Thursday, July 30, 2020

Why It's Healthier to Live in a Vacuum

I'm out of touch. I have no idea what's going on in politics, world news, or local news. I don't know which of my friends or family have changed their relationship status, are having a baby, have moved, or even if they've had a birthday recently. And I certainly don't know the latest celebrity gossip.

I also don't know about the latest gadgets for sale, the newest decorating trends, or the hottest clothing, make-up, or hairstyles. I don't know which recipes everyone's making, the latest fitness craze or the newest diet people are trying.

And this is the happiest I've been in a long time.

How to live your life in a vacuum


Tell everyone that you're taking a break. Or don't--it's up to you. You're not required to inform the public about your decisions for your life.

Stop logging on to social media. Delete it from all your devices and turn off email notifications. Better yet, delete your accounts.

If you're subscribed to any news outlets, shut down those subscriptions.

Don't watch the news on TV or read it online. If an app, like Google, is trying to give you "helpful" suggestions about articles you might be interested in, turn off those notifications.

While you're at it, unsubscribe to any emails that encourage you to buy things. Stop visiting their websites. If the stores are open, don't visit them, either. Make a grocery list, stick to it, and make that your only trip to buy anything.

You may or may not have noticed that this blog doesn't allow for comments. That's on purpose--nobody can leave spam, and nobody can put anything negative either. If someone has something positive to say, or they have a question, they're still more than welcome to email me directly. I just don't see the point in cluttering the blog with a comment section. This is a minimalist blog, after all. Not only that, but I don't write articles so I can display accolades and appreciation for them. I do it to share knowledge and try to help people, and I don't require praise in return.

If anyone you speak to starts to say "Did you hear..." politely but firmly cut them off. Tell them that for your own sanity, you don't want to know. And to please not bring up anything in the future, either.

My mom, who is retired, loves to spend time on Facebook, catching up on what the family is doing. We have a huge family so there's always something going on. Sometimes it's positive, but a lot of it is just drama. She used to try to tell me everything she'd found out, and I finally stopped her because it would put me in a bad mood to hear about it. I said, "Unless someone is born or dying, I don't want to know." I suggest you have the same conversation with all your contacts, particularly the ones who love to gossip.

Maybe that seems harsh. But I'll explain in a little bit why it's a good thing.

Overall, you're going to set some very strict boundaries for yourself and others.

Negative consequences of living in a vacuum


At first, you may go through withdrawal. You may wonder what's going on "out there," and maybe you even relapse and sneak a peek. Or you may find yourself getting caught up in a conversation that you didn't intend to have.

You're going to miss out on things. If you know people who only send invites to events via social media, you won't see them. People might even think that you're ignoring them. 

You'll also miss out on those convenient birthday notifications that Facebook and other apps give. I recently went on Facebook for the first time in over four months and discovered that my friend who died had left me a birthday message on there. His birthday is a few weeks after mine, and I, of course, missed both his message as well as the chance to wish him a happy birthday for the very last birthday he was alive.

A lot of guilt came up with this situation. But I did something very simple to help myself get past it instead of spiraling into more grief. I imagined myself having a conversation with Sundance and telling him how sorry I was that I didn't get his message or wish him a happy birthday. I pictured his response, which would probably be something like, "Awww, it's OK," followed by one of his big bear hugs (he was 6'5") and probably some clever but derogatory name for Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg that he'd made up. Then we'd both laugh and everything would be fine.

Because that one moment--the missed birthday wishes--is just a pinpoint in time during our 25-year friendship. I knew him well enough to know what his response to me would be. And there is no way that either of us would let a little blip like that ruin our relationship.

I'm not going to lie and say that it doesn't still hurt to think I missed that chance to interact with him. But that's just a part of the grieving process, and something I'm willing to accept. The pain reinforces my commitment to honoring his memory by standing up against racism whenever I can.

Maybe, after a trial period, you will decide that you can't cut yourself off completely, but also don't want to go back to the same level of interaction you had before. But I encourage you to give this a real shot before you return to the status quo. Here's why.

Positive effects of living outside of society's influence

As I mentioned at the beginning, I'm a lot happier living this way. There are a lot of reasons for this.

For one thing, I used to tense up each time my mom approached me, knowing that she probably was going to repeat back the latest tidbits about our drama-filled relatives. She still forgets sometimes, but overall I'm less worried about what she'll say when she starts talking. This means I'm not going to dread her wanting to talk to me.

Statistically speaking, people love drama. That's why reality TV is so popular. There's a reason that tabloids have survived for so long and people can get thousands of dollars by selling a candid photo of a celebrity. It's why our favorite stories have what motivational speaker Lisa Nichols calls "the dip;" the low part of the story that builds up suspense right before the high point or "happy ending." 

But drama and negativity are stressful. It's exhausting to our mental health, immune system, and endocrine systems. Emotional stress can lead to physical illness, or exacerbate conditions that are already present. Reduce that stress, and your whole body (including your mind) will feel better.

My second reason for cutting myself off is that I no longer feel attacked, judged, or shamed about not conforming to other people's ideas of who I should be and how I should live my life. I don't spend my time comparing myself to others, who are blessed with a combination of good genes, luck, and enough free time to curate their feeds until they look like the perfect person. It's not real, but that doesn't stop our brains from thinking that it is, and feeling bad because of it.

The age of the internet and social media has led a lot of people to publicize their lives the way celebrities do--every little thing is documented for the world to see. But if you look at celebrities, they generally are not happy with being in the public eye 100% of the time. They try to disguise themselves or hire bodyguards to protect them from paparazzi and fans. When a new relationship or a breakup happens, they usually have to ask for people to respect their privacy. They don't broadcast their phone number or address. 

