Do What You Love

Do what you love and do it often.

Living in pursuit of what feels real will always lead to surprises, but no surprise is without its purpose. Every fork leads somewhere. It's not your choice that is recorded by the universe but what you do with that choice once you've made it.

Take the fork and all will make sense. Trust that life knows best. Have faith that you will be ready. Do what you love, live what you love, and each event in your life will join to form an infinite stream of serendipity.

In the end, when your entire life flows into a single moment of time, it won't be your possessions, your worries, or your missed opportunities that cumulate into that single moment, but rather how you truly you lived, how deeply you loved, and how completely you followed your heart.

Seeking Simplicity

In all areas of our life, we should be seeking ways to simplify. Simplicity, as Leonardo Da Vinci said, is the ultimate sophistication. When we simplify, we recognize what is non-essential and remove it, leaving behind only what is essential.

The act of simplifying is not easy, but it yields incredible power. When things are simple, we are not distracted by the non-essential. There is nothing getting in the way of what we're trying to achieve. This distraction-free environment empowers us to think and grow toward our goals more quickly, to feel clarity and ease where before there was always a subtle, seemingly unidentifiable resistance.

When we experience something powerfully simple, it's usually not obvious what makes it so powerful. Simple things exude a quiet confidence that seems to ooze from some distant magical world, giving it unexpected strength.

Think about the various famous quotes you've heard repeated over and over: "Be the change you wish to see in the world", "Love conquers all" "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." All of these exemplify simplicity because the non-essential has been removed. The statements have been reduced to clear, universal truths that we can all identify with.

Simplifying requires clear understanding of purpose. If the purpose is clear, the non-essential becomes obvious and can be removed. If the purpose is ambiguous or unclear, the non-essential mixes with the essential and a pool of chaotic confusion is created.

If I wanted to express that health is very important, more important than say money or treasures or fame or status, I could achieve that by saying, "there are lots of things in the world that are valuable but in the end it's health that is the most valuable."

However, if I identify the purpose of what I'm trying to say — that is to express that health is the most valuable thing — I can remove all the non-essential and arrive at the statement, "health is wealth". So simple, yet so powerful! All of the non-essential has been removed and what remains is a vehicle for fulfilling the purpose of the statement.

In all simple things you will discover this removal of the non-essential, this cutting to the core of what is intended. In powerful writing and communication you will see less ambiguity and more certainty. 'I think there's something powerful about simplicity' becomes 'simplicity is powerful'. 'I think you're very pretty' becomes 'you're beautiful'.

I arrived at my current website layout after thousands of iterations over the past ten years. I'm constantly seeking to remove the non-essential by clarifying the purpose of the website, which is to present my writing online and allow others to share the writing and leave comments.

I'll never be 'done' simplifying because the quest for simplicity evolves alongside the one universal constant in the universe: change.

In the emails that my subscribers receive, I'm constantly searching for ways to simplify. If you compare this Journal email to that of a previous one, you'll find that the footer and signature content have been greatly simplified. When I recognized that the singular purpose of these emails was to share newly published writing, it became obvious that providing lots of links to send people to various social media platforms was non-essential.

Again, removing the non-essential by identifying the ultimate purpose of a thing.

When I decided to make a lifestyle transition in 2010, I began by identifying my long-term lifestyle goal and revising it until it was crystal clear: to travel the world with all my possessions on my back. That clarity instantly identified the non-essential things in my life: my own apartment, a pickup truck, a snowboard, a mountain bike, extra clothes, extra shoes, extra bags, a big digital camera… the list goes on.

With all that non-essential removed, my life feels far more simple than it did before, but it also feels more sophisticated and full of potential. A simple lifestyle does not need to be primitive.

Remember, simplicity is the ultimate sophistication and identifying and removing the non-essential from your life will increase your ability to achieve your goals and free you to experience more of life.

