Category Archives: Minimalism

“I Might Need It One Day”

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I recently purged a mass of digital craziness from my life. Much of it was a collection of things which reached across the span of years, some of it revolving around angry emails, voicemails, and snippets of unresolved anger. I deleted over three dozen family trees I’d done for people. (I still retain a few dozen others, though.) I have a new computer and a newly-discovered commitment to use a dumping system that allows me to toss it in a virtual closet if I don’t delete it outright.

Gone were mountains of mp3 audio and snippets from my mom and a couple of other family members. I’ve learned not to accumulate many emails either, but even so, I cleaned the drains in this respect too. It’s strange to read “I’ll slit your throat” in an email, knowing that the person was so angry that he or she didn’t stop to consider consequences. That kind of anger is buried so deeply inside a person that almost nothing can reach it. Being forged in a household requiring blood sacrifice, I can understand it. Echoes of its payment still echo in me at rare moments. It’s impossible for me to explain to some of those whose lives overlapped with my younger years that I look at that sort of behavior with a much different perspective than they do. In every case in which the person is still simmering in hate, he or she has only flourished when those around them allow it, excuse it, or fail to recognize it. I see the stain spreading around them; that sort of hate is a seeping poison which pays dividends for at least two generations.  Keeping a distance from its contamination is sometimes the only means to remain uninfected.

Having a digital history of anger somehow ensures that the infection isn’t entirely gone.

Note: it is likely that someone who was poisoned with the venom of anger when younger never left it behind. Instead, he or she learned the social trappings of concealment. Beware that you don’t wander into the invisible net.

Indeed, you might not know when you’d need such reminders from your past at some unknown future date. ‘Need’ might not the exact word, but it serves its purpose here. Why I might not need an email chain detailing a family member threatening to kill me and my rational response to it is for anyone to guess. It was, nevertheless, difficult to discard. Part of me wanted to keep it just in case similar circumstances flared up again. I could point to it and say, “See? I’m not making this stuff up.” The truth, though, is that having it won’t pull the wool off anyone’s eyes in the future, either, no more than it did having it the first time. Just as facts so often fail to matter, neither does evidence for your apparently unjustified beliefs about other people.

Part of being a minimalist is the attitude of less. If it doesn’t add to your life, subtract it and move on. Over the years I accumulated a folder of work-related detritus, too. Some of it was quite important – and probably still is. But it’s gone now as if a hurricane rolled in from the coastline and ripped it free.

Update: the draft of this post existed since at least three years ago. I didn’t publish it because I didn’t want to sanitize it. I’m publishing it now because some of the things I deleted would be useful now. It’s the excuse of every hoarder: “I might need it.” I did sanitize it, though. Very few of us are free enough to say what we want without regard to content.

Feng Shui, Tableclothcovercloths, and Kondo-Kookiness

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One of the hacks I often see is a fitted sheet over a table to replace a tablecloth.

Note: a ‘hack’ is an ill-advised method to self-delude oneself into believing that you’ve saved yourself time. We’re all going to live to be 117, stuffed inside houses brimming with goofy and astounding assortments of knick-knacks and paddywhacks. First, though, we’ll need to watch 76 shows dedicated to the pursuit of efficient households, followed by 256 hours of Etsy and internet browsing.

Can I point out that a tablecloth itself is a waste? As are placemats – and the herpes of household annoyances, the drink coaster. If we build things to be used ‘as is’ and make them interesting to begin with, we wouldn’t need additional nonsense. I know what you’re thinking; not having them would dramatically reduce our available choices for holiday gifts. Aunt Bernice needs more redundant layers of protection in order to live a normal, mundane existence.

“I wish I had some more tablecloths and coasters” is not something a rational person ever needs to say, along the same lines as, “These wooden slippers are perfect,” or, if you live in Arkansas, “I think I’ll vote for a Democrat.”

I’m still considering inventing the tableclothcovercloth, which of course is a clothcover for the tablecloth, in order to prevent the first tablecloth from being soiled. Look for it soon at Target and Hoarder’s Paradise.

Instead of putting a fitted sheet over a table, use it to capture and bag the ‘lifestyle hacker’ who wants to put it on a perfectly good table. Drive to the nearest peak and toss him/her from the precipice.

