the Modern Monkey Mind

One man's exploration of simple living and yoga

a Better Way to Spend Money

Minimalists don’t spend money.

Everyone knows they don’t. Or at least they think they do. And while that might be true for a very small percentage of minimalists, its certainly not true for me, and its not true for the vast majority. What is different is HOW minimalists spend.

Business likes to sell us the story that whatever bullshit product they’ve come up with will change your life, hand you whatever it is they think you want on a silver platter. Its a pretty safe assumption that any time there’s something like “real customer, not actor portrayal” or a dude in a labcoat extolling the product’s virtues, they’re pulling wool over our eyes. I’m not arguing that none of that stuff is useful, just that it won’t improve things because its special in any way. You don’t even need a study to tell you this. Just think back over the past few years and honestly look at whether anything you’ve bought outside of necessities has actually been worth it and not just ended up in storage or a landfill, forgotten and collecting dust.

It might seem weird here, but I rather like Epicurus’s suggestion of the four part cure (tetrapharmakos). I won’t go into details, though I highly recommend doing a search for “Epicurus on Happiness” on YouTube. In essence most of us think of Epicureanism as almost the exact opposite of what it is. Instead of indulging in all the things all the time, Epicurus focused on learning to get by on the basics: simple food and water, friends, simple clothes, and a roof over one’s head. Learn to be content with these and happiness is assured. Alain De Botton’s book “Consolations of Philosophy” has a great chapter on Epicureanism with a great explanation of the Tetrapharmakos. In short, Epicurus, as far as we can tell, would be just as disqusted with Futurama’s Hedonism bot as most of us likely are.

Why bring this up? Ever since reading about the Tetrapharmakos a week or so ago, I’ve been putting it to the test, and finding that its pretty darn effective and cuts costs quite a bit. Am I making corporations happy? Probably not. However it would do us all good to remember that we got along for the majority of human history without partaking in shopping as a major past-time and find happiness, and we could certainly do so again.

Call to Action:
If you feel so inclined, take on the Tetrapharmakos for a week. Think of it as an experiment. Cut out the extraneous stuff, focus on enjoying and being grateful for the basics and see what happens. Either way, no pressure to keep it up any longer. Feel free to head down to comments to share any thoughts, experiences, etc, whether or not you give this a shot.

the Real Roots of Yoga

The roots of yoga have been a hot topic over the years. We’ve seen museum exhibits about the history of yoga, there’ve been dozens of books written about the history of the practice, the Yoga Sutras and the Gita. This endeavor is made incredibly difficult, by the fact that most everything that once existed of the teachings and the historical beginning have been lost because the teachings existed in an oral culture and what little was written down was written on perishable materials.

Finding yoga’s historical roots is an endeavor that will likely never be resolved, though really, we should ask ourselves how important it even is. Forgetting history, lets look at our own practice. Traditionally, the foundation of the practice, the very first Yama of the eight limbs of Patanjali is Ahimsa, non harm. The practice on a personal level begins with a rejection of the harm inherent in living in the world. The rest of the Yamas and the entire rest of the system, grows out of that desire and reinforces it.

My students, as recovering addicts have known and still know pain in a very real way, psychologically and physically. My goal, and I’d argue the goal of any serious practice, has little to do with being able to do the traditional form of any pose. I’m much more interested in helping them to be present enough to follow along and be free of suffering for that hour and fifteen minutes they’re in the class. If they can do that, if any of us can do that, we’ve found the root and goal of yoga practice in a way much more meaningful than knowing who first came up with the teachings however many thousands of years ago.

Deowning to Live a Better Life

While I’ve suggested before that there might be an “end point” that minimalism is working toward, thats different for each one of us, I’m not really sure thats the case anymore. There’s something about the constant whittling, questioning, self-honesty of constantly getting rid of unnecessary items thats invigorating. Its a sort of spiritual “sharpening the saw” to borrow a phrase from Franklin Covey.

