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April 27th, 2012

The Short, 16-Step Guide to Getting Rid of Your Crap

Yay, it’s Friday! Time to head home and relax after a week of hard work.

1. Enter the front door of your home. Toss off your shoes. Notice, lying beneath, a pair of boots you have worn only once. Shrug.

2. Turn on the television and sit on your Ikea couch. Attempt to relax. Awaken 20 minutes later, realizing that you’ve been passively flipping through channels. Turn off the TV, remove the batteries from your remote. Toss them in your Blendtec blender. Stop yourself moments away from doing something drastic.

3. Briefly fondle the iPhone in your pocket. Stop yourself, realizing you were about to do the exact same thing with Reddit as you just did with TV. Call and cancel your data plan in the nick of time.

4. Begin to wonder what people did before television and internet access. Observe the room around you, looking over the unread books and unwatched DVDs lining your dusty shelves. Consider shopping, then picture the unworn clothes occupying your cavernous walk-in closet.

5. Realize your imagination has turned all black and grey.

6. Suddenly recognize that you haven’t used your “spare” room… ever. Do the math and realize said room is costing you five or six hours of work per month. Take out a piece of paper and compare it to that trip to Japan you’ve been meaning to take. Stare at the math in disbelief. Stuff the paper in your mouth and begin to chew.

7. Realize that the brief emotional rush that accompanied the purchase of each item in your home is now gone, leaving only the object itself in its most basic, uninteresting form. The gorgeous, pastel designer couch has become simply a chair. A beautiful glass buffet is transformed into a mere table. A set of immaculate handmade dishes has aged into nothing but a bunch of plates. Your goose down duvet is actually just a blanket. Wince.

8. Glance down at your groceries and realize that the Doritos, Lay’s, and Ruffles you purchased are all just coloured corn and potatoes.

9. Open your credit card bill. Wide-eyed, discover how often you’ve confused shopping with actual extra-curricular activities. Consider joining a monastery.

10. Remember that time you went over to a party in a friend’s pseudo-abandoned loft. Recall the roommates, the self-made art and photos on the walls, the obscenely cheap rent, and the embraced simplicity.

11. Begin to make a quick list of the top 10 things you own in terms of how much they cost. With horror, make a second list of the top 10 things that make you happy. Sense the creeping dread as you realize there is no overlap between the two at all. Shudder in terror.

12. Decide to have a packing party like your friend suggested one time. Take the old sheets you never used from Crate & Barrel. Cover all your stuff with them. Endeavour not to uncover it unless you decide you need to use it. Realize suddenly that you would never use anything at all because you are never actually home.

13. Remember a time in childhood when you were more excited by ideas, love, travel, and people than by anything else. Realize that you have, somehow, bought into a new religion, and that malls, from the inside, look exactly like cathedrals.

14. Consider starting a fire.

15. Consider that, perhaps, you are more than just your stuff. Begin to take a long walk. Breathe.

16. Begin to relax. Give yourself the freedom to begin to dream again.

(In collaboration with Josh Millburn of TheMinimalists.com)

* Filed by Julien at 2:43 pm under guide, simplicity

February 9th, 2011

Two Ways to Make Better Decisions

Our world is complex, and it needs heuristics for us to be effective.

One heuristic that works when we’re young is “listen to your parents,” because otherwise, we might die. Another adult heuristic might be “find an expert, and do what they say,” although that’s getting more and more complex these days.

The other day I verbalized a heuristic that I’ve been living for years. It is what has helped me deal with a massive inbox, what has helped me recognize and grasp opportunity, and what I think has helped me move forward much more quickly than I anticipated I would.

As you’ve guessed by now, the rule is

decide quickly, and live with the consequences.

Many people freeze up when they have a lot of stuff to do. They get overwhelmed and paralyzed with indecision. They worry about whether what they’re doing is right. But most of that doesn’t matter.

Your decisions are much less consequential than you think they are.

