The other night I was in deep relaxation mode, curled up in bed watching Breaking Bad with my girlfriend (so I wasn’t actually relaxed), when I heard what sounded like a feminine scream outside. I said that. “I think I heard someone scream outside.” I got up and went to the window. In the small street between our apartment block and another I saw a drunken man and woman arguing. The girl kicked out at the man and shouted angrily at him. The guy approached her and literally threw her over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry and eerily enough, she didn’t protest. Our hearts were thumping in our chests and we were both on the cusp of shouting out when they were suddenly gone, further down the street and out of sight. I stupidly threw on some clothes and ran down the stairs to investigate further, but nothing.

From what I’ve read and heard from others, whether those two knew each other or not (I like to think they did), this is nothing out of the ordinary in China. The government would have you think that the gap between men and women in society is nonexistent but China remains quite a man’s land. Most people look the other way if a guy strikes his wife or girlfriend. This happens behind closed doors in any other country yet it seems to stand out more here. This and many other things, from starving kittens stacked on top of hamster cages in the market to food cooked in oil illegally processed from rotting animals are all part of the package that is China. Anyone’s first gut reaction is “Why doesn’t somebody do something?” Well, the culture requires you to mind your own business as “face” means a lot here, and calling attention to any person’s sordid activities would surely cause that individual to “lose face”, resulting in the snitch being perceived as an untrustworthy asshole. Oh, and the police won’t do anything.

These are more major things that are likely to turn someone off of a country. But then you go into the forums and see people complaining about the food, etc and how they are having a miserable time. The key is to simply accept a place for what it is. That doesn’t mean you’re condoning everything that the culture condones, liking every dish placed in front of you or letting something unsettling happen in front of you without weighing it with your personal moral code or asking questions about it. It’s seeing something, acknowledging that it’s different from back home, and realizing that it’s been that way for long while, that your complaining about it is probably not going to change anything.

Have No Expectations

When people travel and fail, it’s usually because they cannot or are not willing to accept the new reality that they should have already known they would inevitably be thrust into. If I went to Daqing expecting a Mexican place on every corner, likewise for coffee shops, for everything to be as clean as in the US and for people to carry themselves in the same way or else, then I would be on the first flight back home. I really and truly don’t understand some people that constantly complain about the country they’re traveling in. What did you expect? Why did you expect it? There are certain cultural systems in place no matter where you go and presuming your own to be found halfway around the world is some sort of arrogance, or at best, naivety. If you want to be a traveler, try to be informed before you embark, but never expect. It’s pretty counterproductive to your enjoyment.

On Looking the Other Way

People spitting in front of your shoes, parents helping their kids shit in the street and cars jockeying for the best piece of pavement with little to no acknowledgement of pedestrians is a fairly common commute in China. Of course these things are not exactly appealing to me, but I let it fade into the background because it’s fairly normal. What else am I going to do? Ask the old man to spit into a trashcan instead? Lecture parents on how to raise their child and on public health? Start directing traffic? These are the easy things to just ignore while enjoying the rest of the adventure. Then there are some things that invoke a visceral reaction in you, like the altercation we witnessed the other night. A fellow foreign teacher cursed out a Chinese teacher for striking a student (fairly common in Chinese public schools). There will be those things that we feel the human need to do something, but the key is figuring out when that is.

Enjoying the Rest 

Accepting most of the bad with a simple nod while tiptoeing around it will give you a lot of room to enjoy everything else about your new home. I’m not saying ignore anything unsavory completely, because reflecting on those things adds to the collective experience as well. But if you can forget the fact that your delicious street food has a 10% chance of being cooked with gutter oil for just a second, it’ll make it that much better. Don’t ask yourself why in the hell someone is setting off a cherry bomb in the middle of the street at 11:00 AM; just enjoy the spectacle. Maybe suppress the “fuck off” that instinctively pops into your head after the tenth person of the day shouts “Hello!” at you from their car and try to smile back. If I’m going to be put on a pedestal in China (sometimes quite literally) then I might as well enjoy the attention.

Accepting a place makes all the difference between having the adventure of a lifetime and being the grumbling expat at the bar who seems to hate everything about the place he/she decided to move to.

