Perpetual Upgrade Archives
Pack less, way less
You really appreciate having less when you're racing across an airport or schlepping from train to train in a strange place. Traveling with a single carry-on bag is an art form well worth mastering. Don’t just figure, “Hey, the airlines let me check a bag, so I might as well do so.”
You can cure yourself of this habit the first time you walk off a plane with nothing but a carry-on and are on your way, while everyone else is milling around waiting. Next time you're at the airport, watch the people claiming their luggage. I certainly hope some of them are actually moving to the country at which they're arriving because you shouldn't need a bag the size and weight of a coffee table to get you through a vacation. Who looks oppressed and in pain? Giant Bag People. Who looks excited and adventurous? The ones walking past baggage claim on their way to the exit because they already have all their reasonable amount of stuff.
"Just in case” crowds out present opportunities
Traveling in the 21st century continually reminds us of how much we have in common with people in other places. I’ve been able to pop into a corner store for some forgotten item in cities from Nairobi to Nara to Newcastle. If that’s true while traveling most places on the globe, it’s even truer in your hometown. Quit hanging onto so much stuff “just in case.” Come on. You aren't on the moon! Let the excess go.
excerpts from Discardia: More Life, Less Stuff
I hope you're ready to try being happier traveling with less luggage. The best way to increase your confidence about lowering your load is to do this simple test at home before you travel. You may feel a little silly at moments doing it, but it can save you many more moments of discomfort on your trip.
Step One: Prepare Your Gear
Most of the places that bags and backpacks travel to are dirty, so spread something easy to wash on top of your bed before you begin packing (or especially later unpacking). Go through your itinerary pulling out and laying on the bed what you will need for each day. Layered clothing is your friend so double up to maximize your options wherever you can. And, when in doubt, leave it out. The odds of needing something you have to buy on the trip is vastly lower than the odds that you'll adore having light luggage every step of the way.
Joe and I travel with two bags each: a carry-on bag which fits in the overhead compartment (we like TravelPro Flightcrew) and an over the shoulder laptop bag or other day bag (I like the Timbuk2 Q backpack, Joe prefers a roll-top messenger bag from Mission Workshop). I also tuck a small, over-the-body-strap purse inside my day bag for lighter or dressy use.
While on the move, keep your day bag in constant sight. This is where you want to have all your valuables, including your passport, money, wallet, laptop, phone, and travel itinerary printout. You'll be keeping track of your suitcase too, but you want to be able to set it out of arm's reach, such as the luggage rack at the end of a train car or airport shuttle, without having to worry too much.
Along with valuables, your day bag is where you'll carry those things you want on the plane or other long rides. These include: snacks, reading material, earbuds, medicine, the quart size bag of liquids (such as shampoo, lotion, toothpaste, etc.) which airport security will want you to present as you pass through the security gates of most airports, and anything else small to keep you comfortable as you journey. Ideally, you should leave enough room in the top of the bag to tuck in your sweater if you get warm on the way.
Everything else goes in your suitcase, including nonliquid toiletries. Roll soft things like undershirts and underwear to create a dense, compact layer on which you can set items more prone to wrinkle. Don't forget to be sneaky with space-saving tricks like filling shoes with socks. Wear your bulkiest garments when practical; boots and thick sweaters are fine on your body but take up a lot of space in your bag. (Here's more detailed advice on packing light from Rick Steves and Heather Earl)
You should be able to comfortably lift your day bag and wear it without pain. It's okay if your suitcase is a little bit heavy but you must be able to lift it from the floor to waist-high racks or security conveyor belts and down again without hurting yourself. It's preferable if you can also lift it above your head to put it in the overhead compartment on a plane yourself, but in a pinch I find there is usually someone strong around who is happy to help if you apologize and ask nicely.
One last check: Turn your closed day bag completely upside down. Nothing should fall out. If it does, that's not the right bag to take lest casual losses or pickpockets ruin your good time.
