Experiences over Things: Souvenirs & Vacationing

As vacation season begins, the problem of acquiring little trinkets from your travels inevitably comes up.  What should I buy? Oh, that little snow globe, figurine, (insert your idea here) is so cute – I have to get it!  We have all been down that road.

Chances are, emotions win out and you find yourself clutching a small bag with the snow globe while exiting the shop.  A month or two later, that cute little snow globe has dust on it, takes up space, and you are left wondering why you spent your hard-earned money on it.

What you eventually do with that snow globe is up to you, but I can provide a few suggestions when it comes to incorporating minimalism in your vacation goals without a few extra trinkets stowing away home in your luggage!  Here are a few thoughts I use when it comes to souvenirs and acquiring items while traveling.

1.  Write a list.  Just like you should not grocery shop while you are hungry, it is best not to shop for souvenirs without a game plan.  Rather than having a whole store to browse through, sticking to a list of potential purchases will help you navigate the aisles and save time and money.

2.  Consider consumable items.  If you must make a purchase, finding items that are usable/consumable brings value to the purchase and prevents the item from sitting on a shelf collecting dust.  Mugs for coffee, stationery for letters, wearable accessories (like scarves), and foods (like hard candies) are all great items.

3.  Sharing your experience.  I always opt for taking pictures and finding things that I can share with friends and family.  Whether that is buying an item that you can gift to someone or taking time to tell a story of your adventure, sharing experiences often bring depth and considerable reflection.  I find it fun to send letters or postcards from the places I travel because they provide a glimpse into the culture, an activity, or interest I had while traveling.  If you are not a letter writer, consider meeting for coffee or tea with any interested listeners.  Bonus points if you share a tea/coffee/treat from the place you traveled to!

As a minimalist, I value my experiences and seek them out rather than accumulating things.  While a carefully selected item may play a representative role in reminding you of a place or adventure, it is important to assess these things as to prevent falling into the “snow globe” trap.  Finding items that enhance an experience are great!

When preparing for an adventure, ask yourself what you want to gain from it.  Are you looking to grow in a particular category?  What risks are you willing to take?  How do you want to preserve the memory of the event, while maintaining a minimalist lifestyle?  My examples work for me, and, chances are, you have even more ideas how to limit the purchasing and invest in experiences.  Pass it on!





Review: Osprey Porter 46L Travel Pack

In an earlier post, I shared my tips on traveling as a minimalist.  Over the course of the weekend, I took my new Osprey Porter travel pack ( Osprey Porter 46L Travel Pack) on its inaugural trip to Iowa for Tulip Festival, which was great fun!

Anyhow, I thought I would provide a review on this new pack to supplement my Minimalist Travel Tips:

I found the Osprey Porter 46L pack on the REI website and was excited to see that my local shop had it in stock.  Upon examining it, I noticed a few features that drew my interest:

  1.  Zip-away backpack straps and waist belt
  2. Limited space – only 46 liters
  3. Cost- $130.00 REI and Osprey website  (see link above for Osprey’s website)
  4. Fits within the standard carry-on regulations for most airlines
  5. Plenty of pockets for organization without becoming too much
  6. Multiple ways to carry:  along with backpack straps, there are loops to add a shoulder strap (buy separately), a handle on the length and one on each end

This pack exceeded my expectations as a minimalist traveler.  I prefer to keep my hands free (see: Minimalist Travel Tips) and to limit how much I bring as to prevent bogging myself down.  Despite having a little concern when packing it for the first time, I found out very quickly that I had more than enough space- even enough to bring a few splurge items!

This pack is quite durable and streamline:  I did not feel like the pack took up much space in the car or on my back.  A bonus of the purchase is that my Osprey Daylite day pack fits on the outside of the Porter under the two large straps that fasten to the width of the pack.

I highly recommend the Osprey Porter 46L travel pack for minimalists and travelers alike for short and medium-length adventures.  Only $130.00 at REI and the Osprey website, it is a well-made investment luggage piece that provides flexibility for any adventure!  That being said, if you are looking for a new travel pack or purchasing one for the first time, check out the Osprey Porter 46!  Pass it on!