What is your ultimate purpose? If that's too big a question, then what's your primary goal right now? What exactly are you working toward? Meditate on that for a few moments. Zero in on it. When you feel clarity, ask yourself what non-essential things surround that goal. What's getting in the way? What's not necessary?

Seek ways to simplify by clarifying purpose and identifying and removing the non-essential.

The Lifestyle of a Minimalist Digital Nomad

Working at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

"How many bags?"

"Just one" I replied, motioning to the small 30L backpack on my shoulder.

"And how much luggage?"

"None... just this one bag."

It's as if people can not comprehend someone traveling with only one bag. Everyone, from the airline ticket attendant, to the taxi driver, to the clerk at the hotel, seemed to insist that I must have more luggage.

I sat down in an empty section of Malaysia's Kuala Lumpur International Airport and put my bag down on the seat next to me. As I watched people wrestle with multiple suitcases, I looked over at my lonely bag and remembered how different my life used to be. Continue reading

Are you storing stuff to ignore it?

When I moved out of my big apartment to downsize to a smaller place back in 2008, I rented a storage unit to temporarily store the stuff that I didn't see myself using on a regular basis.

Since I wanted to sell or give away everything and reduce my possessions, I had originally planned to only keep the storage unit for a few months. I thought that if I made storing my unnecessary possessions a financial burden, I would be more encouraged to get rid of them. I told myself that by paying money every month I would be forcing myself to get my butt moving and sell all the unnecessary stuff.

Well, that didn't happen.

Month after month went by and I found myself in an endless loop of procrastination. I kept telling myself that $120 a month wasn't that much to spend for a safe and secure 10'x8' storage space. I told myself that the stuff inside the storage unit was worth a lot more than I was spending and that I would eventually make all my money back when I got around to selling the stuff. Continue reading

The more we have, the less we appreciate

This post started as a comment in response to Colin Wright's post on Your Money or Your Life. The comment grew long enough that I decided to turn my response into this post.

There are two things that cannot be bought with money: Time and Happiness.

Sure, you might be able to "buy" someone's time, but you cannot buy back time that has already been spent! Therefore time is an invaluable resource. Likewise, happiness cannot be bought. You can buy things that you think will make you happy, but the happiness itself will always come from somewhere inside. You really don't need anything external to obtain it!

I find it amazing how many people go through their entire lives thinking that more money equals more happiness. They get stressed and unhappy due to the absence of money and naturally they assume having more of it will reverse the effect. In reality, what's making them unhappy are the choices they've made; the little luxuries they've decided are absolutely necessary to live their life (cable TV, cars, expensive foods, tobacco, alcohol, big house, movies, etc.).

All of those things provide a very temporary and unsustainable happiness. As a result, their life becomes a snowballing roller coaster of wanting more and more. The more they want, the more money they convince themselves they need. The more money they need, the more stressed out and unhappy they become. Where does it end? Sadly, for most people it ends with death.

I come from a middle class family. While my perspective is not the same as someone from a lower class family, I can see that the same patterns emerge from one class to the next. The things everyone truly cares about are pretty much the same. One persons' poor, is another persons' rich. The family we're born into often defines the living standard by which we judge and perceive the world around us. But how different is the rich person from the poor person? Do they experience a different kind of happiness? A different kind of sadness? A different kind of love? How about hunger? Do rich and poor people get different feelings from laughter?

I speak as a single guy, with very few true responsibilities. I have no kids to take care of or family that needs to be looked after. I understand that my perspective and ideas may not apply to other situations. Nevertheless, there are many very happy families living with far less than the average family in the United States. Do they experience a lower quality happiness? When their kids laugh and play together, do they experience a lower quality joy? True happiness isn't something that can be bought with money.

We're all human. If we really want to be happy we need to look deep inside ourselves for happiness. It's there. Everyone has it. No one person has less happiness-making-capacity than the next. It's really tough to forget that all the material stuff around us, regardless of how much importance we place on it, really has nothing to do with our true happiness. That's a tough pill to swallow when some of us work day and night to afford the stuff.