Step Two: The Imaginary Airport
Now is where it feels a little silly, but stay with me; it's worth it. Couples and families should do this step together. Everyone should have a piece of paper and a pen to write down things they're learning in this step. This piece of paper also serves as your pretend boarding pass. No one should have anything that won't be traveling with them.
Wearing exactly what you'll be wearing when you set out on the trip, stash anything from your pockets in your day bag and note anything else which security may ask you to remove before passing through the x-ray such as belts with large metal buckles.
Now put on your day bag, lift the closed suitcase off the bed, and roll out of the bedroom(s) to form a line in front of another doorway.
Quickly retrieve your passport from your day bag. Show your pretend boarding pass and your passport to the doorway. Roll on to allow the next person to do the same and quickly put your passport away securely.
Return to the bed, which is now playing the part of the security x-ray conveyor belt. Put your suitcase and day bag on the bed, leaving space to between them for you to set the extra things you will need to show security. This varies from airport to airport and country to country, but often includes laptops, removed shoes, jackets, and permitted liquids in their quart bag. Here's how it works with TSA in the United States. Step back from the bed and confirm you can comfortably assume these two positions without your unbelted trousers falling down:
You probably won't need to assume that second position (for which I amusingly could only find that particular official TSA image) unless they need to do extra screening with a metal detector wand. It happens not infrequently and it's not a big deal, just relax and stay pleasant if it ever does.
Now you can step back to the bed, move your suitcase to the floor, and quickly return everything to your day bag. If your shoes aren't slip ons, it's polite to shoulder your day bag, pick up your shoes, and roll your suitcase over to one of the recombobulation benches to sit and put them back on out of the way.
Hooray! You're through security!
Roll on to your living room, set your day bags on your seat, lift your suitcases above your heads for a moment putting them in the imaginary overhead compartment, then set the suitcases aside and, standing awkwardly over your seat whilst pretending not to bump your head, remove your jacket before sitting down. Put your day bag laying flat right in front of your toes and breathe a sigh of relief. Now, without elbowing your seatmates, remove your reading material from your day bag and relax. Write down any notes you have so far.
Next, put away anything you've removed from your day bag, put your jacket back on (or stick it in the top of your day bag), and retrieve your suitcase again lifting it in the air briefly. Roll back to a doorway in a line, quickly remove your passport from your day bag and show it to the doorway before returning it to safekeeping and rolling on.
Now with all your gear, day bag still on, walk around rolling your suitcases for at least 10 minutes. Set a timer so you aren't tempted to cheat.
After this enlightening interlude—during which you will likely discover if your bags are too heavy—return to the bedroom and place all your gear on the bed.
Hooray! You're out of the airport!
Step 3: Venturing Out of Your Hotel
Now it's time to see how well your day bag works. Remove from the bag anything that you wouldn't be taking with you on a day trip including a stop at an internet cafe. Stash your passport in an inside pocket of your suitcase. Think about what the weather will be like at your destination and change clothes or add items to your day bag as appropriate. Now walk, take a bus, or if you need to drive somewhere nearby where you know there's a café or library with Wi-Fi.
Walk around for little while with your day bag on, stopping to adjust the straps or otherwise improve its comfort as needed.
Visit the café or library and use their Wi-Fi if you have your laptop or tablet, or a public Internet terminal if you don't, to check your email and send a test message. Being able to stay in touch is a great way to stay calm while you travel. Remember to log out of any accounts you logged into when you are all done.
Walk around a while longer, again testing the comfort of your day bag. Note any items which seem too heavy for everyday carrying and decide if you will leave them at home or keep them in your suitcase in future.
How do your feet feel? Are these the best shoes for this trip?
While you're out walking keep an eye open for interesting postcards of your hometown. These are ideal for writing thank you notes on your journey.
Congratulations! You've made your upcoming trip much better!
