You already know that your brain is not great at long-term storage. You probably don’t even remember what you had for lunch 2 years ago (pathetic human). You’re even worse at short term memory. In fact, the way you keep an idea in your head is by repeating it to yourself over and over again. Think of the last time you needed to memorize directions. “Right on Main Street, Second light: turn left, building #713. Right on Main Street, Second light…”. You use the same trick whenever you have an insightful thought. Suddenly, you start seeing reminders of that same thought everywhere and its all you can think about.
When your mind realizes it has thought of something important, it will struggle to remember it by keeping it in your very limited short term memory. The best way to clear the mind without loosing the thought is by writing it down.
Overcome Masterpiece Syndrome
Most people call it “Writer’s Block”. I call it “Masterpiece Syndrome”. People think that writer’s block happens to them because they can’t think of anything to write. In reality, they are stopping themselves from writing because they think that what they write must be perfect. “Anyone can write mediocre work”, they think, “It is my duty to write something amazing!”.
Consider this: a study was conducted on two groups of art students. One group was told they had 3 months to produce a masterpiece. The other group was told to produce one piece every day for 3 months. By the end of three months, the group that practiced daily was producing a masterpiece every day while the group that was told to produce a masterpiece missed the deadline.
When your goal is writing daily, not making masterpieces, you’re more likely to make a masterpiece by accident.
Solidify your thinking
We all suffer from lazy thinking. What may seem like a logical thought might be guided by pent up emotions or your inner desire to be right. Humans invented language as a tool to transmit thoughts from one person to another. Practice using written language to encapsulate your thoughts as this will make you a more effective communicator. If you think your thoughts are interesting, there’s an audience eager to let you give them the same thought.
Try to re-read what you’ve written and ask yourself if the words you’ve chosen do the thought justice. Maybe the thought was incomplete to begin with, or maybe you just need to practice your writing. No worries either way, there’s another chance to improve tomorrow!
In this extra-long post, I’ll be explaining “the how” and “the why” (with some stories mixed in) behind my 60-day journey of voluntary poverty and alternative lifestyle experimentation. Basically, I’ll explain how and why I lived like a homeless person in the bed of my truck for 60 days even though I didn’t have to.
Let’s start with the how.
Acquiring a Vehicle
Following my return home from three months of travel on the west coast, I had this determination to live frugally and freely (See “The Why”). I began scouring Craigslist for van conversions. My plan, sell my 2007 Impala, buy an old van, toss a futon bed in the back, install a solar panel kit and weatherproof my new wheels to the max. However, as the upcoming semester came nearer, my dream van seemed like it wasn’t going to show itself in time. I settled for throwing an industrial camper top on the bed of a ’93 Ford F-150 that my family already owned. I slid my futon mattress in the back and convinced myself that this would do until I got the “dream van”. #vanlife. Little did I know that this would be my “home” for exactly 60 days.
The first 2 weeks were certainly the hardest. Although, it’s amazing how quickly our minds adapt to the new “normal”. The first item of business upon arriving at the campus was finding a place to park. This first week was split evenly between the James parking lot and a quiet corner in student parking by facilities. I sustained myself on McDonald’s and junk food this first week while I got settled in. After grace period for parking ended (a period where you can’t get parking tickets for being in the “wrong” lot), I bought my red “Town” decal which limited my parking to only 2 lots on campus. I settled for the Seabury Gym lot by the tennis courts. This is where I would stay for the next 53 days.
Those first few days were nerve-racking. I couldn’t help but feel like I was breaking some sort of rule. “What if Public Safety finds out?”, “What will other students or my professors think if they find out?” For these reasons, I wasn’t particularly vocal about my living arrangements and spent much of the first weeks trying to enter and leave the truck when no one was around to see. However, I began to see this kind of behavior as unhealthy, so I gradually stopped caring what people thought and went about my business as I would if I were all alone. Sometimes this meant crawling out in the morning when people are playing tennis about 15 feet from my door in clear view. Not exactly easy to play off emerging from the back of a truck looking sleepy and disheveled.
Ping Pong and Gone
Like every other Friday night, I could be found slamming ping pong balls in the campus recreation room. This was towards the beginning of the semester. I had been used to leaving the truck camper unlocked because I didn’t have a key to lock it. I had recently gotten a key made but still stuck to my habbit of leaving it unlocked.