Sure, not everyone gets the same level of attention as an A-list actor, musician, or athlete. But anyone with a social media account who has enough people paying attention is at risk for the same level of scrutiny as a celebrity. Removing the temptation to share (or over-share) your life on the internet instantly solves the problem of people on the internet judging your life. I'm going to discuss this trend in detail in a future post.

It may not mean that judgy friends or family won't get to you, but at least this way they have less access. You can also choose to ignore their calls or emails for a while.

The last benefit of living in a vacuum is being more present in your life. Any smart dog knows how important it is to focus on the here and now because it's all we have promised to us. Humans have a lot of catching up to dogs in that aspect of life. The future is ever-changing and never guaranteed, and the past is done. I've done a lot of work on living in the moment in the past six months or so, and I know I feel much better for it. Dwelling on what could've been or what might be different have no place in my mind if I want to truly enjoy what's right in front of me.

Living in a vacuum isn't a perfect solution--you still have to deal with the enemy inside your head


I pride myself in being someone who generally does not care about the opinions of others, and who often goes against the norm. But that doesn't mean I don't feel any pain when I get criticized repeatedly for my decisions, or when people are trying to give me "helpful suggestions" about what I should do. Those words can stay with me long after they've been said. I'm sure I'm not the only one who can hear them playing back like a recording in my head when I'm not in a good place.

Everyone has a different threshold for how their life is molded by outside influences. There's nothing shameful in admitting that you value what others think, or take ideas you see and make them your own. The problem occurs when you feel like your life revolves around what others have decided for you, and you've lost yourself. If you can no longer tell whether you painted your wall "Robin's Egg Blue" because you like the color or because it's trending on Pinterest, there's a problem you need to address.

I like to think I'm impervious to what others think of me. But I'm still aware that it's only when I think of someone who doesn't live with me seeing my home, that I wonder if I've decorated it well enough. I usually only bother to change out of my pajamas and brush my hair when I have an appointment with a doctor or I'm going with Ryan to the store, which means I'm doing it for the benefit of the outside world, not myself.

But on the other hand, we still spent almost no money to completely furnish and decorate our space (more about that in an upcoming post), and I'm still perfectly happy wearing my 10-year-old clothing and thrift store finds when I go out. I also don't care if people think I'm antisocial because I sit quietly while my husband does all the talking. And maybe I'll get dressed for a video appointment with a doctor, but if I'm not feeling well enough to sit up, then they'll see me laying down on my bed when they come online.

Nobody fully understands the complexities of another person's life, so most of the conclusions that people come to are judgment calls biased by their personal experiences. There's nothing we can do about that; we just have to learn to accept that what others think is out of our control. However, we aren't required to live our lives based on their opinions.

You can be aware of insecurities or influences, but that doesn't mean they have to control you. By cutting yourself off from them, you can practice living life a life that's solely your own. Give it a try. See how much more free time you have, and how much lighter you feel when the shackles of the outside world fall away.

Why It's Healthier to Live in a Vacuum

Monday, July 6, 2020

How RV life helps you be more minimalist

I grew up in a house. I've owned houses, rented apartments, and just stopped living in an RV after nine years, including three years where we traveled full-time. So I've got plenty of experience with the unique ways that an RV contributes to minimalism--which go way beyond the size of the space. 

There are many resources out there about minimalism in houses or apartments. I think that subject is well-covered for the moment, so I'll let you peruse those if you wish. I'll delve into my experiences about staying minimalist in a house after RV life in future posts. But for now, let's focus on RVs and minimalism. 

What it's like living in an RV as a minimalist

In case you didn't catch it, I said I "just stopped living in an RV." This has been a long time coming, and not an easy decision to make. There are a number of reasons why it's the right choice for now, but it (hopefully) doesn't mean we're going to stop RVing forever.

The decision has nothing to do with the pandemic, either--it's something we were looking into since last summer. In fact, there has been a surge in "pandemic palace" sales because many people realized that RVs are a great way to continue social distancing but still be able to travel. But the reasons why aren't really relevant to this post, so let's move on to what it's like.

