mnml

minimalism - sustainability - mindfulness

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I’m not usually one for New Year’s Resolutions. If self-improvement is worth doing, it’s worth beginning now instead of later. Having said that, inspiration struck me last night about a way I could improve my life and it happens to fall of New Year’s eve, so here it is:

  • I’ve decided to organise my calendar.

It may seem like something very small in many ways, but it could possibly have a substantial impact on my life. If there is one thing we’re aware of as humans, it’s that our time is at a premium. Until I decided to map out my timetable in front of me I didn’t realise exactly how much I had to do, and how much free time I have every day to get everything done. As it turns out, there isn’t much time at all, and I don’t even have a full-time job other than my current work writing for mnml.news.

The way I’ve managed my schedule is that everything is broken down into half hour blocks. I’ve read that some highly successful people (which I usually use as a euphemism for rich and aimless) block out their schedules in increments of five minutes [1], but I’m not that crazy, and there are other ways to be productive, such as focusing on intentional living, which I’ll be sure to cover at some point in the future. I also don’t want to schedule my cups of tea and my bowel movements. That sounds like the script from a bad episode of The Big Bang Theory.

What I have done though is break up my work with personal activities in-between (which I can do since I don’t work 9-5) with exercise, going for walks, and meals. I’ve even generously scheduled some free time where I can fit whatever else isn’t in the schedule into that block of two whole hours in the evening.

Some minimalists such as the ever-awesome Matt D'Avella suggest that due to “melatonin fog”, aka sleepiness, we shouldn’t be scheduling anything gruelling very early in the mornings or late in the evening, and our best work is usually created in the mornings once we’re tanked up (on breakfast) and ready to go [2]. It’s pretty good advice for the majority of people and I’ll be following his advice and scheduling most of the more brain-intensive work for after breakfast (and coffee, even though I drink decaf, shh don’t tell my body).

This is just an initial post. I’ll be adding updates and adjusting my schedule as time goes on. I may find that the schedule isn’t working well for me and I can’t stick with it. Only time will tell and even if I fail I’ll ensure to properly pick through my decisions and document them so you can at least see what not to do instead. Wish me luck!


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References:

  1. Successful people are adopting the concept of 'microscheduling,' which involves breaking your day into 5 to 7 minute slots and even planning cups of tea, by Rachel Hosie, 2019
  2. My Morning Routine, by Matt D’Avella, 2019

#newyear #experiment #organisation #calendar

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No Self, No Problem is a new (2019) book by Dr Chris Niebauer, a cognitive neuropsychologist from the USA who specialises in analysing the hemispherical differences between the left and right sides of our brains and how they process input from our senses.

The book looks at Buddhist teachings regarding the western concept of the ‘self’ and postulates that they are correct based upon science’s inability to locate our sense of self in the brain. Buddhism has been teaching these concepts for thousands of years, and it seems that our science is only just beginning to see how right they are.

What does this mean?

In a nutshell, it means that the ego, the ‘me’ that we in the western world consider as the pilot of our bodies, and who we refer to when we talk about ourselves to others, fundamentally doesn’t physically exist in our brains. In the book, Niebauer carefully walks us through cases and cites evidence from numerous tests dating all the way back to early split-brain patients who had invasive brain surgery in the 1960s to help reduce epileptic seizures. Some of the results of these tests were bizarre, and fascinating, and well worth reading about if you have the time.[1] [2]

It may sound strange, but consider this: When we are trying to decide what to order from a menu and ask ourselves “what do I want?” in our mind, who are we talking to?

How does this help us?

The author argues that human belief in the self perpetuates our mental suffering, and we should mindfully re-frame our thoughts with this new concept, to provide ourselves with a happier life. The book goes in-depth into the role the left hemisphere of our brain plays in making assumptions about our environments when we don’t have all the facts: a useful survival trait. Unfortunately it is also one of the main reasons we suffer so much. Just think about the last time you thought someone had snubbed you in the corridor because they didn’t say ‘Good morning’ and how that made you feel for the rest of the day. Why do we assume the worst? Perhaps they were merely busy or didn’t see us.

