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Aug
29
2009

Life as a minimalist

I am a minimalist. I keep things simple. I am uncluttered and that puts my mind into a state of Zen-like calm. I have everything I need and pretty much nothing I don't.

A few years ago after a move between apartments I realized how annoying it was to move so many things around, especially when I hardly ever used or even liked most of my stuff. As a travel-minded person who wants to experience living in many different environments, I set on a mission to get rid of stuff. I dealt with the job in sections, such as movies or books, so as not to overwhelm myself. I got rid of about 80% of my stuff in a couple weeks.

Ideas like "The more I own, the more I'm worth" and "I might need this someday" no longer made any sense to me. I now felt a new kind of lightweight freedom. Things occupying my space now had to pass the test of worthiness according to me. Decisions to get rid of things were hard at first but became easier the more I made them. If I didn't ever use something, I got rid of it, and if I didn't enjoy using something, I got rid of it.

I separated stuff I didn't want into things to give away, things to recycle, and things to throw away. Things to give away I either gave away on Craigslist, or gave to Goodwill. The larger things I listed on Craigslist, and said that if anyone could pick them up, they could have them. A surprising amount of people responded immediately to the free Craigslist ads. People love to hoard free stuff.

My laptop

I got my first laptop a few years ago and will never go back to a desktop computer again. Laptop living gives me freedom to compute wherever I want while conserving electricity and space. I enjoy the freedom of being able to use it anywhere at home and take it with me on the go. Accessories I sometimes use are my mouse, Wacom tablet, headphones, and external hard drives.

My movie and music collection

I went through my DVDs and CDs and only kept stuff that I actually liked and would watch or listen to again. I sold a lot of the stuff I didn't want on Amazon, which is really easy to do. Just search for what you want to sell, and if you can find it, you can sell it. They don't charge you fees until you sell something, whereupon they take a small percentage of your sales price. They also give you a shipping credit to put towards shipping costs. I list my stuff so I have the lowest price to sell quickly, and didn't sell anything that was already being sold under $2. I shipped everything at the post office in bubble mailers from Walmart. In total, I made about 60 dollars profit selling about 20 CDs and DVDs. Everything I didn't sell I donated to the library.

My CD box

My audio CDs are all in mp3 form and burned to DVDs, which conserves a LOT of space, and allowed me to sell the original CDs except for my favorite ones that I keep for nostalgic value. I store my discs in paper envelopes that I make myself, which go inside a CD box. This takes up very little room, but is much easier to organize than a CD wallet. The paper sleeves protect the discs from scratches and can be written on to label them. I make them myself because it is cheap and I can make them wide enough to easily slide a disc in and out. I made a template on a piece of 8.5"x11" printer paper, which you can print out and use if you want. I'd cut about 10 sheets at a time, and repeat this until I had a big stack of them, then fold them all with a sharp crease on the edges. Then I'd glue all the sides down with a gluestick and put them in a stack with a book on top to dry. It resulted in some really nice, not-homemade-looking envelopes.

I gave all the empty CD and DVD cases to my local library, and kept all the cover-art in an 9"x12" envelope. When I burn DVDs, I use Taiyo Yuden DVD+Rs, which are made in Japan and generally thought of as the best brand by DVD enthusiasts. I also only write on discs with a CD safe marker, not a regular Sharpie.

My photos

I keep all my photos in digital form to look at on my laptop and share on Flickr. I converted my print photos to digital with this CanoScan scanner, which also scans slides and negatives. I take new photos with my little pocketsize Canon Powershot. I back my photos up on a DVD to be safe. I also make sure I go through my photos and weed out the lower quality ones. If there are a lot of similar pictures, I pick the best one or two and get rid of the others. I also tend to get rid of blurry or poorly lit photos. And if I don't feel anything when I look at a photo, I get rid of it, because the whole point of looking at photos is to feel a fuzzy memory.

I organize my photos by editing the embedded EXIF and IPTC information in JPEG files. This information can store date, tags, description, etc. If the photo was taken with a digital camera, it will already have some information embedded, such as camera info and date (if the date was set properly in your camera when the photo was taken). I use Adobe Bridge to tag and date the photos, then name the files based on date. Then I just separate the images into folders by year, which I can search using tags or just browse through.