Whether an RV is big or small, motorized or towable, there are a few constants that every RV dweller has to deal with:
  • Every time an RV travels, it's like putting the rig through an earthquake. So ideally, everything should be put away or attached to something when you're on the road. And just like when you move from one house to another, even the most carefully-packed items can break in transit. Would you risk bringing your grandmother's fine china with you in the car every time you left the house? Probably not. The rattle factor limits what you can bring in an RV--a plus for minimalists who focus on minimal possessions.
  • Each vehicle also has weight limits, and exceeding these limits can put dangerous amounts of stress on the axles and tires, increasing the risk of a blowout. In our experience, you can usually fit more stuff in an RV than you safely should for weight considerations. So keeping the storage half-empty is better for safety and makes you naturally more minimalist!
  • It's fatiguing to pack up your whole life each time you have to move the RV. Not necessarily if you rarely move, but if you change spots every day or two, you are going to get tired of spending an hour or two putting stuff away each time. Especially if you have better things to do, like earn an income, take care of your family, or go out into the world. What's great about RVs is how most of them are designed with tons of built-in storage space. This makes it easier to keep things organized and behind closed doors, where they are less likely to get damaged. Ryan and I got into a routine of having less stuff but also putting things away immediately after use. During the time when we traveled often, it took us about five minutes (often less) to get ready to leave. This habit was reinforced with the reward of wasting less time packing.
  • Since RVs are heavier than an average passenger vehicle, fuel consumption is typically higher. From both an eco-minimalist and financial minimalist standpoint, there are pros and cons to RV travel. We found that compared to when we commuted to work in a car (just one car for the two of us), we drove much less in our RV lifestyle. So while each trip we made with an RV used more fuel because of the weight fo the RV, over the course of the year we traveled fewer miles than when we drove to jobs. It's also possible to travel in ways that reduce your carbon footprint and save you money--you just have to do some advance trip planning.
  • Speaking of one's carbon footprint--the smaller square footage of an RV means that there's less space to heat and cool than a typical home. On the flip side, approximately 100% of RVs have thinner, less-insulated walls, roofs, and floors than your average sticks-and-bricks home. So unless you aren't bothered by extreme indoor temperatures, your climate control system will be running a lot if you stay in hot or cold places. If you're hooked up to electricity at a park, it's possible to pay just as much (or more) than you would on standard house utility bills. Many RVs also use propane to run the furnace, which is an additional cost and more fossil fuel use. The beauty of RV life is that you can change locations as desired, so you can live in your ideal climate year-round. This is called "following the weather" or being a "snowbird." This freedom is in my top five reasons why I loved being an RVer--life just feels better when you can choose to live in the climate you like best, year-round. You can also add a solar power system to help offset your electricity use, although it's difficult (and more expensive) to set up a system that can run an air conditioner.
  • RV pipes are a smaller diameter than house plumbing, and cannot withstand the same amount of water pressure. Additionally, a typical RV hot water heater is exceedingly small (6 gallons is the norm, or 10 gallons if you're really lucky). All this means you're more likely to use less water. This is especially true if you choose to camp without water hookups. It becomes second nature to never leave the water running while you brush your teeth, wash dishes, or even take a shower. If you want to increase your water conservation as part of your eco-friendliness, an RV will get you accustomed to some of those habits.
  • When you visit a campground in an RV, you're just renting a spot, but during that time it's your home. You naturally have concerns for the appearance of the campground--namely, you don't want to see trash lying all over your "yard." I think RVing makes people who love nature want to take even better care of it, and more conscious of how their actions impact the environment. Not only do you make sure to pick up your own garbage, but you pick up everyone else's, too. Sadly, this isn't the case for everyone--there are still plenty of people who live in RVs and litter. But hopefully, they are the minority.
  • If you want to be more minimalist as a way to spend more time with the people you live with, traveling in an RV is certainly one way to do it. For better or worse, personal space and separation are cut down dramatically in an RV. If you move around a lot, you'll be socializing with each other more than anyone else by virtue of not knowing anyone in places you visit. But even if you are stationary, when you're in the RV, you're only steps away from each other. Managing this closeness successfully could mean finding new ways to have alone time and deal with conflict. This micro-sized habitat can magnify positive bonds as well.   
  • "Resetting to zero" is a term used by Colin Wright, author of books such as How to Travel Full-Time and Becoming Who We Need To Be. In his blog, Exile Lifestyle, Colin talks about how at least once per week he resets his home to its "resting state." This means cleaning all surfaces and putting everything away. Getting his inbox to zero (a goal I would love to start striving for) and checking off any urgent items on his to-do list. Colin says that if you aren't a minimalist, this reset is a great way to get a taste for what minimalism feels like. Well, imagine how much easier it is to reset to zero in a tiny space like an RV. Most of the time you can deep-clean the interior of a rig in an hour or two.
  • RV travel gives the opportunity to explore new places while still living your day-to-day life. It reduces or eliminates the hassles and discomforts of sleeping in strange beds, lugging around suitcases, and dealing with airport security. You also can take your time visiting, because you don't have to worry about using up all your vacation days. Any day you can achieve a balance between how you make money and how you spend your free time, it's like going to work and then being on vacation five minutes later--all in the same day. It's so much more relaxing when you are someplace new but still have the comforts of home. The peace of mind this type of living provides gives you a sense of freedom because you aren't taking up your time and emotions worrying about what you left behind "back at home." And freedom leads to a feeling of control over your life and how you lead it--a penultimate achievement in minimalism.

Related posts:

What is an Eco-Minimalist? 

                     

A summary of my thoughts on minimalism as an RVer

Overall, I think being in an RV can make minimalist aspirations more efficient. There is less chance that you will hold on to things you don't need. If you're unsure whether your possessions or hobbies are really important to you, a few months of shuffling items around to get to other stuff should help clarify that. 

If you're like me and having an uncluttered space helps your mind feel uncluttered, then RV life can get you to that clearheadedness faster. You're forced to find a home for every single item, so it doesn't become a projectile during travel. Knowing where each possession you own lives when not in use makes it so much faster to put things away. You also spend less time trying to find lost items since there are only so many places you can look (although it's still completely possible to misplace things!). In short, you can easily set up your life to be cleaner and more organized than it ever could be in a bigger place.

You'll also find out quickly which relationships are built to last. Superficial connections probably won't survive when you leave people behind to travel and have to make an extra effort to keep in touch. The same goes for spending 23 hours per day with your significant other five feet away. But you can also build more friendships with people you'd otherwise never have met. And you can strengthen ties with previously-distant relatives if you add visits to them along your travel route.

As for costs, aesthetics, and environmental concerns, there are lots of tweaks you can make with an RV lifestyle, the same way you can with a house. I mentioned water conservation, solar, and trip planning before. Lots of newer RVs are also built using eco-friendly materials--our last two RVs were certified green. The tiny spaces are harder to ventilate, so you may find yourself switching from harsh, smelly cleaning products to something gentler (and cheaper) like diluted vinegar.

Even something as simple as owning a smaller trash can will make you more conscious of how much waste you're producing. And the first time you're parked next to a hoarder who's got junk piled both inside and outside of their RV (we dubbed them "Fortresses of Solitude"), the aversion you feel will make you want to never be that type of RV dweller.

