All posts tagged minimalism

Finding Clarity in Simplicity. How to stop reacting and focus on what’s in your control.

By Brad Beckstrom

Have you noticed a big drop off in any part of your life?

I’ve been noticing a real drop off in the number of (non political) blog posts I’ve been seeing since November of 2016. At first I thought it was the election, the holidays etc. People have been distracted. I figured at some point we would stop discussing politics and get back to talking about anything but that. Well, the drop off has continued. You see, I don’t follow any political blogs or news publications in my feed reader. So, a lot of the blogs I do follow have dropped off, from maybe a post a week to less than one post per month. This is across a wide variety of blogs I follow, personal finance, photography, financial independence, minimalism, small business, creative writing etc. What’s going on? I feel like I already know the answer because my own writing has dropped off at about the same level, from once a week to once a month. It has a lot to do with many people, including myself, being totally distracted by all of the stuff outside of their circle of control.

The Circle of Concern vs. Circle of Control

A circle of concern is simply a big circle with all of the things you’re concerned about scribbled inside of it. Inside of that circle is a circle of control. The circle of control is things that you have direct control over, what you read, where you live, what you eat, essentially your actions and thoughts.

image credit Jamesclear.com

Focusing inside versus outside the circle of control

Stephen Covey, author of the 7 Habits series, said that people with a large circle of concern become reactive.  A person with a large circle of concern often spends a great deal of time and energy reacting to issues they can’t control. For example, the news, sex lives of celebrities and politicians, terrorist threats, the economy, political scandals. The list could go on and on. The one thing that all of these broad concerns have in common is that regardless of how much time we spend worrying about them or reacting to them, we cannot impact them directly.

When Stephen Covey created his version of the circles, the Internet was in its infancy and social media did not exist. While social media has been effective at building awareness of good and bad things around the world, it’s also greatly increased the number of things people think about, worry about, and naturally want to react to. For instance, if you looked at many social media feeds from a few years ago they look completely different than they do today. Funny videos, vacation pics, snarky comments have been replaced with a very large spoonful of politics and doom. Regardless of what side of the issues you are on most people would agree that this is a direct result of the actions of the 45th president and the U.S. Congress.

Reeling it back in

How do we keep from getting so distracted? How do we keep from clicking on and worrying about bad news, often things we have little or no control over?  I think it comes down to asking yourself a simple question: Is this something that I can control?  If it’s not then it’s in your circle of concern.

The good news is inside the circle of concern, there is a smaller circle called the circle of control. Inside the circle of control are things you have direct control over, what you’ve read, what you buy, where you work, people you interact with. The goal is to reduce the size of the circle of concern and focus on the circle of control. Many mistakenly think that this is a self-centered approach. Selfish in the sense that if you suddenly stop giving a shit about politics, wars, world hunger, then you’re only thinking only of yourself.  That’s not the goal here.

The goal is to focus only on things you can directly impact. In order to start moving in that direction we need to reduce our circle of concern.  Here are five steps to move in that direction.

  1. Write down everything you worry about, are angry or concerned about. Take a look at your social media feed for clues.
  2. After you created your giant circle of concerns, start putting lines through things you can’t control. This could be anything from the neighbor’s dog to North Korea.
  3. Identify things in this big circle that you could have an impact on. For instance, if you’re worried about healthcare you could decide to write your representative once a month.
  4. Put the important things in your circle of control, like what you read, how you treat people close to you, places you’d like to visit, a skill you’d like to learn.
  5. Put yourself on a high quality, low information diet.  We have the tendency to use social media and technology as a funnel to capture all kinds of things. Instead, we should be using it as a filter. You don’t need to unfriend people to hide (or mute) their posts on Twitter or Facebook. You can also use RSS feed apps like Feedly to only follow writers or subjects you enjoy versus visiting news websites and clicking on anything that catches your eye.
  6. Reduce the number of “things” in your circle of concern. If you can lighten the load and reduce the number of possessions you own, that’s less things to worry about. Travel light.
  7. When you’re done, your circle should look more like the one above on the right than the one on the left.  

If you take these steps, you’ll find that you’ve probably been wasting a good amount of time thinking, worrying, arguing about things that you have no control over.  Now you can take that time and spend it on something you have 100% control over, like going for a long walk daily, or finding something to read that will inspire you creatively, or improve your health.  All of a sudden your concerns start to look more like this.

  • Your personal economy versus “the economy”
  • Your personal health versus “healthcare”
  • Your personal political actions versus “politics”
  • Your personal relationships instead of “scandals and gossip” in the news
  • Expanding your mind versus the list of things you own

In the end, the ideal circle of control would simply focus on your thoughts and actions, Finally letting go of all those things in the world that you have no control over and realize that it’s not all on your shoulders.

The Frug

This post was originally published by Brad Beckstrom on the TheFrug.com
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Is that purchase worth it? Consider the cost per use, a simple strategy to help you decide.

