Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy Wife, Happy Life

I had an epiphany that I thought I’d share here in the hope that it’ll help others. I was thinking earlier about this year drawing to a close and how I hadn’t yet finished the book I am writing. While I am proud of what I’ve written of the book and the articles I wrote this year, not to mention the editing and speaking I did, I was ruminating about what was left unfinished when I asked myself: What are you most proud of creating? And the answer that sprang to mind was: My lifestyle!

Of course, I owe my very life and any creative ability to The Creator, God, but within that overall context, I am very intentional about designing a lifestyle that I love and that is ultimately a reflection of God’s good gifts to me. Besides that I can think of no better barometer of how I’m living than that old adage: “happy wife, happy life.” It blesses me no end that my wife is happy, which in turn makes me very happy. As another saying goes: “if momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

As I posted yesterday, we recently returned from a dream vacation to our former home of Nantucket and it was wonderful to celebrate my wife’s birthday with friends while we were there. What made it all the more special for me was to see how much my wife was enjoying herself, whether it was seeing all our friends at church, mailing Christmas cards from the island, or seeing snow on the beach, she was having the time of her life.

You can see the smile on my wife’s face in the above photo speaks for itself. We were about to board the ten-seat “puddle jumper” of an airplane just before witnessing a gorgeous sunset over the ocean as we approached the spit of land that is Nantucket Island. It all contributed to a memorable homecoming for us and it’s one that neither my wife nor I will soon forget.

Monday, December 30, 2013

A Stroll Back in Time

I posted my last entry about the holidays before they got any further away in time. However, I also wanted to highlight another holiday activity of ours: the recent trip my wife and I made back to the island of Nantucket, where we used to live before moving here to historic Franklin. It was in multiple ways a stroll back in time for us as we visited the island during its annual nautical-themed Christmas Stroll the first weekend in December.

We stayed the entire week with good friends of ours who succeeded in keeping our visit a secret, just as we had requested. It was so much fun seeing the surprised look on people’s faces when we showed up at church the morning after our arrival, including the pastors of the church whom we had stayed with for a month before leaving Nantucket a year and a half earlier. It was as if time had stood still during our absence and we picked up right where we had left off.

Linda and I agree that it was our favorite vacation in many ways, not the least of which were our friends’ gracious hospitality, our ability to forgo the ferry and fly all the way onto the island, visiting our favorite haunts like the Downyflake and the Brotherhood, and getting invited by a friend [who happens to be the commodore] to attend a meeting of the renowned Wharf Rat Club, whose eclectic membership includes statesmen, sailors and storytellers of all stripes.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Currier and Ives Christmas

It may be the day after Christmas but the holiday season continues, at least according to the traditional 12 days of Christmas countdown. And while we may be well into the 21st century my wife and I are experiencing a Currier and Ives Christmas here in historic Franklin. The festivities kicked off with a Victorian-themed “Dickens of a Christmas” celebration downtown, complete with costumed characters and carolers.

Next we attended a Christmas service at our new church held in an old chapel with music and ministry by award-winning musician and founding pastor Michael W. (Smitty) Smith. Afterward, we watched our favorite movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” at the Franklin Theatre with a host of our fellow townspeople. On Christmas Eve, we attended our church’s candlelight service with carol singing led by Smitty.

On Christmas Day, we celebrated simply and quietly at home by opening our gifts, listening to Christmas music, relaxing around the house and eating my wife’s specialty pot roast before watching a favorite movie and calling it a day. Our only nods to today’s technology were reading on our new Kindle Paperwhite and contacting loved ones with our iPhones. Finally, we are swinging in another New Year in an old-fashioned way with the Glenn Miller Orchestra at the Franklin Theatre. Here is to simple living!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Celebrating Holy Days Too

My wife and I were blessed with a visit from her father for a couple of days at our new place here in Franklin before the three of us headed to her brother’s farm in rural Tennessee to feast with about twenty other family members. With a turkey and ham and all the fixings, we had a rich time of food and fellowship. What made it even more special is the fact we share a common faith.

Of all the many things I am thankful for this year at the top of the list is the gift of a faith shared with family. I try to never take for granted that when we all get together during the holidays they truly become holy days, special times for us to celebrate our shared heritage. There are few things more satisfying to me than being part of a household of faith that stands together through the tests of time.

Friday, November 08, 2013

The Meaning of Home

With the holidays around the corner it is natural that our thoughts turn to hearth and home. But exactly what is the meaning of home? Many of us think of some idealized version of a house, perhaps situated down a lane or upon a hill, surrounded by a bucolic landscape, maybe in New England or some other picturesque setting.