As I report in from Daqing, China it sounds like a fucking war-zone outside. It has to be a holiday of some sort to justify the amount of fireworks going off, sometimes a few feet away without warning. Well, if there was a warning, my Mandarin skills are limited only to random food items and greetings. It’s one of several strange and interesting things that characterize my new home.

In fact, it’s been complete craziness since we’ve been here and I’ve had little to no time to write about it here. Lesson-planning actually takes a long while for us newbies, and as much as I love this blog and its audience, the little kiddies come first. That doesn’t by any means suggest that I’m lacking for material, and actually I’m being an asshole right now and just writing a teaser for several posts I know I’ll be writing in the future.

1. Chinese Food - Keanu Reeves once said, “Woah.” That’s exactly how I would describe the initial impression that Daqing’s food scene has left on my palate over the past couple of weeks. From barbeque - and not the North Carolinian variety - to the devilishly and delightfully spicy hot pot, the culinary options available here have already ruined American Chinese food for me. That said, there are some questionable things when it comes to food safety, and yes, sometimes the identification of what exactly is on your plate, i.e. is that beef actually beef.

2. Grocery Shopping - I wrote an article about shopping abroad awhile back, but China takes it to another level. Being completely illiterate in written Chinese will lead you to a land of supermarket mystery. The English signs in the shops will also provide you with hilarious spelling gaffes such as ‘Funtional Driks’. Then there’s the not so hilarious things like turtles stuck in a dirty aquarium wallowing in their own filth until they’re bought and eaten. As I’ve been told already about many a thing, welcome to China.

3. Staring And Other Weird Social Things - I briefly mentioned the staring in my last post. Yes, it’s completely justified, I suppose, as we are two of 60 foreigners in a city of 3 million. But still…this is like staring-into-your-soul staring. You break eye-contact for a healthy amount of time, but when you chance a look back they’re still staring right into your eyes. The only times that it really gets to me is when we’re in a restaurant and sweaty, shirtless middle-aged men are blatantly staring at my girlfriend and smiling creepily between cigarette drags. Culture and all that, but I will always perceive that as rude no matter where I am.

4. The Teaching - We came to China to teach English, so I suppose I should give you an inkling of what that’s like. We’ve just survived our first week and it actually went pretty well. I was definitely nervous at first, but throughout our one 8-hour day a week I had no choice but to fall naturally into the role of teacher. By the end of the week I was enjoying myself. The kids are so damn cute. The higher-level ones are amazing to the point that they could ask me why I came to China, etc. One really difficult thing for me is the special needs situation in China. Most of them go undocumented because parents would see that as ‘losing face’ (it’s a big deal culturally) so they push their child through without any accommodations. It sucks watching that unfold.

5. The Expat Community - As a foreigner, you’re in Daqing for two reasons: oil or teaching. It’s an eclectic group of people, and we all meet at one of two bars on the weekends. Kingsley’s has been open for 4 years and is owned by the man of the same name who has been teaching in Daqing for nearly 12 years. Orange Bar is so difficult to find that you need someone to take you there and knock on the door a certain way (I’m still trying to figure out if this is a joke or not). Because there’s so few of us, the community definitely gives off some familial vibes. After all, this isn’t Beijing or Shanghai where foreigners are a dime a dozen. This is Daqing, and everyone we’ve met so far - foreign or Chinese - has been nothing short of helpful.

There’s so much to write about that my journal’s margins are constantly getting filled up with strange observations, the best places to buy fruit and veg, Chinese characters for various things; documenting this experience has been overwhelming so far. From what I’ve seen, the teaching is only going to get better and as that happens I’ll probably post more regularly. Until then, look out for updates on Instagram and Twitter. Now I’m going to try to get some sleep and hope that our parking lot doesn’t become a launch pad for mortars during the night.


“You only truly own what you can carry at a dead run.”

This quote from an unknown wanderer is something to be embraced as you plan to move to another country for a long while. Of course I can’t fit suitable attire for teaching, winter wear that will help me a avoid loss of limb in -30F winters and all of my gadgets in a small daypack, but I still meditate on this philosophy that is minimalism as I prepare for my move to China. What do I need, what do I need, what do I need…and what would be nice to have? That’s the order of operations when you pack for a year.

