Book Review: Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life

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Who wrote it: Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus (aka The Minimalists)

What it’s all about:

If Everything That Remains is the “why” of minimalism, Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life is the “how”. This is the reason why I read Everything That Remains first even though it was published after MLMF: I wanted to first understand why Joshua and Ryan decided to become minimalists before I read about how they switched from their corporate existence into a more meaningful and intentional life.

MLMF talks about the Five Values that you must focus on as you transition to minimalism. These Values are Health, Relationships, Passions, Growth, and Contribution. It also discusses the strategies that you can use to improve these five areas in your life. Joshua, for example, talks about his daily 18-Minute Exercises, which help him stay in shape without boring him with workouts he doesn’t like.

Why I like it:

MLMF, for me, can be considered as a bible of minimalism. It doesn’t just talk about eliminating unnecessary things it focuses more on adding more things to your life: more passion, more growth, better health, and better relationships. In a world where we’re bombarded with books on “how to remove clutter”, MLMF is a breath of fresh air since it turns our attention from physical things to inner improvement.

One of my favorite sections is the one about food. MLMF gives a list of foods that must be completely avoided, those that we should reduce or eliminate, and those we can freely consume. It also discusses several types of diets including vegetarianism, veganism, and pescatarianism. The best thing about it is that Joshua and Ryan aren’t preachy; they lay out all the facts for the readers and allow us to make our own choices based on our personal beliefs and situations.

I also like the section about “Removing the Anchor of Money”. I love reading about personal finance so I’m already familiar with the concepts they discuss, but reading these concepts in the book enforces their importance and reminds me that I still have to work on my financial situation.

Where to buy it: I bought my copy from Amazon. The Minimalists also offer a free digital copy of the book, which you can get here. I’ve downloaded the ebook, but I decided to buy a physical copy of MLMF because I like the feeling of holding a real book in my hands.

Favourite quotes:

The desire to improve your health has little to do with looking better.”

Most of us think that being fit and healthy is equal to looking like a model, but this mindset is actually damaging since it turns our focus from our health to our outer appearance. We have to remember that not all models are healthy and that not all healthy people look like they’ve stepped out of a magazine.

This is something that I have to often remind myself since I had gone through a health craze phase in my life. During this time, I went to the gym every day (even though I hated it) and counted every single calorie I ate so I would lose weight and get a thigh gap. I finally stopped when I had a mini-meltdown after I ate a McDonald’s cheeseburger and learned that it has 500+ calories and that I had gone over my 1,500-calorie allotment for the day. Calorie counting works for some people but not for me, and I don’t want to go back to that phase. I’d rather much focus on eating healthy food and enjoying what I eat instead of obsessing over every single kilojoule.

There will always be something there to tempt you from doing the things that make your life more meaningful. The good news is you can avoid those tempting activities by transforming the positive experiences you dislike into positive experiences you enjoy.”

These two paragraphs hit me to the core. For the past few months, I’ve been trying to update my blog as often as possible. In fact, I already have a list of topics that I want to write about. The problem is that I find it hard to write whenever I have free time. I don’t know if it’s caused by burnout (since I work as a freelance writer) or if I’m just naturally lazy. Either way, it’s easier to play Candy Crush or watch TV than to plunk my butt in front of the laptop and write a blog post.

But MLMF has inspired me to change. Writing for my blog is a possible experience that I dislike, but I can turn it into a positive experience that I enjoy by 1) associating pain with not writing a blog post (e.g. my blog won’t grow if I don’t make the effort), and 2) associating pleasure with long-term fulfillment (owning a blog that gives value to people).

I could go on and on about the things I’ve learned from Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life, but we don’t have the whole day. I hope you’ll read MLMF and use it to be closer to an intentional and satisfying life.