There are even ways to modify the space if you have physical limitations. People replace their steps with ramps or add wheelchair lifts. Small areas are fairly simple and cheap to remodel. If you're handy, so you can raise or lower countertops, make walkways wider, and replace fixtures with more ergonomic ones without breaking the bank. Even if you just want it to look prettier, you'll need smaller quantities of materials to get the job done.

No, RVing is not for everyone. And there are a lot of things that are different in an RV from a house that could be dealbreakers for people. But as someone who's been an RVer for many years, I can tell you it's my first choice for a living space. And I know I'm not the only one who feels that way!

Being in an RV can make minimalist aspirations more efficient.



Saturday, June 13, 2020

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing

It took me a long time to get started on this post. I have to be honest--each time I tried, I was so filled with both sadness and anger that I put it aside. Also, I'm on a medication that makes my eyes blurry, so please bear with me if I've made any mistakes.

If you're reading this when I wrote it (June 2020), then you know there's a lot going on in the world. But what I want to talk about specifically is racism. 

For the past year-plus, I've been hyper-focused on the minimalist tenet that I hold most dear: letting go of things that matter less in order to have more time, space, and energy for what's most important to me. What's been most important in my life lately has been taking care of my own health, and making sure my mom has what she needs.

That means that I've been neglectful in other areas. I've avoided watching the news, mostly stayed away from social media, and haven't reached out to my friends and family very much.

That last part led to a lot of guilt when last week I was informed that my friend of 25 years died from a heart condition I didn't know about. Not only that, but I can't travel to his memorial to say goodbye to him. So I decided to spend some time having a private memorial with just myself. 

In remembrance of my friend Sundance

It brought up a lot of memories of all the good times we had together. We bonded over many things--being shy people who tended towards creativity and introspection, our mutual love of cooking, and how we both wanted to be our own bosses someday. 

I also remembered how often the group of friends that we met through treated Sundance like an outsider, made jokes about him, and overall were very cruel.  Long after I broke ties with that group, he and I stayed in touch. 

These days, you might call some of the behavior I witnessed against him "microaggression." But a lot of it was just outright racism. I don't know why he put up with it, but I can tell you for certain that he handled it with more grace than I did. I frequently got into shouting matches over the behavior of our so-called "friends."

When people take a sensitive, caring person like Sundance who trusts them and they treat him like an outsider, that can lead to one of two results: an angry person who turns and spreads more bitterness through the world, or someone who rises above that behavior and continues to stand up for what is right. Luckily, my friend took the high road.

So a great deal of the strength I am drawing to write up this post comes from Sundance. His spirit stays with me while I push forward. He was a loving, kind, intelligent person who didn't always feel like he fit in anywhere. I understand that feeling very well.

I could have stayed hidden in my house and spent my time mourning my friend Sundance. That would be the easier thing to do. But he was very vocal in support of civil rights, so in his memory, I'm not going to stay quiet.

As for my own experience with prejudice, it's something I've felt throughout my life in many forms, which may surprise people because of where I lived. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. I didn't label my friends by their appearance, economic status, race, cultural background, sexual preference, or religion. None of that mattered to me. In fact, I paid so little attention to it that I can honestly say I don't know the ethnic background or religious preferences of many of the people I grew up with, and they don't know mine. It just wasn't something we needed to discuss in order to have a good friendship.

But even in a diverse and supposedly open-minded place like the Bay Area, being a multiracial female who spent the better part of four decades with a mystery illness that was finally diagnosed, I encountered a lot of people who felt it was their duty to criticize me and inform me of all the reasons why my life choices, and even my very existence, were not up to their standards. I've come to a few conclusions due to this experience.

I don't claim to be any sort of expert, nor do I have all the answers. I also don't claim to be victimized in the same ways or as badly as others in the BIPOC community. I can only speak for myself about what I've been through and what I've learned from it.

Happy people don't spend their time trying to hurt other people.

Have you ever been around someone who made you feel like you have to walk on eggshells in their presence? There are some people who seem to be just waiting for someone else to say or do something so they can pounce on it and explain how wrong they are. What a miserable life that must be, spending all one's time looking for negative things to point out in others.

Anyone who has to tear someone else down in order to feel superior to them probably doesn't have very much self-esteem. I can imagine that constantly attacking others never fills up the empty hole inside of someone. Yet they keep doing it, maybe because they don't know what else to do.

This is not an excuse for those that behave in hurtful ways. They are still wrong for their behavior, and the damage they do is very real. But perhaps we can find some compassion for them because they are clearly in need of guidance in the right direction.

The instinct to fight back is perfectly understandable--and something I'm guilty of doing myself sometimes. But I think we all know it doesn't lead to any long-term resolution for the core issue. When it comes to a response, let's use Michelle Obama's guidelines as a model for our behavior: go high when they go low. You can say: "I see you. I can see that your words are coming from a place of pain. However, trying to hurt me as well is not acceptable. Maybe you can tell me what I can do to help you, but if not, then I hope your life gets better." 

If you catch yourself sinking into this type of unhappiness, remember that lifting up others is a way to bring yourself up with them. Dragging other people down will only anchor you to the bottom as well.

A person's right to an opinion is not the same as having an educated opinion.

People love to cite their right to freedom of speech. Can you say whatever you want? Sure. But saying it doesn't mean it's true or even valuable. For example, just because something was posted on social media or broadcast in the news doesn't guarantee that whoever said it researched and fact-checked it. Quite the opposite--some people purposefully make statements full of lies in the hopes that others will help them spread their propaganda. 

And no matter who this person is--whether they're in a position of power or famous or should know what they're talking about--this does not guarantee that what they wrote or said is correct.

When you repeat something just because it sounds true or it fits with your opinion, it's you that looks like the fool when it's debunked. So do your homework, and think for yourself. Don't let others form opinions on your behalf.