However, as the saying goes, “a house does not make a home.” What most of us mean when we conjure visions of home is the sense of togetherness we experience with the people we love. It is our relationships with loved ones that constitute a home, not real estate, no matter how beautifully situated.

So to quote another popular saying, “home is where the heart is.” If there is anything that Linda and I have learned over the course of the last couple years is that “home” has become a moving target for us. Home is wherever we are with each other. And as Christians, we’ve adopted the truism that “In Christ” is our permanent address.

In her groundbreaking book The Not So Big Life: Making Room for What Really Matters, Sarah Susanka writes, “Although we normally associate the word “home” with a place that’s built out of bricks and mortar, in fact home is much more than that. It is a feeling and a way of being in one’s life rather than any specific place.”

“We are all looking for home, but we’re looking with the wrong tool,” adds Susanka. “We are trying to find home through more square footage, when in fact the quality of home has almost nothing to do with size. Instead, it’s to be found in the qualities of space rather than the quantities…” This holiday season, here’s to sweet fellowship, regardless of the square footage.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Living and Working Remotely

I came across a thoughtful article today at FastCompany.com titled “A New Workplace Manifesto: In Praise of Freedom, Time, Space, and Working Remotely” by David Heinemeier Hansson, coauthor with Jason Fried of the recently released Remote: Office Not Required. I don’t usually quote others so liberally on my blog but the article really resonated with me so here are some of the more salient points.

As Hansson writes, “While working remotely obviously frees you from the dreaded commute and the interruption factory of the office, it also lets you pick where to live…Liberating yourself from the geography of work opens a whole new world of opportunities. It lessens the necessity of looking forward to retirement to finally live your life.” Linda and I coined the term “pretirement” to describe our lifestyle of living and working in special places.

Hansson further suggests, “It’s time to reject the false dichotomy between work and luxury…So what if we could have both? What if we could retain the stimulation of work and also embrace the true luxury of non-deferred living? That’s the inclusive truth that more and more people are finding in working remotely.” Linda and I have made it a point since day one to celebrate the present, as it’s all we’re guaranteed.

And Hansson concludes, “Working without the commute, without the shackled office, and living in the place of your dreams…sounds like a science fiction utopia. But it’s very real indeed. It’s the future of luxury, and it’s called remote work.” I couldn’t agree more and I love living and working remotely.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Living Large With Less

The other day I had the pleasure of giving my father-in-law a tour of our place during his quick visit to historic Franklin. Of course, he is very familiar with our minimalist journey and thus knows as well as anyone what we have jettisoned en route to arriving at our latest destination.

So it was ironic when he later commented with a smile over a cup of coffee regarding our nicely furnished, newly leased home, “So much for minimalism.” To which I replied with a smile of my own, “We like leasing spacious places furnished with antiques and artwork for less than we paid for our own place.”

Somewhat understandably, when people hear the word “minimalism” they typically think of living a lesser lifestyle in a qualitative sense, which may be one version of it, but not the one we espouse. The type of minimalism my wife and I experience is living with less in a quantitative sense, which in turn allows for a higher overall quality of life for us.

In fact, our minimalist journey has been a progressive one, with us literally moving from one level of accommodation to another, and all for the same relatively modest amount. If only to indicate what minimalism is not, I’ll divulge that the estimated property values of the four places we’ve leased thus far have ranged, in $200,000 increments, from $400,000 to $1 million.

Also, each place we’ve leased without exception has not only been furnished but has to varying degrees also included utilities. And the furnishings, including appliances, linens, towels, dishes, pots, pans and utensils, have been as nice, or even nicer, than anything we used to own. To those so disposed, I heartily recommend considering the minimalist lifestyle. For my wife and I at least, it is “living large with less.”

Monday, October 14, 2013

Sedentary Stuff Syndrome

I read the other day about a phenomenon called “sedentary death syndrome,” the chronic condition caused by sitting too much, which contributes to all sorts of ailments. The antidote, the article suggested, was simply to get moving, and that is good advice. Moving, in all its forms, has a way of helping us shed the excess in our lives, whether it is bodily weight or the weight of stuff.

As I’ve posted here earlier, my wife and I adopted the motto of “minimize to mobilize” during the process of paring our possessions in order to move as frequently as we liked. But whether or not that is your intention, you can benefit from living with less stuff. I share about our journey in an article titled “Is Your Stuff Holding You Hostage?” in the latest issue of Facts & Trends magazine.