 

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Technology can be a pain in the ass. Smartphones, Game Consoles, DVRs, digital thermostats, talking cars, and home appliances. A lot of this technology is designed to improve our lives, give us more free time, maybe even help us save a little money.  Most of it falls short. In fact, when multiple technologies are combined, they can often have a negative impact on our time and quality of life. Multiply this by a family of four or more, and all this stuff can make you its bitch. Constantly beeping, demanding upgrades, presenting you with unrepairable failures, offering multiple support options, mostly paid ones, none of which actually solve your problem, and all of which require your time.

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Planned obsolescence has become a science, hurling consumers into a constant cycle of upgrades and repairs on items that didn’t even exist 10-15 years ago, taking time and attention away from more important matters. It in an affluent society we often just throw money at the problem, replacing the defective item with the new shiny model, while the old one often ends up in a landfill.

It’s possible to step off this treadmill, embrace simplicity or minimalism. I believe these are viable approaches that can change people’s lives. The problem most people have is that they been on this hedonic treadmill so long they are afraid to step off.  It’s the transition from having your life managed by stuff to a simpler path. That is the challenge for most people. I’ve been working to simplify my life for over three years: writing about it, working on it, giving stuff away, but still have a long way to go. Some progress is forward progress, and that’s what I’m focused on.

Something I found that has worked is evaluating any purchase, item you want to replace, or something you’re having trouble parting with, on a cost per use basis. Here’s how it works. Cost Per Use is the price of something divided by the approximate number of times you use it over the life of that item. So something you use many times per day may be a better investment than something inexpensive you use infrequently. Based on this formula, my iPhone is one of the least expensive things I own, and after I finish with it, I’ll give it to a family member, lowering the cost of use even further. As an added benefit, my iPhone replaced about 20 other items helping me lighten the load getting rid of everything from music CDs to handheld GPS units.

Some other cost per use examples

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It’s best to start with the big stuff, so let’s start with automobiles. If you buy or lease a new SUV every three years you’re absorbing all of the depreciation and increasing your cost per use of that vehicle substantially. That vehicle loses most of its value in the first three years. If you buy a larger vehicle your cost per use is also higher based on gas and operating expenses.  To lower the cost per use, it would make sense to buy your next car like it’s your last. Purchase one high quality, fuel-efficient vehicle and keep it for at least 10 years. You can lower your cost per use even further if you know exactly the vehicle you’re looking for and can purchase a low mileage version just coming off lease, and keep that vehicle. Once those car payments end, you’ll find the maintenance costs required to keep the car in excellent running condition are a lot easier to swallow. I’ve also found that keeping a car in excellent condition, including the occasional carwash or detailing, makes me less apt to even think about replacing it.

Clothing can be phenomenally expensive when evaluated with cost per use.  It’s best to look at clothing as a wardrobe rather than trying to think about cost per use of individual items. Simple and classic items that go with everything and are very well made can really bring your CPU down. Steve Jobs was famously known for wearing the same thing every day, a black shirt and blue jeans. You can bet his cost per use on those turtlenecks was pretty low. The real savings here is time. If you limit your wardrobe extensively to a few types of high quality items think of all the time you save each day deciding what to wear. One of the things I’ve tried to focus on in redoing my wardrobe is not replacing things I get rid of, and working on wearing stuff out. At least as long as my wife Kelly will allow me to be seen in it!  The best way to do this is when you do purchase a new item, think about something of such high quality that it would last at least 10 years, stay in style, and replace at least five other items. When you compare it to running out to a big box store to buy crap, you’ll find that your overall cost per use goes way down, especially on items like shoes and jackets.

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When it comes to clothes, you often hear people say, “Well, I need a wardrobe for work.” With casual work environments and more people working from home  it’s easier to assemble a minimalist wardrobe than ever before. Courtney Carver assembled an entire wardrobe out of 33 items.  I think men have it even easier, less pieces, parts and accessories. Unfortunately, we tend to have expanding waistlines so there’s some additional benefits to staying in good enough shape to keep the same pair of Levi’s for a decade.

If you apply the cost per use formula to lots of things you’ll find you don’t have to give up much. I have a desk loaded with technology but both of my computers are now over 7 years old.  Using cloud-based software, faster Wi-Fi connections, and a few memory, and hard drive upgrades have kept them running like new.  I use them every day.

Next time you’re evaluating a new purchase, whether it’s a hoodie, a power tool, or even a new car, here are a few tips to maximize your cost per use.

