On Tragedy

I was 300 metres away when it happened.

On 22nd May 2017, about 10:30pm as I was lying in bed, I heard a sudden, thunderous crashing sound.

For a moment, I thought it was actually thunder, but when I looked out of my window, it wasn’t raining.

I went out onto my balcony. Neighbours had come out too. “Did you hear that?” I shouted over, “Yeah, what was it?” they replied. “I don’t know” I said, as we all looked toward the train station at the end of our road.

We would soon find out. The station alarm came on. It told people to evacuate the area. Sirens started sounding in the distance. A stream of police and ambulances arrived. Thousands of people started filing out from the concert hall, Manchester Arena. Traffic was blocked up. Confused, curious, and concerned, my partner and I checked social media all night as details began to emerge.

At first we thought something might have collapsed, maybe a part of a building or a crane, it had happened before. But we couldn’t see any smoke. Maybe it was a train? We tried to stay rational, and not jump to any conclusions. But news started trickling through. Bad news. Something had happened at the Arena. A concert had just finished. Could it be something to do with a speaker, or some sort of stage effect? Looking back, it was way too loud to be something like that. We just didn’t want to think it was the one thing we were most afraid of…

A suicide bomber. A young male, who had lived and grown up in Manchester. It had happened, the terrible things you see on TV, it had happened to our home.

It was surreal. Unbelievable, except the blue lights kept flashing and sirens sounded all night. The police closed the roads and cordoned off the area. Injuries and fatalities were reported. Within a few days, all of the 22 people who had died had been named.

When it hit the news, it wouldn’t have been as real if we hadn’t heard the blast with our own ears, and saw the police and ambulances with our own eyes. They’re still there, right now, as I look out of my window. Police tape closes off the roads I have walked past a hundred times.

Now I have had nearly a week to reflect on it. I’m thankful that I’m fine, and so are my friends and loved ones, but that’s little consolation for the victims and families. The more I read about them (and I can’t help myself), the more sad I am for them. I feel a mixture of fear, guilt, and helplessness.

The tribute that was held for them was attended by thousands of people. Hundreds of flowers, cards, and candles have been laid out in the city centre. I went to pay my respects. It was good to see so many people there. Manchester has pulled together.

I love this city. It’s my home. I’m proud with how people have reacted, giving condolences, donating money, and helping where they can. I’ve noticed people being more kind to one another. Most people here aren’t ignorant enough to lay the blame on an entire religion. We’ve been saying, “We stand together”. That’s the kind of place this is.

Too often it takes a tragedy to remind us about what’s important in life. Those concert goers had no idea what was going to happen, but at least they were enjoying life to the full. We never know what life will bring, but the best we can do is to be thankful for each day and make the most of it.

Stay safe, and stay strong.

On Opportunity

Minimalism isn’t just about having less stuff. That’s only the beginning.

The reason why we get rid of things is to make room for opportunities that come our way.

Just think, if you were less burdened by stuff, you would realise that every day is an opportunity, a gift, and you would be able to make the most of it.

If you spent less you would work less. You would have more time, energy, and space to think clearly, to be creative, to be your best, to flourish, and to be happier.

You would grow into the mindset that every place is an opportunity to discover something new, to open your mind, and expand your horizons.

You would learn that every person you meet is an opportunity for friendship, intimacy, and love.

You would be grateful for every moment as an opportunity to live.

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On Wealth

Money and possessions aren’t the only measure of wealth.

Having or not having the latest smartphone, a wardrobe of designer clothes, or a shiny sports car doesn’t say much about your happiness, health, relationships, wisdom, or freedom.

How much you earn doesn’t reflect how much you enjoy life, or how much people genuinely care about you, or how much you’ve done for others.

The pursuit of wealth itself isn’t necessarily bad. It can be a noble path if it is earned by creating value, enriching others, or if wealth is used to benefit the greater good.

