minimalism - sustainability - mindfulness

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Life rarely goes the way we want. That's an overused, but accurate assessment of the way many people feel, especially at a time when our freedoms have been limited by the spread of the coronavirus.

During this time, many of us have chosen to play games, like the wildly popular Animal Crossing, which seems to have come along at just the right time, and escape into a virtual world to socialise and find some comfort away from the problems posed by our real lives.

I'm no exception.

I play computer games to escape the problems of my life, and, unlike many in the media, I believe it to be a vital mechanism for dealing with stress.

In reality I'm a 35 year-old graduate stuck at home, trying to deal with the alcoholism of a family member who lives far away, whilst attempting to reconcile my own mental health problems, and deal with the financial fallout the extended lockdown in the UK has caused for me personally.

In a game such as Animal Crossing, I live on a remote island paradise that I can control. There are no obligations, and I can indulge my passion for design to my heart's content. There are no money worries, because you directly 'earn' rewards that are proportionate to the amount of effort you put into the game. This 'other life' is completely under my thumb. I dictate everything, including how long I spend there. An hour a day is sufficient to bring a feeling of calm before returning to reality.

In actuality, it bears little difference to other forms of escapism, such as reading books, watching TV or going to the movies. The only exception I have noticed is that the interactivity of video games makes them more engrossing.

Granted, escapism does very little to actually deal with the problems directly, but indirectly it helps me to see my choices more clearly by calming me down. The calm is better for my physical health too, which obviously can become another source of stress at a time when I don't need more.

As long as those of us who indulge in this form of escapism take the time to act in our real lives, and don't retreat into the fantasy completely, it can be healthy and at least for me, a vital link in the mental health chain for which I have found no substitute.

I believe it should be noted that escapism is the opposite of mindfulness, and that too is something that can be used to deal with stressful thoughts by grounding ourselves in reality and the present moment. Both methods are valid, although at times when we've all had too much reality, switching off from the problems of the world and our lives by taking a virtual holiday seems more logical than a real one, especially when you take potential virus transmission into account.

In short: stay home, stop reading the paper, put your phone on silent and play a game for an hour a day. You might find a solution to one of those problems suddenly hits you when you're not paying it any attention.

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In my experience, many people associate minimalism with the online images of a perfect monochromatic environment frozen in time, ever unchanging. It’s a comforting thought. Never again needing to clean, to accumulate more things, and the image exudes a timeless quality that doesn’t diminish on the whims of the latest trends, or wear out with age.

What you might not be aware of is the mess that was created off-camera to craft that perfect moment. A sea of tripods, cables and lighting, as well as props of all kinds usually monopolise the rest of the room. As I was browsing through my usual sources of inspiration online, I looked at the photographs used by a similar blog to this one: Minimalism Life, by The Minimalists. The articles are witty, and the headlines hook you into clicking and reading more, but the imagery has always bothered me.

The vast majority of the photographs materialise from the same place online: A repository for free stock photography. The trouble is exactly that: they’re stock photographs of simple monochrome scenes and objects. They happen to employ keywords that facilitate a user looking for ‘minimalism’, but they’re not directly related to the article in any way. After all, isn’t minimalism the lack of things? How can one photograph what isn’t there? Unfortunately: Imagery is generally very important online. As I’m sure most people will agree, someone is more likely to read an article if there are pictures to go with the blocks of text. They should really be related, and ideally taken by the writer themselves, even if they aren’t as ‘picture perfect’ as those taken by professional photographers. The photograph should accentuate the meaning of the original writing. That is best done with an equally original image.

The point I’m driving at is the pursuit of perfection often distracts us from the message, and the pursuit of perfect minimalism, the kind that appears on the front of a glossy magazine, is no exception.

Labelling yourself as a minimalist and feeling pressured into measuring yourself against that label each and every day can be a source of stress. Especially if you are constantly asking yourself, “If I buy this thing, can I call myself a minimalist anymore?”

Everyone, even minimalists will have an extra slice of cake on their birthday, or make an impulse buy every once in a while. Part of the trick is not to beat yourself up over it afterwards, but rather ask what made that impulse buy so special in the first place. Life is all about balance, and the chances are if you’re using everything you buy, you’re not tripping over everything to reach the front door, and you aren’t in debt, then you’re doing just fine.