You're about to move. You may not have realized this, but it's true.
This time next year you'll be a different you, maybe majorly different or maybe only slightly. And that different you will live —or should—in a home better suited to that new self.
Conveniently, it's quite likely that this move will be into a home that is precisely the same size and layout as your current home.
So, what doesn't make the move? What isn't worth carrying on that journey and taking up space in your new home? What's part of an old you that you don't need or want or like anymore?
Keep looking around for the things you don't need to carry with you on this move into the future and get them out of your way now.
Whenever the Discardia holiday is short, or you have only a small amount of time to devote to its celebration, take heart; small efforts still add up. By regularly tuning your attention, even briefly, you are building mental paths that lead you toward where you want to be.
From now until 2016, I'll be helping you build that trail, just a little each day, with a tip or a question. These will go out on Twitter—at all hours since Discardia is celebrated around the world—but you can always see them here at Discardia.com on the righthand side of the page.
Join me in a year of Discardian Strategies and take a daily moment to consider how you can steer your life in the direction of less stress and more happiness. When that contemplation inspires action, leap on the motivation and take a few minutes to improve your world.
Anything which you do pretty much every single day, even if only for ten minutes, has the power to change your life.
As the year goes on, these moments of contemplation will prime you for minutes of action when opportunity falls in your lap. Stay tuned in to what you're learning makes things better for you and seize your chances to do quick little laps of upgrading your world.
From where can you steal those laps of 10-20 minutes? Anywhere you can grab the time, but watch especially for non-rewards that you can trade away. Things you still do which aren't as satisfying as they used to be can fall off your schedule to make room for greater joy.
Best of all, this reveals some of the magic of shifting habits: our focus casts a shadow. If you shift from the habit, say, of watching a particular half hour TV show that has grown dull, you’re gaining back not only those 30 minutes, but also all that other time you spend following information about the show online, complaining about episode plot holes with friends or co-workers, and simply thinking about what you’d watched or planned to watch. Whatever activity it is that isn't giving you want you need and want in your life, change your focus to what makes you happier and calmer.
When you make these small changes, day by day, week by week, month by month, wonderful things begin to happen. It all adds up to the life you've been wanting to be living.
Let's have a great year in 2015 with an even better one to follow!
Beginning in one week, on this December’s rare one-day Discardia, I’ll begin tweeting 'Discardian Strategies' for a year. That's a tip or useful question each day from @Discardia all through 2015.
I'm looking forward to hearing what they inspire!
We've a good long Discardian season now, with plenty of time to look at the year behind and the year ahead. Acknowledge where you've been and what you've learned. See the possibilities you've created for yourself. Choose where you want to be heading.
When Discardia comes around in December on that shortest day—the winter solstice—celebrate by releasing yourself from a self-imposed deadline and giving thanks for what is good in the world. In addition, let this also be the season of giving yourself what you need to be truly joyful and just plain happy.
Look back on your year and see how things compare to last December. Recognize and enjoy the improvements you’ve made in your world.
• What has provided you with the most satisfaction?
• Can you do more in that area to provide a similar payoff?
This is the season to say thanks to yourself. Seek out the right choices you've made in the past year, great and small, and acknowledge your good sense in curing those causes of dissatisfaction.
You have a supportive framework of good habits, can see the rewards of your decisions and what you did about them, and have replaced some of your less exciting quantity with energizing quality. Now it’s time to turn up the volume on the awesomeness and build the habit of upgrading your experiences.
Think back on your past:
• What did you learn from good but not ideal apartments, jobs, and relationships?
• Are there patterns or antipatterns that point you in the direction of positive change in your life today?
Add this question to your mental toolbox: “What does this look like when it works?” You can apply that to any functional object, space, time, or relationship that is currently less than ideal.
This mindset leads to other good questions. For example:
• What do I want to see (and not see) when I walk in the front door?
• What is bedtime like when it leads me into a great night's sleep?