So what better way to find the true source of happiness than to strip yourself of all things material? I grew up in a relatively rural area, a small town in New Hampshire with a forest and a lake for a backyard. I was home schooled and spent most of my childhood outside exploring nature. When friends would visit for the first time, their impression would always be one of amazement. I never understood that. At least not until I moved away and lived in the city for two years. When I visited my parents on the weekends, I started to feel something I never felt before. Visiting my parents house, the very place I grew up, started to feel like going on vacation! I felt so much appreciation for the place.

That experience made me realize how the little things we take for granted can spoil our entire life. Have you ever come back from a camping trip and felt a little more grateful for having a shower? How about when the power comes back on after being out for more than a day? We should feel that way every minute of every day for the life we have. For working legs, eyes, hands, ears, and mouth. We should be grateful for every second that passes; for each beat of our heart, and each breath we take.

Take a deep breath of air right now. Close your eyes and fill your chest with life-giving air. Appreciate it a little more than you did the previous breath. Do it right now. I'll wait.

Didn't that feel good? You take an average of 20,000 of those every single day. That's a lot to be grateful for!

I've decided to get rid of nearly all my material possessions because I know it will make me feel more grateful. I know it will enable me to see more clearly. We humans (yes, even modern ones) don't need very much to survive. Food and shelter. That's it. Most of us are fortunate enough to have working feet to help us travel, yet so few of us use them for real commuting. What about money? When we remove all modern-day comforts and really drill down to the bare necessities, we don't need very much of that either. Of course how much money will differ depending on where we're living, but most of us live way above necessity.

Find something you own that you haven't used in over a month. Now find someone that you can give it to. Don't worry about how much it cost you or why you originally bought it. You haven't used it in over a month and you most likely won't use it for the foreseeable future. Just find something and give it away. By giving it away you'll not only build good karma, you'll also feel a little more appreciative of all the stuff you currently have.

The more we have, the less we appreciate. The less we have, the more we appreciate. Do you want to appreciate more or less of life?

Possessions: The Closing of a Chapter

A chapter of my life is coming to a close. It's been a chapter of personal discovery and new awareness, of material possessions and excessiveness; it's been a chapter of alternate paths and of decision making, of introspection and stepping out of comfort zones.

In the past decade, I've gone through living in over a dozen different places, including tiny attics, basements, offices, studios, and entire floors of houses. I've spent outrageous money for rent ($950/mo for a 450sqft studio), utilities ($500 heat bills), and other bills (cable, broadband, etc), all in the name of independence.

I've owned lots of stuff. For the first seven years of having a drivers license, I had a different car each year. For six years I was a landlord with three multi-family houses. I took care of all the property maintenance myself which meant owning lots of different tools. I had several TVs, various computers, gym equipment, a kayak, mountain bike, and the list goes on. To make things worse, the plentiful storage space provided by the properties easily masked the volume of "stuff" I owned. I feel as though I've had nearly everything material that I could have wanted. Oh, and I slaved away to afford the stuff, sometimes working 60 - 80 hours a week, sometimes working three jobs.

But why? The lifestyle I've always wanted to live can best be described as that of a nomad; someone who travels from place to place with no permanent residence (or at least can travel). Such a person wouldn't own very much. They wouldn't own a house, a car, a desktop computer, or a TV. They would only own what they can carry with them. Living such a lifestyle would allow me to freely move around and spend more time exploring and learning things of interest. Less time would be spent trying to pay expenses and care for material possessions (storage, maintenance, etc.).

I've always wondered what the purpose of life was and the reason for my existence. If you asked my dad, he would tell you that I was asking those questions when I was five years old. While my dad always seemed to have answers to my questions, they never satisfied me (which my dad agrees is a good thing). I believe we each need to find our own purpose and blaze our own trail through life. No one can give us a map or an instruction manual (and if they try, beware!).