If you find yourself in the contrary position, however, perhaps you can benefit from some minimalist practices in your life. Just arm yourself with the prescience of mind that most of the minimalist images around the Internet are a fantasy scenario of perfection none of us can have.

To that end, I’m planning on creating simple sketches as a part of my morning mindfulness to go with each article from now on, unless there is a photograph that better suits. The images will always be mine, but perhaps these sketches will illustrate my state of mind on the day when I also write an entry such as this. They may not be directly related on topic, but they are directly related in as much as all the content here comes from me, and it always will.


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Several months ago I decided to replace my slow PC with a faster one. I went forward with the best of intentions and, for the sake of the environment, I bought the component parts of a desktop PC and assembled it myself. This was during the Coronavirus lockdown when it was difficult to get out of doors and a PC was really an essential piece of equipment for the sake of staying in touch with family and friends, as well as keeping occupied with the odd game here and there.

Fast forward to August of the same year, and I've had numerous problems with both the computer and the company that sold me the parts, which eventually culminated in my decision to buy a Chromebook and minimise my dependency on PCs in general. I hadn't originally factored the potential stress the purchase may cause because I was excited at the prospect of all the things I would be able to do with the new machine.

The point of my experience, and the reason I'm writing about it is that this has been a learning experience, though a costly one. Life is full of such pitfalls, but sometimes they can lead to radical positive changes in our lives. Naturally I will still try to get the PC fixed because I don't like the idea of wasting resources, but I will not be buying another one when it reaches end of life. I also won't be buying any further software for it in the future, saving money on 'impulse' software buys. The Chromebook is enough for my professional needs as both a photographer and writer, and much easier to replace should anything go wrong with it because it is about 8 times cheaper than the desktop PC. There are also numerous environmental benefits to owning a Chromebook which I won't get into here for the sake of brevity.

It may have cost me a lot of money over the short term to find out that I don't want a PC any longer, but at the same time it has saved both money and resources if I don't buy one again. That's 40 or so years free from the tyranny of Microsoft and Apple. Often people lament these short-term losses, forgetting they may make long-term gains. Having a Chromebook has already proven beneficial to me, and it has stopped me sitting in one place for hours at a stretch, glued to my screen. In fact I'm currently writing this entry while sat in a car, miles from home.

In conclusion, it's important to know that you needn't be afraid to make changes in your life, even if you feel people may judge you for them over the short term. Do what is right to support your long-term well-being, and even though you may feel a momentary pang of guilt for having made a mistake, you will reap the benefits in the long run.

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Writers on the Internet aren't saints. They don't start out with a picture-perfect Instagram life, but they strive to make it appear that way to sell copies of their books and gain subscribers on their Patreon accounts. Minimalism to some is a new fad, which is rife with commercial entities detracting from the essence of the message, and subverting it to sell more products. In short, commercialised minimalism is maximal-ism all dressed up. It's meant to make you feel good about yourself, and trick you into buying more, instead of buying intentionally.

This may sound sinister, but the companies don't hide the fact they want you to buy things. They also don't make it obvious that it's a clever marketing trick either. The trick that we, the consumers can employ is to keep in mind that a company is far different an entity than that of a person. A person often speaks favourably to you in order to make friends, because human beings are social creatures who feel safer in larger groups rather than by themselves. This forms a mutually beneficial partnership. A company, however, wants to make money, and speaks kindly to you to encourage you to open your wallet and spend. In the long run, a large company makes so much money that if it were a person, their wealth would be seen as decadent and distasteful, especially in this age of austerity. Remember: Companies are not your friend, and don't deserve your loyalty in the way a real person does.

This approach encourages us to think of our belongings and companies as tools and services we use in exchange for a fee. They are machines, manned and maintained by people but they aren't people themselves. We pay them, and so they are inclined to render goods and services in exchange for that payment. Perhaps we are hardwired to see a machine like a smartphone as more than the wad of cash we exchange for it, because paper can't play cat videos or order pizza. Just keep in mind that the money you're paying is valuable, finite, and universal. It can be used everywhere, unlike that phone, and it won't depreciate in value to nothing over time, just like your phone does, either. All in all, a company almost always ends up on the more profitable side of a transaction in the long run.

