Joshua, me, and Ryan

-photo courtesy of Colleen

I took a trip to Dayton, Ohio yesterday. I went to a meetup put together by The Minimalists, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus.

I love talking to people and exchanging ideas. I enjoy the intellectual rigor of trying to understand a new frame of reference. I love offering examples from my past experience to test whether I really understand an idea or if I’m missing the point. Sometimes my experience can spark a new insight or shade of meaning for someone. Likewise, another perspective frequently adds depth to my own opinions. In the best examples of these conversations the exchange is easy, free of pretense, and forgiving of the many tangents that creative thinking entails.

I talked with Joshua and Ryan yesterday after the meetup, and the whole exchange had this comfortable feel.

I owe these two a debt of gratitude. I’ve been gradually opting out of consumer culture for almost twenty years. What The Minimalists opened up for me was the possibility of cutting loose the accretions of a lifetime of acquisition. I had slowed substantially the addition of new stuff into my life, but I’d never focused on reducing what I already had. The result was a little more drag on my existence with each passing year. Joshua and Ryan’s essays on minimalism have been an inspiration to me for the last year. I’ve used the content from their blog to create space in my life; space for things that matter to me.
I’m using that space for my crazyAwesomeHellYeah projects.

“You can sit in an empty room and be miserable”.
Ryan said these words as I arrived (late as it turned out) to 15 or 20 people sitting together at Press Coffee Bar in Dayton’s Oregon district. Joshua and Ryan were wrapping up a description of their journeys to minimalism and starting a Q & A that felt more like a conversation than a press conference.

The group asked some good questions, the answers to which became something of a group discussion. The toughest issues I heard people facing with minimalism dealt with how to communicate their minimalist values to family and friends.

Ryan suggested telling them “It’s my problem, not yours”. The comment is unexpected and disarming as it seeks to put the other person at ease. Further along in the discussion, articulating a minimalists’ problem with gifts Joshua remarked “I have a problem with the commodification of love”. The dehumanizing aspect of products as a proxy for love really hit home for me. It’s a fair definition, but one that is usually softened or obscured by one means or another.

I scribbled down a couple of quotes from the evening…

Start somewhere, but start.

I got laid off in September, so it worked out great.

For me, the most memorable statement was this one from Joshua:
(Why didn’t I record this? It would be so much better to have it word-for word.)

What’s the first thing we say when we meet someone? “What do you do?”, Right?
If they’re a Wall street broker we’ll think something very different than if they are a janitor. The janitor is likely to be a lot more honest, for instance. Hearing what someone does for a living lets us judge them, which is totally stupid…So after I quit my job if someone asked me “What do you do?” I would say “I’m really passionate about writing. What are you passionate about?”. And that totally changed the conversation.

I enjoyed each of these statements for different reasons (if you care to know why you can ask in the comments :)), but the last one is an absolute gem. The optimist in me believes “What do you do?” is searching for a common frame of reference from which to begin a relationship. The cynic in me knows people make judgements on that basis. It knows because I make some of those judgements myself.

Regardless of intent, the fact remains that I don’t want to be pigeonholed as an “IT Guy” just because I earn my salary in that capacity. Does an “IT Guy” build a boat? Learn a language? Go on adventures?

We’re all deeper than our resumes.

I’m really pleased that I made the trip. I’m a natural wallflower, and it’s always a struggle for me to go to new venues and meet people. Occasionally I’ll have an opportunity to meet (in person) people I’ve only known online. For me, these events are usually characterized by irrational fear followed by a memorable evening. Last night I skipped the fear and entered directly into the comfortable and yes, memorable, evening. I have everyone in attendance to thank for that, but mostly Joshua and Ryan. Thanks!

Check out their tour page. If they’re not coming your way I highly recommend attending the Any City in the World Meetup. Ryan told me a little bit about their plans and it’s definitely worth your while.

A group of friends chatting about what makes them happy, what could be better?


Adventure #1 Recap

Let’s hear it for the Rainbow Tour, it’s been an incredible success.
-Tim Rice, Evita

So, I’m back from my minimalish travel adventure. If you didn’t read the original post, I took my family to Disney World for 9 days taking only the items that fit in a small backpack.
The night before our departure I looked at a final weather report and traded my 2nd pair of pants for a pair of shorts. Other than that my packing matched the pics from the earlier post.

My biggest surprise was that I was still over-packed. Once you decide to wash and re-wear during a trip your clothing needs drop almost to zero.