My important documents

Most people assume that they need a file cabinet to keep important papers organized. What people don't realize is that having a file cabinet encourages paper-hoarding. I assumed I needed one to organize my stuff. I had a two drawer file cabinet filled with bill statements, old leases, receipts, college papers, owner's manuals, and various other paperstuffs. I went through my receipts and only kept ones that had nostalgic memories tied to them. I didn't keep any owner's manuals because they could all be accessed online in the rare occasion that I should need one. I got rid of about 90% in total.

My expanding folder

Things with private information got shredded in my little mini shredder, and everything else got recycled. I gave away my file cabinet on Craigslist, and I now have a small plastic expanding folder which I keep truly important papers in. I periodically go through it and get rid of the papers that have since become unimportant.

Coffee

I love coffee and drink it every day, but I don't have a coffeemaker because they take up too much room and are annoying to clean. After lots of experimenting I have developed a simple process to make delicious coffee at home, suitable for coffee snobs.

The first key to a delicious cup of coffee is to start with a quality tasty coffee bean. I either buy a premium ground coffee from a supermarket (the cheaper it is, usually the crappier it will taste), or I buy some beans from a coffee shop I like and ask them to grind it for me. I add about 1/8 cup (or 2 Tbsp) of coffee grounds to 8 ounces of water, and stir it up. The reason I don't brew it in a bag is because the coffee really needs to be free to disperse evenly through the water, allowing more of the coffee to be released.

The next important part is to not overcook the coffee when you brew it. I put my coffee mixture inside a 2 cup measuring cup and microwave that, and it works just fine. The amount of time you need to microwave it will depend on the power of your microwave, but I do 80 seconds for 1 cup, or 99 seconds for 2 cups. You'll probably need to experiment to find that perfect amount of time that will brew your coffee strong enough without burning it. You can watch it through the microwave window and the precise moment it starts to boil, you need to stop about 5-10 seconds before that. After it stops, let it sit for about 5 minutes to finish brewing.

The next step is to strain the coffee through a mesh strainer with a coffee filter inside it. I set up my cup in the sink and put the strainer on top of that resting the handle on the side of the sink, then swirl the coffee mixture around to loosen it up, and slowly pour it into the filter, making sure not to spill over the edge. Let it drip for a couple minutes and then pick up the filter by the edges and carefully squeeze the rest of the liquid out (being careful not to let any grounds escape). Toss that and either set your coffee aside or put it in the freezer if you're going for iced coffee. I then wash my strainer and measuring cup which just takes a couple minutes and they're always ready to go again the next day. I'd dishwash them but don't use the dishwasher often enough.

I love iced coffee all year round so I usually just add some cold half & half and about 5 ice cubes, and some liquid Splenda (so easy to just squirt some of that in, I love it!). If you want hot coffee though, you can add the cream & sweetener and then microwave it for just 10-15 seconds at a time until it's hot enough for you. As long as you microwave it in small intervals like that, you're less likely to burn it.

My books

I used to have a bookshelf full of books and other stuff. Half the stuff on it was there just because I had extra room on the bookshelf. With my actual books, I asked myself if I would ever want to read them again. And then I asked myself if I would be okay with checking the book out at the library, or reading a digital version of the book. Now I don't have a bookshelf; just a small box of my favorite books.

As for how I got rid of the books, I first saw if I could sell them on Amazon, just like I do with CDs and DVDs. If a book sells, I just put it in a bubble mailer and ship it media mail at the post office, or if the buyer got expedited shipping I ship priority. The rest I give to the library.

Space saving bags

I always thought that those space bags that are shown on TV are a neat idea. They are plastic bags with a place to attach a vacuum hose to suck all the air out and shrink the bag. But the reviews say they often leak. A much cheaper and more reliable method is to put stuff in a big trashbag and sit on it to squeeze the air out. You can also hold the opening of the bag around a vacuum hose and it sucks the air out. Shake the bag to get the wrinkles out and tie it as far down as possible. Tie it really well so it doesn't pop open when it starts inflating again.

There has been an update to this article.