A Great Little Life

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The other day, after my mother had watched our son while my wife and I ran some errands, she offered to help me pick up my beloved beater car, which had been in the shop for repairs. As I backed her car out of my driveway, she let out a positive sigh from the passenger seat as her eyes fell on our “new” house — a 2 bedroom red brick house built in the ‘60s — our “weigh station” on our road to homeownership.

“What a great little house,” she tacked to the end of her sigh. 

“I know. I like it.” 

“And a great little family.” 

“I like them, too.” 

After a few beats, she turned to look at me as I drove her car down my street. 

“You seem to just have a great little life.” 

“I like to think so.” 

Most people want to live a great big life — whatever that means. 

Not me. 

Don’t get me wrong — I like that great part. But making it “big”? Big already comes with living.
It’s hard to define the what and why of “big.” 

What does it mean to live a big life? 

Does that mean to accomplish monumental feats—whatever the hell “monumental” means? To make lots of money and earn prestige or status? To be famous? 

Why would someone want to live a big life?

Does this mean that the status and the money earned can grant you the freedom to do what you want? To live lavishly wherever you’d like? 

I’ll take a little life over a big life. 

What does it mean to live a little life? 

Living little means a simpler existence.
Fewer plates to spin.
Fewer people to impress.
Less to lose.
Shorter heights from which to fall.
Less time worrying about things that, in the end, don’t really matter. 

Why would someone want to live a little life?

The motivations of others aren’t as regularly called into question.
Your belongings are few and simple but aren’t intended to impress strangers and acquaintances.
 You have fewer, but higher quality friends. 

Where does greatness come into play? 

I don’t want only a little life, but rather a great little life.
Accomplishing what I want to accomplish — never only what is expected of me.
Perpetually sharpening myself — as a husband, father, friend, mensch, and artist.
Enjoying a higher quality of time with the people that matter the most to me. 

It is my prayer that when the wrinkled fingers of my exceedingly aged hand turn the pages of personal photo albums — drawing out memories from the deepest recesses of my hopefully-still-accessible memory — that upon closing the book, I can happily sigh — just as my mom did in the car that day — and say to myself, 

“I sure have lived a great little life.”

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What I Learned in 2019: My Last Journal Entry of the Year

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I do believe that 2019 has been one of the most transformational years of my life. It will forever go down as the year of intention — of discovering what I believe a great life to be and what is necessary to live it out daily. 

This year I learned…

Good habits don’t have to suck. They can be downright enjoyable. In fact, they should be enjoyable or else you probably won’t stick with them. Removing as much friction between you and your doings is the only way to ensure they actually get done. 

I am not the voice in my head. Meditation has shown this to me. It has also shown me that the voice in my head may actually represent the worst side of me, but that this is only through years of leaning into a negative bias. Training the voice in my head to be positive and the idea that I can do so has been immensely inspiring. 

It’s surprising how little I need to be happy. And these aren’t even “needs”, but falling more under the category of “pleasantries.” A good book. A comfortable pair of shoes. A jump rope. A practical watch. A french press coffee maker. The occasional drink. A few musical instruments. A means of hearing great music. My prayer accouterment. Boom — I’m a happy camper. All other joys are nonphysical. 

Social media is no match for a one-on-one drink with a good friend. Keeping up with a myriad of acquaintances online has lost its luster. But even the cheapest of beers with the oldest of pals has really become a release valve for me. I would take an evening with a buddy over the most spectacular, extravagant entertainment money can buy. 

There’s a certain pleasure in getting my attention locked into a good book. This has been the first year that my attention span has been trained to the point of being able to do this. In fact, there are times when I’ve wanted nothing more than to be left alone with whatever book I happened to be enjoying. This is new for me, but I pray that it continues. 

Memento mori. Tomorrow is not promised, that I am going to die one day so that I need to take active steps towards my goals now. If you’re going to write that book, start now because tomorrow is not promised. If you’re going to be that amazing father, start this instant because you’re not promised another breath. Avoid deathbed regret whenever possible. 

Amor fati — love your fate and let it update who you are. The good and the bad should both be leaned into to become a better you. 

Don’t react — respond. If you don’t know how to do so, train your mind through meditation. Sit with your thoughts to see that they are thoughts. This is how you will be able to create the buffer necessary to respond to life’s happenings rather than impulsively react to them. 

