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My simplification path

How simplification brought order into my life.

In 2017 I moved to Zurich for a one-year student exchange. On Thursday morning, I managed to fail my last physics exam, then in the evening, I packed my suitcases. On Friday morning at 6:00, I boarded my flight to Zurich. Lectures started on Monday, so I had the weekend to settle in. I took with me 2 large suitcases and a backpack full of books. At least 50 kg of language. Then someone brought me my skiing gear and two 24 inch screens and some other crap.

Then after my first 6 months in Zurich, I had to move to another apartment. Since I was on the road for a month, I rented a storage facility. When moving my belongings, I noticed for the first time how much stuff I brought along that I never used. Once I moved into my new tiny room and managed to stuff in all my belongings, the whole place felt pretty claustrophobic. There was a moment when my possessions almost resulted in me being on the street :) Since I had so much stuff, I had to get an extra wardrobe. Apparently, I wasn’t supposed to put any new furniture in my room. So after three months I came home, and there was a notice:

Hey, we will kick you out if you don’t get rid of the extra furniture.

Yikes.

In the next few months, I started feeling anxious, I stopped doing sports, lost control of my schedule. When I moved to Zurich at the start of 2017, my schedule was planned to a minute. Some of my friends mocked me that I had a toilette in the calendar. To prove them wrong:

Schedule screen shot

Later on, I was waking up at 4:00 in the morning :) Some might say I was leaving the productivity dream. Was I? For some time, yes. But then I fall off the cliff. Hard. I started blowing up deadlines. Too many movies… My brain was a mess. I was on autopilot. Wake up, eat, go to university, go home, watch videos, sleep, repeat. Then one-day reality kicked in.

Layer 0: Realisation

One night I was monkeying around YouTube. Watching movie trailers. I came across a trailer for the Minimalism documentary on Netflix. After I saw the documentary, I was blown away. I immediately read Everything That Remains and realized that I was living in a “storage unit.” So I rolled up my sleeves and started de cluttering. I guess one good thing came out of YouTube after all.

Action item: Start reading books on minimalism. There are plenty.

Layer 1: First minimization

I started minimizing everything. My connections, books, papers, clothes… Simplifying mental models. Removing email, Twitter, Facebook app form my phone. Soon I realized how addicted I was. Every now and then, I would open my phone and tap to the place where the Facebook app was. But there was nothing there. Quite scary.

Action item: Throw away a few none-sentimental things that you never use.

Layer 2: Major clean up

I came back to Slovenia in 2018 with a single backpack. OK, my dad picked up the rest of my belongings in his car. Back home, I started the de cluttering process of things I left behind before I moved abroad. I found piles of clothes, expired papers, old journals, stamps, toys, … It was quite easy to get rid of most possessions since I was away from them for a year. The 20 min/$ rule proposed by minimalists helped me a lot: If you can buy it in 20min for 20$, then throw it away. Though, I did get stuck when throwing away the sentimental things. Souvenirs, Lego’s, books, and even MTG cards.

Action item: Use 20 min/$ rule.

Layer 3: Suitcase and a backpack for 3 months.

First, try of total minimalism. In 2018 I was going abroad for 3 months so I decided to travel with a small carry on suitcase and a backpack. The whole thing went quite well. After three months, I realized that I still didn’t use all the things I brought with me. Read about some of adventures during those travels here in Unplanned travel: 2018 part. But most importantly, during those months on the road, I realized how little belongings I need to be happy and enjoy my life.

Action item: Try traveling/leaving with as little belongings as possible.

Layer 4: Change, test, improve, repeat

Then when I came back home to Slovenia, I fell a bit of the cliff. I was still minimizing, but I realized that certain areas were still untouched. From 2018-10-05 till 2019-05-25, I started monitoring my time in 15 min slots. I spent 1933 hours sleeping (on average 8.3 h a day) and doing mostly the following:

Above are just the most represented activities. I noticed that I spent way to much time in movies and social media, and barely any time socializing. So few drastic changes followed. I started minimizing social media. But to escape from the hamster wheel, I had to block: YouTube, Facebook, IMDb, Twitter, Netflix, HBO … So now if I try to access any of those web sites I get:

Can’t connect to the server

As a result, I suddenly had a lot of time to read. So nowadays I finish 1 - 2 books a week. More how I got there in Movie addiction.

For the geeky Mac audience. Use some terminal magic to block a specific web page. Add the page to /etc/hosts with:

sudo vim /etc/hosts

and add: 127.0.0.1 www.netflix.com line. Then refresh the DNS:

sudo dscacheutil -flushcache

Action item: Try minimizing social media and movies. Then use that time to do whatever you like the most.

Layer 5: Moving with all belongings

In 2019 I moved to the seaside. So after two years of simplification, I was still left with 3 cars of things to move. I was pretty shocked. Another area where I have to clean things up is digital and paper clutter. In my new home, I decided to dedicate a visible space for all of my belongings. With everything up there in the open, I keep finding things that I never use.

Action item: Place every item you own to a dedicated place.

Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

In some cases, the light will be a train heading your way. If it is. Get back to your feet and try again. If you iterate and tackle one thing at a time, you’ll get far. Your life is an experiment. Try things out until you like something. Keep that and throw away the rest.

As a consequence of two years of minimization:

I’m way calmer then I used to be. I’m more present at the moment. I notice details that I never saw before.

The experimentation process for me will never stop. To make a change every now and then, I keep reading books on minimalism. Reading those books allows me to transition into a state of mind where I evaluate everything I own. Eventually, I remove another layer. I’ll keep piling of and adding layers of crap until the end of my life.

By the way if you want to perform the 15 minute time monitoring experiment, send me a message.

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