If you’re looking for a light read on your commute to work, this certainly isn’t a good choice and you’ll quickly find yourself sinking into this wordy-but-accessible volume. It’s written in high-school level vocabulary, but the concepts are rather involved. If you have some time and you’re willing to get stuck into re-reading some paragraphs to fully absorb the information the author is imparting, then climb aboard. My personal favourite part of the book covers our preoccupation with ‘thinking about thinking’, and reminds us that humans process much sensory information every day and place it into different categories. As the author says:

“To think is to think categorically, and there is no way around this.” – Dr. Chris Niebauer

Niebauer points out that categorisation allows us to see patterns, and groups of patterns become our held system of beliefs. Since many of these contain assumptions, any incorrect information could lead to our suffering, especially if the ego concept is threatened in some way. Were we to rid ourselves of the concept completely, when someone decided to attack us verbally, it would merely wash over us because we would consider it to be anger without a directed target to wound.

Opinion: My opinion is that categorisation facilitates both good and bad thinking. For example: It may cause a person to place someone into a category that allows them to be racist, which is obviously a negative trait. However, it also allows us the positive trait of creativity. If we couple our ability to judge and categorise what we see with the left-brain’s ability to fill in the gaps, we can use what we know to ‘make stuff up’. That could lead us to generate new works of art and sublime musical compositions. As ever, there always seems to be a trade-off between the yin and the yang, the light and the dark, and one quite possibly couldn’t exist without the other, from a neurological point of view, and quite possibly a philosophical one as well.

The book also covers:

  • How to tap into the power of using the right brain
  • The role the right brain plays in intuition
  • How yoga and meditation help to reduce left brain chatter

My recommendation

I highly recommend this book. It has helped me personally to catch thoughts that are negative assumptions before they escalate. I now remind myself that without all the facts in my possession my interpretation of a situation is a negative assessment designed to prepare me should the worst happen. Although the book is too complex for most, I believe the concepts written in No Self, No Problem should be taught to children in schools to help children learn coping mechanisms for our increasingly hectic daily lives.

Lastly, when you consider buying a book, please think about the trees used to make the paper. If you have a Kindle, please consider buying an electronic copy instead. They’re often usually cheaper too.

Buy the book from Amazon here.

References

1: The Split Brain in Man, by Michael S. Gazzaniga, 1967 2: Consciousness, personal identity and the divided brain, by Roger Sperry, 1984


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#book #bookreview #psychology #buddhism #meditation #mindfulness

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For those people living outside the UK who may not know, The Royal Mail, our national postal service, is a private company. It has been for a few years now. Unfortunately this means as a commercial entity they’ve opted to begin delivering un-addressed junk mail with the standard letters in our morning post.

Since the number of letters that land on our mats each day has dropped, you mightn’t have noticed. It's important to remember that junk mail is made from paper, and printing in volume creates an enormous amount of waste. If you’re anything like me, you probably bin it all. On principal I won’t read it because I don’t think I should ever be sent marketing in such an environmentally unfriendly way. I also don’t like the idea of having advertising forced into my home without my consent! I should be able to choose if I want it, and thankfully, you can, thanks to a little-known form and five minutes of your time.

For those of you who like me want to stem the tide of paper waste here is how you opt-out:

The Royal Mail service that delivers all this junk is called “Door to Door”. According to their website It reaches over 29 million households. Think of all that wood pulp and the chemicals used to make inks being wasted!

Unfortunately the Royal Mail have made it difficult to opt-out, because they simply don’t want it to happen. There isn’t a simple form, and we need to print out (more paper wastage) a PDF form, fill it in, and send it via Freepost to stop the junk mail. You can download the form by clicking here.

Note: It takes about six weeks before the service begins and the junk mail stops. Opting-out also only last two years, so it might be useful to set a reminder for two years’ time on your phone to renew. All you have to do is print another form.