Life is too short for your second string anything. After finding the cut of pants you like the most, the coffee mug you go for first, and socks that actually positively transform your mood, don’t feel the need to regularly tolerate anything less than these if you can help it. Your second favorites are likely only taking up space not only in your cupboard and garage but also in your mind. 

There is a certain buzz that can be attained by simply choosing to be present. Most of the time, we’re not wherever our bodies are or actively taking in experiences as they unfold before us. Even during moments of elevated experience, our minds are time-traveling — considering the possibilities of the future or ruminating about the past. Life-changing moments are witnessed through phone screens instead of being fully savored as they unfold. Purpose-infusing experiences are completely missed due to mental scab-picking. Deciding to let the past remain in the past, the future to come in due time if at all, and to concentrate fully on experiencing the present moment like a live-streaming camera is so rare that doing so can actually bring on a lively rush. Choosing to be fully present can drastically transform your life. 

Happy New Year.

The Dumb Watch: The Appeal of Classic Analog Watches in a Smartwatch Age

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“Now introducing: Smart Shackles!” 

Product manufacturers these days are quick to ballyhoo connectivity. Your watch can connect to your phone, to your computer, your tablet, your car, your printer, your TV, your fridge, your dog. What happens when you’d rather just disconnect, slip away, and live in a world where time is only approximate? Enter the classic analog watch. 

There’s a certain familiar utilitarian friendliness of a single-function analog watch. Can you check the weather forecast or start your car from it? No way. Can you immediately see the approximate time without charging, turning on, or synchronization? No question. 

The following are a few reasons I’m happy to go back to using a single-function analog watch. 

Be connected only by time. 

As someone with a past ADHD diagnosis, upon receiving my latest smartwatch, the first feature I looked for was the “Do Not Disturb” function. This should have been a sign that being physically tethered to communication technology wouldn’t be the best idea. With a classic analog watch, less is more. I can keep an eye on the time without being tempted by the hyperconnectivity of wearable communication gadgetry.  

Supreme reliability. 

Jobs. Cars. Residences. These are all things I’ve changed more often than an analog watch battery. The steadfastness of the power supplies of these utilitarian gizmos means that the most challenging aspect of owning one is remembering where I put the damn thing. Seriously, have you seen my watch? I could have sworn I left it on the bathroom vanity or maybe the…ah, there it is. False alarm. 

Life where time is but an approximation. 

“Half-past three”, “Ten till two”, “a quarter past seven” — These are all expressions of time from yesterday. It seems like our grandparents lived in a world where the exact time did not exist unless you were filling out a death certificate. Though it seems like chaos, living in such a way is refreshingly serene. Have you ever asked someone with a digital watch what time it is? “10:37.” Oy, like nails on a chalkboard in comparison, right? When you use an analog watch or clock, life usually becomes rounded to the nearest five-minute interval. “Nearly ten forty.” Ah, doesn’t that just feel better?

The pleasing aesthetics of time.

Playing off of my previous reasoning for preferring analog watches, there’s something more visually palatable about looking at a clock face over sterile, forboding digital numbers. A clock face gives a more ample depiction of the passing of an hour or a 12-hour period. Seeing time on a clock is more akin to the gentle trickling of the sands in an hourglass rather than the ineffectual glowing digits on a time bomb.

The milieu of professionalism.

Let’s face it — when you see someone wearing an analog watch, you assume that they’re somewhat intelligent. Even if I were to roll out of the bushes in front of you while you were on your lunch break, if I were wearing an analog watch, you wouldn’t assume I had completely lost my marbles. After all, I have to be at least bright enough to read my watch — a task that younger generations are having increasing trouble performing. This has led some people to wear designer analog watches that they can’t actually read — at least not promptly (something I consider relatively asinine). While wearing an analog watch in a job interview or sales meeting is no guarantee of success, it will help to paint the picture of an intelligent and responsible individual. 


It goes without saying that what you choose to wear on your wrist is ultimately your decision. However, if you feel like you have trouble disconnecting and stepping away from the digital world, a simple analog watch may help kindle relief from the collective buzz and inspire greater digital liberation. 