I'm not saying we need to do away with companies, nor am I saying people should stop buying things. is not sensationalist, with attention-grabbing clickbait headlines. It's just important that we look into whom it is we're buying from, and their ethics, before making a purchase.

To that end, I've created what I will refer to as 'The List'. Which you can reach by clicking here.

The List is a constantly updated list of books, products and services I regularly maintain that generally run on ethical practices including psychologically uplifting texts, support the paying of fair wages, using recyclable/user-repairable materials and products, or encourage reforestation and the spread of wildlife and wildflowers. In short, if you feel you can trust me to do the digging for you, then you can be assured that you're buying something that is less damaging to society than mainstream products.

Final Note: I am not affiliated with any of the companies I recommend, and were they to approach for a review I would be compelled to give honest feedback, regardless of if it is favourable or otherwise. Any such review would also be labelled as sponsored if they are providing the goods. – David

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Another recipe! This is simple and easy to make from home, but with a Vegan twist. This coffee-flavoured drink originated from Korea, but I've adapted it a little for Western palates. Most people will have these ingredients laying around their home, and you can obviously substitute all the vegan ingredients for dairy and make a more mainstream version.

Please note that the recipe only works with instant coffee and cannot be made with espresso. Whipping the air into the mixture to create the foam fails with anything else. Chemistry!


Makes one coffee

  • Half a glass of oat milk
  • One tsp instant Coffee granules (I used Carte Noir)
  • One tsp agave syrup (I used this to replace the refined cane sugar called for in the original)
  • Boiling water
  • Ice cubes (usually about 5 average-sized ones work well)


Pour the oat milk into a glass, add ice cubes and set aside. Begin to heat some water and put the coffee granules and syrup into a small bowl with high sides. When the water boils, add just enough water to make the granules dissolve completely into a thick coffee and syrup mixture. Using an electric whisk or electric mixer on the lowest setting, begin to whip air into the mixture until it starts the froth, gradually increasing the speed as you go to avoid splashes. The instant coffee granules and the sugar reacting together to trap the air make this effect possible! After a minute or so, the characteristic foam will form. The foam is complete when the colour changes to a very light brown and the whisk leaves soft peaks behind. Immediately spoon the foam onto the chilled oat milk and serve.

I generally advise serving with a spoon because this drink tastes best when some of the coffee foam is mixed into the milk. Otherwise you get the not altogether unpleasant taste of coffee foam completely separate from the oat milk below it. It's an art!

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As Cal Newport wrote in his bestseller Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, Digital Minimalism is:

“A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimised activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.”

It's a fascinating idea to consider using technology as only a tool to support your values and ignore all the aspects that don't actively lead to furtherance of your goals, even though it is obviously easier said than done.

Technology companies have developed this addictive cycle of 'want' over the course of the last couple of decades, making us throw away perfectly good technology in favour of a very similar 'upgraded' version of the same device year after year. On the software side of things the outlook is similar: keep the user clicking through an endless stream of information mindlessly day after day, so they see more and more advertising that nets the company ever-increasing profits.

I know the outlook sounds bleak, but it doesn't have to be that way. When you ask yourself 'Why am I using this social media platform?' it's usually because you feel you'll be missing out on something if you're not connected to your friends. Sure, it's nice to see pictures of what they are doing, but there are other ways to connect with friends, and they are posting their content out to the world in a very unfocused way because they too have less time thanks to the social media onslaught. If they sent those pictures via WhatsApp or MMS message to a select group of people, the result would feel more personal and they wouldn't have the hassle of trying to maintain a pool of hundreds of 'friends', most of whom they haven't truly spoken to in years.

To help combat this issue in my everyday life, I've made the switch from a PC to a Chromebook in my everyday life. It isn't devoid of social media presence; quite the opposite, but it has far fewer distractions and it's essentially made for typing. I'm also planning on ditching my smartphone for a mobile phone. I refuse to call it a dumb phone because in a way that's something I feel is a technique used by companies to prevent people from buying them. Why would you want to own anything 'dumb'?

The phones I have my sights set on are the MP02 from Punkt, and the Light Phone II. Both offer data tethering, and I can connect my Chromebook to them when I am out and about. This means I'll have to find somewhere to sit, open the laptop, connect to the Internet and begin working. Using a computer becomes an intentional activity, and this prevents walking around glued to a screen all day.