I use two donation boxes, one in my closet and the other next to my bookshelf. When I’m done with a book and I’m pretty sure I won’t be going back to it or its been sitting on the shelf “too long” (usually a couple weeks) it gets dropped in the box, and when I’ve got a stack of five to ten in there they get taken off to circulate around a couple of the local used shops and whatever isn’t sold gets donated. The exception to this is a handful of books I have I KNOW I can’t get from the library and would be a pain to replace, not just because they’d be expensive, but because they’re covered in highlighting and notes that would be essentially impossible to recreate. As Josh Millburn of the Minimalists likes to say, the value is the information, not the books. If a book is sitting on my shelf untouched it’s probably better off at a used store where someone else has a chance to pick it up and get value from it.

Clothes that haven’t been worn in a long time, or in some cases that I just get sick of end up in the donation box in my closet to be carted off and sold/donated once I have somewhere between a half dozen and a dozen pieces collected. I subscribe loosely to Courtney Carver’s project 333. I say loosely because I’m pretty comfortable in all seasons with 33 articles of clothing for all year since I live in the NorthWest where its basically cold and rainy all the time, and so long as I have a couple pairs of shorts and decent sandals for the times its summery out, I’m good to go.

The sale/donation bit is important. Yes, I could probably sell whatever isn’t bought locally on ebay or Amazon, but I’m more interested in getting rid of stuff than making money. Its also a denial of the Sunk Cost fallacy to emphasize trying to get some bit of my lost investment back rather than simply getting it out of my place. After all, its not exerting any less psychological strain on me if I’m stressing about getting rid of it than if I’m stressing about having it.

More and more, my library has gone digital, and physical books have come from the library. A big exception being books I know I’m going to annotate heavily and want to go back to. This does a couple things: Saves money (since Kindle books are USUALLY cheaper (I found a $30 ebook recently. Granted it was half the price of the print edition, but still…), and to paraphrase a half remembered quote from Leo Babauta “I’ve got access to a lot more books if I treat my local library as my bookshelf.”

As for clothes, its important to remember two things: Clothes are meant to keep you warm and socially appropriate. If someone is judging you because you aren’t wearing a different outfit every day of the month, you’re hanging out with the wrong people. After all, when was the last time someone commented on you wearing the same thing (not literally) a couple days a week?

When it gets right down to it, the less we have, the more we might just be. Less to clean up or around, and the higher percentage of possesions we actually use and benefit from on a regular basis.

change one thing

Often there is one habit that, when recognised, and addressed, will act as a kind of tipping point. Its often so obvious we don’t even notice it. Often for those of us in our twenties and thirties, this relates in some way to technology.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no luddite. Tech is a powerful tool, but, as the Minimalists like to say, you can use a chainsaw as a tool or a weapon, a positive, creative object, or a destructive one. Modern tech can be used to learn valuable skills like meditation, & foreign languages, organize your life with calendar and to-do apps, read all the books with apps like Kindle or Nook. Technology can also be an incredible time waster, getting us lost in youtube, two dots, twitter, facebook. The trick is to focus more on the former, less on the latter, and enforce limits on yourself, so it doesn’t take over your life.

Instead of Happiness

Happiness seems to be a popular thing these days, but I’m not sure its really what people are looking for. Psychologically speaking, happiness is a passing state. Something that comes on either as a result of experience or sometimes spontaneously for no necessarily discernible reason, and goes away after a while. Instead of happiness, I think most people are shooting for Contentment, a psychological stage thats created internally and can be maintained regardless of what goes on outside. The question is, how to create and maintain this state? One way I’ve found is through the practice of gratitude, and the question: “What is missing?”

Gratitude: If you’re reading this, it’s a pretty safe guess to say you’ve got clothes to wear, plenty of food, a safe place to sleep, and people that care about you. Oh, and free time to read something posted by a random dude on the internet. i.e. MORE than enough. Beyond just reminding yourself of this, try keeping a gratitude journal. Every couple of days, write down three to five things you’re grateful for. Could be anything, doesn’t matter. No one’s going to see it except you. There’ve even be scientific studies shown to prove that this actually works.

What is Missing?: Look around you right now and ask yourself this question. Go ahead and do it now, I’ll wait.