Finding a Balance

One minor struggle I have come across while implementing various minimalist techniques is distinguishing between doing too little and doing too much.  To be honest, I often weigh out on the side of too much.  Like a lot of things, one of my weaknesses is to jump in too fast and forget to bring balance to this project.  Case in point, when I started using the strategies I found to clean out my stuff, I found myself eyeing nearly everything I had out to determine if I really needed it there.

I did one of two things: 1) grabbed as much as I could and placed everything in a long-term storage box, or 2) got to an item and could not make a decision on it and left it there.

Both choices resulted in the same thing: a hint of frustration and impatience.

I am sure we all reach this point one way or another – I chalk it up to ambition and lurking perfectionism.  However, I realized that instead of drawing up a plan to keep balance in mind from the start, I just plowed ahead, too focused on the results over the process.

I look back thinking, “Wow. You really got too ahead of yourself!  It’s okay to slow down!”  

It is important to set goals, but just like any other project you set your mind to, we need to remember that an orderly, balanced process is going to give us the results we want – not a sped-up, sloppy version.  We ought to think as highly of the process as we do the result.

If minimalism is about growth, then let us bless the process with our patience!  Pass it on!

Justify Your Choices

I read an article that described a list of a bunch of things twenty-somethings should learn (or know) how to do.  Among “cook a healthy meal” and “write a resume,” one that stood out to me was:  Defend your media choices.  I might as well have jumped for joy at reading this!  As a twenty-something proponent of the classics, good manners, and general politeness, this statement as a “should-do”  was music to my ears!  It’s about time we justify our choices!

That being said, I realized that it is important for us minimalists to justify our choices too- not only of our decision to become minimalists, but to take it a step further in fine-tuning the details that make up our lives.

As with media choices, we minimalists should consider depth when answering the question, “Why?”  Justification is not simply, “Well I like it,”  “It’s cool,” or “It’s the popular thing to do.” It is not enough to have a cliche response to a question.  Justification means sharing a well-informed answer.  The Merriam-Webster definition of justification is:  “an acceptable reason for doing something; something that justifies an action.”  While popularity or general “coolness” may seem like an acceptable reason, those concepts are fluid.  What is popular one day may not be the next (What’s that word? FAD!).  If we base our justification solely on this reasoning, we have fallen for fallacy and hopped on a bandwagon that is bound for a bumpy ride.  I believe that we do not give ourselves enough credit to properly formulate our reasoning.  When I examine justification, I see a response that embodies not only likes and dislikes, but illuminates the way we live our life.

When it gets down to it, our choices become the framework for future actions.  Our actions affect not only ourselves but the people and environment around us.  If we do not think much of our choices, our preferences, or even our actions, perhaps we are not fully practicing awareness.  I see awareness as a first step in being conscientious and sacrificial.  While it is a tough one to master, I genuinely believe we all have the opportunity to develop better awareness to our surroundings in order to contribute to them.

As a minimalist, I see my own awareness grow through reflection in my bullet journal, sharing my ideas with people in conversation, and visually noting the impact of my work.  While I am learning to take it easy on myself, I take careful consideration into my successes and failures in hopes to come away from each experience – each choice made – with something positive.  I evaluate each choice based on why I made it: my influences both internally (perspective, though process) and externally (social, peers), an emotional appeal, and awareness.  I try to use all of these elements in justifying my choices because they balance each other out.

  • Influences:
    • Internal:  a perspective that I already developed or still developing
    • External:  new perspective shared with me that I value
  • Emotional Appeal: a heart-felt reason that enhances sympathy, compassion, or other emotional responses
  • Awareness:  knowledge of my surroundings: physical environment, people, facts

In addition to each of these elements, I balance them with the results – the impact my choice made in hopes that I will either justify my choice due to a positive experience or chalk it up for improvement.

Justification is often a difficult concept to construct, especially when so many factors influence the way we think.  Despite this, it makes for an important exercise because what we say and do define us.  Our actions and words stem from the way we think and make observations.  Let us make sure we learn the art of justification, not settle on fads to explain our choices, and invest in quality thought/action.  Pass it on!