But look at any millionaire or billionaire and you’ll see that having a lot of money doesn’t automatically mean your life will be more fulfilled. If money comes at the cost of living the life you want (instead of the life others want you to want), then it is a high price to pay.

Your net worth is not your self worth. Your bank balance has little do with what your true value is, or how rich you really are.

There is so much abundance in the world, the ones who are really wealthy are the ones who make the most of it.

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On Quality

When people talk about minimalism, much of the focus is on quantity—how much you have, how much you don’t have, or how much other people have or don’t have…

Yes, the amount of stuff you own is part of it. But that’s not all minimalism is about.

The focus should be on quality—of your possessions, as well as your relationships, mental health, physical health, spirituality, finances, choices… basically all aspects of your life that could be improved.

It’s easy to only consider quantity because it’s readily measured. You can instantly see the results when you’ve finished decluttering a room or wardrobe. But to think that this is the goal of minimalism is misguided.

The point of minimalism is to lead a better and more meaningful life.  Minimalism then, is more accurately described as a study and practice of quality—quality in the sense of depth, longevity, meaningfulness, value, and how much something contributes to your lifelong comfort and happiness.

Does this person/object/thing mean a lot to me? Does it help me become a better person? Does it help me grow? Does it add to my well-being? Will it last a long time? Is it worth acquiring? Is it worth keeping? Do I really want it, or do I want it because everyone else has it, or has told me I should have it? Does it make me happy?

These things are harder to measure, but are more important than owning an arbitrary amount of 100 things or less. You can own 1,000 or 10,000 things, so long as everything contributes to your life in a meaningful way. Minimalism is saying yes to quality over quantity.

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On Why

Speaking of discipline as a sustained practice, how do you keep going when things get difficult?

Minimalism isn’t an easy lifestyle. Everyone is telling you that you need the latest gadget, that you should upgrade your car, that you can’t live without x. Temptations are everywhere, and it’s a constant battle against ‘stuff creep’ (when things start to pile up around the house imperceptibly).

As with anything, to keep the motivation to carry on, you need a why—ask yourself, why are you doing this? If you don’t have a good answer, you won’t last long.

Why minimalism?

—For yourself: You’ve decided that you don’t want to be a slave to your stuff. You’re not going to work sixty hours a week just to afford credit card bills. You don’t want to trade your life for things that won’t make you happy. You want time and freedom to do the things you enjoy, and spend it with the people you love. You learn to make the most of life through minimalism. That’s your why.

—Beyond yourself: There are people you care about who you want to be happy too, and you don’t want to see them wasting their effort and potential. Maybe if you cared less about material stuff, other people would care less too, and they wouldn’t work so hard, or for so long. On top of that, the money, time, and other resources you’ve been able to save from not buying stuff is being put to good use, helping those who need it most. In that way, the world is your why.

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On Discipline

The word discipline gets a bad rap. Most people think it means obeying rules, doing things you don’t want to, and being punished if you do something wrong.

In reality, discipline is another word for sustained practice. It means having the willpower to take effective action over a period of time.

For things that are good for you, for example exercising regularly, having discipline means:

  1. getting started
  2. doing it on a regular basis
  3. practising how to get better
  4. pushing through when things get difficult

Cultivating discipline makes you the kind of person who keeps on going, despite the challenges, whether they are internal or external.

In this way, minimalism is a discipline. It doesn’t come naturally to most people. Nobody said it would be easy to relearn a lifetime’s worth of conditioning about money and material possessions, and to learn to care less what other people think of you. You will face these kinds of internal and external challenges, but discipline—sustained practice—will get you to where you want to be.

To practice means committing to do small actions, with intent. Maybe you give away an old cardigan, maybe you hold off  getting a new phone for another year, maybe you decide you don’t need that kitchen gadget after all…

Small decisions add up to big consequences. Especially when there are hundreds, or thousands of them to make every day. It takes discipline to not get distracted.