Book Review: Everything That Remains

Everything That Remains

Who wrote it: Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus (aka The Minimalists)

What it’s all about:

Everything That Remains which is mainly written by JFM, with Ryan giving his thoughts and ideas in the endnote section is about a journey into minimalism. Specifically, it talks about how JFM started as a successful but unhappy director of operations in a telecommunications company and ended up becoming a happy and fulfilled self-employed minimalist who‘s now living a more meaningful life. The book takes the readers through the ups and downs of JFM’s life (such as his divorce, his mom’s death, and his surprise discovery of minimalism) and illustrates how he used these experiences to become a better person who doesn’t rely on pacifiers and who has learned to live intentionally.

Why I like it:

I liked the book even before I read it mainly because it was written by The Minimalists. I love their website, and I was sure I would like their books. And I wasn’t wrong: Everything That Remains is one of the best books I’ve ever read.

One of the things I like the book is that it gives readers an in-depth look into JFM’s life. Some people think this is selfish on his part; in fact, I read one review in Amazon stating that the book was “a long, wordy story about the author’s dysfunctional (sic) childhood, followed by his corporate success. He then shares that he downsized his life, but there are far more pages of mere rambling than there are of interesting dialogue (sic) about his simplicity journey.

I can understand where the reviewer is coming from but, personally, I liked reading JFM’s account from his childhood and to his adulthood because 1) it helped me understand him more, and 2) it helped me understand myself more. As Gretchen Rubin points out, “We’re more like other people than we suppose and we “often learn more from one person’s highly idiosyncratic experiences than we do from sources that detail universal practices or cite up-to-date studies”. So, JFM’s life may be different from my own, but I can definitely relate to his experiences. And, because I now know his background, I‘m able to understand why he has OCD tendencies and why he was driven to become successful to the point that he neglected to focus on the things that matter in life.

I’d also like to point out that Everything That Remains is a memoir. (It says so on the front cover, although JFM and Ryan tell us that we’re “free to call it something else”.) By description, a memoir is an account of a person’s life, and JFM more than delivers in this aspect since his narrative inspires us to transform our own lives and create our own flavour of minimalism. Those who are looking for specific tips on how to become a minimalist can read Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life.

Where to buy it: I bought my copy on Amazon. (If you’re in the Philippines and don’t have a credit card, you can read this and this to know how I managed to buy books online.)

Favourite quotes:

I actually have LOTS of favourite quotes from this book (my copy is striped with yellow highlighter and looks like a neon zebra). I’d like to share a couple of them:

What happens when I accumulate all the stuff and make it past a particular finish line? Unsatisfied, I always immediately start looking for the next finish line.

I’m sure all of us have felt this at some point. You start saving for a pair of designer shoes and, when you buy the shoes you want, you start planning to purchase a designer bag. Then a pair of designer jeans. Then a designer head-to-toe outfit. Or maybe clothes aren’t your trigger; maybe it’s about collecting a certain book series or completing your collection of action figures or even filling your garage with luxury cars. The point is, you probably won’t stop at buying just a single thing: you always want more.

And technically there’s nothing wrong with that since the act of buying things isn’t bad. It’s the act of assigning a higher value than normal to your things that’s bad. Once you push yourself to earn more money to buy more stuff, and once you start worrying that your collection is lacking and that you need to add more to it, that’s when you lose your mind, body, and time to consumerism and become its slave.

And that’s something you don’t want to become.

I’ve always claimed that my priorities are grandly important activities like spending time with family or exercising or carving out enough alone time to write. But they’re not. Until I actually put these pursuits first, until I make these undertakings part of my everyday routine, they are not my actual priorities.

I actually got stricken with guilt when I read these three sentences because I can freaking relate. I studied nursing in college, so I know how important it is to eat nutritious food and exercise regularly and get enough sleep yet I wasn’t doing any of these! Instead of finishing my work early so I could get 8 hours of sleep, I dawdle and spend most of my time browsing through BuzzFeed and end up getting only 5 to 6 hours of shut-eye. Instead of eating healthily, I buy junk food and gobble them down like it’s the end of the world. I know what my priorities should be but I’m not actually prioritising them.

Maybe you can relate. If you can, I encourage you to start changing your priorities and actually doing the things that are important to you, not just making lip service. If you need a gentle push, you can read Everything That Remains and get inspiration from JFM and Ryan’s experiences.