• What would a good mentor provide me now?
Give that part of your world a nudge in the right direction.
First step: Do better than just survive December.
It’s a new year. Get it off to a good start by paring the things you always have with you down to just the right ones. Clear out the accretions of the past months and don’t weigh yourself down with the obsolete.
Take your wallet, purse, backpack, or any other container o’ stuff that you carry with you most of the time and empty it completely onto a table. Clean the container; shake out the dust, even vacuum the bottom of that big bag if it will help clear away the needless grit of the past.
Now take a moment to think about your true minimums. What do you always want with you? What routinely saves you from hassles? It’s very nice not to schlep around unnecessary weight, so don’t automatically put back in everything you were carrying before. Has your life changed such that you use different things while you’re out and about? Have you upgraded or streamlined any of your tools such that you can eliminate redundancy? Can you go to a smaller wallet or bag and lighten your load?
Set yourself up for having just what you need, both in the sense of “exactly” and “only” what you need.
This time around we have a very short Discardian holiday, just four days with the new moon coming this Saturday. That's a lot like the narrow moments of opportunity we can face day to day. When you've only got a little time, what can you accomplish?
First, keep what you do spend that little time on aligned to your biggest goals. What matters most to you in your life? What could you do to honor that in the next five minutes? Even if it's just sending an email or making an appointment on your calendar to take action at a specific later date, that's an affirmation of your intent. You are allowed to have what you truly love be a greater part of your daily life.
Second, be fair to yourself about how much is realistic to try for in these last weeks of December—and, for that matter, in the month of January. Remember that you'll achieve more over the coming year if you don't start it burnt out. You don't have to say yes to every offer or request that comes to you.
Third, upgrade a few things. Eliminate one annoyance, perhaps by making a small repair or freeing yourself from an unrewarding commitment. Improve one thing you do every day, perhaps by replacing something worn out or giving yourself a tool you've been lacking. Expand your understanding in one area that will fuel your dreams, perhaps by taking 20 minutes a day to read up on it or by planning lunch with someone who can talk you through it.
These positive actions taken over the next few days can help fill your sails for the year ahead. Where would you like to go?
Even the luckiest of us feel a bit of extra pressure around the end of the year. In a 2006 survey by the American Psychological Association (APA) over half of respondents reported that they often or sometimes experience stress, irritability, and/or fatigue during the holidays, with the leading stressors being lack of time, lack of money, and commercialism or hype (in contrast to work and money, which lead at other times of year).
It’s not just Christmas. The whole season is enough to make anyone rebel against all that pressure. I’m not the only one to invent holidays out of that stress: Buy Nothing Day and Festivus owe their origins to some of the same forces that launched Discardia. From the moment we lock the front door on Halloween night and poke through the leftover trick-or-treat candy, we jump into a wild, obligation-ridden bobsled run, whisking us through Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve, until we’re dumped headfirst into the cold, slushy snow of the first bleak week of January.
We feel the whirlwind begin as ads suggest “the perfect gift for the such and such on your list.” This list is assumed; of course, everyone has a list. Everyone must be buying. Post-turkey Friday comes and the retail frenzy begins. The crowds and the sensory overload of enforced commercial festivity. “Bring on the cheer, dammit!” seems to be the underlying message of the barrage of Christmas music, holiday movie promotions, and red and green advertising plastered on every surface. Sometimes it seems like you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting a Santa—and, as December barrels on, the temptation to do so grows.
Prioritize your energy. Emotional turmoil can almost always move to the bottom of your list. Find a little breathing space and give some to others when you can see that they need it. Ease the tension and let something other than drama take your time.