Like regular exercise, minimalism takes practice to get past temptations and incorporate it into every day life. Sometimes you’ve had a hard day and you just want some cake and a bit of retail therapy. That’s fine, you deserve to treat yourself occasionally, just not at the long-term expense of your overall happiness. Make things easier by surrounding yourself with like minded people, or blogs and books that remind you of why you’re doing it—of why you do anything really—for a better life.

A better life won’t just fall on your lap. If it was easy, everyone would be happy, but happiness takes a lot of work.

And a lot of work takes a lot of discipline.

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On Abundance

It seems like a contradiction, but having an abundant mindset is essential for living a minimalist lifestyle.

The reason why most people buy and keep too much stuff is because they’re scared.

They’re afraid that if they don’t buy something they’re missing out, and if they throw something away there won’t be a chance to have it again.

They have a mindset based on scarcity so they take whatever they can, and they hoard money or clothes or whatever they have in case it runs out, or in case they need it in the future.

But if you thought that there was plenty to go around, you wouldn’t mind having only what you actually needed, because you know you could always get more if you had to.

Which leads us to a beautiful paradox—in order to be comfortable with living with less, you have to believe that the world is full of abundance.

You can always earn more money, buy more furniture, or replace winter sweaters. Be generous with what you have. There will always be more. If you don’t need it, it’s okay to let it go.

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On Meaning

What does minimalism mean?

It is often misunderstood as a lifestyle choice, reserved only for the rich who can afford it, for the young who have the time, or for the single monks who want to ditch everything they own.

But in reality, you don’t have to be rich, or young, or willing to live in a cave. You can be the person who works fifty hours a week to make ends meet. You could be retired and want a new start in life. You could have a huge family with all of the clothes and toys that comes with having four kids.

Minimalism is more of a philosophy than just a lifestyle choice. It is a way of thinking that questions the way most of us are raised—to value physical possessions as a way to prove our worth.

Minimalism rejects this. You don’t need a nice car to ‘prove’ that you are successful. You don’t need designer clothes or a holiday home to ‘prove’ that you are worth anything. It’s what you do that matters, not what you have. That’s what minimalism means.

In the same way, minimalism is not about what you don’t have. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to get rid of everything you own. So what if you have a few trinkets, books, or photos you want to keep? You can have whatever you want as long as it adds value to your life.

There are no set rules in minimalism. It’s not a club that says you can’t join unless you’ve reduced your wardrobe to five shirts and four socks. Anybody who believes they deserve a better life is welcome.

Minimalism is about removing distractions, no matter what they are, and it’s different for everybody.

Minimalism is about making room for what matters, no matter what it is, and it’s different for everybody.

Minimalism means a happier life.

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Welcome

Welcome to Minimalist Meditations.

You may be a reader from my 7 year old blog, Minimal Student, or perhaps you are a brand new reader who happened to stumble upon here. Either way, I’m glad you’ve found this corner of the Internet.

Minimalist Meditations is a project that I have been incubating for a long time. I loved writing for my original blog, Minimal Student, which I started at the beginning of my minimalist journey when I was actually a student. Over the past few years, it has built a strong community of readers, and I’m pleased to announce the next stage of the journeythis new site, Minimalist Meditations.

I have changed a lot over the years, and so have the topics I like to write about. You can find out more on my About page. The short version is that I’m no longer a student, and I wanted to grow the blog to include readers who aren’t necessarily students either.

Over the next few months, I will be rebranding the original blog and social media to redirect here, where I will be writing more often. I intend to cover a variety of topics that have become more and more relevant to me since I was a student, such as work, money, time, relationships and more—all with a minimalist perspective of course.

I will publish some of the original Meditations from Minimal Student, along with new posts in the next few weeks, which I hope will give you food for thought. You can subscribe to this blog via RSS or email.

If you have any comments or suggestions, I would love to hear from you. Feel free to comment below, or get in touch with me via Twitter or Facebook.

Here’s to many more happy years of minimalism.

All the best,

J