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Defeating “I’ll Be Happy When…” — How to Choose Joy Now

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Recently, I’ve been trying to get my weight under 200 pounds. I haven’t been under 200 pounds since I was about 19 years old (currently 32). Even though my 6’2” frame can make 200 pounds work, I’m getting pretty tired of the spare tire around my waist and my man-boobs. Despite a decent diet where I run a calorie deficit most days as well as jumping rope 10-15 minutes around five-to-six days a week, I can’t seem to get down below about 207 pounds (I got to 205 once, but I think that was just one dehydrated morning). I know, I know — I shouldn’t use my weight as my metric for success. I know I’m building muscle and stamina while also losing weight, resulting in an unchanging scale. But I set this goal for myself. 200 pounds. Now, I’m seeing it as more of a trap.

The “I’ll Be Happy When…” Trap

This is a familiar trap that can easy to fall into — the “I’ll be happy when…(insert some arbitrary metric here)” trap.

  • I’ll be happy when I finally make x-amount-of-money a year.”
  • I’ll be happy when I get x-number of social media followers.”
  • I’ll be happy when I’m driving x-model car.” 
  • I’ll be happy when I get the attention of x-type-of-person.” 
  • I’ll be happy when I move into that x-level neighborhood.” 
  • I’ll be happy when I’m accepted into x-university.” 

Why do we believe we understand what will bring us happiness? How do we know that those people who achieve these metrics are happy? 

Here’s the fun thing: we don’t.

If I were to hit my 200-pound goal, would I hang up my jump rope, crack open a beer, prop my feet up on my coffee table and be content? Maybe for about 15 minutes. By the time that beer goes from frosty to cold, I’m probably already thinking about hitting 190 or 185 pounds. The happiness felt by achieving that goal would be gone by the time I finished that beer. 

How do I attempt to quell discontent? Two ways: 

  • Enjoy the tiniest wins. 
  • Choose happiness by eliminating comparison.

1. Enjoying the Tiniest Wins

There’s no harm in setting goals for yourself. Financial, physical, social, mental, or spiritual — goals help us improve ourselves. They give us something to shoot for. However, a lofty goal can derail our motivation. This is why setting tiny, compiling goals, and enjoying our seemingly tiny wins is a great way to enjoy the process. 

Paraphrasing from a story told by James Clear (author of Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Habits & Break Bad Ones), he had a friend with a goal to get in shape. Did he set a goal to run 15 minutes a day, deadlift x-amount of weight, or do x-number of squats? Nope. His first goal was to put on his training shoes every day. Yep — every day, he would put on his shoes, lace them up, appreciate what he had done, and then take them off. Once that tiny goal became a habit, he would compile onto it. Soon, he’d put on his shoes, and step out of his front door. He’d take a deep breath, and come right back inside — celebrating his bite-sized progress. After that habit was mastered, he would add sitting in his car. Following that habit, he made a habit of driving to the gym…but not working out. He would just show up at the gym, not touch a piece of equipment, and go home. Mastering that, he would do all that, but only allow himself to work out for five minutes — no more. Once the 5-minute timer would go off, he’d go home. This process went on and on until he developed the habit of putting his shoes, going to the gym, and working out — a process that became second-nature. He ended up hitting his fitness goals and kept going because the habit completely ingrained due to the tiniest of goals — and likely thousands of micro-celebrations. Eventually, the habit became a part of who he was as a person.  Not working out became more difficult than working out for him.  

What was the difference between this style and other goal-setting systems destined for failure? Every day was a win — a micro-win, but a win none the less. A lofty fitness goal may feel out of reach, but can you put on your shoes? Of course you can. Giving yourself a high-five for even microscopic steps in the right direction make the process even more enjoyable. When you see progress every day, your motivation remains more consistent and increase the likelihood of you sticking with it. 

Making Tiny Tweaks

Though my weight scale has been my arbitrary metric, my jump rope workout gets tightened most every time I pick up my rope. Whether I reduce rest periods, extend the length of my rounds, or add rounds to my workout, progress has been made every workout — regardless of what the scale reads. I’m not saying this to brag, but really just to reaffirm for myself — Ken, forget the scale — you’re making progress! Enjoy it! (Sorry for venting in the middle of this piece.) 