Also, don't be so convinced that something is correct that you ignore blatant clues to the contrary. Most particularly in the past few years, I have observed a trend of willful ignorance. People want so badly to be right about a person or situation that they choose to close their eyes to opposing evidence that is right under their noses. There are huge consequences to this behavior that will affect us far into the future, including other countries looking at the United States as a huge joke for how we behave. This country is not so all-powerful that it can withstand poor relationships with other countries indefinitely--other nations' opinions of us also affect our economy and safety.

So if you can't verify something as accurate, don't repeat it, and don't let it seep into your brain and become something you agree with.

Labels are a form of bias.

You may notice that in speaking above about my friend Sundance, I mention racism against him but didn't mention his race. If you're hoping I'm going to tell you his race now, you're out of luck. It shouldn't matter to anybody--it certainly didn't change anything in our friendship.

Labels are a tricky thing. Especially in the written word--we have to use descriptors to get our point across, but by labeling people or things, we're trying to fit them into neat little boxes. And when you box something up, you're separating it from everything else around it.

The divisiveness that results from labeling causes so many problems. If everyone was treated with respect regardless of how they look and acceptance of their right to be themselves and make individual choices, then labeling wouldn't be necessary. Labeling highlights differences, and prejudiced people see differences as "less than" or "wrong." Also, people are too unique to be shoved into categories. Nothing is ever that clear-cut and trying to make it so is dishonoring how special it is to be an individual.

Speak up when people use labels in a negative way, and be mindful of your own language habits as well.

Ignoring something you don't like doesn't make it go away.

It's disappointing that a country that was founded as a haven for those who were different simultaneously has such a long and continuous history of racism. I can only be thankful that we've made some progress, but it isn't nearly enough.

It's sad that it takes the extremes of people getting injured or killed in a way that's highlighted by the media to bring about some much-needed changes. Meanwhile, so many others have had their lives and deaths go unnoticed because it wasn't sensational enough for journalism. During those lulls, it was probably easy for some people to convince themselves that things weren't that bad anymore. It was simpler to say that things were getting better, that other people were handling it, and that not everyone needed to get involved in order to finally solve this problem once and for all.

That just isn't true. Nobody can just sit back anymore. As many have said, it's not enough to not be racist. We must be anti-racist, and we must all take action against racism.

I'm sure it can be intimidating to speak up, even if you know what other people are doing is wrong. You may feel like it isn't your place, or you don't know enough, or you might say the wrong thing.

If you're unsure, there are a few simple steps you can take:
  1. Do more research. There are many groups out there that can provide you with more knowledge and recommended actions.
  2. Be a good listener. If someone affected by racism has something to say about their experience, pay attention. Ask if there's anything you can do to help them.
  3. Withdraw your support from people and organizations that don't align with your ideals. You can also go a step further and send them a message about why you will no longer patronize their business, vote for them, donate to them, etc.
  4. Be thankful for any advantages you may have. Share the wealth if possible.
  5. Love and kindness, first and always.
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.



 








Sunday, April 26, 2020

Happiness Care Package

Hi friends! We're going through some interesting times right now. If you're not used to the isolation that can come with social distancing, then loneliness and depression can creep in. So I've put together a little happiness care package for you. I hope this gets you through some difficult times. Feel free to share these ideas with anyone you think might need some help. Stay home and stay safe! 


Shows and movies to watch for happiness


My favorite movie of all time is The Princess Bride. This is a classic that never fails to lift my spirits, and one of the few movies that I will watch more than once. I even have a DVD of it (bought used), so I can access it whenever I want. It's actually the only DVD that I own.

TV series The Good Place. Kristen Bell is one of my favorite actresses. It's great to see Ted Danson back in action, and the rest of the cast just comes together seamlessly. This is the first show in a long time that I looked forward to watching each week.

YouTube channels that will increase your happiness

i_am_puma: Russian couple who have a rescued puma as a beloved pet. Guest appearances from their hairless cat as well. You don't need to understand Russian to laugh at their fur babies' antics.

Kittisaurus: Maybe large cats aren't your thing. Claire has the solution--lots of adorable house cats that are clearly the center of her universe (and her apartment). My husband wants to steal Lulu.

Tucker Budzyn: If you're more of a dog person, check out Tucker the Golden Retriever. He has great comedic timing. You can watch him and his furry friends on their adventures, including food taste tests, checking out new toys, and trying to fight mom's curling iron.

Julia Westlin: This independent artist has the voice of an angel. She covers songs, sometimes a capella, where she and her partner sing every single part and make every instrumental sound--something that looks like it would take hundreds of hours to record. She also writes and performs original works. Well worth a listen.

2CELLOS: Cello music isn't always classical music! It's amazing what these guys can do beyond the music you typically expect from cellists. Look up their covers of "Thunderstruck" by AC/DC and "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana. I wonder how much money they spend on bowstrings every year...

My channel: I haven't added to it in a long, long, time, but I have lots of old travel videos on there, and some funny pet-related stuff as well. You can also get a tour of two of the previous rigs that we sold, in case you're curious how we had things set up.

Books to increase your happiness

Soulful Simplicity: How Living with Less Can Lead to So Much More by Courtney Carver. Courtney is a blogger and author who has also been a mentor to me in my own soul-centered minimalist life. In this book, she tells her story and provides actionable tips for creating a happier, simpler life for yourself.


The Healthy Habit Revolution: The Step by Step Blueprint to Create Better Habits in 5 Minutes a Day by Derek Doepker. Why not take this time at home to make some changes to your habits?


The Alchemist by Paul Coelho. The story of a boy who goes on a journey following his heart.

Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey. If you're old enough to remember this mini-skit from Saturday Night Live, then this will bring you back to a good chuckle or two. If you have no clue what I'm talking about, then you may not get the joke if you read this book...Google the book's title and author name to watch some clips from the show first.

Little treats for happiness

I used to love eating Nutella, but it contains milk products and I don't do dairy anymore. I just recently found this chocolate-hazelnut spread which is non-GMO, organic, and vegan. The containers are BPA-free and they donate part of their profits toward sustainable agriculture.

Speaking of chocolate, I now have to do something I never thought I'd do, which is to drink caffeine every day. I have a CSF leak, and conservative treatment includes caffeine to try to raise back up the pressure. I can't tolerate coffee, so I opt for either matcha or hot chocolate. But I get sick of plain hot chocolate, so I found this tasty cinnamon oil to add to my chocolate. Just a few drops are enough to make my drink a real treat.

I'm not big on scented candles, but I do love the light smell of lavender. Lavender essential oil diluted in a spray bottle and sprayed on a pillow or around the room makes for a relaxing atmosphere.

I'm a big advocate of taking a nap. I know lots of people are against the idea because they think they're too busy or it makes them lazy. But sometimes it's necessary. 


Other ideas to make you happy

  • Join a group of people who have like-minded interests through a website like Facebook or Meetup
  • Download a video conferencing app and have a virtual party with your friends
  • Give yourself a spa day at home using things from your kitchen, like oatmeal, sugar, oil, and lemon. Look up free recipes online for inspiration.
  • Turn on your favorite upbeat music and dance and sing.
  • Start a journal
  • Begin a morning routine
  • Learn how to let go of negative feelings
  • Manage stress better
Remember, with the world put on pause, this is a time when we can hit the reset button. We can start making better choices and building new routines to create a happier life for ourselves. I'll be talking about that more in the future.



Friday, February 7, 2020

How to Combine Financial Minimalism With Eco-Minimalism

Out of all the types of minimalism, I think these two go hand-in-hand. In this post, we’ll discuss ways to use both financial minimalist techniques and eco-minimalism to improve your finances and take better care of the environment. Here are the topics in this article:
  • A quick recap on financial minimalism (AKA frugal minimalism) and eco-minimalism, and why they go well together
  • Ways to spend money that are both frugal and eco-friendly
  • How to be eco-friendly (and frugal) for FREE

A quick recap on financial minimalism (AKA frugal minimalism) and eco-minimalism, and why they go well together

I wrote more complete articles on these types of minimalism, so this will be quick…especially because each description is pretty self-explanatory.
A frugal minimalist (or financial minimalist) is someone who spends as little as possible as part of their minimalist life. An example is someone who lives in a small space with only a few possessions to save money. To read more about frugal minimalism, including more in-depth tips, visit my article: What is a Frugal Minimalist?
An eco-minimalist is someone who combines minimalism with their love of the environment. They might give up their car in favor of public transportation, which cuts down both on how much stuff they have and their impact on the environment. To read more about eco-minimalism, visit my article: What is an Eco-Minimalist?
These two types of minimalism go well together because they both already have minimalist tendencies and interchangeable qualities between them. A frugal minimalist might also not own a car because public transportation, walking, or biking is cheaper. An eco-minimalist can choose to live in a smaller space to reduce their carbon footprint.

Ways to spend money that are both frugal and eco-friendly

In 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its report about consumer expenditures in 2017. There are three areas of life where most people spend the most money: housing (27% of income), food (10% of income), and transportation. (13% of income) You can easily include both frugality and eco-friendly behavior in all three categories.

HOUSING

They say the three most important things about real estate are location, location, and location. But size also does matter (insert pun here if you wish). The greater the square footage of a property and/or the piece of land a building sits on, the higher the price is likely to be. And yes, location does factor into that, but if you’re talking about within a single neighborhood, you will probably see that as the size of the property goes up, so does the price. This is generally true whether you own or rent as well.
So living in a smaller space is frugal, eco-friendly, AND minimalist because
  • A smaller space costs less in mortgage or rent, utility bills, and maintenance costs, making it more frugal
  • Downsizing your home means utilizing less electricity/gas/oil or whatever energy source you use to run lights, heat or cool your home, and run appliances, plus less space for faucets and toilets means you will probably use less water, making it more eco-friendly
  • Less space means less room to buy more things and less time spent cleaning, organizing, and maintaining what you own, making it more minimalist and also more financially minimal
Of course, not everyone can, or wants to, move to a smaller place. There are still many ways to incorporate more frugality and environmentally friendly practices into your existing space. One of them is to rent out unused rooms to better utilize your existing space from a financial perspective. But if you don’t like the idea of roommates, the Penny Hoarder recently came out with an article about reducing your utility bills. Not all of them fall into either the frugal/financial minimalist or eco-friendly categories, so I have a few to add.
  1. Try to look for reusable air conditioner filters (ones that you can clean rather than throw out).
  2. Buy used fans at garage sales or thrift stores to save money.
  3. Wear layers, and try adding or removing clothes instead of changing your thermostat. Over time, you may find yourself acclimating to a larger range of temperatures.
  4. If you can’t afford the fancy insulated curtains, use old blankets or comforters. It may not look as pretty (or maybe it will look even better!), but buying new curtains is not eco-friendly. They’re usually made of synthetic fabrics and lined with plastics, so the manufacture of them is toxic. Then they’ll be off-gassing toxic fumes into your home.
  5. In nice weather, consider air-drying laundry instead of putting it through the dryer. You can also set up a dryer rack or clothesline in your shower or tub to use year-round. While the dryer balls mentioned in the article will reduce drying time, they will also put more stress on the fabric of your clothes, which makes them wear out faster.
  6. In general, washing and drying clothes puts stress on the fabric. Cheap clothes are also bound to fall apart more quickly, and synthetics start to disintegrate, their particles entering our water supply. If you don’t sweat a lot, smoke, or wear a bunch of fragrance or lotions, your clothes are relatively clean after wearing. Shake them out, air them out. Jeans especially can be washed infrequently if they’re not visibly dirty. Most people don't know this, but denim is made to be washed as little as monthly, quarterly, or even yearly!
  7. When you’re using the oven, try to batch-bake. It wastes energy to pre-heat the oven, so you can also skip that and adjust your cooking times. If you’re not comfortable with that, prepare several dishes to cook at the same time and put them in the oven back-to-back so you only have to pre-heat once.
  8. Speaking of cooking, using appliances tends to heat up the house. If it’s going to be a hot day, try to use heat-creating appliances like the washing machine, dryer, stove, and oven early in the morning or later in the evening to reduce your air conditioner needs. On cold days, using those appliances during the coldest part of the day may reduce your need to raise the thermostat on your furnace.
  9. During the hottest parts of the days, make sure your shades are down. When it’s cold outside, raise the shades and open curtains when the sun is facing your windows to raise your indoor temperature.
  10. Control airflow for heating and cooling. If you have an unused room, close the door and close the vents so you aren’t paying for climate control in that space. Conversely, give your AC or furnace an easier time by leaving doors open between rooms that you want to be heated or cooled.

