Computer experimenter since Windows 95

The State of the Union

Recently our little team got a resume for a new member, due to join the Schmautz-Menser team in March, and so Cassidee and I looked around at our little slice of heaven to figure out how to squeeze a bit more out of our roughly 900 square foot living space. We've been in our apartment for nearly three years now and slowly over time, we've refined the space with various tweaks to the layout and stuff in the space, from building our own brick-and-plank bookshelves / shoe storage area, to something as simple as rotating the table to a different orientation. Oftentimes we do the best we can with the space we have, but also often enough I've just accumulated too much stuff. Yes, I - Cassidee sensibly has a much more modest collection of things. So often, we go through this kind of purging event, to not only get rid of stuff but really ask ourselves 'What do we use every day, and what is important to us?' The first of these two questions is truly to most important question, and if you are a modern day person dealing with stuffitist, maybe this post will help you. Hi, my name's Chris, and I like stuff.

Motivations for downsizing

Motivations for downsizing are numerous, but what are some other reasons to downsize? There's quite a number of articles on the web about this topic - I won't list them all here, but highlight a few that truly jive with my ideals:

  • Clear your mind; surprisingly this 'change of scenery' is a really refreshing feeling to be had; see feng shui space clearing
  • Thinking about your possessions resets your mental model of space you actually have; this makes me personally more conscientious about future purchase decisions
  • Getting rid of numerous things you really don't need can help others

So these few reasons are powerful enough, in my mind, to encourage at least the thought of downsizing in some fashion once a year, however difficult and arduous the task may be. Thought alone isn't enough in most cases, as physical items require physical interact to find their way out of physical space. Of course you can imagine yourself in a clean environment without executing the 'thought stuff' of action to make it a reality, but chances are it will never come to fruition if 'thought stuff' isn't transformed to the physical realm, unless by some miracle of evolution you learn telekinesis in the process. Because of this fact, more often than not we are moved into mental action, backed by little physical response, thinking ourselves to death on what it is we actually want to accomplish in the physical plane. What is that even about, some event-horizon of perception?

Beyond the obvious reasons, in some sense the 'cleansing' of your stuff is a natural progression of life that you must embrace, just as you must embrace your aging body, or growing distaste for traffic. We, over time, become different people, and in the wake of our interest lies a long line of forgotten stuff, just waiting for our past selves, or some other version of ourselves, to come along and rediscover that part of our life. How can you progress in life when holding on to your past self with such effort?

Steps for letting go

Whether you're deeply embedded into some kind of hobby, or just a casual 'stuff user' who has too much, there's a common sense approach to save your life: just stop acquiring anything for a month, and see what happens. Seriously, don't even buy a new pair of underwear, don't go to the movies, and definitely don't splurge - sit on your butt in the sea of consumerism and just observe. Notice not just the changes in your own self, but notice how others are consuming also.

After such an event, you may notice you have slightly more money in your bank account, or that you're noticing stuff that you've always had just a little bit more - unused things are standing out. If this isn't you, either you didn't wait a full month or you need to wait one to six more months for the gravity of such an event to take hold. The point of the exercise is to take pause in your process of consuming, to make room for reflection on where you're at as a consumer of things.

The reason this is important is that when you stop consuming and start this process of reflection, the end goal is to understand who you are as a consumer - do you trend towards really high-end items, who occasionally settles for something less-than-great? Do you then throw the inferior product aside, or are you utilizing the inferior product to it's fullest potential before progressing on to bigger and better items? Or, for some people, is the inferior product enough for your needs? This isn't something that a doctor or someone else can interpolate for you - this is a self-diagnostic quest to better understand your habits in the consumer economy.

Beyond 'stuff'

Evidently after such a reflection of the type of consumer you are, chances are you'll figure out what really matters to you, whether that be superb coffee every morning from your $250 Baratza, $300 Technivorm, and single origin lot of coffee, or if you enjoy a good golf game with the $2000 bag of irons and drivers you have, so be it. These objects do define you in some sense, because you expend your life's energy attaining them (if you're a normal person who expends time for compensation), and so at least be honest with yourself in what you trade for your time here in this state of existence.

Even though these items do relate to our beliefs in some way, often humans act tangentially to their own selves for whatever reason. Because of this occurrence, or rather weakness of mankind, this reflection step yearly or even bi-annually is a really relieving kind of event. In a sense, you get the cobwebs out of your own mind, asking all the important questions - 'Why do I hold on to x, or y? What about z?' Knowing yourself is the first step to releasing the chains of all the useless crap that has piled around you.