 

Book Review: The 100 Thing Challenge

The 100 Thing Challenge book

Who wrote it: Dave Bruno

What it’s all about:

In the book, Dave Bruno talks about how he came up with The 100 Thing Challenge and decided to undertake it for a year. He outlines the circumstances that he found himself in — dealing not just with clutter at home but also with a discontent that he tried to solve by shopping — and discusses how these pushed him to do the challenge.

Dave walks us through the preparations he had to make for the challenge. These included selling, giving, and throwing away the things that he didn’t really need and dealing with the emotional anguish that came with stripping away layers of stuff and revealing the unfulfilled dreams they cover. He also talks about the experiences he had during the 100 Thing Challenge year as well as the reactions he received from his family, friends, colleagues, and even strangers. Throughout the book, Dave shares his realisations about consumerism, humbleness, and contentment.

Why I like it:

I first learned about The 100 Thing Challenge when I read this article by The Minimalists, but I didn’t really pay attention to it. When I found the book at Booksale, I immediately bought it not because I liked it specifically but because I’m interested in minimalism/simple living books in general. It’s embarrassing, but my first reaction when I started reading was “Ha! I don’t need this.” I’d already learned through The Happiness Project that I was an underbuyer, so I didn’t really think that I had a problem with consumerism. With my strong impulse to save, my aversion to fashion, and my tendency to feel buyer’s guilt after buying anything, how could I possibly have a problem with shopping?

Boy, was I wrong

As I read through The 100 Thing Challenge, I began to realise that I, like many other people around the Philippines and around the world, have issues with consumerism. I’m lucky enough to be born to lower-middle class parents who don’t have money, so I spent my grade school, high school, and college years without being surrounded by luxuries. However, this doesn’t stop me from desiring things. I don’t lust after clothes and handbags like other girls, but I long for books, sneakers, and journals, which still ARE stuff. And, as what Dave mentioned in the book, I place a lot of expectations on the things I buy or want to buy, which is still a sign of a consumerist mind.

I had a lot of realisations after reading the book that I had to write a separate blog post for my thoughts on The 100 Thing Challenge (or else this book review would be too long). So, all I’ll say here is that I really, really liked the book. It’s an eye-opener, whether you already acknowledge that you have a shopping problem or are still in denial that you have consumerist tendencies.

You can even try doing the challenge on your own. After reading the book, I listed the things I use every day (laptop, charger, cooling fan, and electric fan), the things that I wear every day (pangbalay/pambahay clothes like sleeveless tops and pajama bottoms), and other stuff (e.g. my favourite books, colouring books, and colour pencils). Like Dave, I counted my undies as one item (instead of listing them individually) but, unlike him, I counted my books one by one (Dave counted his books as “one library”). All in all, I came up with 114 things. This number can increase if I do a thorough job of counting (I didn’t include my bed, desk, and chair, for instance), but it can also decrease if I try to make do without some of my things (I can probably live without my tablet, three pairs of scissors, and various highlighters if I really had to).

I probably won’t do The 100 Thing Challenge any time soon. However, I will live by its principles and try to create a humble, contented life that doesn’t place a lot of importance on things.

Where to buy it: I got lucky and found my copy while traipsing around Booksale in E-Mall in Cebu. You can probably hunt for one in other Booksale branches or order a copy through Fully Booked or Amazon.

Favourite quotes:

When is the moment we stop looking for something of value and start desiring something that we think will make us more valuable ourselves?

The 100 Thing Challenge has lots of quotes that I love; in fact, my copy is striped in pink highlighter because Dave Bruno has written many wonderful insights that I want to remember. But I chose to feature the question above because it’s something that everyone needs ask, especially when we go shopping.

I don’t know about you, but my buying process usually starts out like this: 1) I decide to get something I need (maybe a new pair of jeans or new shoes). 2) I go to the mall. 3) I browse through the racks. 4) I find something that I like and fits me. 5) I head off to the cash register with the item in hand.