Back? Cool. If you’re anything like me, a whole list of stuff popped into your head:
-books you want to read
-consumer electronics you want (I’ve seriously been considering getting an iPad. Have I mentioned I’m a Mac fanboy?)
-vacations you dream about
But really, do you NEED any of that crap? I think deep down we all know that list is bullshit. Not to say its not okay to want stuff, but to think it’ll make us happy finally and forever. Instead of pursuing happiness, go for contentment and happiness might just tag along for the ride. Contentment, simply put, is wanting what you have. It’s something entirely in our control, an internal, not external trait. Nor does it mean we can sit around doing nothing (I don’t know about you, but I’d be bored out of my skull)it just means we haven’t tied our sense of wellbeing to something that might or might not happen and may well not bring the results we want if it does.

my December goals

November has been relatively low key all things considered. No major catastrophes or much special. Let go of a couple more books and going to finally get rid of two bags stuffed with old clothes later this week. My paternal aunt and uncle are out of town for Thanksgiving so we’re having Thanksgiving by our lonesome (my parents, brother, and myself). I’ve pretty much made the switch to veganism, but still dip into vegetarianism once in a while, and for the sake of making things easier on everybody involved, I’ll be doing Thanksgiving vegetarian style this year. Before going on to my December goals, let’s revisit my November goals:

November goals

1 Limit screen time This one was rough. I freely admit to being a screen addict so the beginning and middle of the month didn’t see much screen limitation. Except for a few slips this has improved, but could still use some work.

2 Floss Flossing was an on-again-off-again habit this month. I definitely flossed more than I have in a LONG time (couple times a week every week) but never managed to do my whole mouth. This also hurts A LOT if you haven’t been doing it regularly, which hasn’t exactly helped.

3 Yoga This one saw a lot of improvement. I got to 3-5 classes a week and I’ve started practicing on my own a couple times a week as well. Meditation has been something I’ve loved since high school but has gone by the wayside for a long time. Getting back to it felt amazing (I’ll post about this at some point, but if you want to give it a shot, try five minutes, but push longer asap. The real magic doesn’t happen til your ego starts resisting). Pranayama has been a great in-bed-before-sleep activity (if you have problems sleeping, give this a shot: count the number of seconds your in breath and out breath each take, and slowly lengthen both, or the exhale). I’ve also been revisiting a book I love called “the Yamas & Niyamas” which I HIGHLY recommend. If you already have a āsana practice and have tried meditation, this is a great place to go next. I was intentionally skipping a āsana class Monday mornings taught by a teacher I don’t like, but I’m seriously considering starting to go again. We can learn a lot from teachers we like, but sometimes we can learn just as much or more from teachers we don’t quite click with.

December Goals

1 Buy nothing new With my efforts to pay off some consumer debt, this seems like a good idea. not to mention my NEW book habit. The one exception I’m making is the one or two Christmas presents I still need to buy (yes, I Christmas shop before December, shoot me), and a copy of Sri BKS Iyengar’s commentary on the Yoga Sutras. (I’m exempting necessities (obviously) as well as a weekly Americano I have when visiting with an old friend of mine.)

2 At least 10k steps a day I usually walk a lot (think 10k steps a day easy) but this has been sliding lately (hmm, could my screen addiction be playing into this?). In December, I’ll be pushing myself to not just hit 10k, but go past it every day.

3 (Social) Media detox Last month started out with taking a shot at the [Media Detox]( from the [Blissful Mind]( and failed horribly. This month I’ll be taking another shot and continuing throughout the month. With the insanity particular to December/Christmas time in the US, this seems like a particularly apt time to do this sort of thing.

Looking for goals/habits to try this next month? Take a peek at [this]( post for ideas. In future, I’ll be shooting for 1 each in terms of mind/body/soul goals. What are your goals for this next month? Do you do media fasts in December?

How I’m paying off my credit card

I’ve written about money before, but its been a while. Yet money is an ever-present aspect of life in one way or another. That being said, my monetary situation has changed slightly to the tune of a rather large (couple hundred dollar) amount of credit card debt. Don’t ask me how it happened, but there you are. So now I’m revisiting some basic money management stuff (Mr Money Mustache & Blond on a Budget have been quite helpful, though most of this has been cribbed from Leo Babauta over on Zen Habits) and returning to my no plastic at brick and mortar policy (except maybe Amazon Books, though I’m hoping they start taking cash soon). There are six aspects to this approach:

Cash: any transaction that takes place in a real world location is done in physical cash money. Two withdrawals are made, one upon being paid, and the second at the middle of the next month. This limits the dripping faucet that can be caused by using cards without tracking spending.

