Digitally Deliberate

asdfI’m just coming off a one-month abstinence from social media. A month ago, I marked my phone calendar for yesterday- the one-month mark. I haven’t tweeted or looked at a single Facebook notification or message in all that time- something I haven’t done in about ten years. Honestly, it hasn’t been nearly as bad as I originally feared.

Sure, it was hard at first. The process of pulling your phone out and clicking on the Facebook icon (Twitter/Instagram/Reddit/whatever your poison) when you aren’t doing much else has become a subconscious thing. It’s total habit for a lot of us. It was a complete habit for me, anyway. I didn’t even think about doing it. I put more thought into lighting up a cigarette than I did into pulling out my phone and spending ten minutes scrolling through my feed. I was addicted. It was time to break myself of the habit and reevaluate.

First, I deleted the apps from my phone. I found myself pulling my phone out when I was bored, standing in a line, laying in bed, etc. I’d pull it out and find that there was no app there anymore, then put the phone away almost immediately and do something else (maybe try being in the moment for a change? writing? doing something that drives your life forward?). I also had this habit of opening up my web browser on my desktop computer and immediately typing “Facebook.com” before my brain had even decided what I wanted to do on the browser in the first place. That was just my default destination. I definitely needed a reboot.

As I said, I deleted all the relevant apps from my phone. I also installed an app in Google Chrome that blocked websites I specified and redirected me to my own blog when I entered the blacklisted URL’s. That helped me realize when I was absent-mindedly falling into the social media trap. Facebook (and other similar services) can be as useful or addictive as any drug, much like debt. There’s a lot of information and several studies out there talking about social media addiction, and it’s pretty astounding. I won’t link anything specific here, but it’s not hard to find if you want to fall down that google rabbit hole for a while (just be sure to check your sources).

Once I got the habit broken- I’d say that took about two weeks- it wasn’t bad at all. I didn’t itch for it or pull my phone out all the time. I didn’t sit at the computer and zombie-out over my notifications for half an hour, then waste another hour scrolling the feed. I’m not saying it was all good, because it was a little inconvenient at times. I use Facebook for groups- they’ve basically replaced internet forums for me. I had a question about civil war history for the book I’m writing, but couldn’t get to my civil war history Facebook group to ask. I almost made an exception there, but decided against it for the sake of my personal experiment. There were several instances of things like that happening- things that were totally justifiable uses of the platform (like advertising blog posts or doing project research) and not just idle time-wasting. Maybe you wanted to sell something. Maybe a nice church lady gave you a ride when you ran out of gas and you wanted to share the information for the rummage sale she was setting up for at her church as a way of saying “thank you” (That one really happened. I almost used Facebook to share that flyer to say thanks. Maybe I should have.).

That was the whole point, though, and it worked. I found out what I truly got value from in my usage of social media and was able to separate it from what was just an idle waste of my time. I didn’t even enjoy scrolling through all the bullshit or checking 20 notifications- it was just a chore that I needed to do every day and that was fine.

I’m not saying to abstain from social media or that you necessarily have a problem with how you use it. All I’m saying is to be sure you’re using it in a way that positively affects your life. Sometimes I have something I need to communicate to a large group of my friends/family/acquaintances all at once. Sometimes I need to access a group of people with a specific body of knowledge. Sometimes I need to reconnect with family I don’t see in person all that often. That’s fine. That’s what social media is for. My break wasn’t permanent, and I’m going back in a couple days, but now I’m going in with bad habits removed and a clear view of what matters to me and how to avoid the pitfalls in the future.

If you live a life of minimalism, then live in the digital world just as you would in the physical world. It’s a separate reality, but one that has the same general rules for happiness that the physical world does because it affects your physical life. Think about what actions and activities push you in the right direction. Think about the precious time you spend on things- even when there is no blatant monetary impact. Be conscious. Be deliberate. Every tool has its use, but every tool can be misused.

 

Multitasking (not living in the moment)

A couple years ago I habitually listened to a podcast recorded at a Buddhist temple. I listened to a lot of lessons and got some good stuff from it. I don’t necessarily agree with all of Buddhism, or know it from top to bottom, if I’m honest, but they are on to a few things. One thing that has stuck with me is the absolute emphasis on being “in this moment” the lessons always had.