As an avid photographer, it also means I can carry my proper camera with me instead of my phone and concentrate on making better images. The Chromebook even supports Lightroom and Photoshop and sports an SD card slot, so I can edit pictures while I enjoy a responsible socially-distanced cup of take-away coffee when I am out.

I believe this new plan I've devised begins to fall into what Cal described in the quote above. I'm focusing on a small number of activities I value, rather than mindlessly flicking through social media apps. I've never been so happy to be ignorant of what others are doing in their day to day lives!

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I’m including a recipe here this time as a break from the usual content on the site. I use mindfulness regularly when I am doing different tasks and lately the garden has been a rather inhospitable place with storm Ciara and the subsequent cold weather that has followed in it’s wake. As a result I’ve turned my mindfulness exercises onto cooking and crafting items. This is one of my favourite recipes I’ve spent a while working on, slowly altering the ingredients until I have arrived at something that works for me. As ever, you should take my recipe and make it your own. Find out what works for you and change the quantities until it becomes your recipe. Write it down, and then distribute it to others. Consider it to be a part of your own mindfulness practice.

Note: Almost any biscuits will work for the cheesecake base if they do not go soggy when liquids are added to them. This is why digestives are often used. Rich tea biscuits do go soggy in liquids, and so they would not be a good choice. The main issue with digestives is that they contain a high amount of saturated fat per biscuit, which is 8% (according to the food label on classic McVittie’s Digestives) of your daily allowance. That’s really high! If you want to make your cheesecake healthier, try using different biscuits instead, such as the excellent Misura Biscotti Integrali, with only 1% of your daily saturated fat per biscuit!


300g blueberries 1 tsp vanilla extract 40g maple or agave syrup 250g firm tofu 1/3 tsp stevia 1 vegi-gel or agar powder sachet 2 bananas 60g sunflower spread 20 crushed biscuits (digestives work best)


Prepare the biscuit base in a 20cm springform pan by melting the sunflower spread and pouring over crushed biscuits. Chill in the fridge overnight. The next day, slice the bananas and place them uniformly over the prepared base. In a food processor, combine the first five ingredients and blend them until they are smooth. Prepare the gelatin according to package instructions in 50g of water, making enough to set 650g of liquid. Thoroughly blend the gelatin into the blueberry mixture. Pour into the prepared springform. Chill the cheesecake for at least 24 hours to allow the gelatin to set, and for the tofu to absorb the flavours of the other ingredients. Serve with banana slices for garnish and whipped cream or a drizzle of agave/honey if desired.

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A peace lily (spathiphyllum bellini) in bloom.

I write a lot about living life intentionally. Your personal surroundings should be as intentional as you live rest of your life. For me, that means plants. Lots of them. Plants are an attractive feature to any home, and unlike ornamentation they have several practical purposes:

For one, They clean the air. My peace lily (spathiphyllum wallisii) is a good remover of harmful airborne particles. NASA found this out during tests conducted in 1989 for possible future cultivation in space. The tests were conducted in sealed chambers and the peace lily successfully removed high quantities of benzene, trichlorethylene and formaldehyde from the air. [1]

They help to reduce stress. Speaking from experience, I’ve found that I’m a lot happier sitting at my desk at home when there are plants in view. My peace lily sits in a pot next to me, and I’ve many other plants in view on windowsills throughout the house. Unlike a designer vase or a sculpture, they look attractive without breaking the bank.

My sokan style Buddhist pine (podocarpus macrophyllus) at home on a south-facing windowsill, along with a gynura aurantiaca, ceropegia woodii and red aglaonema.

They’re an opportunity for mindfulness. Bonsai have long been an integral part of zen meditation. Not just as something to meditate while observing, but also using the act of pruning, watering and training the branches as a form of mindfulness practice. By concentrating on a peaceful task it helps to ground our thoughts in the present moment, rather than letting our minds drift onto something we’ve been worrying about. It doesn’t have to be bonsai trees either since gardening creates an enjoyable pastime. Whether it’s on a small balcony or in a huge country garden, it can be very rewarding, especially when plants we grow do so much for our physical and mental well-being. Most of my meditation practice in gardening can be traced to the book Gardening for Mindfulness by Holly Farrell [2]. It encourages us to consider how plants engage all of our senses through their pleasant appearance, the texture of the leaves, their smell, the sounds they make as they rustle on a windy day, and ultimately how we can taste some of them by adding them to different dishes. This sensory monopolisation proves to be entirely positive, unlike some other diversions (such as technology) that often have negative effects on our moods and energy levels.