Deciding what to cram in that suitcase and the anxiety of leaving something out can make packing way more stressful than it needs to be. First of all, you really just need to think about what you get on with in your day-to-day life. Those will be the most vital things to throw in. Of course the reason for travel matters just as much. Your results may vary. I’m moving to a very cold corner of China to teach English for a year, so I’ll just quickly document how I’m tackling this challenge for my own situation. Adapt accordingly!

What to Bring

1. Purpose - Why are you traveling? I’m going to be a teacher. So right out of the gate, I know I need some business casual attire. I have about five shirts and two pairs of trousers that are appropriate for work. If I could pack patience, I would. Luckily the school will be providing most of the teaching materials so we won’t need to worry about that. I won’t be working constantly, so I’ve also got about five t-shirts and two pairs of jeans. I’m also traveling to China because, well, it’s what I do! Travel writing is starting to become less of a hobby and more of a second job to me, so my journal and laptop are the first two things in my bag.

2. Health - China is, er…infamous for having some dodgy products that slip through the cracks of government regulations. I want to have time to vet some of these products before I apply them to my face. Therefore I’m bringing a complete starter set of toiletries that will last me a couple months or so. So there’s my toothbrush and shaver (both rechargeable - environmental win!), deodorant, soap, toothpaste, and basic first aid. China is also known for air so thick with pollution that you can pick some of the larger particulates out of the sky with a pair of chopsticks. I’ve got the ubiquitous M3 masks for the worst days as well as a ton of vitamin D3 and Nyquil if they fail me. Everyone I’ve talked to said that I will get some respiratory ailment within two weeks of being there. Fun.

3. Climate - Heilongjiang Province is the most northern area of China, poking Siberia in the ass above it. It will get COLD. -24ºF in the winter. Suffice it to say, I have packed my warmest clothes and plan on buying an expedition-grade jacket when I get there. I now regret not getting one of these when I was in Iceland. The climate should always be on your mind as you’re packing. Not only will you be uncomfortable if you arrive unprepared, but depending on what you’re doing there, carelessness is dangerous. I can tell you firsthand that pondering the future use of your toes is not very fun.

4. Interests - When you’re packing you should try to include a few things to facilitate your interests and hobbies. Maybe an instrument, some watercolors or underwater basket-weaving supplies. I love to hike, so I’m at least bringing enough gear that would be appropriate for some day trips. I still design things from time to time - mostly t-shirts inspired by my adventures on Footloose Fabrics - so I’ve tossed in color and graphite pencils, sketchbook and my Wacom Bamboo tablet. I also run and do yoga in my free time, which would technically fall under health, but I’m also interested in them and like having somewhat symmetrical paragraphs. So yeah, yoga mat and running shoes.

How to Pack It

1. Compression - If you don’t have one of those bags that allow you to squeeze the air out of all your clothes, then you’re doing it wrong. These are so helpful because air really does waste space in your luggage, unless you’re trying to smuggle a cat in there. I buy them from Eagle Creek and they’re very easy to use. Put the clothes in, close it like a Ziploc bag and roll it up to push the air out of the bottom. It’ll cut the size of a big stack of clothes down by 50% or more. This way your clothes do not have to rule how you pack.

2. Layering - Okay, this is Packing 101. You should be mindful of everything you put in your bag, when you put it in and how you do it. I recommend starting out with one of the more bulky, frustrating shapes you’ll deal with: shoes. Next, put some of your smaller do-dads inside the shoes and build around them until you have an even layer of stuff that reaches the height of your shoes in the bag. Then you have a nice, flat area to stack your clothes, books, etc. on top of. ‘Playing Tetris’ is a big part of layering. Play this in the background for effect.

3. Precautions - You’ll notice in some of the photos that I learned to store liquidy things the hard way. Changes in air pressure and the oh so gentle treatment your luggage receives from the airline can result in a toothpaste bomb going off in your bag. Zip that shit up and sandwich it between your clothes so it doesn’t get smashed. Also, stuff gets stolen from time to time. Keep the more expensive, important things in your carry-on with you. I’d also recommend stuffing an extra change of clothes in there just in case your luggage gets lost (which you should definitely pony up the extra $50 to insure).

Zài Jiàn!