Minimalist Travel Tips

I enjoy traveling to new places.  If there is one thing I have prioritized as a recent college graduate, it is to continue learning by exploring.  Whether it is a weekend away or a lengthy trip abroad, I am determined to find something new and continue my travels.

As a minimalist, I look for ways to plan stress-free trips.  I know it is rather difficult to set such a lofty goal, but I have a few strategies I would like to share.

Minimalist Travel Tips:

  1.  Less is more.  I thought I would start out with a standard minimalist response.  However, this is an important one to remember.  Bringing less stuff will not weigh you down (more on this later…).  Also, when planning a trip, narrow your list of “must-do’s/must-see’s” because chances are, you will probably start out too ambitious.  It is better to limit your list in order to leave room for surprises and to prevent burning out.
  2. Check for resources.  Unless your destination is extremely remote, chances are you will find things you need there, or at least, substitutes.  For example, if I am staying at a hotel, I double-check if my room supplies complimentary toiletries.  If I take a plane, I check to see if there are shops I can pick up personal items like shampoo/conditioner/shower gel to prevent exceeding PSA limits and space in my bag.
  3. Buy smaller luggage.  If you are planning a weekend getaway or just want to travel light, I suggest downsizing your luggage.  As with Tip #2, you can always make purchases if you find yourself in need of items at your destination.  The smaller the luggage, the less weight you need to tote around.  My choice:  I love the Osprey Porter 46 travel pack (see my review on it)!  It is just a few liters larger than a standard backpack, has multiple pouches, fits within most carry-on requirements, and has multiple ways to carry it.  I like to keep my hands as free as possible in case I need to grab a water bottle, hop on a bus quickly, or take some pictures.
  4. Try a capsule wardrobe.  See my post on the Capsule Wardrobe for a full explanation.  I love capsule wardrobes because you end up wearing what is comfortable and save luggage space by mix-matching pieces to create new looks.
  5. Keep travel information all in one place.  Keep a small ziploc or waterproof bag specifically for travel documents (passports, travel insurance, etc.) easily accessible.
  6. Create a traveling routine.  I like keeping to a routine in order to cover my bases when I embark on an excursion.  For example, when I arrive at my lodging, I organize my gear immediately.  I return items to their original places, make sure nothing is missing, and review my plans/itinerary.  Keeping to a routine helps prevent confusion, losing items, and maintain excitement.
  7. Critically assess what you bring. This is especially important to me when dealing with road trips.  It is equally important to be comfortable when spending long hours on the road and to maintain a clean travel environment.  My first step is to assess every item I bring for the ride in the car.  Whether I am driving or a passenger, I try to limit how much I bring to the following categories:
    1. Emergency equipment (blanket, map, extra water, snow shovel in the winter, etc.)
    2. Sustenance (basic snack and water)
    3. Garbage Management (trash bag for wrappers, etc.)
    4. Entertainment (usually limited to music and a book)
  8. Develop a calm perspective.  Without letting down your guard – it is important to remain vigilant wherever you go – develop a mindset that helps you react rationally to the unexpected.  Maybe it rains during a week you thought was forecasted to be sunny.  Maybe you run into a minor vehicle problem.  Or a major one.  Maybe you get sick.  As a first responder and frequent wilderness trip leader, I cannot say enough about how perspective can change a situation.  While your problem may end up just being a wrong turn, it is critical that you simplify, not magnify, the situation you find yourself in.  A rational mind leads to results.

While I do not have all the answers for traveling stress-free, these eight suggestions have led me all over the mid-west United States, Canada, the UK, and Eastern Europe.  I definitely suggest trying out all sorts of strategies to find what works best for you!  Pass it on!

Time Well Spent vs. Multi-Tasking

Why Time Well Spent Beats Multi-Tasking for Minimalists

As a goal-oriented and intentional individual, I value time well spent.  It does not matter if it is a menial activity or something extravagant, I just want to make sure that my mindset for using my time is treated carefully; my time is treated as an investment.