That’s why this rule is amazing. If you use it during times of stress you will find yourself whizzing by hard problems and leaving them behind. If you’re smart, it works, because it subverts your overthinking brain and lets you live with the decisions you’ve made.

Another rule that works alongside this one is

if you’re unsure, say yes.

This rule is great alongside the ‘fast decision’ rule because it lets you make mistakes quickly without missing opportunity.

If you make a mistake and say yes to something you shouldn’t have, then no worries– you’ve learned from it and you won’t be unsure next time… you’ll just say no.

These rules are just a small subset of a decision tree I use for daily life. It isn’t perfect, but it’s improving, and it helps me make the most of my day, and hopefully of my life.

Maybe one day I’ll unleash it on the world or something. Until then, I hope these help.

* Filed by Julien at 9:41 am under direction, simplicity, taking action

October 28th, 2010

A Weekend Phone

I’m toying with this idea of having a different phone on the weekend.

I would eliminate from my weekday phone (iPhone) the following features:

You probably already have a weekend phone. I know I have a few just sitting around all over the place in my apartment, including a Sony Ericsson T610, which is pretty much perfect.

Over the next few weekends I think I’ll just switch the smart card into that phone to see how it makes me feel. They say the more you take features away, the more liberated you feel.

I’ll report back soon. Feel free to try this experiment with me if you like, I have a feeling it’ll be illuminating.

* Filed by Julien at 6:17 am under simplicity

September 22nd, 2010

Your happiness is not your own

So I took the advice of this book last week and made a To-Stop-Doing list.

The idea is to notice what activities are sucking your energy, wasting your time, and making you feel horrible– the opposite of a to-do list. Anyway, social media activities, in their various forms, made the top 5. Interesting right?

Blogging I felt was awesome, and lifted my spirits almost every time I did it. Reddit tended to waste more than 2 hours of my day if I let it, and checking Twitter while waiting for a subway generally didn’t do my mood any good, either. Pretty remarkable.

I did a talk at Jeff Pulver‘s 140 Conference the other week that discussed this– how fundamentally human social activities such as play and work get our spirits up by their very nature, but social networks themselves don’t really leave us with any lasting happiness. I relate this to a general thesis that makes a lot of sense to me. Here it is:

If we trust for the same reasons we always have, and we are made healthy by the same food we have always been, then we should also be made happy by the same stuff we always have. The puzzle then becomes to assess what those things are, and do more of them instead of the stuff people are telling us.

On a similar note, I was in a funk all last week until I started exercising. Miraculously, when that began, I suddenly felt better. Know what else works? Going to bed early. Amazing huh.

My point is that this happiness that we want so badly, the basic purpose of our existence is often unrelated to grand things like career, money, etc. and often far more related to basic human needs such as sleep, food, and exercise. In fact some of the best advice I ever got was just that: If you’re ever in a bad mood, try doing one of those things before lashing out at someone. More often than not, the mood passes.

So I’ve been reading the Happiness Project with this in mind– the idea that basic things that make other people happy will probably also do the same for me, and that the fundamental building blocks of a good life are often the things we see in commercials for mutual funds– you know, walks on the beach, sunsets, that kind of thing.

We visited my friend Dan (also my tattoo artist) a few weeks ago in Belgium and I noticed how much waking up to his gorgeous backyard, with trees, a well, etc and how much it impacted my mood to have that kind of space as a backdrop instead of concrete. We don’t want to believe in how easy it is, and we’d like things to be different, but they aren’t. Very fundamental things work– complicated plans do not.

The photo above is one I took yesterday of some graffiti I saw on Notre-Dame here in Montreal. It says, in French, “Perdre sa vie à la gagner,” which roughly translates as “Wasting your life trying to make a living.”

It’s a good thing to think about. What do you actually need? What do you want? And finally, what are the (often free) alternatives that no one is telling you about?

* Filed by Julien at 10:19 am under clear thinking, random, simplicity