Even the very best group of family or friends can sometimes be annoying, so I encourage you to do two things when stress starts to kick in at big gatherings. When you need a little room, find a way to take it. Good techniques include walking the dog, washing some dishes, amusing the littlest kids, showing the newest family member around the neighborhood, running a last-minute errand, or having a shower. Along with taking care of yourself, make space for others. Build some alone time into your events. Don’t make a fuss over people retreating from time to time. Whether between family, friends, or lovers, making room for each other’s “me-time” builds stronger relationships
Rescue the stressed. Useful phrases include, “I need a little walk before the pie. Care to come along?,” “Mom, I’ll do that for you, but sit down for just a moment and tell me again about the trip where you got this vase. That was right after you two got married, right?,” “Okay, that’s got about an hour more to cook and everything else is all ready, so you all can relax or read or whatever and I’ll let you know when we get close to dinner time,” and “Who else is ready for a nap break?”
Create opportunities to free yourself and your loved ones for joyful engagement.
(This post is a little taste of the book, pulled from a couple sections as a seasonal tip.)
Step one to a good weekend is dealing with the essentials. Do these things on Thursday night or Friday morning or first thing when you get home Friday after work.
1) Water: Go get a big glass of water right now. Now. Do it. Water is the means for your body to do a little Discardia of its own. Purge out the bad stuff; set yourself up for the good stuff. Drink that glass of water all up while you put in this little chunk of progress and then refill it when you're done and have another.
2) Food: Nothing fancy, just eat a small meal with something good for you and something yummy. And while you're preparing it, if you come across anything spoiled in the fridge don't you dare set it back in there. Throw it in the trash and carry that nasty baggage out of your house.
3) Sleep: Are your sheets dirty? Change 'em now. (Always have a clean change of sheets; it radically improves your quality of life.) Now lie down on the bed for a moment and see what the first thing you're going to see when you wake up is. If you don't like it and it isn't nailed to the wall, get it out of your sight. Maybe it’s just clothes strewn around. Maybe it’s something that doesn’t even belong in the bedroom.
4) Motivation: One more step. We took care of the last thing we see before sleeping and first after waking. Now make sure that walking in the front door doesn't drag down your mood. Straighten that doormat, tidy that shoerack, put away (or at least move) that clutter in the front hall. Let the first sight of home remind you of what you like about this place, not of your to-do list.
Above a certain baseline the correlation between money and happiness grows weak. Yet we easily fall into the habit of spending too much and getting too little return on our investment. I was once laid off from a failing startup and went through considerable stress over how I could possibly enjoy life while I got by on unemployment insurance and hunted for a new job. It took a wise friend walking me out to a beautiful park in the middle of a warm weekday to point out to me that I had now had access to all kinds of free or cheap pleasures that were exactly what I’d been substituting for while putting in my long days at the startup. Don’t tie your perception of relaxation or satisfaction to the act of spending money; they aren’t the same thing at all.
What do you shell out money for every month? Sure, rent or mortgage, utilities, food, but what about non-essentials? Take a look at your routine expenses and the time you spend enjoying the results of them. How many hours do you watch those extra cable channels? What's does that mean you pay per hour? Do you still plan to be spending that much time that way or are there other things you'd do if the temptation wasn't there? Do you read the paper every day? Is it worth the subscription? What about the magazines you get? And that gym membership? Are there free exercise methods you'd use just as often? Food spoiling in the fridge before you eat it? It doesn't matter if it's a small expense; if it's not giving you enough benefit, then stop spending that money. Save it or spend it on something that matters to you more.
As you focus on what you want and don't want in your life, there are probably some things you'd like to save up some money for. It can be hard to do that, though, if you find that you never seem to have extra at the end of the week. Keep your eyes on the prize. Take a look at what you have to spend each month (rent, bills, payments to reduce debt, groceries) and what that leaves you for flexible expenses. Assign yourself an amount that you get to spend each week (or fortnight or month) on optional things.