FOOD

There are some easy ways to reduce food costs and care for the environment (and your health) while you’re doing it:
  • Shop at stores closer to home that feature local, in-season produce.
  • Reduce your consumption of processed foods. This includes sugar, oil, and flour, none of which are healthy or nutritionally necessary. When choosing a processed or prepared food, opt for ones that come in recyclable or reusable packaging, like glass bottles.
  • Eat at home or bring home-made foods with you to work, school, and social events.
  • Did you know that many theme parks will allow you to bring in outside food if you ask them in advance? I was once going to spend the day with my family at a theme park, and by perusing their restaurant menus I knew there would be nothing for me to eat. I spoke to them and told them that I have a special diet. I explained the parameters and they agreed that none of the food inside the park would match my needs. They gave me stickers to put on food containers, and the next day I arrived and they let me through with my food without a problem.  If you don't have health issues related to food, you may need to fudge a little bit about the "special diet" part, but most family-oriented places understand about food allergies or dietary restrictions these days. You don't need to disclose that you're being frugal rather than doing it for health reasons!
  • When eating out, visit places that allow you to bring your own take-out containers. Say no to straws, or bring your own reusable straw. Bring your own drink cup as well. Some places even give you discounts for bringing your own containers.
  • Take this a step further and use cloth napkins instead of paper. I carry one in my bag for when I’m out, plus we have some at home. I got five 100% cotton cloth napkins at a thrift store for $3.
  • I used to think that food cooperatives were fancy places with high-end prices that required memberships. Now that I’ve explored some, I’ve found they’re great places to save money on bulk pantry items. While there’s usually a discount for members, the ones I’ve visited don’t require memberships. You can still get discounts for bringing your own containers (re-use those glass jars!). One local store also gave discounts if we wanted to do a bulk special order of something they didn't carry in stock but had access to--how great is that? Many co-ops these days also take EBT/SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) and even provide special discounts on memberships or other purchases.
  • When it’s time to replace food storage containers go for ones that are multi-use. I prefer glass containers that are both microwave- and oven-safe. I cook meals in the oven with them, can store the leftovers in the fridge, then reheat in the microwave, all in the same container. I never have to move it over to a plate so it saves on dishwashing! Also, I think restaurants are more willing to put take-out into glass dishes because they can see that they’re clean better than if you show up with an opaque plastic container.
  • If fresh fruits and veggies are too pricey, opt for frozen. They’re usually flash-frozen within a few hours of being harvested, meaning they are exactly as ripe as they should be. With some experimenting, it’s also easy to cook frozen vegetables that don’t end up mushy. I put mine directly into the air fryer and roast them. My mom claims that letting them soak in hot water for a few minutes does the trick.
  • If you have condiments or prepared foods you like to eat a lot, consider making them yourself. For example, an average container of hummus is $4-6 for a few servings. For that price, you can get a few pounds of dried chickpeas. Cook ‘em up, add a few cents’ worth of spices in your food processor. That amount of dried chickpeas should yield enough hummus for a month or two. Same thing for french fries. For what it costs to buy one large order fast-food fries or a single, large bag of frozen fries, you can buy a 5- or 10-pound bag of potatoes. They can easily be cut up and spiced as you wish.
  • Invest in appliances that make your convenience foods more convenient to make at home to reduce temptation. Instant Pots may be the most well-known pressure cookers these days, but there are tons of options out there that work just as well. You don’t have to get an electronic pressure cooker—you can opt for cheaper versions that work in the microwave or stovetop. And of course, you can always use a slow cooker if pressure cooking scares you. We also recently got this air fryer to save on utilities when cooking our oil-free fries and other baked items. I now prefer to use it over the oven.
  • Plan your meals ahead and only buy what you need for about a weeks’ worth of meals at a time to reduce food waste.
  • There was a time (just last century!) when higher-priced items like meats, desserts, and special drinks (fancy coffees, alcohol, and carbonated drinks) were not readily available to the average person on a daily basis. These items were for special occasions, if at all. And as they became more commonplace, so did “lifestyle diseases” like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. Just because we have easy access now does not mean we can or should eat them every day. Not only are they expensive, but they also are not good for our health.
  • Speaking of health, don’t let fad diets dictate what you buy to eat. Nearly every trendy diet plan out there makes money by suggesting packaged foods or supplements you should take to make weight loss more effective. Or just as bad, they prey on the foods we crave and claim that diets that nearly exclude a macro-nutrient like carbohydrates and over-indulge in fatty foods or proteins is somehow balanced, sustainable, and healthy. However, our bodies never evolved to properly digest all the junk that we call “food” today, and there's are good reasons why the human race started out eating a range of foods that came straight from the earth. The best diet for both sustainability and health is a whole foods diet that focuses on plant foods. Eat real, whole foods now, and you won’t empty your wallet later by paying for healthcare to reverse the effects of the latest weight loss scheme.