Well, not ‘goodbye’ to you guys. But tomorrow I leave the States, spend 29 hours in airport hell, and finally emerge from my cocoon of airline pillows and blankets in China. Less than 48 hours from now, I will be dead to the world in my new apartment in Daqing with my girlfriend - who I haven’t seen in four months - by my side. It’s a strange feeling that combines Christmas morning levels of excitement with a nervous anticipation of experiencing the inevitable culture shock in addition to being completely burnt out.

I also sense that this will definitely be the advent of a new chapter for Spartan Wanderer. So far, I’ve been to some pretty vanilla countries, so to speak. Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and England may be different from the US in several ways…but this is frickin’ China! For a year! Whatever happens, it’s guaranteed blog security. Thanks for joining me for the journey so far, and you can bet your ass that there are going to be some interesting stories on here over the months to come.


I’m about to leave the United States for a year.  It stands to reason that I can’t take everything with me.  Throughout college, before I went to Sweden, and then Iceland, I’ve had manic purges of my material possessions, so I already don’t have too much.  I’m now at a point in my minimalist journey that my spider sense starts tingling with just a quick glance around my room or into the closet.  I know when it’s time to get rid of stuff, and I’ve grown pretty adept at cycling out the old for the new.

Moving back home for ten months absent fear of not being able to get my rucksack on the plane without paying oversized baggage fees has left me complacent.  There’s a good deal I can part with before China, I just wasn’t ready for it before.  That’s the thing with decluttering; it has to be done in stages because there is always something you’re not willing to part with at any given moment.  Just give it time.  

I thought I’d give you an inside look at just how exactly I’m getting rid of my stuff this time around.  In my quest for carrying one bag into China I’ve risked the sketchiness of Craigslist, unloaded a few tomes at my local used bookstore, consigned clothes for cash, hocked old cellphones and even visited some pawn shops.  And of course, when I ran out of methods to achieve some personal gain for my clearing out, I reluctantly donated.


I have varying rates of success with Craigslist.  First of all, it really isn’t that sketchy.  Just use your brain.  If someone asks  you to meet them inside a condemned building at 11pm (not joking) it’s probably not a good idea.  You can usually judge by the wording of the emails if it’s a good offer.  I do usually discriminate by proper spelling and grammar.  This time around I’ve made off with about $100 from my CD collection and a few pieces of used hiking gear.  Not bad at all; just a few bucks shy of covering my visa fees.  

Used Bookstores

I frequent Edward McKay here in Greensboro, NC for my music and books, although recently I’ve been adding to my Kindle library.  Thanks to George R. R. Martin’s literary crack I have no time to trifle with going to a bookstore when more of Westeros is just a click away.  Ed McKay’s gives you the option of taking store credit or cash when you trade in books, CDs, DVDs and games.  If it’s a lot of cash, I’ll take it.  If it’s very little cash and a good amount of store credit, I’ll use the credit to get a book relevant to the country I’m about to go to.  Just search for used book stores in your area and I’m sure you’ll find something similar.  

Clothing Consignment

I try to be moderately fashionable, and I usually spring for higher-end clothing that I know is going to endure the rigors of travel a bit longer than cheaply made stuff.  It’s preferable to have one pair of super durable raw denim jeans over five pairs that are going to fall apart in a few months.  It does save money in the end.  Uptown Cheapskate is a high-end clothing consignment store in my area where I can buy as well as sell just the clothing I’m looking for. Right before I leave I’m going to exchange a big bag of clothes for store credit and hopefully pick-up an expedition-grade jacket from North Face before heading off to brave the -25 °F winter of Heilongjiang Province.  

Pawn Shops

In my experience, pawn shops feel even more awkward than a Craigslist transaction.  There are some that I would never venture into based on their exterior appearance.  And I guess there’s that connotation of desperation that’s rooted in their origins as an establishment where people who have fallen on hard times go to borrow credit by giving up their most prized possessions as collateral.  However, they’re still a great source of quick cash before a trip.  Before I went to Sweden I sold some old coins and a silver bar I had been holding onto for $400.  Not bad at all. I’ll definitely swallow my cynicism and paranoia to try this again before China.  

Old Mobiles

There are some mobile phone repair shops that will buy your old phone from you - even with a cracked screen and other defects - because they can strip them down for parts.  I sold my trusty HTC Incredible for a not-so-incredible $8, but there’s no use in having two phones, especially one with a cracked screen.  My little Razr flip phone from my roaring high school years fetched exactly $1.00.  I didn’t even walk away with a tenner but it’s the philosophy that counts.  Some of the shittier phones are spruced up and sent to troops overseas, so that’s nice.