To further reduce the wastage, you could encourage neighbours on your street to opt-out as well. Mass un-subscription is the best way to tackle the problem. I’m certainly going to encourage our neighbours to do the same!

Naturally this only stops junk mail delivered by the Royal Mail, not all junk mail. If you want to stop hand-delivered junk mail, you’ll need to place a sticker on your letterbox, although they can look a little unsightly and unfriendly. Another method is to use the Mailing Preference Service (MPS), although again that only stops junk mail from providers that read the MPS lists and honour your decision.

Now go for a pleasant walk and post that form!


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#environmentalism #junk #royalmail #wastage #declutter

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If you don’t have the time or dedication to throw everything in your house out in one go, or you’d prefer not to sleep on a bed in the middle of an empty room, I’d suggest my method for ridding yourself of clutter. Select a single item of furniture to clean out each day, or perhaps even per week. It’s a less intense way of thoughtfully (mindfully) disposing of your things. Today it is the turn of my nemesis: the infamous bathroom cabinet.

What a mess!

Is this a familiar sight? Filled with items of unwanted or expired medication, products we tried – then decided we didn’t like, but can’t bear to throw out because that would be wasteful? Well, this is what my bathroom cabinet looks like today. I’m in the same boat as you. But today is the day that changes. It’s time to clean out that medicine cabinet! I will not be hiding things away behind doors any longer. Minimalism isn’t just an aesthetic choice after all, it’s a way of reducing the stuff in our lives to make room for meaningful experiences. It isn’t a pleasant experience to dread opening a cupboard and then rooting around inside to find that one item you were after in a sea of superfluous crap. It’s a waste of time, and the longer we leave it, the more time it takes us to clear up.

Yes, I am aware there are three tubes of toothpaste in my cupboard, and yes, all of them have been opened. I can’t quite remember why. I also can’t for the life of me remember why I have sticky fly traps in there too, but it was possibly to hide them away and make my bathroom appear outwardly tidy.

The easiest thing for us to throw away is the expired medication, so I can say goodbye to the cold and flu medicine from last year, and also my expired asthma inhaler. This has the added bonus of reminding me that I need to order another one, and should I have an asthma attack in the future I’ll be sure to thank past me for cleaning out my cupboard for me!

Other things we might want to finally consider throwing out are those opened items we don’t want anymore but aren’t empty. Consider: The only difference between throwing them out now and in six months’ time is that time will have passed. If there is no difference, and a cleaner cabinet would reduce our stress and make opening that cabinet more of a pleasure than a chore, why not do it now?

It somehow all came out colour coordinated. That’s a total fluke – I assure you.

I counted everything before I threw it out and I originally had 30 items in there. The cabinet will menace me no-more!

So now I have:

  • The facility to brush my teeth (toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, mouthwash)
  • Skincare products (x3)
  • One bottle of cologne
  • Shaving supplies (razor, shaving cream, spare blades)
  • a comb
  • Topical pain relief cream
  • Natural deodorant

Total: 14 items

I moved:

  • My penknife, which shouldn't have been in there in the first place

I rid myself of:

  • A lot of expired meds
  • A type of deodorant I never used
  • Hair products
  • Excess tubes of toothpaste
  • Extra shaving supplies (again superfluous)

I threw away: 15 items

And that's just about all I need day-to-day. You may need more, or you may need less. I have special skincare requirements so you might not need a cleanser, scrub and moisturizer like I do. That truly is a need, since I don't want to end up with eczema and look like I have sunburn, even in winter.

Now would be a good point to mention sustainability. Much of the items in this cupboard are mainstream products and they are not sustainable over the long-term. There is some deodorant in there made from salt, and a natural warming muscle pain reliever made with capsicum pepper, both of which work well for me but that is just about all there is currently. This is an issue I will need to address in a future post as these items are used up. When I have found planet-friendly alternatives and replaced them all I will try this again. It’s also a good way for all of you to check up on me to ensure I’m sticking to my minimalist ethic. If I’ve filled my cupboard again I’ll know I’ve been a naughty boy, and you will too.

