imagine the possibilities.

But back to the acquisition of the bike. It’s made my commute so much more fun and in some ways meaningful. It’s a strange paradox. By getting rid of so much clutter, so many other possessions, I had space to think and feel and figure out that I truly wanted a bike. Then take the action to go get one.

I wanted to reduce my petrol consumption and usage and increase fun and meaningful life experiences. Now, I get to do all of it while doing something that was once mundane, like commuting to and from work. My commute is mundane no more. It’s an adventure.

As the summer progresses, I’ll continue to reduce my possessions as promised in my New Years resolution. Those socks – at least thirty or forty pairs – need a little thinning out to start with. And while I’m doing that, who knows what other epiphanies or grand adventures await.


 


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.