The moral of this post? Buy a plant, give it a name, put it on your desk, talk to it, and help it to grow. There’s nothing more rewarding than caring for a life, especially when it gives you so much in return. It’s like having a child, except plants won’t answer back with snarky remarks!


1. Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement, By Dr B.C. Wolverton et al, 1989

2. Gardening for Mindfulness, by Holly Farrell, 2017

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Note: I’m not one for recommending people download or buy just anything. If I make a recommendation on this blog it is because I truly believe it will add value to your life in some positive way. That said, please do consider if such a thing is suitable for you and make a mindful informed choice regarding its suitability!

As I’ve said many times before, I believe in lifelong learning. I try to learn something new every single day. Unfortunately I have found it increasingly difficult to find small snippets of information from reliable sources through web searches. Websites often send you around the houses, and the articles aren’t even original, having been copied from somewhere else entirely. Instead of spending half my life fact-checking what I’m reading, I’ve taken to using an app on my phone called Blinkist.

It’s a novel concept: They take the essence of an entire book and squeeze it into several short text and audio clips called ‘blinks’. They really are quite short, lasting only a few minutes. You could read or listen to the entire series about a book within half an hour, or pace yourself and spread it out throughout your week. I mostly listen to the audio versions because the narration is so emotive and really conveys the meaning well. Some of the blinks are even read by the original author of the book, just as you might expect to find with a regular audiobook!

The library they have is extensive (over 3,000 entries) and grows each month; including books on personal development, psychology, history and science to name just a few topics. All the books are non-fiction, so it is better for those who want to spend their time learning rather than listening to a good story. After all, who would want to cut up a novel into blinks? It would ruin the flow of the story!

Speaking of the full books…. At first I was concerned that the authors, by offering their books as blinks might be talking prospective customers out of buying from them, but this didn’t happen with me anyway. I found that their blinks whet my appetite just enough to know I was interested in finding out more of what the author had to say, and so I went on Amazon and bought the Kindle versions of the book to read in more detail. It’s very clever and a great way to learn if a book matches your interests beyond the blurb on the back cover.

If you’re looking for specific blinks to read I heartily recommend (if you don’t have time to read the full books) those on minimalism by The Minimalists, Cal Newport and Leo Babauta. When you’re done with those, why not try We Are All Weird by Seth Godin and Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon. Both of them have been fascinating to listen to and they beat listening to or reading the news on the morning commute. Why constantly depress yourself with the world’s current events when you can learn something new, and arrive at work positive and energised for the day ahead!

You can download Blinkist for the iPhone here.

You can download Blinkist for Android here.

It’s important to note that there is one negative aspect of Blinkist, and that is their subscription model is slightly misleading. The monthly subscription is £9.99 per month, or £5.00 if you pay a yearly fee of £59.99. The upgrade page displays the £5.00 a month in very large letters, and then that the purchaser will be paying £59.99 for the entire year in very small writing beneath that. There is no actual £5.00 per month subscription so it's slightly sneaky. It’s just worth noticing so you aren’t caught out with an unexpected charge of £59.99 for the whole year. You can click “View All Plans” to find a £9.99 one, which is better for the first month if you want to see if you find it interesting enough to subscribe for an entire year.

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Note: This is an opinion piece, written without reference to other sources. Please treat it as such.

“You needn't settle for a mediocre life just because the people around you did.” ― Joshua Fields Millburn, Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life

I was told in school how my life would turn out. It was a method our teachers used to control us and make us conform by impressing how important it was to pay attention in class. You’ll go to school, then university, get a job, a car, a house, settle down, and have children. After a while, I heard this sequence so much that it became the anticipated outcome. Just as long as I stuck to the rules, my life would be blissfully dull.

