A Year Of... interesting things

June Report

I keep a small note pad, the kind you find in hotels, seemingly always with but a few pages left in them, and as it had precisely 13 pages available, it seemed pre-destined to track the ins and outs of items coming or leaving my life, in this year of reducing.

This was the first month I ended up writing on the opposite side of the page.

June clocked in at 34 items acquired and that deluge, forced me to resort to going into my secret stash, something I was planning on using for “drier” months: the attic and my stash of empty boxes.

I had to discard a lot of boxes, and a good amount of other things, but the former reminded me of what a pack-rat I am, preserving boxes of all things I ever purchased under the guise of preserving them for the purpose of selling them later, which also never happened.

A lot of these boxes are saved by default, without any consideration and that what led to an accumulation from large, TV-sized boxes, to the smallest of them.

What this has taught me is to evaluate the items I’m buying with a more critical eye towards reselling it. Realistically, if it’s not a collectible item or it’s an item whose value drastically decreases over time (a 5-year old iPad probably doesn’t need a box anymore).

For the future, every time I’m putting a box in the attic, I’m considering putting a post-it note on it with the month it went in, and then periodically re-evaluate the items: for most, if 3 months have passed and the item is seeing good use, there’s no point in keeping the box.

On the business front, I have tried dipping into an topic I have a bit of knowledge: fountain pens. In particular, looking for good deals online and then try to re-sell those items for more typical selling prices.

That is what contributed, by large to the number of items acquired. I have debated not including them, because these items are by their nature transient, however I wanted to keep honest and also allow this influx to inform and shine a better light on the exercise of ridding of things. I don’t know if I had been able to attack the boxes in the attic with such determination had it not been stemming from the panic of not meeting my 10 items a month goal.

Back to the business angle, it did show me that it would not be a sustainable business. On the high-side, the profit was as much as $50; on the low, I barely made $1 and I might even be losing money on some items as PayPal and shipping fees eat into the costs.

It was a nice diversion and I should be getting back to the business I know better, or at least can execute on better: software.

May Report

Doing this exercise, the ridding of things and controlling the balance of in vs out, places a certain amount of emphasis on the in and thus a mindfulness about acquiring items.

The overriding question about incoming items should be “do I need this?”, however, that might be a difficult bar for someone getting into a minimalism and a minimalist life.
Some people can jump off the deep end, some do better starting at the shallow end and working towards the final goal.

Perhaps a slower, and a more mindful way to think about it is to look at what purpose the new item serves:

  • it might be replacing an older item that got used a lot (“one in, one out” rule);
  • it might be a long want that can finally be met - maybe a new hobby;
  • it might be a temporary situation, satisfying a temporary wish - after all, we’re minimalists, not ascetics.

In all cases, though, it helps a lot if any new item comes in with an exit strategy attached:

  • maybe in replacing the old item, the new item will also be used to the end;
  • same with the hobby - hopefully it will provide enjoyment and any purchases in this area are done mindfully rather than in a hoarding manner;
  • for temporary items, it helps if the new item is bought with a vision towards re-selling it.

In both hobbies and temporary fancies, there typically tend to be many models satisfying that goal, so focusing on one that re-sells well and easily makes possible to reconnect with the minimalist goal after this small detour.

For example, if one would like to get into playing guitar, it’s a far better idea to pick up a common brand and in particular something at the entry-level that would not cost a large amount (and risk making it hard to part with it – more about this in a bit): start with an acoustic guitar and pick an entry-level Yamaha over a Martin or a Taylor. If electric – although that means more purchases (amp, pedals) – pick a, say, an Epiphone over a higher-end Gibson or a custom PRS.

That being said, the best option would be to borrow or rent if possible, particularly for short-term endeavors, to see if it’s something that will stick or pass.

In Goodbye, Things there are quite a good number of tips that address the inbound of items:

  • Tip 40: Be social, be a borrower - and in borrowing an item you may also borrow the expertise or advice of the owner;
  • Tip 41: Rent what can be rented - think or it as a trial and buy it if you use it often or for long;
  • Tip 49: Think of buying as renting - buy with an eye towards reselling; if possible keep tags, boxes, original documentation.
  • Tip 47: Avoid the Concorde fallacy - the snowballing of small purchases ancillary to a large purchase.
    Very much seen in musical gear following an instrument purchase; lens, bags, and other photo gear following an initial camera purchase; etc.
  • Tip 24: Let go of the idea of getting your money’s worth and Tip 30: Don’t get hung up on the prices you originally paid go hand in hand towards ridding of purchases without delay or unnecessary ruminations.

All in all, due to thinning the wardrobe following good signals of what clothes have been worn or not, as well as some creative selling of previously purchased items, May saw a net total of -36 items, my highest month so far.

Feels good.

April Update

April ended up being a smaller month in more than one way: count and size.