I always save donation for last, not because I’m mean, but for the satisfaction of dropping off a bag of your last remaining excess stuff.  A weight is lifted and when you return home, and everything you see around you has some utilitarian purpose.  There’s no more useless fluff.  Also, you get that warm, fuzzy feeling from giving your things new life and knowing that someone that needs them much more than you will be able to use them.  

The Sensible Thing to Do

Predictably, I’m met with mixed reactions whenever I tell someone that I’m getting rid of all my stuff.  A lot of people understand immediately, because they themselves probably have a lot of clutter that needs chucking out too. But there’s always the other half, who are unaware or simply ambivalent to the rampant consumerism that is almost synonymous with the typical American lifestyle.  They ask “why” in a way that suggests they’re a bit confused or almost threatened in some way.  I’ll tell you why.

1. Everything I own has a purpose; there is no point to excess.  Life is easier when I know exactly where everything is for a given purpose.

2. I don’t have to worry about where I’m storing everything when I travel.  At the very most I’m only leaving behind a small plastic bin.

3. I can travel lightly.  At the most, I’ll only be moving through the airports of the world with one checked bag and one carry-on, even for long-term moves.

4. I have a clear idea of what I need.  There are no random shopping sprees sapping my bank account unless I have a legit reason for replacing something.  More fun money!

5. In addition to being very “zen”, this way of living has a lower environmental impact.  Nature takes less of a hit and I can travel lightly to see it more easily.

These are five main reasons I subscribe to the minimalist lifestyle of having less stuff.  I’m sure I could think of more if pressed.  For now, go here and here to read more about this type of thing.  Later on I will write a post specifically about packing for China and what exactly I’m taking with me to get through the year.  Until then, if you ever feel sad, remember there are trillions of cells in your body, and all they care about is you.


Okay, let’s be real, travel is a glamorous lifestyle to lead. You’re going to party like it’s 2033 (Svedka anyone?), eat a bunch of really strange stuff, and have transcendent experiences you could never anticipate, nor really be capable of explaining to anyone. Even the most miserable things that will happen to you make for great stories later on. If Anthony Bourdain and the Dos Equis guy got together, you fancy yourself their lovechild.  

But what about the lulls between the adventures?  As much as you may hate it, you have to go home at some point whether it’s to renew your visa, save up some money, or simply visit friends and family.  Well, don’t be surprised if things have changed.  Different people will react differently to your travels.  Some will be ambivalent, others jealous, a few will feel alienated by your leaving, and the worst, some will act like something is wrong with you.

All of this can make for quite a lonely lifestyle.  The time I spend at home is probably when I feel most alone for a number of reasons.  I’ve just left a ton of new friends behind who, realistically, will eventually lose touch with me, although there’s a few exceptions.  It’s mutual.  We’ll talk on Facebook a few times, maybe even Skype, but ultimately it will fade.  You really just meet too many people abroad, and when you leave them for home you rely on your buddies you’ve known for years.  Unfortunately…

Your friends are travelers too.

This is one of the biggest reasons I find myself having more nights in than out when I’m in America.  All of my best friends are traveling!  When I’m here, they’re not.  When they’re here, I’m not.  Just the other day we had a small send-off (read: the two of us getting drunk and watching Year One while everyone else is asleep) for my best friend Dylan Waller who is returning to Southeast Asia for another round of teaching abroad. He was one of the few people that I have face-to-face contact with that understands.  We can talk for hours about crazy travel experiences without wearing on each other’s nerves (the usual outcome in that situation).

People don’t understand you.

Whether they want to know or not, you will feel the desperate, involuntary urge to talk about your experience abroad.  You don’t want it to end, and the best way to relive it is to talk about it. Sharing is caring, but they might not see it that way.  Between bouts of verbal diarrhea, you may notice one of two things: 1) people seem to not give a shit, or 2) they stare at you like you’re an alien.  Maybe it’s just that I’m from the South that it seems people become completely alienated when I say that I lived in a socialist country and loved it.  When you live abroad - and not as a missionary - you’re met with that what-so-america-wasn’t-good-enough-for-you sentiment. ‘Murica.  I highly doubt this is limited to the South though; it’s probably just reactionary, especially from people you know because you’re seen as sort of forsaking your roots.  Whatevs.  