So I created a list of things I needed to live a happy life:


  • A good school record
  • A university degree
  • A job
  • A car
  • A house


  • A partner
  • Some children

It seems (through my personal observation) there are many people out there with all those things who are still searching for something more. Perhaps those things don’t make us as happy as we think they do, and we don’t realise it until we have everything and still feel empty. People are obviously the part of the list that is most important, because we’re a social species, but we need more than just other people to find fulfilment in our own lives. After all, we need to feel useful, as though our life has a purpose, and that we’re contributing to the whole somehow.

Unfortunately my life didn’t fit into the above list. Reality shattered my expectations, and it affected my mental and physical health as a result. I was bullied in school, so I switched to another one and my grades suffered because it had limited resources. Finally I ended up at university at the age of 29. I completed my degree at age 34, and I’ve been looking for work ever since….

I’m sure the list works out for some people. They have managed to live their lives without questioning the plan society has for them. Perhaps it aligns with their wishes, or perhaps they were made to think that through repetition, as I was. Perhaps they simply haven’t had their expectations shattered just yet….

One example of my breaking from the mold was when I told my mother I didn’t want children, which goes against the natural and socially acceptable convention in most societies. She looked wounded because she wouldn’t get any grand-children. My feelings regarding children are based upon the state of our planet and the degradation of our society in the United Kingdom, but even though it makes sense from a logical perspective, to go against the wishes of our families can be jarring for them, and difficult to rationalise away with facts. I also considered the pressure this might make my sister feel, since if my mother was to have any grand-kids it now rested with her.

The point I am making is that my life has been 'unsuccessful' when considering the meaning most of us place on the word. I haven’t a full-time job, I don’t drive a car, I don’t have my name on the deed to a house, and I don’t want any kids of my own. My life as it has been, however, is anything but mediocre. It has been exciting, terrifying and crazy, and all at the same time. My life is a twisted dissonance of different events all somehow squished into my 35 years. I’ve managed to live that way without having been on a holiday in 15 years, or any other of those coveted possessions on the list until fairly recently when I graduated with my BA in Photography.

“Reject the basic assumptions of civilization, especially the importance of material possessions,” ― Joshua Fields Millburn, Everything That Remains: A Memoir by The Minimalists

Somewhere along the way we drink the Kool-aid of material wealth as a sign of success. However, success is entirely based on the assumption we’re all playing with the same goal in mind. When you change the meaning of success, you change the rules of the game. Minimalism is one such way of changing the rules and taking back control of our definition of what it means to be alive.

So how do you measure success? Chances are that most people will look at my traditional list above and say “If I achieve that, I’ll have had a pretty good life.”

I’m not saying education isn’t important. I believe in lifelong learning of skills: learning skills makes me feel useful, capable, and ultimately, happy. But there are quite a lot of material possessions linked with each one of these items, from buying a laptop for school to furniture for a house. Is that linked to your measurement of your own success too? Are these possessions an outward sign of how you show others how successful you are?

Minimalism is partially about ridding oneself of the outward signs of success. It requires us to be content with our own individual definition of what constitutes a meaningful existence without advertising it to the world through what we own. Ultimately any purchase made as a statement of wealth is devoid of meaning to it’s owner because it serves no practical purpose. It’s just an extra item on the mantel to dust each week and wastes time. It was bought for the benefit of others.

Example: Did the last smart phone you bought offer functionality beyond the previous one that you actually used? Perhaps you bought it because you felt you needed to be seen to have the latest gadget. After all, you don’t want to be seen to be out-of-touch in this fast-paced world. Unfortunately it means you bought it for the benefit of others rather than for yourself. If you bought a new phone after a year, it would not have offered a substantial upgrade over the previous model, and you paid a hefty sum of money at the same time. Our drive to conform to the collective is exploited again here at the expense of our financial well-being.

One thing I have noticed in moving from the poorer area where I lived for over twenty years to a much more affluent one within the last 5 is that the truly monetarily rich people are so comfortable with the balances in their bank account that they don’t need to flaunt their wealth. They often drive the oldest and most beaten-up cars instead of constantly recycling nearly-new ones or leasing them for a hefty premium. There is something we can all learn here, and that is we don’t need possessions to tell us who we are. We need to consider that possessions are a sign of our insecurity. If you can feel secure without them, then you’re free from society’s cycle of forced mediocrity.

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