Save change: All my change gets poured into a counting machine and deposited (along with any singles) into a savings account linked to my primary at the end of the month. Since the counting machine I use has a $5 minimum, this adds up relatively quickly.

Build a buffer in a non-primary account: The second part of that is key. Every time I’ve had a buffer in a primary account its disappeared. Needing to transfer to the primary prevents eating into it without realizing. I’d recommend shooting for $100 as soon as possible, with a long-term goal of getting to $500 and keeping a minimum of that much in the account. All change and singles should be deposited directly into this buffer account.

Emergency fund: This is a third account with a decent interest rate AT A DIFFERENT BANK linked to your primary. Having this account at a different bank is important as it prevents you from mindlessly dipping into it. Instead of credit cards, or the buffer account, this should be used to pay emergency expenses above and beyond bills.

Auto transaction: Lets face it, we’re all absent-minded to some degree. This i why automation is so important. I’ve got my accounts set up so transfers are made automatically. $25 is transferred to my buffer account on the first of every month, and my credit card payment (in my case 2xminimum payment, but the amount isn’t that important as long as its more than the minimum) is made on the 11th. This ensures that things are paid off and savings are built up without me having to remember anything. I’d recommend checking in on things using a program that collates all your banking info a couple times a month. I like, but there are plenty of excellent programs out there for this purpose.

Extra goes to paying bills: Most everything up until now has been pretty much a retread of things I’ve already talked about, but here comes the new bit that I’m hoping is going to help get that bill paid off in less than a year. The first week of next month I’m keeping an eye on a friend’s place while he’s gone. He’s paying me a significant amount in total, and instead of putting the money into my spending account, I’ll be putting it toward paying off that credit card debt I mentioned. Savings are important, and its a good idea to build them up even while you’re paying off debt, but getting the debt paid down and taken care of asap should be the goal.

So there you have my current money management system. Notice there are only three accounts, and each has an explicit purpose. This is to keep things simple and straightforward. We’ve got enough headaches and stress around most everything including money without making finances intentionally more convoluted. Any and all feedback, as well as tips and tricks you’ve found useful in money management, are welcome in the comments.

ADDENDUM: After running across this article the other day, my perspective has shifted rather significantly. If you’re in debt, definitely read it.

PS: As a guy that has every intention of starting a family and having at least one mini-me running around in the next decade or two, allowance has been on my mind off and on. I can honestly say Mr Money Mustache has my favorite approach to allowance I’ve seen, and I’ll be stealing his system. Check out his post here.

Why simplicity?

Marie Kondo’s “the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying up” is topping sales charts, Decluttering and minimalism are increasingly popular subjects in the social network and blogs. Its clear that, at least for a certain percentage of people, consumerism is losing its luster. When you get right down to it, though, decluttering is all well and good, there’s plenty it can do to increase our quality of life, but if there’s no reason behind it, it is entirely possible, maybe even likely to backslide and start building up a stockpile of stuff again.

So the question becomes, why are you doing it, beyond its current trendiness? Knowing the why will change the entire process because the why will tell you what to focus on, what to emphasize, and maybe even how to know when you’re there. For example:

Books: As a yoga teacher and practitioner, books are incredibly important to me. I’ve got a Kindle, but many of the books I study aren’t Kindle friendly for one reason or another, and I’m not sure I want them to be. This means that, for me, even though I don’t plan to accrue a house consuming physical library, its perfectly fine to own plenty of physical books. For someone who reads mostly novels or wants to travel a lot and is more interested in minimalism as a way to spend time with family, buying a Kindle, Nook, or similar device and selling off their physical library could be entirely appropriate and freeing.