You and your friends drift apart.

This is a pretty common thing that would have happened even if you didn’t travel.  As you get out of that social framework of high school and college, your different interests become more defined and lead you to different places.  That’s okay.  You definitely shouldn’t sacrifice your goals in life to “continue the party”, so to speak.  This phenomenon is going to be amplified by your comings and goings, and you’ll honestly notice a change each time you come back.  I realize I’m painting kind of a depressing picture.  In my experience, your besties will always be your besties, and that’s good enough for me.

Periods of self-deprecation and doubt.

After you experience all of the above, you may wonder if you’ve made some sort of mistake.  Do the doubters have a point?  You start to think that you’re not as awesome as you actually are. The Dos Equis guy would never hang out with you.  If you’ve come back to make some money, you’ll feel like an unemployed loser next to people you know who have had a steady job for a few years now.  After you’ve woken up at the crack of noon in your parents’ house for the fifth consecutive day, you feel like the embodiment of the plot of Failure to Launch (shitty movie but an appropriate reference).  You have to keep busy and you have too look forward.  Remember why you chose to travel and all the memories it’s given you so far.  Also, you’ll feel better if you throw away some of those beer cans.

Bonus Pain: You met your GF abroad (and she’s still there).

So last summer I did my volunteer thing in Iceland.  I met my girlfriend there, and of course we tried to “keep it casual” but that plan was doomed to fail.  We signed up for the otherworldly cruel long-distance relationship, although we don’t really perceive it that way, but call a spade a spade.  So far I’ve been there (London) once and she’s been here (North Carolina) once.  It can be excruciating at times, although it’s been well worth it so far and we’re looking forward to spending a year together in China come August.  

Deal With It

All of these things are beyond your control.  You will feel alone.  You will want to leave again just as soon as you’ve returned.  And you will sit in a dark corner brooding over your photos and journal entries.  You will have to actually make an effort to reclaim some semblance of a social life, as the sheer novelty of being from somewhere else isn’t good enough to get random people to invite you out.  

There’s no silver bullet for this, so maybe I’m just ass for doing a post stating “this unavoidable bad thing will happen to you, so yeah” but it’s more of a cautionary tale.  If you want to travel long-term, you will have to make some sacrifices.  A normal, consistent social life is one of them. I started out ahead of this one as an introvert, but that doesn’t make me immune to the loneliness.

My best advice is to keep truckin’ as best you can: watch travel docs, read travel writing, plan your next adventure and get excited about it.  You know how awesome traveling is and you can get through this brief diaspora from that lifestyle.  


I’m concluding Minimalist Month with a post that is going to seem really cutthroat and make me look like a cold dude, but I promise there is virtue in it.  What’s left to cut out of our lives after excessive material things and unnecessary, time-consuming obligations?


Unnecessary, unproductive, unfulfilling, time-consuming, toxic relationships.

We’re social creatures, and Maslow argues that one of our core needs is love. Friendship, a sense of belonging, sexual intimacy; stuff I would never say is a bad thing.  They’re all great things.  Which is precisely the reason we go rushing in, head down, into relationships without thinking.  We crave them to get us over the next ladder rung on the way to self-actualization.

The result is a few great relationships, several moderate meh’s, and some outliers that provide little reward in exchange for a lot of work.  The minimalist should be mindful of who he or she decides to give his or her time to.  The aim is to clear the chaff until we’re left with great relationships, and to continue to pursue relationships that have the potential to be great.

Do not enter into or continue a relationship with an individual (friend, buddy, bro, significant other or otherwise) if…

…they create or facilitate drama.

Drama.  A lot of people secretly love and crave it.  I personally hate it.  It’s a time-waster, especially if it arises out of some pseudo-problem that is commonly generated to satiate someone’s need for drama in the first place to make their life interesting.  Every time I have offered to listen to what sort of drama a friend has gotten themselves into, a pattern emerges that breaches all genders and age groups. It’s all self-inflicted.  Sure, we all have our problems, but going on about the juicy details, developing a cast of characters without even hearing their side of the story and subsequently praising them or demonizing them is far from a productive solution.  Find some friends that value more in life than this petty he-said, she-said shit.