That’s something I totally agree with. We live in a time where our lives may not be as difficult as they once were, but they are very complicated and can be even more stressful and mentally damaging. We are constantly thinking of some other (or twelve other) obligations or appointments, some other hobby, something we want, going into more debt for a new toy, some change or plan we want to make, someone besides who we’re with at the time, or any other of a hundred things. Maybe just cat pictures on your cell phone. Maybe it’s even something good, like reading constructive content on a good blog you follow or listening to a Buddhist podcast to ease that wicked-ass temper of yours. The point remains: you aren’t in the moment.

Buddhists, or at least the particular Buddhist monk who recorded those podcasts, emphasized the utility of meditation. What he meant by meditation, or how he explained it, was just sitting there and trying very hard not to think of anything at all. Turn off your stupid brain for a few moments and just exist. I use my head a lot, and that’s very difficult for me, and probably is for many of you as well. That’s okay, but it was interesting and did tend to put me in a better mood and relieve some stress.

I don’t really do it anymore, but I do still think regularly of the main point he was trying to make, which is to try to live in the moment you are currently existing in. It can be harder than you’d think, but helped me even out some of my anger, boredom, and depression issues to one degree or another. It’s obviously not a magic bullet- just another tool to try out in your life. You don’t have to go all hippy with it (if you do, that’s totally cool too), just give it a shot. Don’t make a big deal out of it. Sit down and tell your brain to shut up.

Another thing I like to do when I remember is somewhere in-between that sort of meditation and “normal.” I like to try to make myself became sort-of “hyper aware” of everything around me. I study my environment. It feels weird, almost like being on some sort of drug. It’s sad that we (well, ME anyway) spend so much time not noticing things that it feels strange when we DO. Next time you’re a passenger in a car or waiting in line or doing something boring and menial, try focusing on small details around you. Notice how the paint doesn’t match on that one ceiling vent- must have been replaced. Look at that house hiding behind the bushes over there that you’ve never noticed before. See that the grass on the side of the road is mostly fescue, but there are patches of Kentucky bluegrass in there, too.

It might sound silly, but it’s something that we don’t do often enough. You might be surprised what sort of things exist right under your nose because it’s always blocked from view by your cellphone or pushed out of mind by thoughts of what’s on your eBay wishlist. Humans don’t multitask well the way people pretend we do. We divert our attention from one thing and put it into another area. It’s less noticeable when you’re doing something you do often, but it’s still happening. Stop trying to multitask. You’re cheapening every experience you have when you multitask. Don’t half-ass two things, whole-ass one thing. You’ll be happier.

Freedom

 

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Freedom is one of the values I’ve identified and work toward for myself (I mention and link to a great article on values in my post about minimalism). That is to say, freedom is one of the five different areas that I try to steer toward with my actions at any given time- “Does this action or activity direct me toward v, w, x, y, or z?” Obviously, I’m not without my flaws and habits, and this doesn’t always happen, but I do make a conscious effort.

Holli and I have put our plan together to achieve financial independence and a life without debt in three years. I’ve started taking Chantix to finally stop smoking (as of July 2017) and I very much intend to do so this time. We don’t spend a ton of money on useless things anymore, we have things carefully budgeted, and I’m doing productive things with my free time. That said, these two remaining things are, currently, the biggest obstacle to my freedom- especially the debt. Debt is slavery.

Holli and I plan to pay our debt off and then reevaluate our lives and decide our next move. One of the paths we are seriously considering is a mobile one- at least for a while, probably not forever. We won’t know until the time comes, but we want to leave that option open to us while we’re still young and without children. Once the debt is gone (Holli will be done with her second Master’s by then- she’s got a school addiction, in my opinion…), we will be able to live on a fraction of what we currently make. I plan to leave my current job and write for a living, if that looks like a practical option for me at that time. Holli is researching possible careers that align with her values, educational achievements, and that allow mobility.

Ideally, we would either move around constantly and experience different countries all the time, or we would build a second small house further north in the U.S. and move there to escape the miserable Oklahoma summers (and move south to avoid the northern winters) and take a long vacation every year. We aren’t sure which way we might go yet, as that’s several years out, but both are intriguing options and securing real freedom is an important step toward allowing either into our lives.