Yell, “Use the tablecloth as a parachute!” as they plummet.

It’s important to be helpful.

Happiness And the Flimsy Bath Towel

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Oddly, one of my biggest Christmas surprises this year was a gift that arrived a few days late. My wife Dawn managed to find the most horribly perfect set of bath towels, ones so flimsy that they can be used as Confederate flags of surrender. Naturally, I love them. Unlike normal people, I prefer smaller, non-plush towels. Some people use hand towels bigger than these bath towels. The towels are white with a single blue stripe on them, similar to what you might find at a really bad massage place or in a bathhouse frequented by savages. The towels probably shipped with a little white slip of paper marked, “Failed by Inspector 456.”

Years ago, I used a similar set until they were so threadbare that you could play tic-tac-toe in the threads. I had visited Tulsa, staying at a Ramada Inn near downtown. After showering, I was amazed at how small and flimsy the towels were. Naturally, I wanted a bunch of them, no matter what the cost. The housekeeper had left her cart down the hall and I took a stack of them. I left an outrageous amount of money on her cart, to let her know that they were in payment for the towels I had no intention of returning – or a tip for her. Later that afternoon, as we passed in the hallway, she smiled a huge and knowing smile at me. I just nodded, a happy co-conspirator. I’ve forgotten almost everything about that trip to Tulsa except for the handsome set of hotel towels. I’ll also bet that the housekeeper in question remembers the crazy hotel guest who paid her $50 over cost for the worst towels ever made.

Once those towels turned into loose threads, I’d catch myself asking at places like Target, “Do you have anything THINNER?” The clerks invariably looked at me like my cheese had slid from my cracker. “Uh…no,” they would utter. I’d reply, “These are too plush and comfortably large. Anything smaller?” These conversations tended to go badly, as the average person thinks towels are supposed to be as plush as bed comforters and fit four per dryer load. Over the years, I gave up hope of ever finding a suitable set of replacements. I forced myself to use good towels, even as I cursed the universe for my first world problem.

I threw in the towel, in other words.

I won’t bore you with arguments regarding ease of use, storage, cleaning, or laundry bulk. The truth is I don’t care about any of the utilitarian arguments in favor of using smaller, thinner towels. I just like them, like burned toast or popcorn, or dry fruitcake.

My wife Dawn solved my problem, though. This new set of towels is so perfectly thin and small that I shall delight in their use. As you foolishly use the equivalent of your grandmother’s quilt after your shower, I’ll be laughing and enjoying the worst towels in human history.

The picture is of all 6 of them, stacked no higher than a plate of Waffle House pancakes. It’s a thing of beauty, isn’t it?

Most of you will look back and remember your new television or instapot. Not me. I’ll be nostalgic for this beautiful stack of horrid towels, the ones which made me instantly happy.

I think I need another dozen of them, though, just to be safe.

Proper Table Arrangement Is Just Grilled Octopus

 

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A friend wrote me, asking if I’d write an outline of a column for him. As I always do, I asked him if there was a word limit. I never get writer’s block, no matter how often my friends and family pray that I might experience a prolonged bout of it.

“Wouldn’t you rather know the topic?” he asked, evidently forgetting that decorum is a just a fancy Latin word denoting “silly things bored people do.”

I emailed back, saying, “No, I just want to be able to say a lot of extraneous things, and preferably with a smirk while I do.” Being this sort of Rainman with words is what makes me so competent when commenting on politics, even if I must interrupt the pastor’s sermon in order to do so.

My friend replied to let me know the topic: “How to Properly Set a Table.”

I took a day to consider my opinion. As you probably know, that’s not true. My fingers were typing before I even realized it.


The first thing you need to consider when properly setting a table is whether human beings will be dining there. Second, are said potential diners from states where terms such as ‘uncle-brother’ can be used without explanation? Fourth, it’s important to enumerate things correctly, as evidenced by this sentence.

It’s important that you read the correct etiquette books, or watch videos on one of the popular websites dedicated to the nuances of snobbery. Take notes regarding placemat orientation, utensil quantity and alignment, and spacing. Consult several sources and note the areas wherein they disagree.