…you need them to be a source of validation.

Basing your actions on the approval or disapproval of others is a great way to limit yourself.   If you told your entire network of friends that you were moving to China to teach English for a year, how would they react?  Hopefully, regardless of how crazy they thought you had become, they would encourage you, because that’s what a true friend would do.  Asking for advice is one thing, but letting your big decisions and goals in life depend on the weight of someone’s words is not healthy.  Requiring their approval for whatever reason will crush your potential and hold you back from major achievements in life.  If you can’t break your dependence on their opinion, it’s best to sever the relationship.

…they’re a black hole of negativity.

This type of person can take on many shapes and forms.  It could be the average Debbie downer, negative Nancy, or Dolorous Ed, or they could be as hostile as a black hole of negativity that strives to hold everyone around them down their level.  These sorts of people are the embodiment of the old adage, misery loves company.  Stay away from them.  Negativity and minimalism simply do not go together.

…it’s just out of habit.

I can’t think of many worse reasons to continue a relationship that has ran its course.  Different people experience personal growth and evolution at a varying rates, and it’s only natural that we sometimes outgrow our friends.  It can be a painful thing to realize, but it happens.  Pursuing continuity in stagnated relationships will burn your time as you try to feign interest in interests that have diverged from your own over the years.  Luckily, these things usually come to a natural termination as you lose touch over time because of your growing apart, but it may be up to you to end your association and seek out more like-minded individuals.

The Great Facebook Cull

The easiest way to start untethering from toxic or simply outdated relationships is to thin your herd of Facebook “friends.”  First of all, how many of these people are actually your friends?  The last time I had a Facebook culling, I even found people I rather disliked on my friends list.  Social media is great, but it has begun to redefine friendship and reduce it’s meaning down to a very disingenuous level.  It’s a great tool to keep in touch with friends abroad, as well as friends back home, but our friends lists should reflect our attitude towards relationships in the real world.  Simply pare it down to meaningful relationships, even ones that exist solely online.  A great time to do this is during any major election.  Keep Facebook open; the ones that fell through the cracks will slowly reveal themselves.

Less People More Enrichment

The crux of minimalism is less is more.  This concept works with virtually everything, including the amount of people we spread our time across at a given moment.  If we strive for a concentrated network of people who value us as much as we value them, support us, encourage us, and hold us accountable, all the while engaging us in stimulating, thought-provoking conversation, then we are on the right track.  

But I guess I could just be a cold bastard that doesn’t have time for petty bullshit.  I’m going back to my cave now.  Have a nice day!

“Hey, can you help me with this thing that you probably have little to no interest in doing, because I procrastinated for too long?”  No.  “Hi, I don’t know you, but can you come to my kid’s piano recital?”  No.  “We’re starting this new bi-weekly community thingy —”  No, no, no, a million times no.  Sometimes the right answer is a simple, but polite, “no.”

We all have stress in our lives, and it comes in all shapes and sizes.  Some good, some bad, some more or less than others, imagined, or very real and overwhelming.  Stress creates undulating waves of pressure and unease that pervade our minds, and if left unchecked, our bodies.  Its nebulous nature can make it hard to pin down sometimes.  Ironically, the only way to conquer it is to do just that.  

If we want more room to breathe in our lives, we have to eliminate stress while also adding a filter that selectively allows more good stress.  This filter should prevent petty and unnecessary obligations from being added to our already busy lives, and preserve a comfortable pace of living that allows us to maintain a comfortable line of balance between life and work.  However, this filter should allow opportunities that could benefit us and amplify our experience.

1. Identify the stress you already have.

The first logical step before taking on any additional obligations is to be aware of everything you already have going on.  Half the time we’re so stressed because we don’t know exactly what we’re supposed to be doing, or when it needs to be done by.  We need to organize the shitstorm we already have building in our brains before we let anything else in from the outside (that we have control over).  The best way to do that is to make a list.  Traditionally, I use pen and paper but recently I’ve taken a liking to WorkFlowy, a list app for the web, iPhone, and iPad.