I seek to add life and excitement to my days, and one of the ways I can do this is to balance my priorities with fun.  But I have to be careful otherwise I end up multi-tasking my way towards oblivion.

Western society has made a big deal about “multi-tasking,” and much to our detriment, we have traded our sleep, sanity, and relationships for hours of hitting those birds with one stone.  However, research continues to prove that multi-tasking does not necessarily mean positive results (see: Forbes article).  The stress we bring upon ourselves trying to complete every task under the sun is not worth it (see: TIME article).  Multi-tasking, even for the best of the “movers and shakers” of the world, does not produce nearly as quality idea, actions, or results that simply focusing on one thing at a time does.  The more items we add to our juggling act, the more risk there is in dropping everything.  Personally, I would rather deal with one item at a time – would not want to over-complicated my juggling routine!

This is where minimalism gets it right.  Minimalism supports a simple lifestyle in which we can focus thoroughly on one task at a time.  Yes, I understand that we do not always have the luxury of slowing down (our work, family, and personal lives may become tangled as life happens), but we can learn to implement minimalist practices to our lives anyhow.  The way I see it, my ducks will not always be in a row.  The little rascals are bound to wander around, get lost, or gather an army, and I might not always be able to stop them!  However, I can manage my time in order to reach my goal of spending my time well by figuring out what my goals and priorities are.  I can control my obligations, commitments, and plan for the crazy days.  “Busy= Stress” is not an ultimatum.  We have the power to keep busy without getting in over our heads and can change the way we spend our time.  Busy can equal happiness and contentment!

Organizing a perfect schedule may not happen exactly the way we envision it – even if we are expert organizers.  We will always have to keep trying.  The good news is, we are able to spend our time well, and it is going to look different for every individual. Pass it on!

Strengths and Weaknesses

As a minimalist, I am exposed to my strengths and weaknesses daily as I apply my ideas to my lifestyle and find new strategies to test.  However, it is often the ideas I put into long-term practice that have shown me the most about myself.

“A true test of character

isn’t how you are on your best days

but how you act on your worst days.”

Twenty-one words never held so much power than these have for me.  Just like tests and trials, we find our strengths and weaknesses when we apply what we have learned.  In my journey with minimalism, I have uncovered many strengths and weaknesses that I can work with.  I am sure there are many more, but I will get to them as I expand my horizons.

An important concept I have learned is that we often assume our ideals as our character and our strengths.  For example, I would like to consider myself an very environmentally-conscious person.  The truth is, that is only what I aspire to be.  When it gets down to it, I did let those cans land in the regular garbage rather than recycle them.  I did let the water run too long while I brushed my teeth.  The truth is, I value the environmentally-conscious lifestyle, but I have not made it a foundation of my lifestyle yet.

So all assumptions set aside, I can use my responses, habit patterns/tendencies, and reflections to gauge what my true strengths and weaknesses are.  I have found that reflection helps me focus on the specific strengths and weaknesses because writing something down lets me see my thoughts.  I encourage you to try this exercise because you will not only get real with yourself, but also find areas to grow and improve on.  It is important to remember that writing down strengths and weaknesses is not about bashing yourself, but celebrating growth!

My Strengths as a Minimalist:

  • Finding new ideas to try
  • Reflecting in my bullet journal (see: bullet journal)
  • Remembering needs over wants
  • Applying positive past experiences as encouragement
  • Fast and efficient downsizing
  • Not attaching myself to stuff I need to get rid of

My Weaknesses as a Minimalist:

  • Committing to too many ideas all at once
  • Letting my doubts/failures get to me
  • Trying to be perfect
  • Letting frustration get to me before I find a solution

A list of strengths and weaknesses is bound to change over time.  What was once a weakness may become a strength after a lot of determination and patience to grow in tough categories.  The beauty is that our strengths tend to stay with us, while we can develop our weaknesses into strengths.  I know that my list of weaknesses is a flexible list; it will not change overnight, but eventually I will take those points and reverse them for my personal growth.  As long as we focus on growth, weaknesses become opportunities for change.  How exciting!  Take it as a challenge, an adventure, or a goal to take control of the life you want to live as a minimalist.  Pass it on!