Staying the course

Once you've established your motives in life, really ingrain them in your higher order of things. If you cannot do so with any confidence, go back to step one. What I mean by this is, if you like some certain space of 'things' in the world, stick with it forever. If you cannot make that commitment, give up the thing now and cut the loss. Let's investigate this topic further for a better understanding of the intent.

One stark example of this in my own personal life is mechanical keyboards. If you read my blog, I mention them quite a bit, and for good reason - I absolutely love mechanical keyboards, from the classic boards like the Apple Standard Keyboard (m0116) which I first encountered back in elementary school, to the modern day 'Rama Works' showpiece boards. One fact you may find odd, however, is that I'm relatively new to the field of mechanical keyboards - just about a year and a half deeply ingrained in the culture, with about two or three years there using an MX Cherry Brown keyboard as a casual user. In all reality, I stumbled upon this subculture totally by accident - I spilled wine on my DasKeyboard and needed help resoldering the switches I had damaged, which lo and behold, led me to the niche culture which I'm now so fond of. Most importantly, I don't envision a time and place where I'll be without a mechanical keyboard, and I've even branched into alternatives to QWERTY as a result of this infatuation - I'm in it for the long haul folks, even if Colemak keyset support bankrupts me!

This small anecdotal account may seem of little importance, but in truth it should evoke some emotion of shame in the reader - what hobbies are you currently involved in that you are only a filthy casual in? Call it presumptuous, call it audacious to assume - if you can imagine living without something, you can live without it right now. Personally I couldn't imagine a life without my computers and technology or a life without a freshly-roasted cup of coffee (or fresh produce for that matter). These things are my core in the consumer economy and I will not cast them aside if 'the phase passes'. If things are to define you, let them define you as crystal clear as possible, without ambiguity. In all transparency, most of us could live without much of the stuff that defines us, including myself, even if we cannot reasonably see a future in which that would occur.

'Separate the wheat from the chaff'

So, you may be asking yourself at this juncture in this too-winded blog post, 'How do I determine what I really care about anyway? There's so many things I enjoy and care about, but not enough time in the day... How do I choose?'

For me, this is definitely a common problem I personally face, constantly. My interests are broad, and such, the things I dive into in the physical plane are just as broad. For instance, I have a constant passion for all things art, and so repeatedly I have stocked the full gambit of art-related tools. Unfortunately this passion rarely finds an outlet amongst the other competing topics of interest, due to the event horizon which engulfs me when I begin on something - hours blow away like dust in the wind over a single line art piece. Among those other topics include: health, fitness (aka systematic conditioning), biology, cooking, nutrition, food sourcing and production, trends in health (health informatics in a sense), automobiles, computer hardware, computer software, retro gaming, modern gaming, mechanical keyboards, psychology, programming, programmatic design, programmatic theory, philosophy, design theory, and most recently, photography. In my perspective, having all these interests is evidence of you being alive - don't shun it. Rank these interests in some way, as to what will bring you the most fulfillment in your soul. For some, playing in a band may be more congruent to personal fulfillment than their 9-to-5, whereas for me, programming and computers is my fulfillment in and of itself.

Once you rank these interests, you can then better estimate their footprint on your physical realm. For me, since technology is a large part of my interests, our whole study area and entertainment space is well aimed at fulfilling those interests, from my water-cooled PC, to our entertainment cabinet, to a multitude of gaming consoles. When we selected our apartment, Cassidee and I already knew that the kitchen would be a hot spot for us, as we like to cook every meal we can at home, so we have kitchen that enables us to cook the food we love, without feeling separated from the rest of the apartment, or an 'open floor plan' if you will. Be obstinate and picky about what you sacrifice, what you dedicate energy towards, because it's your life remember?

A great man, Wallace D. Wattles, once wrote a series of books which delve into the topic previously discussed, and through his analysis on 'The Science of Getting Rich', a cornerstone example of his was that man is driven to the fulfillment of his soul, through the physical plane, and that a person with an expansive soul will also have expansive things on the physical plane to match those dispositions.

"Your first duty to God, to yourself, and to the world is to make yourself as great a personality, in every way, as you possibly can... Everything that touches your life is an opportunity if you discover its proper use... The very best thing you can do for the world is to make the most of yourself... Abandon everything you have outgrown."