Earlier this year I came to the conclusion that finding my purpose would be much easier if I had less material stuff cluttering and clouding my world. At the very least, having less stuff would give me more freedom and less to worry about (a feeling I got a taste of when my three houses were foreclosed on and I no longer had to worry about maintaining them).

So I've decided to change my lifestyle and transition to a more nomadic one. I've begun selling or giving away all my remaining possessions, a process that will continue for the next few months. I've found a cheap room to rent that's close to work and I'm living with roommates for the first time in my life, something my highly individualistic personality has always been opposed to. My end-of-the-year goal is to be living with only the stuff I can carry on my back. Even my pickup truck will eventually go (that will be the last page in this closing chapter).

The direction I'm headed in the next chapter is almost exactly where I envisioned myself being in ten years nearly a decade ago (perhaps even longer). But none of it was planned. Everything just sort of fell into place, the same way the tires on your car propel you forward without you fully understanding exactly how pressure from your foot translates into moving several tons of metal. It's a strange feeling; to know you always had an idea of where you wanted to be and somehow, through all the possible things that could have happened, you're ending up there.

There were so many decisions I made that ended up not working out for one reason or another (investments, relationships, business plans, etc.), and those unexpectedly resulted in my life being pushed closer and closer to the path I'm now on. Even though I never knew how it would happen, I also never lost sight of the direction I wanted my life to go. Now I can clearly see myself headed there. 🙂

My Naked Body and Money

We all need it. Some of us need more than others because we refuse to live a lifestyle less than what we've already become accustomed to -- usually a lifestyle we were born into. What does it take to change your lifestyle to one that requires less? You'd think it would be rather simple, right? It should be simple -- how many different "things" do you actually use on a daily basis? Take a minute to think about it and add them up in your head: everything you use during an average day.

OK, now think about everything you own; down to the pen on your desk, toothbrush in your bathroom, even the clothes you're wearing, stuff in your closet and that shoe box under your table. Imagine your body stripped naked and piled next to you is all the stuff that belongs to you; clothes, electronics, cars, houses, tools, food, everything.

I don't know about you, but wow, that’s a pretty big pile next to me! Holy crap. How much of that stuff do I really use? I mean, if I were to actually use each thing for 1 minute, it would probably take me a couple of weeks, if not months, to use them all! There are several things, namely services, I couldn't even include in that pile: my cable TV service, Internet service, propane gas, auto gas, cell phone service, email and web hosting services -- the list goes on! If I were to take all of the physical infrastructure required for my services to exist and add them to that pile, the size of the pile would grow exponentially!

So I think I've made my point: there's a lot of stuff we own, and clutter our life with, that we don't actually need. OK, so that's not going to change overnight. I justify a lot of what I own by telling myself it would be stupid to sell it all at a loss, when the smarter choice would be to reduce what's unnecessary and maintain the rest. My three investment properties are a good example. As much of a struggle as it is to keep them, I know that in the long run they will solidify my financial future. Selling them now would cause me to loose money and I'd gain nothing in the long run (besides maybe some peace of mind, but that's a whole other post in and of itself).

My recent (or rather continuing) financial troubles have made me rethink a lot about what I own and what I need to live. I have observed how habits are what cause much of the unnecessary spending (Starbucks) and discovered that breaking those habits can be incredibly difficult. Instead of breaking them, simply reducing their frequency seems to be the best solution. I feel that my spending habits have reached a turning point, a roller coaster resting at the crest of a track, inching towards the long drop into the trough.

When I'm in a tight spot and I don't have enough money to pay bills, I'm constantly thinking about what I can do make more money. I've been brainstorming for the past few months about what could be done in my spare time to bring in extra cash. I ask myself, what makes a successful person and what have they done to become successful? I know for a fact that hard work makes people successful. But in this world of changing technologies and "work" that doesn't require any physical labor, there is something to be said about those who simply outsmart the masses -- who use their brains and figure out how to make money by using the tools technology has created; namely the Internet.