The specific kind of freedom I have in mind (everytime I say “freedom” in this article) is the ability to wake up at least ALMOST every day and decide what I want to do or where I want to go. Obviously, everyone will have some responsibilities that can’t be dodged, but with planning and prioritizing they can be minimized. My goal is to train myself to think about every decision and acquisition carefully with regards to my values- in this example, “freedom.”

“Does this decision/action/thing/etc restrict or possibly-restrict my current or future freedom?”

“Is the value it provides worth the restriction to me?”

Most things you own or commit to have the potential to be an anchor that weighs you down and restricts your freedom. Before you bring any anchors into your life, be sure to think about it carefully. Does the anchor you are considering add commensurate value to your life to offset the weight it may add? Obviously, anchors become even more important if, like me, you value freedom- or want to move towards that possibility (newsflash, that means you value it, too).

Maybe you are considering children, a puppy, joining a club, buying a new car, buying a home, going to school, or just about anything else. That may be perfectly fine, but it may not. Make sure the commitment you are making is worth all the potential weight that it brings along. Sleep on it. Take a MONTH on it, even, if that’s an option. Don’t take anything important lightly. This is all pretty common sense, but I’ve had trouble thinking this sort of thing through before. Being careless or flippant one time, even for just a few seconds, can drastically alter your life for years. Remember to think it through. Weigh that anchor (ha!). Be honest with yourself.

What Is Minimalism

I don’t particularly like the word “minimalism.” I prefer to say “live deliberately.”

You know, like Henry D. Thoreau. I don’t care how much you dislike the man, he’s quotable as hell and you know it.

The word “minimalism” carries a lot of weight- sort of like the phrase “tiny house.” People tend to have a lot of preconceptions about it. The word invites critics who cite any apparent-irony in the lives of those calling themselves minimalists. Cynics moan about it being a rich-privilege. Patriots harp on about it being damaging to the economy. Not helping the matter is the fact that people who identify as minimalists tend to live in wildly-varying ways. Some minimalists live out of a backpack and travel the globe. Some minimalists have four-bedroom houses in the suburbs and six kids. Most land in the middle- that’s where Holli and I fall. It might seem confusing if you’re new to the idea, but bear with me.

Minimalism doesn’t mean owning very few items. Most people jump to that conclusion. That’s all they fixate on, but it’s not necessarily true. I know, that seems counterintuitive, but I promise I’m telling you the truth. Minimalism gets its name from the art movement of the twentieth century, characterized by finding beauty in simplicity.

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” – Antoine de Saint-Exuper

We can find beauty in simplicity, but a person’s life is not a sculpture or a painting. It’s a life. People’s lives aren’t all the same, and some people may need more or less than others to live and be fulfilled than a painting requires to visually “pop.”

There’s a dark side to minimalism, as well. This movement is no more immune to corruption or hypocrisy than anything else in the world that involves human beings. Some people get so caught up in the decluttering or minimalist aesthetic that they lose sight of the point. “Can’t see the forest for the trees,” so to speak. If you obsess over owning as little as possible, you are still being controlled by your possessions instead of the other way around.

Minimalism must always remain an implement to be utilized, never the end-goal or lifestyle in itself. “Aesthetic minimalism” is not the same thing as minimalism. A person may be aesthetically-minimalistic and still completely materialistic. They may be both, simultaneously. They may think they are both, but be misguided. People aren’t perfect- I’m not, anyway.

That looks totally different for different people, which is why we see such variation in the “minimalist lifestyle.” Not everyone values the same things, so the items or activities they busy themselves with aren’t going to look the same. Having children is extremely fulfilling to some people, while others would see it as the end of the world. You can still apply the minimalist mindset to your life, no matter where your personal values fall or what your life looks like (Minimal Wellness has a great article and worksheet on finding your values).

Minimalism is a tool used to prioritize the things that matter most in our lives. Minimalism is about identifying what adds real value to your life, doubling-down on that, and having the self-discipline to clear out the things that get in the way. Remember, that doesn’t mean only physical things, and it doesn’t mean only physical clutter. Clear your schedule of the things you can control that don’t add value. Silence the noise- the better to hear the music. Extinguish the lights- the better to see the stars. Clear the clutter, the better to locate the damn jacket I’ve been trying to find for over a year holy crap Holli get in here and look what I finally found–