Not Moving Forward Beats Moving Backward

Even simply remaining consistent is reason for celebration. My workout could remain stagnant, but as long as I keep doing it, it’s still moving in the right direction. You may not be adding a higher dollar amount into savings each paycheck, but adding the same amount is still adding to your savings. We (myself included) often don’t consider consistency to be progression. If your actions are in alignment with the nature of your goals, you’re always moving forward. 

Spirit-booster hack: If you’re feeling dissatisfied with your alleged lack of progression, close your eyes and imagine where you were before you even thought to have a goal. Construct a mental montage of how far you’ve come. Even the formulation of a plan to achieve a goal is an accomplishment. 

2. Choosing Happiness by Eliminating Comparison

We’ve heard that money can’t buy happiness, but most of us don’t believe it. Well, it’s true. According to two Princeton University researchers (one of whom is a Nobel laureate), the optimal “happiness income” is right at about $75,000 a year. Though those surveyed said that their overall feeling of success went up with their income, $75,000 “…is a threshold beyond which further increases in income no longer improve individuals’ ability to what matter most to their emotional well-being, such as spending time with people they like, avoiding pain and disease, and enjoying leisure.” 

A real-world proof of this that I turn to is the tragically short life of rapper Mac Miller. Though an overnight sensation with world-wide acclaim and net worth in the tens of millions, Miller’s own lyrics tell a tale of utter woe. 

“You never told me being rich was so lonely. 

Nobody know me. 

Oh well. 

Hard to complain from this five-star hotel.”

  • “Small World”

Miller was found dead in his home having overdosed on a deadly cocktail of fentanyl, alcohol, and cocaine. Other tales of the uber-rich being institutionalized for drug use and psychological treatment should be an indicator that money can merely pay the rehab bill.

Whenever I feel the tug of opulence, I just remember: a used Toyota is still more reliable than a new Jaguar, Range Rover, or Mercedes Benz.

The Validation Rollercoaster: Compulsive Social Media Use

While cutting things out of my life that caused undue stress, one of these was the compulsive use of social media. Whenever presented a free moment, I’d sedate my boredom with social media scrolling. Even though I was using it to relax, I would find myself more anxious with each checkup. Whether I was trying to decipher the root of drama in someone’s “vaguebook” post, scraping off the venom of a politically-charged rant, or comparing my own weekend to acquaintances’ latest toes-in-the-sand getaway, I felt a little more deflated each time I tapped on the screen. Still, I was addicted to the feedback loop that comes with posting. I would post what I thought was a pleasant image or an interesting thought and anxiously await the response. Some posts received huge acclaim. Some received little to none. Riding the validation rollercoaster left me feeling nauseous and exhausted, but my seatbelt wouldn’t come loose. It wasn’t until I read Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Like in a Noisy World by Cal Newport that I started to see what was causing my dependence on these platforms. 

“Man, if it were up to me, I wouldn’t even be on Facebook.” I remember thinking to myself while turning the pages. 

Realizing that I had lost control of my own freedom “to be or not to be” on social media, I shut down my Facebook profile and deleted the Instagram app from my phone — a move that has not only freed up hours of time to spend with people and pursue enriching hobbies, but has also increased the color and chemistry of every conversation I have. No longer are meetups a distracted retelling of each other’s timelines, but are instead vibrant reconnections that make me feel alive. 

Comparison: Real Cause of Social Media Blues

My decreased time on social media has also reduced the amount by which I compare my life with severely manicured postings of others. I’m no longer weighing their experiences and luxuries against my own. I feel more capable of appreciating every tiny blessing in my life, relishing it without comparison. I’m not comparing my life to the cropped and filtered pictures from an acquaintance’s family trip to snorkel off the coast of an exotic island. Instead, I’m in fatherly ecstasy as I watch my one-year-old son excitedly splash in a $12 baby pool. Whether we’re across the world or in my driveway, my joy doesn’t require comparison in order to thoroughly experienced.


Stop your “I’ll be happy when I get to go on that kind of vacation.”

Stop your “I’ll be happy when I hit 200 pounds” (ok, that one was directed at me).
Defeating the curse of “I’ll be happy when…” is often merely choosing to be fully present in the moment. Celebrate every tiny win or blessing. Don’t compare your joy to anyone else’s. Happiness is worth choosing right now. 