Sounds totally normal, right? But, somewhere between steps 3 and 4, I sometimes find myself going from wanting to buy what I need to wanting to buy something that will make me look and feel cooler. It’s not unique, actually; after all, who doesn’t want to look pretty and attractive? But the problem is this: during the shopping process, I become engrossed in popular brands and often end up buying designer things when I could have just opted for cheaper, unbranded items.

This doesn’t happen often (because I don’t shop often). And I can rationalise this by saying that branded stuff often have better quality and can last longer and that they have bigger sizes that fit me better. But I have to admit that, sometimes, I buy products from big-name brands simply because I want other people to notice that I’m wearing/using branded things.

And that, my friends, is consumerism. Consumerism has many definitions, but one of the moments when you notice its presence is when you go from wanting to fulfill a basic need (e.g. getting a pair of shoes that would protect your feet) to wanting to buy something that will transform you into someone you’re not (e.g. a fashionable “It” girl with a cool pair of kicks).

Book Review: Happier at Home

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Who wrote it: Gretchen Rubin

What it’s all about:

In Happier at Home, Gretchen Rubin outlines her efforts to create a happier home for herself and her family. The book follows the same format as The Happiness Project: every month has a set of resolutions that Gretchen strives to achieve. The difference is that, in Happier at Home, Gretchen starts the project on September instead of January, pointing out that September is a start of something new for many families because it’s when kids go back to school. Throughout the book, Gretchen discusses how she wants to improve her relationship with her husband, become a better parent to her two daughters, appreciate her possessions more without being mastered by them, and achieve other goals.

Why I like it:

I was excited to read Happier at Home, but I wasn’t really expecting that I would like it. I know it sounds crazy, but I wanted to read it simply because Gretchen wrote it. I never thought I would like it, though; in my mind, The Happiness Project will always be the best.

But how wrong I was. Happier at Home is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Through it, I realised just how important it is to be happy at home. Just think: no matter how satisfied you are with your performance at work or school, and no matter how many exciting holidays you take to exotic countries, you still won’t be completely happy if your home life is miserable.

Gretchen has written many wonderful, thought-provoking points throughout the book, though two chapters do stand out from the rest: “September” (which discusses Possessions) and “January” (which talks about Time). I love Gretchen’s suggestions on how to glean a lot of happiness from your possessions without being controlled by them as well as her tips on how to make the most of your time to do the things you want to do. These two things are my weakest links: I find it hard to clear the clutter in our home and manage my time wisely so I won’t get burned out by work.

I also like the part where Gretchen talks about our sense of smell and discusses how we can use good scents to be happier. I definitely agree with her: I feel happier and more confident when I use soaps, body washes, and perfumes that leave me smelling good, and I become happy when I get a whiff of a scent that triggers good memories in my brain. The sad part is that I have allergic rhinitis, so I almost always get a stuffed nose when I come near strong scents, no matter how heavenly they smell. That sucks.

Where to buy it: I bought my copy at National Bookstore in SM City Cebu, though I’ve also found the book in National Bookstore in SM Consolacion and in Fully Booked in Ayala. Of course, you can buy it on Amazon.

Favourite quotes:

“I couldn’t make them happy, no matter how I desired to, and they couldn’t make me happy, either. We all have to find happiness for ourselves.”

I actually have a lot of favourite quotes from the book, and this is one of them. I like it because it reminds me that other people’s happiness is not my responsibility — which is something that I often forget. I have this tendency to want to please people, to make them happy. If I had the power and the money, I’d use them to improve the lives of my friends and family. But I can’t. Even if I give them millions of pesos, they will never be happy if they themselves don’t want to be.

So, instead of trying to become a fairy godmother to other people, I should focus on making myself happy. As what Gretchen wrote, “The only person I can change is myself”, so I must concentrate on making changes in myself that will make me happier in the long run. The list is miles long (there are lots of things I need to change in myself, starting with my weight) and it’s overwhelming, but at least it’s a start.