2. Filter out petty obligations.

Stop doing things that don’t maximize your time and enjoyment.  Stop doing things simply to please people who are barely acquaintances, let alone friends.  It is absolutely not wrong at all to be selfish sometimes.  We only have so much of ourselves to give, and we should choose wisely when faced with relinquishing even the smallest piece to to someone else.  The time you spent making a flyer for someone who “heard you knew how to use Photoshop” and didn’t want to spend money on a designer could have been spent reading a book.

3. Let in opportunities.

Some obligations can be life-enriching opportunities.  The trick is taking the time to identify them before having a gut response to the person in the hallway asking something of you.  Could I use the article this person wants me to write in my portfolio?  Better yet, a “let me get back to you” while you consult the list you made earlier would be a great move.

I realize that this way of thinking sounds pretty selfish to a lot of people, but just think about it.  You have one life.  You should look out for yourself in that short duration instead of continually worrying about pleasing people that have no bearing your life.  

Genuinely wanting to help someone is completely different.  Helping someone just because you want to appear a certain way to them and others taxes your time and is disingenuous.  It’s much easier and much less stressful to be honest with them, and use your precious time the way you choose to.

Obligations are one of several components that comprise the substance I call mental clutter.  It’s trickier to get rid of than clutter in the physical realm because we can’t see it until we make an effort to be more mindful of it.  Getting rid of it has the same freeing effects: more time, more energy, and room to breathe.  So stop picking up the slack for others and spend that time creating, traveling, hiking, running, knitting, reading, partying, reading, writing, eating, and sleeping.

You are so busy that you feel like you are going to have a panic attack and/or brain aneurysm.  The worst part is that you don’t really have a concrete idea of what you’re supposed to be doing; you just know you’re busy.  We’ve all been there.  The solution is literally thousands of years old!

That’s right, some of the earliest writings (that archaeologists surely enjoyed weeks of excited banter over when they were discovered) amount to nothing more than grocery lists.  Do as the ancients did and prioritize by taking the stress out of your mind and putting it on paper.

When it comes to the list, it is a matter of personal preference.  Some people don’t like looking at a monster with twenty things and counting on it.  I personally think it can be therapeutic.  

When I’m stressed, everything is bouncing off the walls in my head and it’s hard to know what to do first.  When I have a visual representation of that stress, I can develop a plan of attack and I know I can conquer it.

I have a strategy when it comes to lists.  Sorry if I’m over-complicating something simple, but this really works for me!

1. The Weekly List - This list is for the short-term.  I make it every Sunday night, including every due date (that I’m aware of) for class assignments, meeting dates for group work, and mundane chores like paying bills.  I hate this list, because it takes up the majority of my time, time that could be spent working on…

2. The Creative List - Here, I organize my design work for clients and any creative project that I have decided to go forward with, whether it be music, art, or writing.  In an ideal world, I would love to concentrate on this list and hone my creative skills.  Unfortunately, that is not the case as long as I am in college and classes are in session. I would say that these are somewhere in limbo between short-term and long-term goals.

3. The Life List - This is where I put my long-term life goals.  It is essentially my bucket list.  Currently, I have things ranging from learning a foreign language to writing a full-fledged novel to creating my own roast of coffee.  Diverse, I know.  Whenever I am able to cross just one item off this list, a celebration is in order.

4. The Budget List - I am a strong proponent of not buying crap you don’t need, which more often than not, is the majority of things I want to buy.  So I make a list to keep my consumerism in check.  I try to keep this one as short as possible and never, NEVER deviate from it (i.e. going on a random clothing splurge, or impulse buying anything).  I need these things.  Right now I’m considering hosting for my graphic design site as well as new business cards.  In other words, these are investments.

Knowing When It’s Time to Drop Weight

Sometimes we make the mistake of taking too much on at one time.  We stress ourselves out so much that we find we are not enjoying life for days, weeks even (months?!), at a time.  During this time, it may be necessary to table something and just forget about it for a while.  

If you try to broaden your focus too much, you will start seeing mediocrity in several areas of your life, and it sucks and is very disheartening.  I know this from experience, and I know how to recognize it.  There is as much of an art to knowing when it’s time to let something go than there is to making the list in the first place.

Recognizing an overfilled plate is a key discipline in the art of the list.  Sometimes we just have to put some Saran wrap over it and stick it in the fridge for a while.