The Capsule Wardrobe

If you are a minimalist searching the blogs and websites for ideas, you have probably come across capsule wardrobes.  Capsule wardrobes have surged in popularity among minimalists and non-minimalists alike.  They are efficient, cost-cutting, and practical whether you are trying to reduce your spending, find a use for that sweater hanging in the back of your closet, or cut down the time it takes to get ready in the morning.

I discovered the capsule wardrobe concept when I went to study abroad in Europe during my junior year of college.  Knowing that I had to pack for an autumn semester and for a mountain backpacking trip, my clothing options were limited due to luggage space and weight to account for all the necessities, textbooks, and gear.

While I did not know that my outfit planning was indeed a capsule wardrobe, I used the same strategy for my packing list, making sure I had the minimum outfits to keep comfortable, stay versatile, and keep within my packing limits.  Not only did I realize I could create a variety of outfit combinations, I ended up with the lightest luggage out of my group!  I had space to store souvenirs and a time-saving wardrobe to keep me out exploring!

Now as a graduate and full-time employee, I transferred packing skills into a practical solution for everyday wear.  As I looked for ways to expand my minimalism strategies, I put a name to the concept I used in Europe: the capsule wardrobe.  If you are like me, the name capsule wardrobe has a particular ring to it that suggests limits, simplicity, and organization.  I picked up on the phrase quickly, discovering I appreciated implementing the wardrobe.  It was just as satisfying as saying it!  Even more so, I appreciate the capsule wardrobe because it is easy to adapt to your needs.

I like to use up what I have before buying a replacement, so my closet was already pretty specific to my likes in terms of style.  I narrowed down what I could (see: Hanger Strategy) and focused my attention in preserving my favorite pieces while making good use of everything in my closet.  I was surprised how easy it was!

I discovered that my capsule wardrobe has many benefits:

  • I find joy in taking a few minutes every couple weeks to go through my clothes to create outfit options, saving the time it normally took me to choose clothes in the morning.
  • I found my style.  Sure the pieces were there already, but I found ways to be comfortable without trying to copy an outfit that did not suit my personality.
  • I spend only the time it takes to grab clothes and put them on rather than spending at least 10 minutes staring at options.  My morning routine is simple and not rushed.
  • My wardrobe lasts about 2 weeks, which cuts down on washing machine use, thus saving water, detergent, and electricity.
  • It allows me to invest in quality clothing, rather than needing to replace cheap pieces more often.
  • I am prepared for any kind of weather because my outfits are layered.  By having a variety of layers in an outfit, I am more flexible if a sunny day turns rainy or if a cool day turns into a heatwave.
  • It makes traveling a breeze because I can pack half the clothes and still come up with variety to take care of the entire trip.
  • I spend less on clothes because I buy classy pieces that do not go out of style.

I enjoy my capsule wardrobe for its benefits listed above and for the ways in which it teaches me to pursue minimalism in all walks of life.  Perhaps one of the best ways to build a minimalist lifestyle is to work with the tangible items; working hands-on helps me to see what I like about being a minimalist and helps me creatively sort through the conceptual changes such as mindset and strategy.  I definitely encourage trying the capsule wardrobe, even if it means starting out slow.  Check it out on blogs, Pinterest, or just experiment making one yourself.  Let us go back to the time before we got caught up in filling our closets, before we let consumerism convince us to buy more than we need, and before deciding what to wear became such a hassle!  Pass it on!

Reflections on Earth Day & Arbor Day 2016


How appropriate to make a resolution on Earth Day/Arbor Day!  It dawned on me in the morning before work that Earth Day and minimalism often fall in the same circles.  And with Arbor Day following closely on the calendar, I knew that spending time in nature should catalyze a resolution or something of that sort.  I see the relevance of my goals as a minimalist to think eco-consciously combine with the lifestyle choices I have made.

I love camping and spending time in nature, so it was only a matter of time before I would realize how closely linked are the environment and my pursuit of minimalism. Some of my first encounters with minimalism come from my group camping experiences in the Boundary Waters in Northern Minnesota.