Book Review: The Happiness Project

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Who wrote it: Gretchen Rubin

What it’s all about:

The Happiness Project outlines Gretchen Rubin’s efforts to be happier and appreciate her life more — without actually making drastic changes. She admits that she’s an unadventurous soul and points out that she wanted to change her life without changing her life. Throughout the book, she talks about the resolutions that she strives to achieve every month and how they affect her level of happiness and her outlook in life. Her resolutions range from simple ones like sleeping early and removing clutter from their apartment to more challenging goals like launching a blog and writing a novel. Along the way, she gives the readers insights about her relationships with her husband, two daughters, sister, parents, in-laws, and friends.

Why I like it:

The Happiness Project is the first proper self-help book I’ve read, and it made me realise that reading self-help books is great. They’re not really entertaining like YA novels and sci-fi books, but they help you learn more about yourself, identify issues in your life, and find ways to deal with them.

The Happiness Project made me ask myself: Am I happy with my life? The answer is “No”. But that’s okay, because life doesn’t have to be perfect. However, it’s important for us to do everything in our power to at least strive for a higher level of happiness. No one else can make us happy; it’s our individual responsibility to make ourselves happier.

I love all the chapters in the book, but one of my favourites is the July chapter which, incidentally, is my birth month! In it, Gretchen talks about “the relationship between money and happiness”. I found this interesting because we’re often told that “The love of money is the root of all evil” but also hear “Money holds the key to happiness”. These contrasting messages can be confusing, especially for someone like me who either holds on to her money tightly or spends it all in one crazy shopping spree.

Gretchen tells in the book that she’s an underbuyer, and I realised that I’m an underbuyer, too (okay, most of the time). She says that this can be a good thing, but it can also be detrimental because she often feels “stressed because I don’t have the things I need” and is “surrounded with things that are shabby, don’t really work, or aren’t exactly suitable”.

I can relate; it took me around two years to work up the courage to buy an expensive bottle of sulphate-free shampoo that won’t strip my scalp of oil and make my hair fall. My thinning hair eventually convinced me to shell out the money for the shampoo — and I’m glad I did or else I would have ended with a bald head in just a few months. (There’s nothing wrong with bald heads, but I think they don’t go well with my chubby cheeks and almost-non-existent neck).

Through The Happiness project, I learned to tame my underbuyer tendencies and treat myself to a modest splurge every once in a while. I also learned to buy needful things, like a new pair of shoes to replace my tattered sneakers that have holes where my toes peek out. Gretchen also taught me to “spend out”, i.e. using things instead of saving them and hiding them in your cabinet. This principle gave me the courage to use my colour pencils instead of just letting them languish on a shelf.

Where to buy it: I bought my copy at National Bookstore in SM Consolacion, but I think it’s available in most National Bookstore and Fully Booked branches.

Favourite quotes:

“I didn’t want to look back, at the end of my life or after some great catastrophe, and think, ‘How happy I used to be then, if only I’d realized it.’”

This really hit home to me because, like many people, I’m prone to assuming that I’ll be happy only when I get to buy a certain thing or travel to a certain country or achieve a certain goal. But this doesn’t have to be the case. Sure, we have to relish the happiness that shopping, travelling, goal-achieving, and other things bring, but we should also learn to be happy where we are now.

Our lives might be boring, but that’s exactly why we should appreciate it: it’s boring because everything is going right. If you were going through treatment for a serious illness or getting imprisoned for a crime you did or didn’t do or dealing with a death in the family, you won’t describe your life as boring; you’d most likely think it was sad and depressing. You’d also feel all sorts of negative emotions. But if you’re bored, it’s a sign that everything is well.

Of course, this DOES NOT mean that boredom is good. Being bored is also a sign that you need to do something to remove apathy from your life and be excited by the thought of living and ultimately achieve happiness. I can’t tell you how to go about this because each of us is unique; what makes me happy may not have the same effect on you. But we can both use The Happiness Project to identify the things that can increase our happiness level and figure out how to achieve them.