#declutter #minimalism #mess #minimising

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For the majority of us, the election result changes very little. Unfortunately those who will encounter the greatest adversity are often marginalised people such as the homeless, a problem that has always existed, and would continue to exist for some time regardless of the recent outcome.

It is important to keep in mind that the result doesn’t change who we are or for what we stand.

As for me, it would have been beneficial had a Labour government come to power. The main setback I have been facing for the past several years is that my benefits for having autism, an “incurable” lifelong condition, were stopped by what I regard as unfair capability assessments that border on discriminatory. This effectively reduced my income to zero. That little fact remains as unchanged today as it was three years ago. Even a labour government would not have effected a change to that little fact very rapidly despite their promises. When one party is elected into office slowly undoes the ‘progress’ of the others over time. The system is one of opposing forces that eventually strikes a balance when another goes too far in their pursuit of policies following their ideals. Eventually the current government will be blamed for the ‘mess’ we are in (whatever that may be), and another party will come to power. Then they will be blamed for the same when a utopia fails to emerge. An endless cycle. It’s hardly surprising.

At this moment I exist on the kindness of others and their donations of time and money that allow me to survive in this world. I am eternally grateful to them. I am proof that such kindness exists. I wouldn’t be here writing this blog entry otherwise.

Regardless of the current state of our country, in the home where I live the visitors can still expect my freshly baked banana bread. The garden is open to everyone to stop in when they need to relax. If you want to utilise my computer to surf the web or play games, you still can. It could be argued that more change and positive progress is made in my home on the small scale than the government ever achieves over the same amount of time.

I still meditate every day and practice my yoga to ease tension. My home is a model of sharing and socialism. If you surround yourself with sharing and caring environmentalists, that is the world you inhabit. I very rarely encounter these conservative right-wing people in my everyday life. I avoid them because they seem extreme in my eyes, and they likely avoid me, probably for what they perceive to be the same reason.

The election had another positive outcome for me. Those placards encouraging people to vote outside homes showed me that there are a lot of people who share my ideals. There are a lot more potential friends in my village than I had originally thought.

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Two stems of Oxalis Triangularis, better known as the Purple False Shamrock.

I decided that I would create a social media presence to let people know this website is online and ready to accept visitors. It sounds simple doesn’t it? Come one, come all to the new mnml.news site. Well it would have been if I hadn’t chosen Instagram as one of the networks to advertise the fact. If you didn’t know already (and if you don’t, you’re probably a much better minimalist than I) it primarily uses images with text as a caption.

Unfortunately, when I decided to take a nice simple photograph of one of my potted plants (I’m a keen gardener) in a style blatantly stolen/copied/as a homage to The Minimalists, I fell right back into maximalism. I immediately thought: “What do I need to get to take this picture?”.

I have a pretty good camera, and a phone, so I can physically take an image, but a minimal image needs a big white background or a light tent or some other fancy piece of equipment, right? I was already shopping through the ideas in my mind. The feeling of excitement from window shopping, or in my case, pre-window shopping is palpable. That white background I suddenly decided I wanted was now at the forefront of my mind.

When I finally caught myself I was shocked by how easily I had become distracted. Why did I need a white background? All the walls in my house are white. I already had everything I needed to take the photograph for this essay. In the end I altered the colours to a two tone orange and purple to further push these demons out of my head, and individualise the image a little more.

Quite simply: my brain was craving that little jolt of endorphins built into each of us when we ‘treat’ ourselves to something new. It’s time for me to admit, I’m addicted to newness. Our brains seem wired that way. I’m living my life moving constantly from one new thing to the next, quickly tiring of the last great new thing I bought. What’s worse, it’s getting more and more difficult to feel excited about new things. That little jolt becomes more and more difficult to trigger, requiring a more extravagant purchase each time.

Do you remember when something as simple as a balloon on a stick made you happy as a child?

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Our garden as it started.