I left the truck at 9 pm that evening to play ping pong and returned at 11 and went straight to sleep. After I woke up the following Saturday and got my shower, I noticed that I couldn’t find my laptop. Upon some reflection, I realized that I had left the laptop in the truck in plain sight with the doors unlocked. It was likely stolen. Upon further inspection, I noticed the thief also made off with my battery pack for charging my phone.
I was pissed. The stolen laptop was a year old, beat up, covered in stickers and it had a hole in the lid. I paid $175 for it and it was probably worth less than $25 at the time it was stolen. Also, without my $10 battery pack, I couldn’t charge my phone at night, so that was a huge inconvenience.
If they had searched the vehicle, they would have found $500 in cash and a DLSR camera. Instead, they stole a laptop without the charger (the charger will cost more than the laptop is worth) and a cheap $10 battery. They took the things that were worth the least but inconvenienced me the most.
I still miss my old laptop. But my new one costs just as much and it is able to play Minecraft, so I’m mostly over it.
Food was a challenge at first. I had a cooler but never invested in ice. It was mainly to keep the bugs away. I quickly realized that 90% of the grocery section was off limits since I had no refrigeration or oven/microwave. All I had in the way of cooking supplied was a small pot, pan, spatula, fork, and a portable butane stove.
Luckily, I found the Berea College Farm Store and quickly became a lunchtime regular. I had a nutrition shake and apple for breakfast and soup or beans for dinner which I cooked on my gas stove atop the aluminum bleachers by the tennis courts. For a time, I had set up inbox rules for my school email to automatically sort campus emails with words like “free food”, “dinner”, etc. into a separate folder. That way I could find events providing dinners and not get burnt out on soup!
I had planned on showering in the Seabury Gym which was just a short hike up some stairs from my truck. Using those showers was not unlike showering in the dorms; if anything, the locker room was less crowded during the 30 mins before 8 AM. Ony difference was the occasional shameless old man who insisted on having a conversation with me while he dried his genitals with a paper towel. He told me about his time in the military; stories of how he and others would kill and cook anything that crawled after rations ran out back in ‘Nam. Once, he recommended that I enlist. He told me I’d have to “toughen up” first.
Bathrooms were only in short supply at night. I kept a jug in the truck which I emptied into a storm drain at night when the parking lot cleared. Thankfully, I only needed a proper toilet on one occasion and made the treck to the only open building on campus, Woods Penn.
I got plenty of exercise riding my bike. I preferred to travel around town by bike so as not to move the truck and risk disturbing my set up. I suppose becoming a regular at the gym should have been easy since I literally lived in the gym’s parking lot. However, once I began to live this minimal lifestyle, I began seeing the things that society sees as “necessary” as toys, trinkets, and gadgets. Similarly, when I passed by the weight room in the gym, all I could see were a bunch of boys playing with toys and getting all hard about how they looked in front of a mirror.
I instead developed a routine of body weight exercises that I did 3-4 times per week. Usually right before bed. I would walk laps around the empty tennis courts. At one corner, I’d do a set of pushups, at the next, a set of pull-ups (using the horizontal fence posts above the gated openings of the courts as a pull up bar), the next corner, I’d do squats (using a wooden bench as added weight hoisted above my head), and in the last corner stretches. No gym membership, no toys, no testosterone-fueled chauvinism, just results and I’m sure the occasional “what is this crazy person doing at 11 pm?” from passers-by.
“So, do you live here?”
In my 60 days living out of a parking lot, only two strangers confronted me about it. Both interactions were nearly identical so I’ll just describe the first one.
I’m walking back to my truck and a 30-something dude is walking towards his car which is parked near me.
“Hey, do you live here?”
“Dude, that’s awesome. I hate paying rent and that’s so good for the environment, I’ve always wanted to do somthing like that!, etc.”
That’s how both encounters went.
Not wanting to bother any of my dorm-dwelling friends, I soon began waiting outside the Deep Green Dorm during weekends around noon. Students would be leaving in droves to get lunch after sleeping in, and I would walk in after they opened the door. It helped that I lived in Deep Green last year, so I wasn’t a stranger to most. Deep Green is special because I only had to get past one card swipe door to get to a laundry room.