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New: If you enjoy my pieces, you may enjoy many of the books I use as sources. You can find most of these on my Ken Recommend pages. 

Technology Sabbath: Why To Take A Break From Devices & How

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Originally posted on LinkedIn on May 30, 2018.

We are techno-junkies. No, literally.

It’s what most of us wake up to and it’s the last thing we look at before we go to sleep. It’s how we communicate with the outside world, maybe how to determine what to wear that day, when to be in a certain place, and even what to buy. That’s right, it’s technology! Smartphones, laptops, tablets, etc. – a large portion of us are hopelessly addicted to our devices. No, seriously. According to the Pew Internet Project’s research, 29% of cell phone owners describe their cellular device as “something they can’t imagine living without.” Some of you are probably thinking, “Yikes” while the rest of you are probably thinking, “Yeah, that sounds like me.” If you feel yourself drawing closer to that second group, know that the American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as a “…primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry.” If the idea of going a couple of hours without the reward of a text message, a social media notification or the idea of letting an email go unanswered for more than a few hours begins to make you squirm, you may be addicted (as in, actually addicted) to your devices. If that’s the case or even if you feel just slightly uneasy about the idea, you may benefit greatly from a weekly break from all devices. Enter the technology sabbath.

Taking a Break From Technology

A technology sabbath is exactly what it sounds like – a 24-hour break from all media consumption devices. Yes, it sounds downright crazy, but keep in mind that this routine of being constantly plugged is a fairly recent occurrence in the history of mankind. Another detail to remember is that the world will not, in fact, come to a screeching halt if you do not reply to that email, “Like” that post or text your friend for 24 hours. What will happen is a deafening silence. No ringing phones, no text chimes, no email notifications. If you’re a Millennial, this silence will grow even louder. If you’re Generation Z, it may actually scream at you. No more social crutch and no distractions from finishing that physical book you’ve been reading (or the one you’ve been meaning to start…after you check your phone). No more checking your pocket while you’re spending time with your friends, family or even when you’re trying to enjoy some time alone. This can be time to enjoy nature or the company of the people right in front of you – not the people calling out to you via cellular phones and WiFi signals.

Working Up To a Full Break From Devices

Don’t expect to completely enjoy the experience the first time. According to a study conducted by the ICMPA and students of the Phillip Merrill College of Journalism in which a group of students took part in a break some all media for 24 hour periods, the first experiences were far from pleasant. One of the test subjects reported, “Although I started the day feeling good, I noticed my mood started to change around noon. I started to feel isolated and lonely.” Just like smoking or substance addiction, a behavioral habit can have the same effects on the mind. Just like these, attempting to kick a habit, even for just a day, can result in some of the same symptoms of withdrawal. Such a dependence on a technological device is not much different from other potentially addicting vices. If the idea of completely disconnecting for 24 hours makes you squeal, try letting go in increments – one device-free evening a week, perhaps. Over time, extend that into the next day. Soon, you’ll be on your way to a 24-hour technology sabbath.

An actual chat room.

You may be asking yourself, “If this is so hard and potentially unpleasant, why should I consider it?” According to another experiment conducted by Seattle Pacific University in which students voluntarily discontinued the use of technological devices for uses outside of coursework, students and observers noticed a considerable shift in their social interaction with one another. Oddly enough, what resulted following the experiment was a “live chat room” which was designed to function just like a typical online chat room, minus the online part. Students would come the old-fashioned way – face-to-face, discussing topics ranging from personal relationships to spiritual ideas.

Leaving the office at the office.

Other benefits include being able to truly leave work at work. According to a study conducted by the Department of Psychology of Bowling Green State University, workers have a serious problem disconnecting from work after hours. Why? The study revealed that the guilty party was the devices that helped make the office just a few clicks or taps away. By completely removing yourself from the devices that allow you to check in on what’s going on in the office, you can also begin to mentally distance yourself from the office and truly enjoy your downtime.

It’s not about what you can’t do, but rather what you don’t have to do.