Time/Schedule: Knowing your why also helps simplify and clarify how to spend time and what to keep on your schedule. Want to spend more time with friends/family? Make sure there’s time in your schedule every day/week for it and give that time priority over other commitments. If something comes up that would conflict, say thanks but no thanks. In a culture so focused on work and physical/monetary accumulation, this can mean some pretty major countercultural activity as it could potentially mean choosing family over work.

Clothes: While I highly recommend everyone interested in minimalism take on the Project 333 Challenge, or put together a capsule wardrobe, that collection of clothing will look very different for someone who works in construction, a CEO, and a yoga teacher, and it should. Someone working a physically demanding outdoor job has very different expectations and requirements of their clothing than someone working a retail or office gig. The latter might need dress clothes in abundance while the former could probably get along just fine with a pair of dark wash jeans, khakis, sportcoat, a couple dress shirts and a gray suit.

Just something to ponder. So, what’s your why, and how does it shape how you go about decluttering/simplifying/minimalizing?

my November goals

This past month has been, well, disorganized, as have been most months for way too long now. In an effort to get things a bit more focused and in order, I’m taking a page out of Catherine from the Blissful Mind’s playbook and setting three goals/habits to cultivate each month.


1. Put yoga front & center: This might seem odd to a lot of people, especially anyone who associates yoga with āsana, the physical exercises, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Classical or Ashtanga yoga has eight limbs or practices, and I’ve been neglecting most of them. As a yoga teacher, this should be the center of my life, but it really hasn’t been. This month I’m going to be changing that. Expect a post about the limbs of yoga later this month.

2. floss: I’ve never been very good at flossing, and my gums have definitely suffered for it. This month I’m making flossing more of a priority. I’ll be using Leo Babauta’s methodology, in this case, floss one tooth on the first day of the month, two on the second, three on the third, etc, and I’ll be doing it either in the shower or after when I brush my teeth.

3. Limit screen time: I spend WAY too much time in front of screens (don’t we all). I’m fortunate in that teaching yoga doesn’t really require much tech time, yet I still find ways to rot my brain. That’ll change this month as I’ll be limiting my tech time to a couple half hour chunks a day (totaling two hours or so). This will also mean I’ll hopefully be more focused and productive in terms of writing for this blog.

Minimalism 101

Starting the minimalist path can be rather daunting. Most people understandably go about it by getting rid of physical stuff, but the question becomes how, especially when there’s tons of it. Different people have given different suggested methods, and today I thought I’d offer a rundown of possibilities to those looking for advice:

  1. Burn it With Fire: Okay, so this is my bad humor geeky name for it, but this method involves junking/selling/donating EVERYTHING or as nearly as possible. This can be especially useful for people who have so much stuff they have one or more storage units and don’t even know what all they have. This is the method Colin Wright used before heading out to travel the world, and he literally rented an industrial size garbage bin and tossed everything in. While thats the shortest, simplest way of explaining this approach, you can read about a more in-depth, nuanced interpretation called the KonMari method in a best selling book called “the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by an awesome Japanese lady by the name of Mary Kondo.
  2. Packing Party: This is the method made famous by the Minimalists, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nickodemus. Simply put, pack everything up like you’re going to move, including covering furniture, and only uncover/unpack items as you need them. At the end of the week sell/donate/throw away anything thats still packed away. While someone with a lot of stuff could use this method, it certainly isn’t feasible for a packrat and is probably best for someone with a normal amount of clutter that doesn’t pour over into a storage unit.
  3. Slow & Steady: While Leo Babauta has half jokingly enodrsed the “Kill it With Fire” method of minimalism, he normally goes for a much slower more methodical approach:
    1. Choose a spot in your house, prefferably a junk drawer in the kitchen or your desk. Take everything out, seperate the contents into two or three piles: keep, sell/donate, trash.
    2. Throw out the items in the third pile, put the second in a bag or box to be taken care of later, and replace the items in the first pile neatly.
    3. Once the drawer is arranged, declutter moving out from that point using a similar method.
      This method is likely best suited to someone with a small to medium amount of clutter to begin with.

When I got into minimalism I used the third method, mostly because my very first exposure to minimalism was Leo, though if it had been on my radar, I probably would have thrown a packing party.