My labor position allows me to work anywhere there is internet so I spent a LOT of time in school’s library. That’s not to say I spent all that time working as I fell REALLY far behind on hours. Usually, I would churn through homework while episodes of South Park play through the earbuds connected to my phone.
Starting a Side Hustle
Looking to make some extra cash, I sourced parts from China and assembled hundreds of badge holders which I listed on eBay. I ran the whole operation out of my truck. I sense another post explaining this venture more thoroughly.
The weather in Berea from mid-August to mid-October was actually quite favorable. I would spend afternoons reading books for class next to my truck in a fold-out lawn chair. Of course, I spent every Friday night sharpening my ping-pong skills with the guys.
One night, I was chilling outside the truck in my lawn chair while reading a book and munching on an apple.
Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I see a raccoon running past me. “Hmm, a raccoon”, I thought nothing more. Then another ran by in the same path, and another, and another. Four raccoons in total.
I thought it was a bit strange but I wasn’t worried until one of the critters noticed me and turned around.
The little guy began crawling towards me. I tried to shew it off with some sudden movements. He wasn’t phased, eyeing the half-eaten apple in my hand and coming closer. I wasn’t about to risk a fracas with a raccoon so I ran for about 20 feet and threw my apple in the opposite direction.
As I hope has been clear, I slept in my truck. However, I’ll use this section to show off my setup.
Sleep paralysis occurs as a dysfunction of REM sleep where one is aware but unable to move. Usually, it is accompanied by hallucinations and intense feelings of fear. It lasts for only a few minutes.
My first encounter with sleep paralysis occurred while I was living in the truck. I was lying on my right side, head angled down, looking towards the rear hatch. I jolted awake to the sensation of my leg being pulled by a dark, shadowy, and hooded figure who was reaching through the latch, wildly jerking my leg around and grunting unintelligibly. I tried to scream, I tried to fight back, I tried to reach for my knife, but I was frozen. Then, I snapped out of it, sat up, took a sip of water and went back to sleep.
Stop caring what other people think
What’s a couple of questioning looks from middle-aged, country club types at the tennis courts? No matter what you do in life, there will always be a significant population of people who are disgusted by your choices. Stop trying to please the haters and you’ll quickly find the people who think what you are doing is the coolest thing ever. You do you!
Rock bottom isn’t so bad
I had this preconception that running out of money was “game over”. Because of this, I was very stingy, cheap, and stressed a lot about money.
However, after living like I had no money and next to no assets, I slowly realized that this wasn’t true. Life goes on, the potential to make more money is always there if you want it.
Because of this, I have less stress about money, taken more risks, and been more giving to others.
In Touch with Nature & Surroundings
As it turns out, living in a truck means you get to spend a lot of time outside. For someone who spent 3 years living in a dorm, I had explored surprisingly little of Berea’s campus. Once #trucklife began, I was literally living “on” the campus. I saw people more often, was more aware of events and more likely to pause and enjoy a beautiful scene or a lovely day.
Natural rhythm restored
When the sun is your primary light source, you start to go to bed and wake up at reasonable times. I don’t recall having a better sleep in all my life and since I stopped living in the truck, I haven’t been able to replicate it.
No TV, no media center, no internet; just books, homework and a bike. This left lots of room for some much needed thoughtful contemplation.
Adjusting to the “New Normal”
After my experiment, I watch a lot less TV and read a lot more books. Living simply, I began to leave behind habits, behaviors, and anxieties that I otherwise thought were just part of being alive.
Why did I go live in a truck for 60 days? The short answer is because I wanted to. The logical answer is because I was saving money on rent while still collecting the off-campus stipend from Berea. But the real reason is multifaced.
I’ve been lucky enough to have a pretty good life. I never knew what it was like to be hungry or not have a safe and warm place to sleep. However, this cushy life was my “normal” and it’s hard to be thankful for normal.
I felt the need to experience a meager lifestyle if only to better appreciate what I had. Also, as someone who quickly gets tired of one routine, this was a welcome break to the schedule enforced on me by college life. Lastly, it was a personal challenge. I simply wanted to see if I could pull it off, and for how long. I didn’t plan on 60 days, rather, it started getting cold here in Kentucky and I caved in. I came across an excellent deal and now I have a whole house to myself for the rest of my senior year.