When we moved into our new house, our ‘garden’ was a bare patch of earth that had been loosely tilled into fist-sized clods of soil. The garden, as with most new-build properties, is tiny. It’s about 10 metres by 8 metres in size. I was not an avid gardener until I moved here, but I’ve found a talent for helping things to grow that I never knew I had. When people asked me about plants before I would tell them I had a black thumb and would kill every indoor plant I touched.

Since then I’ve been giving out plants as presents to people, partly because I don’t have the room in my home, and partly because I’m helping people to clean the air in their homes and create the same sense of calm and wellness they give to me daily.

So if there was any one meaningful thing I could tell someone to do today, it would be to go and plant a tree. Why you ask? Well here are a couple of amazing facts about trees:

The same garden 14 weeks later.

I’ve planted several trees in my garden since moving in several months ago. Alas when taking into account their final size in 10+ years time I can’t fit any more of them without stunting their growth. Just remember that a tree needn’t cost you anything to grow. Some of my trees are from the pips of an apple I planted in a pot instead of throwing into the food waste bin. The little seedings are now doing their bit to help sequester carbon. If you have limited space you can grow them in pots too. IF they become too large, simply replace them with another tree and mulch the existing one back into the ground to keep that carbon locked away. Don’t burn them!

Such immense satisfaction can come from watching something grow that you planted and nurtured yourself. A sense of meaning and purpose to your life as you do something small every day to reverse the negative impact the media keeps telling us we are having on our environment. Their negativity and pessimism is contagious, and it often left me feeling that I was powerless to make a change. The real change comes from within each of us, when we choose to ignore the media and try anyway. After all, isn’t it the struggle that counts?

Just remember that planting a garden does create an obligation to keep those plants alive, so it tethers you and removes some of your freedom. If it’s something you enjoy, it might feel freeing, but if it doesn’t, then it will seem like a chore. Try it and see for yourself. On that note, if you’d like to find out more about the concept of freedom in the context of minimalism, I suggest reading Everything That Remains: A Memoir by The Minimalists.


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I'm not the best when it comes to avoiding distractions. Before I decided to become a minimalist, I would always try to find more ways, gadgets or apps to help me to focus. That is where I found a trap in human thinking seems to exist. It's tempting to feel that something more needs to be done to solve a problem, rather than merely letting it be. Purchasing an organiser or time management app on a smartphone comes with the promise of helping by offering a way to remember things for us, but with a price tag that ultimately means you need to work harder to earn more to pay for that purchase. Locked into this maximal stupor as I call it, I'd never considered the word reduce in 'reducing distractions'. You can't do less by adding to the complexity of your life by owning more and more things (even software), with greater and greater financial responsibilities.

Since then I've learned that the trick is to put things away, or better yet rid yourself of them! Change that impulse to buy into an impulse to do. That is one aspect of, but not all there is, to living life as a minimalist. Lowering financial commitments by way of a smaller list of tasks to do during the day helps with feeling overwhelmed by life, particularly if they are tedious or meaningless to you. Living an intentional, meaningful life is the key to happiness, not the accumulation of things. That long list of tasks is only going to make those interesting diversions in the form of acquiring stuff more appealing! It becomes an endless negative cycle if we're not careful. Why not turn it on it's head? Make it a positive cycle of regularly weeding out the unnecessary extras in life instead.

It sounds simple doesn't it? Unfortunately it goes against the institution of capitalism, which dictates we should all compete for money and resources until its ultimate end. And it can only end one way, where someone wins and owns everything, the ultimate winner of life who has everything they could ever want and more. But will that make them happy? Money can't buy a sense of friendship and belonging, which I find all my stuff and ultimately my life is completely meaningless without.

That is one of my main reasons for creating mnml. A way to focus the thoughts I already have into something more productive than keeping them to myself, especially when they may benefit others. From this point onward I'll be offering them on subjects related to minimalism in my capacity as a writer. You're quite welcome to read them! This is partly therapy for me, and perhaps it will also help you too.

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