Take two index cards. Tape the cards together on the long edge. On the inside left, write the list of things you want to be saving up for and the amount that will take. On the right, put the amount you have assigned yourself as available for optional things. Every non-essential purchase should be entered and deducted on the right. Before making a non-essential purchase you'll see your wishlist and think about whether it's really worth it. You'll also get a clearer picture of where your money goes. For example, here’s what the right side might look like:
- latte & croissant $5 $ 95.00
- mocha $3 $ 92.00
- new TMBG album $17.50 $ 74.50
- latte & croissant $5 $ 69.50
- mocha $3 $ 66.50
- pizza & beer with pals $20 $ 46.50
- latte & croissant $5 $ 41.50
If one of the things on the wishlist side was “espresso machine $200,” it’s pretty obvious that it won’t take that long to save up for it by not going out for coffee drinks (or recoup the cost by buying it now). If the other thing on the wishlist is an exercise bike, knocking off the croissants will not only help save up, but will also make it less necessary.
When you need to conquer debt as well as save up for new expenses, try taking your charge cards out of your wallet and securing them at home. Wait 24 or more hours before making non-essential purchases. Start paying more than the minimum due on the bill and get yourself out of living in a credit crunch. Mediocre mochas may be a bad way to spend your money, but they are guaranteed to bring you more enjoyment than bank finance charges. Knock out those really needless expenses first, then improve your imperfect ones.
Beware of false savings. In my time I've had memberships to huge warehouse stores. Costco is the archetype for this, but there are other similar places where one gets ‘great deals’ by buying in larger quantities. I always find, after the initial glut of buying lots of things for relatively less money, that I'm overall spending more than I would shopping at neighborhood stores – even non-chain ones – and ending up with more than I can use or things I don't really need. What's even sillier about it is that I wind up buying not quite what I wanted – different brands, other flavors, higher calories – because the selection is more limited. Take a good hard look at your shopping habits and the kind of eating habits they're leading to. Try taking a month off from the big box stores. Shop locally, get more fresh fruit and vegetables, pick out ingredients to cook with or make a sandwich for tomorrow's lunch instead of a frozen entree. Visit the farmers' market and find the nearest good bakery to your house. At the end of the month see how you feel, what you're eating and what you've spent. Chances are pretty good that the delicious organic produce that's giving you loads more energy has been easily paid for by not having unexpectedly bought a boxed set of DVDs for a show you liked when you were twelve, a five-attachment cordless drill you still haven’t used, and a pair of ill-fitting orange sneakers with totally cool treads.
It’s not just about wasting money; you can also overspend your health. Go read the can or bottle of the beverages you're drinking today. Here's a good example of the kind of thing some of you might find:
Carbonated water, caramel color, aspartame, phosphoric acid, potassium benzoate, natural flavors, citric acid, caffeine.
What do those ingredients do to your body? Are you draining yourself or fueling yourself? Drink more water and start cutting out the sugary (or fake sugary) caffeine bombs. If you're relying on the bump from your drinks to get you through the day, you're masking a bigger problem and making your body pay the price.
Enjoy what you've got. Maybe tonight's a good night to stay home, make some dinner from ingredients you already have or eat up some leftovers, watch that movie that's been sitting around, read a book off that stack you keep intending to get to, or play a favorite old game that's been gathering dust. Without spending, you can both have a really nice time and remind yourself of what is good about your life.
When you do spend, target it towards what brings you the greatest returns. Hate cleaning, but love to cook? Hire a maid service, enjoy the freedom from some chores you hate, and offset the cost by eating out less and making more great meals in your nice clean kitchen. Love city life, especially the dining out, but hate your long commutes from the suburbs? Move to a little apartment or condo in a great neighborhood nearer to work and ditch the car. You can make much more enjoyable use of the hundreds of dollars you’ve been spending on gas, car payments, insurance, maintenance, parking, tickets, etc. With a magic wand, what would you eliminate – housework, driving in traffic – from your life and what would you add – culinary adventures, convenient nightlife? Don’t assume it’s impossible. Start brainstorming about all the ways you can trade the bad for the good.