The one question I get asked most often is, “Do you miss it?” My unsatisfactory answer: “I miss the good parts.” Perhaps the better question is, “Would you do it again?” to which I will say, “if I do, it won’t be voluntary”.
Last week, we analyzed the system of preparation and found out why the truly sensible never work. The conclusion of that article was to find a way to get paid to play. In this article, we will try and determine how you (yes, you!) can get paid to play. But first…
What is play?
“Play” is simply anything you do purely for enjoyment and not for any practical or serious purpose. The kinds of people we traditionally think of who play for a living are the professional athletes who play the field, talented musicians who play some instrument, and performers who play the part on stage.
However, someone whom we often don’t associate with “play” is the artist.
What do you consider play?
Your idea of play is likely different from mine. However, discovering (or rather acknowledging) your play can be tricky especially if you’ve gone so far into the system of preparation that you’ve forgotten what “play” means to you.
Here are some prompts to help you acknowledge your play:
What kinds of play did you do as a child?
My answer: From middle school to college, I was always tinkering. First by dissecting my toys, electronics, and then computers. Once, in 5th grade, I made a motorized bug-like contraption out of broken toys and a computer motherboard.
What do you find yourself doing in your free time?
My answer: Often when I have free time, I read a book or watch informative YouTube videos.
Takeaways: Always learning
What do you wish you had more time/money to do?
My answer: If I had a sudden lump of cash, I’d use it as startup capital for an e-commerce business.
Takeaways: Entrepreneurial, Risk taker, Investor
Take a moment and answer these questions for yourself. These are the things that bring (or you think will bring) a sense of satisfaction, or pleasure even when nobody is paying you to do them. However, these are not all necessarily play!
Delusions of Play
Play in its truest form has no purpose. Our minds are very skilled at fooling us to believe that we enjoy the things that bring us money, that feed us and make us comfortable. But play alone does none of these things
The dangers of living with such a delusion are many. Besides the fact that you are intentionally depriving yourself of much of what this life has to offer, stress, anxiety, and a general numbness to reality (also known as becoming boring) can be expected.
The true play never expires or gets old. It does not drain you; it energizes you.
So you’ve found your play…
Whether your play is drawing, snowboarding, parasailing, video games, the violin, crossword puzzles, or writing, there is a path to getting paid to do it. The play you have chosen (or that has chosen you), has a unique path to the first payoff. However, there are 3 general traits that apply to all of them:
I call these the 3 M’s.
Merit – “the quality of being particularly good or worthy, especially so as to deserve praise or reward.”
Put simply: Someone has to find your play valuable.
Your ability to craft value from your play is the single most important step to getting paid. If you are an artist, your value may come from the art you produce. If you are not an artist, try to think about yourself as an artist anyway. What is your art? What specifically, are people willing to pay for? Is it the product of your play or is it something more personal or abstract?
People will pay for value.
Find the areas of your play that produce value for others or find ways to shape your play so that it creates value.
Mastery – “comprehensive knowledge or skill in a subject or accomplishment.”
Put simply: You have to be good at your play.
I may love to draw, but if my drawings are stick figures, then I may need to reconsider where the value is in my play. I could be like the highly successful XKCD who uses stick figures in a web comic.
The point is this: you create more merit by being more skilled at your play. Start playing now and don’t stop. Build your skill through deliberate practice.
Marketing – “the action of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising.”
Put simply: Know who thinks your play is valuable and make sure they know about you.
Today, marketing is less about getting yourself out there and more about cutting through the noise. Anybody and everybody can start marketing on social media. The idea is to build an audience of people who regularly tune in to what you have to provide. Social media is a great beginner’s channel to reach your new audience.
Find your play. Discover where the value lies. Maximize that value by developing your skill. Find and interact with the people who find your play valuable and make sure they know you are open for business.
Again, these are general steps that apply to any kind of playful pursuit. There are infinite ways to play this game we call “life”. What is the best use of your turn?
In western civilization, we have a very peculiar way of treating our youth. We could, for instance, say to the child, “Welcome to humanity! Here are the rules, and when you get older you may be able to create better rules.” Instead, we cultivate an eternal system of preparation.