  1. Avoid bells and whistles. This really applies to everything from small appliances to automobiles. Think of it this way, you can buy a product loaded with add-ons and high-tech features, sometimes for less than a simpler high-quality item. The more technology that’s loaded into any automobile or talking appliance with digital touchscreens, the more potential it has for failure. Evaluate the product on its ability to do what it was designed to do like wash clothing, vacuum the carpet, efficiently get you to your destination.
  2. Buy quality. It helps to look at online reviews on sites like Amazon. I always look at the average then remove one star, as people (including me) often overrate products they purchase to make themselves look smart!  Consider five-star reviews to be four-star reviews etc. Make sure there are enough reviews for a representative sample and average. On Amazon that’s like 100+ reviews.
  3. Do your research and wait at least one additional day before you make any big purchase. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about purchasing something, going through the motions but then just skipped it, as I realized I didn’t really need it. Researching something helps me delay purchases.  For instance, I might research the new hot camera but realize my current camera is just fine.
  4. Are you replacing something that’s needed or just buying something because it’s on sale. I always ask my wife Kelly to go shopping in our closet first. There’s a very good chance there’s going to be a very nice pair of black shoes in there.  
  5. Wear stuff out. Make sure whenever you’re buying something you’re replacing something that you’ve worn out. 20 years from now when you look back on all the great steaks you cooked on that grill you’ll know it’s done its job. It can be pretty tempting to go out and buy a shiny new one but if you get it right the first time you won’t even have to think about it.

The Frug

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A Short Guide to Lean Investing.

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By Brad Beckstrom

Have things gotten too complex?

Today we have more savings and investment options than ever before. Online tools and investment options that give us access to over 10,000 mutual funds and exchange traded funds, with another 40,000+ publicly traded stocks worldwide. Most of these investments are accessible without setting foot in a brokerage firm or bank. Online banking, trading, and mutual fund supermarkets give us access to sophisticated investment tools available only to professionals just a decade ago.

Yet, despite so many options, the US personal savings rate is hovering between 5% and 6% and has been in steady decline since the 50s. The retirement savings picture is even worse, one in three American adults has zero saved for retirement and 62% have less than $1000 saved. Many Americans like to blame the government for this predicament but in fact many countries with significantly higher taxes have savings rates that are 2 to 3 times ours.  On top of our tax advantages, we have a wide selection of pre-tax and post-tax savings options many other countries don’t have, including 401(k)s, IRAs, SEPs, Roth IRAs, Health Savings Accounts, 529 college savings plans, and about 10 more with various combinations of numbers and acronyms in the name. All of them are underutilized by any standard of measurement.

Part of the problem is complexity. We’ve made it easier to go out and get a loan for a new SUV or a 5,000 square foot house than to start saving or put that money away for retirement.  We’ve been incentivizing people to take out student loan debt instead of starting college savings accounts.

To solve the complexity problem we need to make it easier to save and invest. We need to create a simpler path to wealth through regular and efficient investing. I like to call this Lean Investing. Read more…

Living behind the cutting-edge.

WearehappyinProp

By Brad Beckstrom

There were 38 different types of cables and chargers in the box. Some of them were probably over 20 years old. Things like monster cables for stereo equipment, firewires from old hard drives, various USB cables and splitters, ethernet cables and about 10 different AC adapters from games, various peripherals, and crap from former cable providers. For the last several years, I’ve been at war with stuff, investing some time to simplify my life. I’ve recently kicked this into high gear. Kelly and I are playing the minimalist game. We will be giving away nearly 1000 things this month alone. I’m constantly amazed at how much crap a family of four can accumulate over the years. Sadly, some of that stuff ends up in a landfill, benefiting no one.

I’ll avoid these mistakes again. The best way to do this is by not replacing the things that we get rid of. I’ll take a hard look cheap products that are built to be discounted then discarded. I’ll skip the next upgrade cycle on my mobile phone and my computer.

Why can’t more things work like our blender or the microwave? We’ve had both since 1996. Over the years we’ve been tempted to replace them with newer versions but we stuck with them, even repairing the blender once. It’s funny, we probably use these two appliances more than any of the things that have become obsolete. So, my theory now is, if it’s not being used regularly we can probably get rid of it and not replace it.

First world problems Read more…

Working Lean – 8 things I do to make work fly and enjoy life.

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By Brad Beckstrom

It’s going to be 75° today. The sun is already blasting in my office window at 7:30 AM. When I’m working at home, it can be hard to focus, especially if there’s someplace I’d rather be, like out on my bike. We all have work to do, but it’s hard to get stuff done if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing. This is even harder if someone else is dictating your schedule, meetings, conference calls, commutes etc.

There are a few things that I do daily to make work more enjoyable. Since they’ve become habits, they take very little effort but are a crucial part of getting stuff done.

Work in zones.

I divide my day into three zones: prime time (for me, mornings), the dead zone 3PM to 6PM and home (evenings). I like to get the tough stuff out of the way in prime time. I like to schedule one big task during prime time. The best tool I’ve found for this is a free product called Momentumdash. Once installed it presents you with a beautiful image, and reminds you of your focus each time you open a new tab on your browser.  I also plan for the dead zone each day, scheduling the easy stuff, or a workout, during my least productive times.

Don’t work off big to do lists.

I treat to do list apps as a catch-all for any necessary task that takes over a few minutes. If you stay focused on the big stuff, sometimes you find a little items on this list fall away.  At the end of each day I’ll take some time to plan the following day, pulling some of the most important tasks off the big catch-all list and writing them down in my notebook. I put the heavy-duty stuff in prime time. The act of pulling tasks off an overflowing digital list and writing it down in a notebook, gives you a more realistic feel for what can get done in a day.

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Throw a tomato at it. Read more…