A friend of mine, who is several years younger than I, has come up with a business model that works very well. He's making 2x - 3x as much money as I, working only a few hours a week. Compare that to my 75+ hour work weeks and you'll probably be dying to know what he's doing. Without going too much into detail, I can say that his business model works on a simple principle: bridging the technological generation gap between those who grew up without the Internet and those who use it for almost every aspect of their lives. There's a generation of people whose only source of news comes from the daily newspaper. And then there's the generation who uses the Internet on a daily basis and has possibly never bought a newspaper. The latter being a generation whose lives move at the speed of light, with information in many different forms, pouring in from every direction.

At the end of the day, I don't take any money with me to bed. I don't go to sleep with my car, computer, food, auto gas, or for that matter my house. I sleep in my house, but might I might as well be sleeping in a cardboard box. When I wake up, I wake up with nothing but the skin on my bones. I need a safe shelter to sleep in, yes, but even shelter is a lifestyle item we've grown accustomed to having. I know many people who could not live in a basement -- I do, and I have no problem with it. For the past 6 years I have lived in either a basement or an attic, mainly because I don't see the point in wasting money on a full size apartment when I can save money in something smaller (living at my parents house would simply be taking advantage of those to whom I already owe my very existence, so that's out of the question).

When I was sitting in the 2 bedroom apartment of one of my rental units, I felt for a moment a sense of luxury. There was nothing luxurious about the place (luxurious, that is, to the average person living in the USA), but I felt as if that small 2 bedroom apartment was so beautiful, with all the light coming through the full size windows, high ceilings that I wasn't able to reach up and touch, and a full size living room with separate, closed off bedrooms. I then realized it felt so luxurious to me because I've been living a lifestyle which doesn't have those luxuries. Instead, I have learned to live with the open style basement or attic apartments, with low ceilings and few windows. I finally understood how grateful the people who actually have to live in cardboard boxes feel about simply having a solid roof above their heads.

The more I understand the driving force behind money, the more disgusted I become with myself and all that is wasted. If a human life is the standard with which we measure the value of material things, where does that leave the person who consumes the equivalent of 100 humans? Does that make the person morally obligated to support the very existence of that number of people? And if he doesn't directly support them does that mean he is committing, on a daily basis, one of the worst crimes known to man -- murder?

More Stuff, Less Peace

I was reading comments by a user on Slashdot and he was talking about how he lives a very simple life. He carries around very few things and he owns very little, however the things he does own he can do a lot with, such as his single computer, a laptop.

It made me start thinking about how much I would like to live a simple life. It made me realize how we accumulate so much stuff because we think we need it, or because we think it will make life easier. Instead of asking ourselves what we could buy to complete a specific task, or to fulfill a specific desire, we should ask ourselves what do we already have that could be used to complete a specific task, or what will we do with the object when our desire for it is gone in a few weeks (or days).

I've started to ask myself, "Do I see myself using this 6 months from now?". If not, then maybe buying it is a waste of money, and peace of mind! I've saved myself from buying lots of things by simply asking myself that question.

Children will often pick something up in a store and say they want it. They will cry and scream until their parents buy it for them, as if their very life depended on having it. And then, the very next day, if not the very next hour, they will put it down and forget it ever existed. They will loose all interest in it.

The sad thing is, most adults grow up and continue the same pointless routine. They see something they want, justify to themselves why they think they need it. Then, after putting down the cash, or the plastic, they add it to their already growing collection of stuff they rarely use, as if they're in a race for less space, trying to collect as much stuff as possible before their last day on Earth arrives.

What a waste. A waste of money, a waste of space, a waste of natural resources, a waste of the peace of mind they never knew they were giving up. And for what? You don't take any of that stuff with you when you're gone.

So next time you're about to buy something, ask yourself if you really need it.