TRANSPORTATION

When we started traveling, we sold our car and went for 2.5 years without a personal vehicle. During that time, we rented a car three times. Otherwise, we used our electric bikes, regular bikes, walking, public transportation, borrowed a car from a friend or relative, and paid for the occasional Uber to get around, without any problems. We figured out how to do this in major metropolitan areas as well as small towns across the U.S. We even walked across a bridge to Canada for a quick day trip, saving many minutes sitting in vehicle traffic, and dollars in fuel and parking fees.
But even before we gave up our car, we reduced our transportation costs wherever possible. We had an older Prius (2002) that still got ~40 miles to the gallon and had no loan payments on it. We shared a single car for 4+ years between us, despite the San Francisco Bay Area’s less than stellar public transportation systems. If Ryan needed the car, I would carpool, bike, take the bus or ferry into my job in San Francisco. He worked closer to the house, so if I needed the car he would bus or bike. On weekends, we often biked or walked to do our grocery shopping.
Between gas, parking fees, bridge tolls, and car insurance, we saved at least $2000-$3000 per year by giving up our car. We used that money to pay off my student loans, enjoy adventures during our travels, and pad our savings account.
I know it isn’t realistic for everyone to be car-free. For example, a lot of my family lives in a small town that has no public transportation and no grocery store or major medical care. Access to a vehicle is a necessity. However, there are ways to still reduce your transportation costs:
  • Get a card that gives you discounts or cashback bonuses on fuel, whether it’s through your bank or local grocery store loyalty card.
  • Re-negotiate your auto insurance rates with your current carrier, or find a different insurance provider with better rates. Make sure they are giving you all applicable discounts on your policy and question any fees that you don’t understand.
  • If you have more cars than drivers in your household, sell the extra cars. Consider ways to share one car within your family.
  • Sell cars with loans and buy a cheaper car with cash. It’s better to eliminate a car loan as soon as possible because vehicles usually depreciate faster than their loan balances. Older, less expensive cars are usually cheaper to insure as well.
  • Keep up on regular vehicle maintenance—cars that need repair often have increased fuel consumption.
  • Drive at or below the speed limit. Avoid pressing hard on the accelerator or brakes.
  • When possible, use ride-shares or carpools to work or other events.
  • While running errands, plan your route for the least driving. For example, pick the store farthest away to visit first and work your way back to your house.

How to be eco-friendly (and frugal) for FREE

Now that we’re stationary we want to enjoy our space. When traveling, everything outside the RV was our backyard. These days, leaving my bed is a chore, so it’s nice to have a little yard space.
However, our lot was just rocky, uneven dirt when we arrived. Other than three camping chairs, we didn’t have any outdoor furniture. But thanks to resources like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Trash Nothing (Freecycle), and Buy Nothing, we were able to get pavers, landscaping rock, stepping stones, a few bushes, a large propane grill, two table and chair sets, and more for FREE. Oh, and also a really fancy stationary bike for Ryan that’s in pristine condition—it’s probably worth about $1500, but the guy gave it away to us. Ryan also got an 8’x8’ resin shed to house our business inventory for only $125. And that’s a business write-off, so bonus there!
Yes, it requires sweat equity, time, and fuel to find, retrieve, and sometimes repair items before they’re exactly what you need. But if you’re short on cash, this is a great way to recycle things in your community, which also makes it eco-friendly. And minimalist, because the amount of effort required will prohibit most people from working to get more than they actually need.
It’s crazy how much people will give away, assuming they have no value. Or, they just want them gone quickly and without negotiation. Some of these people were even nice enough to help Ryan load things into the truck, offer him water to drink, and a wheelbarrow to move them. Then when he got back, some of our helpful neighbors pitched in to unload the heavier stuff and also build the shed.
I can’t say if people are this nice everywhere, but it’s been a great experience so far in Portland. People in the community have been happy to get free labor to haul away stuff that they don't want. When we can, we try to pay it forward by doing the same and offering up our stuff for free to others.

And you'd be surprised about what's offered for free. It isn't just unwanted patio furniture. I've seen ads offering unused food (including baby formula), clothing, kids' toys, camping gear, even cars (although they're usually not running). When we lived in the bay area, one neighbor was given a free car in working condition so he had a way to get to work by some generous soul. Another neighbor's RV was donated to him for free so he wouldn't be homeless any longer.

Anytime my family needs something that isn't an urgent necessity, we try to get it for free first. The patience required to find something for free, which usually takes several days or weeks, makes us really consider how badly we need it. It's been proven that people who do "retail therapy" get a temporary high from making purchases. I would imagine that the convenience of instantly being able to buy something at the store rather than searching for it for free only adds to that high. If so, then using our method can help create the discipline one might need to wean a person off of a shopping addiction.

One last word on free stuff--a lot of the websites and apps that offer free stuff also have a way to send notifications when the item you're searching for comes available. This is a great way to prevent you from spending all your time checking these resources to see if anything new has popped up.

That about wraps it up for this post. Thanks to all of you who have waited patiently on this one...it took me months of working for just a few minutes at a time, but I'm committed to writing more posts when I can.