Next, rip up the notes you took and snort derisively to yourself. Throw away your placemats, which are diabolically related to their evil cousin, the coaster. Your table isn’t constructed of compressed silk. The best expert is experience and usage, not someone blathering on even more than I do.

The best way to set a table properly is to do it in whatever arrangement you wish to, especially one geared to your individual table, chairs, dishes, and personal whim. If you prefer everything off-center, mismatched and placed, don’t look to someone who finds this sort of thing to be important. Simply give yourself permission to ignore all baseless social rules as you see fit.

All etiquette is imagined. It’s also geared toward the insistence of mastery and expertise. The type of person who cringes when the cutlery is misplaced needs to be forced to dig a ditch in Alaska. They’re the same people who erroneously think that grammar is ordained by direct order from the heavens to them. In short, they are joy vacuums. If a family member criticizes your table, take time to make their next visit cause them to have a seizure as they clutch their pearls.

“But a properly set table is so beautiful!” some will insist. It’s true, it might be a beautiful table. But it’s equally true being free of people who insist on this sort of correctness will make your life beautiful. Everyone should learn how to set a table more or less to general expectations. Like everything else, though, perfectionism in this realm is a symptom of a disease that’s difficult to diagnose but easy to recognize when it starts.

Social dining should always be geared toward the gathering of people sharing in food, presence, and conversation. All else is vanity and immaterial to enjoying life.

All of us are distinct spirits. Aesthetics is an arbitrary and subjective concept. If you want to place a pile of silverware in the middle of the table, surrounded by 13 different sets of dishes, revel in your choice.

You should take a moment and wonder how many times in my life I have deliberately rearranged a ‘properly’ placed table. It never fails to amuse, even if the Vatican frowned upon my efforts. I’ve been known to ADD utensils from my own collection, hoping that someone loses his or her mind over it once they notice. The cheap utensils from Dollar General yield the best screams. (Note: Dollar General isn’t paying me to mention them, although I will accept any reward they offer.)

I used a picture of grilled octopus as a counterpunch to my words. That we live in a world where deranged people think that serving grilled octopus is acceptable yet throw their silverware across the room when placed a millimeter out of reach is an argument in my favor.

In response to my friend’s request to answer the question, “How To Properly Set a Table”: It’s a trick question. Only your answer counts. You just didn’t know it. Until now. You’re welcome, friends.

YesOrNo.com

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Note: this is an older post. Seeing Netflix and a few other sites adopt an idea I’ve had forever makes me smile – as I recommended exactly this course of action several years ago in this blog post.

I’m going to start a website called “YesOrNo.” It will cover websites, restaurants, vehicles, tourists spots, movies, music and anything under the sun. It will be a testament to minimalism and focus in a world of too many options. If you are neutral to the website, movie, or restaurant, you don’t vote. No fence-sitting is allowed.

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Instead of being weighed down by too many details, there are only going to be 2 options: “yes” or “no.” No comments. No categories to obfuscate the response. No Yelp-like lawsuits alleging vote-fixing or reviews. Studies have shown that too many options reduces our happiness and satisfaction.

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Users will need to learn to be discerning with their votes. There will be neutral option. Either you vote or you don’t – but you’re going to need to decide between “yes” or “no.”

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There will be technical issues to address governing how to identify participants and/or lessen abuse of voting. That’s true of any website or business idea. Clever, motivated people combined with technology should eliminate all the major hurdles.

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With a social element, users can choose to add “trusted voters” to their logins so that they can refine their trusted opinions over time. This will allow you to ask the website to recommend a new place or experience to you, based on input from you and others who are similarly minded. In my scenario, however, the data will be limited to tallying without superfluous detail.

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Unlike Angie’s List, users won’t be expected to pay – as such services exclude much of the population. It does tend to cause an uptick in the “crazies” noticing your website, but again, technology can overcome most of the stupidity that will ensue.

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It’s so strange to see Tinder doing well. I’ve joked about yesorno.com for a long time, especially after an old-school website called “checkthegrid” died. On my old blog I had this idea designed, with screenshots and graphs. Like most people, though, my enthusiasm usually sputters at the implementation of an idea.