I know what you’re still thinking – “I can’t unplug for just a little over 14% of my life – that’s crazy!” Though this practice of completely disconnecting from the world for a 24-hour period once a week may seem radical to most of us, this practice has been commonplace for observant Jews for thousands of years. Upon talking to those who keep a sabbath for spiritual reasons, most do not report feeling a burden of not being able to access their devices during this period. Just the opposite – instead of referring to these acts as “forbidden”, they talk about how this observance of a sabbath actually frees them from their weekly obligations for a day. When the devices are turned off, observers are free to spend time with their families without checking their email on their phones, get into a book without being distracted by a text message and even just take an afternoon nap without it being interrupted by a phone call. Over time, this time becomes a period that observers look forward to all week. Ask any observant Jewish person and they can usually tell you, with ecstatic anticipation, how many days are left this week until the Sabbath.

You don’t have to Jewish to keep a technology sabbath – just the desire to thoroughly look forward to and enjoy your downtime. You may be surprised by just how much you look forward to your technology sabbath.

Tips For Keeping a Technology Sabbath

  • Pick a day of the week that works best for you. While the Jewish Sabbath is sunset Friday to sundown Saturday, some may find that Sunday or some other day works better.
  • One of your concerns about taking a break from technology is that people will worry when you don’t respond. To remedy this, make it known that you’re doing this in your automatic out-message email response and mention it in your outgoing message on your voicemail.
  • Any sabbath requires planning, so set aside a time a few hours before your sabbath begins to send out all last necessary messages, social media posts, text messages and to make any phone calls you may need. In the same way, set aside time to get caught back up once the period is over.
  • To resist temptation, store your devices in a drawer or somewhere else out of sight.
  • If you absolutely must have your phone on due to emergency situations, still let people know you’re not taking calls. Screen calls like crazy. Don’t look at text messages (most people don’t text when it’s an emergency). With this being said, do not use this as an excuse to not disconnect.
  • Don’t worry. The point of disconnecting your devices is so you can disconnect your mind. Disconnecting does no good if you’re constantly worrying about all of the digital communication you’re missing. Remember – your messages and notifications will be there when you return.

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Everything Is My Favorite: What Finally Made Minimalism Click For Me

Reading Time: 5 minutes

One of my best friends is a bit of slob. I’ve known the guy since high school, love him like a brother, and… he’s been this way the entire time I’ve known him. Visiting his apartment when I was in high school, I remember seeing what I thought was flour in his sink — it was mold. While attending college classes in the city, I moved in with him for $150 a month (not a bad deal for 2009), though I think part of my rent was tolerating his filth. The first week staying there, I got pink eye. Later, I would get in fights with him over him using my bowls for cereal and then leaving half-eaten batches out only for the milk to develop a personality. For the longest time, I thought the shower and tub were a tan color until I accidentally kicked up a patch of filth to expose the blinding white porcelain beneath. Needless to say, I showered with flip-flops on for the rest of my stay.

Despite all of his filth, there was something about his living habits of which I was envious — everything had its place. Despite not necessarily being poor (well, I mean, for a part-time college student), he didn’t have much stuff. He didn’t seem to want much stuff. I think he probably owned two or three pairs of pants, maybe two pairs of shorts, a handful of t-shirts, and probably one dress-casual outfit for buddies’ graduations and weddings. Nothing folded — everything was kept on hangers. He probably could have also rented out his walk-in closet for the amount of room left in it.

Looking back into my room, plastic tubs of random stuff lined the walls. Clothes I rarely wore, trinkets I rarely looked at or used — just…stuff. Every time I would move, which was pretty often for a self-supporting college student/bookstore employee, I’d either have to rent a truck or make a half dozen trips with my car just to shlep my stuff.

I kept carrying this stuff around for a solid decade — six apartments and finally into a house. In one of the apartments, my stuff nearly filled a room of its own. As long as I could shut the door, I thought I was escaping it. Still, the stuff still seemed to take up mental real estate, keeping it spinning like an overtaxed computer with too many systems running in the background.

Last year, my slob-yet-barebones buddy moved out of state for work. One of the perks of his job was a rent-free house with two bedrooms and two full bathrooms all to himself — quite the upgrade from a dinky-yet-acceptable one-bedroom apartment in the city.

I went to visit him in his new digs after he had been living there for a few months. Walking through the house, I recognized the same items from the apartment. A chair. A coffee table. A second-hand TV. A kayak…in the empty dining room. As we caught up, our voices echoed as though he hadn’t even moved in yet.