My trip packing lists have always held the value that ultralight and minimal items are the best way to go when venturing out into the wilderness.  The thought is that we pack only the necessities; there is no room for a bunch of luxury items to float around at the top of the pack.  It values Leave No Trace principles (see: Leave No Trace official website) and inspires creative means to take care of your needs and the needs of others.  Paddling and camping in the BWCA means portaging (carrying all of your belongings over a segment of land).  Portage trails range from 5 to over 550 rods.  A rod is the standard of measurement: approximately the length of a canoe.  In perspective, 550 rods is a bit over 2 miles.  Not only does ultra-lite and minimalist camping prevent waste of space, it also cuts down the weight of the Duluth packs we carry on portages, which definitely is a game-changer when the going gets tough!

Minimalism in camping has led me to the conclusion that I do not need a lot of stuff to be happy.  I value the items I bring into the woods, learn to steward them, and appreciate each item as an important tool.

I have applied the same lesson that I learned “in the bush” to my life back home.  After I initially assessed my belongings, I determined that I could cut my wardrobe in half due to the pile-up of a lot of “extras.”  I used my bullet journal to make more space for the things I love – running, exploring, studying, reading – and cut back on the waste of time.  My excitement to pursue what I enjoy also led me to complete daily tasks quickly and efficiently.  I limited my showers to conserve water, I spent less time inside my house to save power, and found creative ways to warm up if the weather turned chilly.

I am looking forward to minimizing my spending on groceries by starting a garden with my family.  Not only will the produce be healthier, the vegetation will promote clean air, flowers will encourage pollination and health of bees, and gardening relieves stress. Get a plant…save a life!

As minimalists, let us not forget how important our resources are to our lives.  Let us not take nature for granted – it is our home.  Let us use Earth Day and Arbor Day to make a resolution to support our environment, to promote conservation of our natural resources, and to treat nature as a classroom so we continue to grow.  Pass it on!

Minimalism is Unique

I believe that every minimalist’s journey is unique.  Yes, we all have gathered to a community that is dedicated to simplifying life, but there are diverse ways in which we make minimalism our own.

Whether we begin our journey in order to downsize, to conserve our resources, to get out of debt, or to focus on something more important to us than “stuff,” it is important to remember that what works for one person may not be the best thing for another.  This is part of the reason why my blog is first and foremost a way for me to track my own progress becoming a minimalist.

Minimalism will look different for everyone.  The key is to be open to trying different perspectives (see: An Investment of Inspiration) and not giving up if you have not found your niche right away.

Here are my suggestions (based on my own experience) for taking ownership of your quest:

  • Scour the blogs (and mine!):  Blogs are reflections of what has worked or not worked for the writer.  Perhaps one minimalist tried a particular strategy for getting rid of sentimental items but it did not work out for them.  That may be the strategy that does work for you.  Look for ideas in the triumphs and struggles of other minimalists.
  • Find one aspect of minimalism you appreciate and focus on that:  The quest for simplicity may not seem simple at all!  There are many reasons, as I mentioned above, that a person becomes a minimalist. So if you are trying to simplify your strategy to become a minimalist, perhaps narrowing down your list will help you tackle the project.  Start with one point before taking on another.  Divide and conquer!
  • Write a list of reasons why you want to become a minimalist.  Like my own list (see:  Top 10 Reasons to be a Minimalist), you may like a visual to inspire your quest.  Personally, a written note serves as my motivation.
  • Write a journal to track your progress.  I use a bullet journal to organize day-to-day lists, thoughts, and notes (see: Bullet Journaling).  I not only journal about my day, but also reflect on my progress.  Perhaps the more you write or think about minimalism, the more you will remember to put it into practice.
  • Talk about minimalism with others:  Finding an accountability partner who is also seeking similar goals as you may help you stay excited to practice minimalism.  Talking promotes learning and creativity, which comes in handy when figuring out what strategies of minimalism work best for you.

It is important to remember that while one thing may work for you, it may not work for someone else.  Keep an open mind in your journey as a minimalist because all information is valuable.  Learning to dwell on what did worked will help you move forward and accomplish your goals. Pass it on!