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At it’s heart, the website would be simple categories, with “green” indicating “yes,” and “red” equating to “no.”

 

Words to Light a Candle By

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My definition of minimalism.

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…and then it’s over. Just ask someone old enough to have felt the years sneak past.

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But you would think that in so knowing, we’d be more patient and forgiving with everyone else; we are all fairly creative with the breadth of our stupidity.

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We don’t have to put batteries in the megaphone, though.

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(I hate the female candidate, so let’s vote for the guy who thinks women are for his amusement.) (The current healthcare system isn’t perfect so let’s cancel coverage for millions who need it.)

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Life Is a Hotel Resort

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If you can imagine that your entire life is just a short stay in a resort hotel, you will be less likely to clutter and hoard your life – even with “valuable” keepsakes. Living like you live in a hotel resort requires you to live deliberately.

If you have strong religious beliefs, it should be easier, in theory, to put this into practice, as you are a soul housed in a bag of dust, waiting for your metamorphosis back into dust. Piling up stuff isn’t your focus in life, or shouldn’t be.

If you can imagine that random natural events can easily wipe your hotel room off the map, it will be easier to realize that your focus needs to change. You can simply go to another hotel resort and have a similar experience. Even though a real hotel resort stay is short in duration, it is the attitude of not being attached to the stuff that allows you to enjoy yourself. Imagine being able to carry that attitude into your everyday life. You might argue that hotel resorts are expensive and that is usually true. But weighed against the total cost of your house, car and all your amassed stuff, the cost isn’t as comparatively high as you first imagined. Keeping all this dumb stuff is expensive too, both in terms of what is spent and more importantly, how much of your life is wasted moving it, cleaning it and worrying about it.

If you go to a friend’s house and look around, you’ll note that in most cases the hidden stuff is actually quite a bit more than you will realize. You’ll also note that most of the things that the friend holds dear are nowhere in sight. They are piled in a drawer, in a closet, in the attic, or in a closed room, out of sight. If they aren’t  routinely seen or touched, are they then really meaningful to the owner? I know that you are going to argue that not all people are guilty of this; again, you would be right. But I think you would nod your head in agreement in general with the tendency. Our homes should be exclusively focused toward our comfort and enjoyment without much thought toward presentation for other people’s eyes. I’m convinced hoarding would decrease if we all did this and it would probably allow more people to be less stressed in their lives.

In a hotel resort, you want to be comfortable, having “just enough” to enjoy yourself and time spent there. You don’t own it – but you don’t mistreat it, either. At your house, you buy carpet that you don’t really like or even want, which you then have to maintain, usually at greater exposure to hidden dirt and allergens. You become more worried about the spot on the carpet than on whether you wanted the stuff in the first place. Your focus then turns to concern about the presentational resale value of it and whether it would affect your imaginary future potential to sell the house based on the presence and style of carpet.

At at hotel resort, you don’t have a closet full of “extra” towels. You have enough. You don’t have separate dishes for special occasions – each meal is a special treat in itself. Why isn’t this the case at home? I could go on with a hundred examples of this sort of foolishness. But it is our mindset almost without consideration.

Not Enough Time

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“I don’t have enough time.”

“I’m too busy.”

Perhaps valid justifications for not doing things. It’s your life, after all. You don’t owe anyone an explanation unless you want to provide one.

However, each of us has exactly the same number of hours per day. You do have time – it’s just that you have opted to not use it in certain ways, whether you’ve consciously chosen how to spend your days or your life has incrementally pushed you into a fast-paced routine.

All of our minutes are extinguished based on the decisions we’ve made and continue to make. Whether you spend your time watching television, reading, or in the mountains hiking, time is yours to spend.

If your life is complicated and too fast, make it simpler and slow it down.

Sacrifice money for free time. Give up bigger houses (or any house at all) for smaller spaces. Stop doing things that aren’t worth your time.

I know what you are thinking: it’s impossible. It’s not. The first step is realizing that frenetic activity is no substitute for a pleasurable life, one filled with the things that you find a fair trade in exchange for your life’s moments.

53H