“Man, this place is empty. We need to get you some stuff,” I commented.

His response was simple, yet echoed in my mind as much as it did off the walls of his empty living room.


Exactly. Why would he need more stuff? Why would I feel that he needs more stuff?

The more I pondered it, the more I began to enjoy the spacious feel that his lack of unnecessary stuff provided. Every item in his house had a purpose — selected as though they were items on a campsite. Even the decorations had a unique significance. Drawings, framed ticket stubs, photographs, and artwork that doubled as history textbooks. Nothing mass-produced.

I became quite envious of the arrangement — not of his specific choices, but of the intentionality of his selections. All of his objects were only his favorite versions of whatever that thing was. For one reason or another, he had chosen only to be surrounded by his favorite stuff — most of which he used nearly every single day. As close friends, we’ve spoken about everything from the intricacies of civil rights to the meaning of life, relationships, divorce, jazz…but we’ve never spoken about his lack of unnecessary stuff. (He doesn’t even know I’m writing this.) My friend was the first minimalist I had ever met, yet he’s never uttered the word.

That trip and realization weren’t quite enough to get me to buy into minimalism. Hell, I didn’t even know that “minimalism” was a thing or the potential benefits of such a lifestyle. Not until I was flipping through Netflix and found a documentary that piqued my interest — Minimalism.

Minimalism is a documentary, directed by YouTube filmmaker Matt D’Avella, largely starring the duo-author pairing of Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Millburn, together known as The Minimalists. The premise of minimalism as a lifestyle is being hyper-intentional about the objects you choose to keep or acquire. The reason for this particularity is the idea that many of our possessions usually end up owning us — taking up mental and physical space while draining our emotions and bank accounts. A combination of keeping up with the Joneses and impulsively buying things that we think will enhance the quality of life has led to an existence packed to the gills with stuff and far less freedom — spatially, emotionally, and financially. At least, that’s what I know to be true now. As the minutes of the documentary ticked along, I still hadn’t fully bought it…until one sentence made it completely click for me.

“I don’t own a lot of clothes now, but all the clothes I do own are my favorite clothes.”

Joshua Fields Millburn

At that moment, I remembered rummaging through my sock drawer, casting aside substandard socks, looking for one of the four-or-so pairs of my favorite socks. I did the same thing with almost all of my clothes. Pants and shirts hung in my closet that I had either not worn in months or that I had worn reluctantly because all of my favorite versions were in the wash. When Joshua said that simple line, minimalism made complete sense for the first time. Everything I own could be my favorite. I suddenly felt like a kid who had just been told that they were now allowed to only eat ice cream for every meal — you know, before you actually attempted it.

Arguably, if you only own your favorite versions of each necessary item, you’re probably going to have significantly less stuff than the average person…and that’s actually great. This is because of what truth minimalism forces you to confront — that having or buying more stuff doesn’t make you happy. While it may be fun to open a new Amazon package, the appeal diminishes very soon after.

“The novelty, I think, of everything wears off, right? You get a new car and, ‘Ok, no one eats in here’ and two weeks later, there’s french fries in the seat. The whole novelty of it all, man, it wears off which is why happiness is a complete present state of being. That’s just what it is.”

Terrance Cunningham

Most of us, in some part of our minds, think that once we’ve attained a certain income, a certain size house in a certain neighborhood, that new car or that elevated status in the office that then we’ll be content. The truth is that contentment is a choice. For a minimalist, contentment isn’t achieved by stuff — it’s achieved by meaningful, intentional experiences.

“Happiness is the absence of desire. It’s what you feel when you no longer want to change your state.”

James Clear

Shortly after falling down the minimalist rabbit hole of books, videos, and podcasts, I downsized and decluttered substantially. After many loads to donation centers and downsizing objects that were just taking up space, I started to feel less burdened by my stuff. Even more powerfully, I began to realize that my happiness was not dependant on possessions, but on my relationships, on my own spiritual alignment, and seeking wonderful experiences. If anything, I could feel my happiness increase while my stress levels decreased with every load of stuff I gave away.

So, as a minimalist, do I still have stuff? Absolutely. The difference is that, like my friend, all of my stuff is my favorite.

And I’m happy to report that he keeps his new place much cleaner than his old place.

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