Items that turned out to be completely extra: two t-shirts, three pairs of socks, one baseball cap and a pair of underwear. If it hadn’t been so cold in Cincinnati I could have skipped the jeans as well.

What I didn’t know at the time of my last post was how little the rest of the family was bringing. All in all, we had 5 people packed in 4 carry on bags (princess and pirate costumes included). In addition, we took one carry-on full of breakfasts for the trip (you don’t want to buy five $7 muffins and $6 drinks for 9 straight days) and one bag of stuff to entertain the kids through airports, flights, etc.

After we cleared security in Orlando we had some time to kill before our return flight. I looked around at my family. The 2 year old was sleeping in our stroller, 6 & 8 year olds sprawled on the concourse floor reading, and Jeanne knitting. I was struck by how smooth it all was. The kids have done the security drill enough times that it’s no big deal (2 year old is a wild card there, but still…). In another year the big kids will have less struggle handling their own bags and the two year old won’t need to be carried as much to keep up. Where couldn’t we go?

I’ve dreamed of taking the whole family to Europe for a long time, but over the years I’ve had 3 concerns about taking such a trip.

  • First, what will customs/border security be like? I remember West German security tearing apart toys in a search in the 80s and I hadn’t crossed a border since September 11th. What should we expect? (Got this answered traveling to Mexico, summer 2011)
  • Second, you have to pack light. There was a time when we packed so heavily that we couldn’t have gotten our bags where they needed to be without curbside check-in at the airport. That doesn’t really lend itself to moving around unfamiliar destinations with a language barrier thrown in for fun.
  • Third, the security line is a place of very little power for travelers; you really want some solid expectations about how your kids will behave. If one of them wanders off into a secure area would you be able to retrieve them without shutting the airport down? Would that get you detained? Arrested?

I have my questions answered. We’re ready.

Oh, and one thing we didn’t over-pack?

The flight home was a little bit of a gamble.

Adventure #1

One of my goals for 2012 is to go on adventures.

When I committed myself to this goal it was pretty amorphous. I didn’t know what the adventures might be, I didn’t know how many to commit to, and I didn’t know if they would involve my whole family or be more personal in nature.

I still don’t have everything planned, but <drum roll> I’m pleased to announce Adventure #1:

I am making an experiment with minimalish travel on my family’s upcoming trip to Disney World.

About a year ago I started mindfully removing the excess from my life. In keeping with that theme I’m interested to find out how little I can travel with. I traveled light to Mexico this summer, but this will be my first trip where I will have to wash and re-wear clothing to get through the week.

Here are pictures of everything I’m bringing…

“OMG, he didn’t pack a toothbrush!”
-My wife has the whole family’s toiletries in her bag so I didn’t show any of that.

My biggest concerns are all about the weather.

  • Florida gets lots of rain, sometimes. Should I bring a raincoat, or is that just excess stuff to carry around? Maybe a pocket size poncho?
  • What will the temperature be like? The last time I visited Florida was during the Vancouver Olympics…it was warmer in Vancouver. Should I bring a jacket?
  • What footwear will be best for 7-10 miles of daily walking, carrying kids, pushing strollers, and handling changing weather conditions? A second pair of shoes takes a lot of space, but starting the day in yesterday’s soggy gym shoes is a recipe for blisters and I doubt they’ll let me go barefoot.

The biggest change for me is reducing the amount of stuff I bring along to do. In the past I would have brought my PC, phone, 2-3 magazines, a couple of books, my rooted nook color, an iPod of music, and an iPod of French language podcasts. Isn’t that ridiculous?

This time I’m bringing my HP Elitebook, the rooted nook color, phone, chargers, and a moleskine journal. My hope is that the PC never comes out of the bag and the phone never rings. However, being prepared for that is part of my job so I’ll bring them along. The nook color will keep me occupied on the flights and has a guidebook loaded for the rest of the week. The moleskine is just more fun to write in than Evernote.

In addition to what is shown in the photographs I have a diaper bag inside the backpack. This second bag is a feature of diapers and children’s snacks. One day it will stay home when we travel.

Today is not that day.

Hearing of people living with 100 things or fewer, I can’t say I am minimalist, but I think minimalish fits. I’m excited about stripping away the excess from my life in order to make space for the things that matter. I’m looking forward to taking another step down that path, I’m sure it will be an adventure.

For information on minimalist travel check out these posts at Zen Habits and Miss Minimalist.
My efforts look pretty weak compared to these two, but you start where you are right?