The System of Preparation
So you go to pre-school which is preparation for kindergarten. You are going to kindergarten to prepare you for the first grade. You work your way up the ladder and if you find yourself fascinated with this system of living eternally in the future, you may go off to college. If you are smart, they recommend a graduate school and you go off and become a professor and live perpetually in this cycle.
“The most dangerous risk of all is the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.” – Alan Watts
Now, of course, you can leave this system at some point and enter what they call “the World”. You go to your first sales meeting and find that they are under a very similar system. You have a quota and once you meet that quota, they give you a larger one.
Once you become middle aged, you begin to realize your life has been quite the same since you can remember. You have been conditioned to be in desperate need of a future. All in pursuit of this thing called “retirement” where they give you a discount at Hardees and you will have the time and money to do the things you’ve always wanted. At the same time, you will have no energy, rotten teeth, and aching joints. You begin to realize that this whole thing from start to finish is a hoax!
The Price of Living in the Future
You see, we live in a very bizarre human machine that creates a distinction between work and play. You go off and do your work because everyone else does and you get paid to do it because no one would care to do it otherwise. Your work is so boring, so dangerous, so dreadful that other people pay you to do it so they don’t have to. So you go to work to make money so you can leave work and enjoy this money that you’ve made. You see, “money can buy you pleasure”.
However, more often than not, you find yourself spending your hard earned money on TV dinners that save time cause you work so long, nice cars that get you to work and impress your coworkers, an expensive house that’s close to work, and Netflix/Hulu/HBO GO subscriptions so you can watch a manufactured life through a screen (or maybe you prefer to play pretend life using an Xbox or PlayStation) without engaging in life yourself. You see, you find your own life so dreadful and boring that you watch other’s to tickle that nerve. The same goes to social media.
You see, we have cultivated a culture of living in the future. We have a mindset that we are always on the move toward something bigger and better. No wonder anxiety is such an epidemic today!
I am not proposing that we do away with money, or even the system entirely. Money is a fantastic tool for controlling behavior and it allows us access to pleasurable experiences and things through the division of labor. Likewise, we all depend on the people who faithfully go to work every day to deliver the mail, grow and prepare the food, and clean the streets.
But suppose for a moment that a person saw through this system early in life and decided he wanted no part of it. This person reasons that he’d rather spend his life playing than working. That is, he’d rather do things he liked than things he didn’t like. If he’s truly sensible he’ll see all the accessories, gadgets, frivolities, and distractions of life for what they are and he’ll have very little to do with them. As such, his cost of living is significantly less than his peers and now all he must do is to find a way to get paid to play. Of course, all this comes by first choosing to live in the present.
This, then, is the great question: “How does one get paid to play?”. I will attempt an answer in next week’s post.
I know, I know. “But podcasts are informative and educational.” True. I thought I would be the last person to write this article. I used my podcast app more than Spotify. I had over 20 podcasts automatically downloaded daily and I made an effort to listen to ALL of them even if I had to catch up on the weekends.
These days there’s a podcast for nearly every niche with wildly over-the-top/dramatic/serious hosts to fit your style. But no matter what podcasts you subscribe to every podcast has one commonality, one thing it does so spectacularly well it keeps us coming back for more. Podcasts are excellent at holding our attention in a headlock.
“What’s wrong with that? Most things we find cool or interesting are attention grabbers.”, I hear you. However, podcasts are almost exclusively listened to when the last thing we need to distract us is the amazingness of neon signs or a drunken conversation between YouTube stars. Our brains need time to relax and take stock of our lives.
“My brain gets plenty of time to relax, my life is going great! Besides, I learn so much from podcasts!” Dude, that’s amazing! But when are you going to actually use what you learned from that podcast? Podcasts are information junk food: it’s enjoyable, but it fattens your brain with a bunch of useless facts. Podcasts are not the only source of information junk food.
I’m not proposing that you give up podcasts for good. Just take a break and reevaluate.
Here’s the solution: Delete all your podcasts and go one week without listing to a single second of Blue Apron ads. Then, after your one-week junk information cleanse, go back to your podcast player and before resubscribing to your podcasts, ask yourself this question: Is this information immediately useful to me? 90% of the time, the answer is “No”.
After the cut, I began to actually realize how much of my thought and anxieties came from the junk information disguised as intellectual stimulus that I was binge consuming. Once you begin to realize that if it’s not directly applicable to you RIGHT NOW, it doesn’t matter, you begin to focus on the truly important things.