Net total was 17, which was over the 10/month, true, and also on the lower side relative to the other months.

April was the month I “attacked” my box of computer cables and ended up being mildly horrified about how many out of date items it had: old PCI modems, RAM, IDE cables, VGA cables, etc.

The Goodbye, Things tips that resonated the most with me have been:

  • “#10. Minimize anything you have in multiples” - I don’t really need 4 SATA cables; one with straight connector and one with angled connectors is enough;
  • “#11. Get rid of it if you haven’t used it in a year” - some of these items I haven’t used in years not in one year.
  • “#17. Organizing is not minimizing” - I was really tempted and one point to just shuffled some items and add them to another box, just in case I’ll need them in the future, however getting over it and actually getting rid of not only the contents, but the box they were in (“#18. Tackle the nest=storage, before the pest=clutter”) helped ensure the items followed.

On the business side of the world, I decided to look into AWS Certifications as a way to both add skills and obtain an edge over contractors and freelancers in a similar position.
First will be an AWS Solutions Architect - Associate, followed by an AWS Developer - Associate, and after that I plan on assessing whether DevOps - Associate or another cloud (Azure?) certification is a better approach.

I guess time will tell whether this will have been an asset or there would’ve been a better use of my time to acquire different skills (sales? marketing? networking?), but at this point it seems as a natural extension of my work field.

March Update

March was a month of replacements and to a lesser degree of acquisitions of items that I found truly useful, and to that the two rules that have dominated the minimalism process have been:

  • Rule #13 - Differentiate between things you want and things you need: seems like common sense advice and it seems generally easy to follow and yet very frequent I find myself enamored with how I imagine I would use something only to find myself not using it at all; the purchases that followed this rule have been items that solved a real problem in my life, after I discovered I had the problem and not before (example: a camping mattress after suffering through sleeping on some make-shift lounge pads);
  • Rule #46 - One in/One out: for every new item you bring in your life, get rid of (at least) one; this replacement approach has allowed me to bring better items in my life and get rid of some items that were hanging around just because I used them every once in a while, but mostly avoided them due to various defects (e.g. scratched sunglasses, or some uncomfortable headphones).

In getting rid of a small number of cables I had lying around, I also got to experience the Concorde fallacy also known as sunk cost fallacy as some of these items have been purchased because I had already invested in an initial bigger purchase.

Overall, I got rid of 44 items and brought in some 15, for a net total of -29, way over my 10 items threshold, and allow me to reflect how many of my possession are no longer of use to me, just merely hanging around for “just in case” and “what ifs”.

On the business front, I wish I had more progress to report.
I rationalized March as a month of reflection; while I did read at least one book, Raving Fans and found some value, a good amount of time has been spent on just being unsure what direction I can go in.

In the plus side, I have decided that I will read only one more area where I lack knowledge before making a decision: marketing, product validation and customer acquisition.

I am not as confident about having good books as I was in the previous months, even more so given the subject is a lot more temporary. Management and startup techniques change a lot slower than the mores and approaches of how groups can be reach, sold to, and engaged.

February Report

/r/fountainpens is a guilty pleasure and also a delightful curse, in that it creates occasional wants that go against the path of minimalism I have set myself on.

In this case, spurred by the multiple beautiful posts of vintage fountain pens, mostly Western (American and European), I felt it unjust that the much celebrated East was not present more and when I happened upon a batch of vintage Chinese pens, I couldn’t resist.

That set me back 10 items in my desired to rid myself of net 10 possessions per month. Ouch.

Once again, one observation from Goodbye, Things, that you have to just start and things happen from there on, helped me reach a gross of 31 things I have gotten rid of, whether it was donating – the more valuable items – or throwing into the trashcan, for a net balance of 15 fewer possessions once February reached its end.

I read fewer books this month than in January, although none less valuable. On the business front I read/listened to 7 books, not all of which apply at this point and all of which were inspirational:

  • finished Eric Ries’s “The Lean Startup”, one book I wish I had read early in my twenties, because its concept of “validated learning” and its Build-Measure-Learn loop could be applied to almost any task in life where there is a progression possible, whether it’s building a startup, a product, or even life’s little things like dating, career, or getting ahead;
  • Chip and Dan Heath’s “Made To Stick”, about what makes ideas and concepts sticky, introduced me to the SUCCESs model: Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, and Emotional Stories;
  • Steve Blank’s “Four Steps to the Epiphany” is the precursor to “The Lean Startup” methodology;
  • Tim Feriss’s “The Four Hour Work-week”, even if a bit outdated, needs little introduction;
  • Ryan Holiday’s “Ego Is The Enemy” on the other hand feels like the modern-day’s stoic’s handbook.

March is happening tomorrow and it’s my last chance to wrap up the books that will help me pursue my goal of reducing dependency on a single big client and give it shape in creating a separate revenue stream that could provide me one day, soon I hope, with the financial freedom that I so seek.