Try it out! Let me know how it works for you in the comments!
I used to be known as the guy who always has everything he needs. That hasn’t changed, I just “need” way, way less.
I grew up in a home where the kitchen table overflowed with shoe boxes of old photos. The living room was packed with suitcases, hunting rifles, taxidermy deer, zebra, bear, fish, etc. My room was stuffed with toys from my childhood. The idea of a mess, of things, was always present.
I’m still not completely sure yet what led me to want to live this way. I went back to my home for spring break where I returned to that familiar mess after a year away at college. I guess I had enough.
One trip to the local dump and one trip to the local donation center later and 40% of my “non-belongings” were gone. It was a start. I think my parents saw that too.
Back to my dorm where I brought equally as many things to clutter my life when I moved in last year. I’ve packed up the things that are not bringing value and they too are on their way to a donation center.
I’m getting ready to move again for the summer. This time I have a visual list of things I need. Nothing else shall remain.
Here are the 100-ish things I own:
This list is a living collection. Updated as new things enter/exit my life.
It’s not about the things. It’s about the benefits. For me, the more I limit what I own, the more I expand my quality of life.
The Things I Don’t:
While limiting my physical clutter, I’ve also taken steps to reduce my digital/social clutter. I’ve removed all social media apps, as well as disabled email notifications on my phone. I’ve nearly stopped using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Mainly because I’ve transitioned to Github and Reddit. I’ve cut the hours I spend watching YouTube, listening to music, and completely unsubscribed from Netflix.
The benefits have begun to show themselves. For me, it means being more informed. I fill my free time reading up on current events, taking the time to read a book, or just relaxing and reflecting in quiet solace.
I’ve found more time to write. When I work, I get more done. When I engage in conversation, I’m more present in the moment. I’m sleeping better. I’m looking forward to dropping off that last load of stuff at the Goodwill. It’s liberating.
If I’ve forgotten anything that you’ve found to be extremely valuable in your life, let me know. I’d be glad to consider it for inclusion in this list.
I’m new to minimalism and tips are much appreciated.
Minimalism turns a lot of heads and inspires instant judgment. I’ve always been
thoughtful with my purchases. But I’ve not been so conservative with the things
that I choose to keep around.
Life can easily turn into an endless pursuit of buying the next pair of shoes,
gadget, video game… thing. It’s what we are told to do by commercials, Internet
ads and the stigma even exists in day to day conversation. “Did you hear about
Robin’s new car?”, “How’s that smart watch working out for you?”. It’s ingrained
in our thinking.
I found myself drowning in my possessions. The high of buying a new thing on
Amazon or at the department stores ceased as soon as I realized how little I wear
that one pair of green pants that looked so good that day in the store.
I’ve just reached that quarter-life mark by turning 20 years old and I’ve made it
a priority to cleanse my life of physical baggage and alter my lifestyle to be
more sustainable and meaningful.
The majority of things I own are duplicates, sentimental, or just in case items.
I have three pairs of headphones
Thirty plus button up shirts
Fifteen plus pairs of jeans
LEGO magazines circa 2006
Massive piles of old computer parts
Those duplicates rarely get used. I regularly wear three pairs of those jeans,
ten of those shirts, and one of those headphones.
Those sentimental items never bring me value. They sit on a high shelf in my closet
collecting dust. I never flip through them like I used to.
Those “just in case” items are the most difficult to me as a money saver. This
old 3.5 inch 80GB hard drive will save me from having to buy a new one if the one
I have dies. I subscribe to the 20/20 rule from The Minimalists.
Get rid of those just in case items because 90% of the time, you can replace that item
for less than twenty dollars in less than twenty minutes.
I’ve taken measures to achieve this lifestyle that I want. I’ve collected my unused or
rarely used items and donated them to the local charity resale shop. I’m
taking note of the things that bring me value and marking what passions I can cultivate
now that I no longer spend copious amounts of time shopping or chasing the next new thing.
For me, it’s not about owning as few things as possible. It’s more about getting the maximum
utility out of the things that I do own and having more time/energy to focus on what I
believe is important. Finding my passion. Directing my life so that I become the adult that I
imagine I want to be. It all starts with eliminating the excess.