As one reader commented, not everyone is interested in mimicking our mobile lifestyle, but the point I mean to make is that we can all benefit from living lighter, whether or not we opt to go mobile. For the dozen years preceding our radical downscaling we lived in the same house in the same town and so our stuff gradually grew to pack our humble abode. As much as we strived to live simply, our lifestyle became a sedentary one by virtue of our not moving every couple of years or so, as we had before building our house. Minimizing stuff helps you maximize life and avoid sedentary stuff syndrome.

Monday, October 07, 2013

To Be or Not To Be

In the immortal words of William Shakespeare, “To be, or not to be, that is the question.” I am a big believer in the power of living in the present and the only way to do that is to focus more on being than doing. Busyness has an insidious way of weaving itself into our lives to the point that we forget there is another, better way to live. Believe it or not, each of us has the power to either accept or reject the encroachment of busyness in our lives.

How? You may ask. By identifying the absolute essentials in our lives and structuring our time around them. If you are like most people, you’d say you value your faith, family and friends, but how you spend your time tells the tale. For example, is church attendance or other faith centric fellowship a given in your life? If not you may need to examine how vital faith is to you. We often give lip service to our beliefs but our lives don’t lie.

I mention faith as a foundation because I have found it indispensible to living a life centered on being versus doing. And it is important to point out that I am not talking about religious striving to become a better person. The type of faith I mean is one that rests in what God has done for us through Christ and ceases from senseless activity. Many people apparently believe that “busier is better” judging by their crammed calendars but racing against the clock is a fool’s errand.

Years ago I spoke at a church about the need for believers to “work smarter, not harder” and I will never forget the look on the pastors’ faces. It was as if I spoke a foreign language, one that they simply could not comprehend. It was a truth they failed to identify with. Time has proven the value of the statement in my life and they have suffered the consequences of not heeding it. As I’ve said before, God made us human beings, not human doings. His name is I AM and we are created in his image. To be, that is the answer.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Touchstones of Our Lives

I was reading a southern lifestyle magazine at the bookstore today and came across a thought-provoking article titled “Stuff, Sweet Stuff” by Julia Reed. And she shared a term I had all but forgotten: touchstone. According to the dictionary, a touchstone is “something that is used to make judgments about the quality of other things.” In other words, it is a sort of measuring stick by which you value your stuff relative to other stuff.

For example, when my wife and I radically downscaled our stuff in order to live more lightly, we very intentionally waded through our things, weighing whether or not each item deserved a valued place in our final collection of treasures. Things like my college diploma and picture of my grandmother made the cut while my golf clubs and tennis rackets did not. I quit playing both sports but the other items were touchstones in my life, mementos that I valued enough to keep toting on my journey.

As Reed writes: “For me, home is where you find the touchstones of your life…But I’m actually a bit of a vagabond—I just need to know I can take my nest with me when I go. And that’s the thing about touchstones: Unlike a house, you can take them with you. After all, generations of Southerners have made a semi-profession out of toting around and lavishly tending to family heirlooms and prized possessions—though that’s not exactly what I have in mind.”

Monday, September 23, 2013

Dispossess to Possess

At church yesterday the pastor suggested that we “dispossess to possess” our respective promised lands. According to the dictionary, dispossess means to “oust (a person, even oneself) from a dwelling or position.” And that describes exactly what my wife and I did a couple of years ago when we liquidated our house and furnishings to explore a more mobile lifestyle.

This conjures for me the image of a hand that cannot grasp something new until it lets go of the old. And it captures what I think is holding a lot of people back from realizing their dreams and possessing their promised lands. Many people talk about doing something special with their lives but hesitate to walk the talk because it means they’ll need to let go of what’s holding them back.

If there is one faulty belief that limits people from experiencing more of what they want it is the fallacy of “having it all.” If you are among the disillusioned, settle it once and for all: It is not attainable, or at least it is not sustainable. People may achieve some measure of it short-term, but it will eventually unravel over the long-term. The “goods” life does not necessarily equate with the good life.

It’s not that stuff is bad; it simply won’t satisfy your soul. Here is an example from my own life. I own several “i” products from Apple, including an iMac, an iPod, an iPhone and an iPad. As much as I enjoy using them to create and consume cool stuff they are not the “apple of my eye.” Naturally, that place is reserved for my wife, and supernaturally speaking, Jesus Christ has my heart.

Only when we keep things in their proper place can we prevent them from possessing us; and it is only then that we can enter our personal promised lands. Whatever it is that you aspire to attain in your life will likely require you to let go of the good in order to achieve the great. Remember: the adequate is archenemy of the excellent, and you will never regret letting go of the former to lay hold of the latter.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Going Paperless (More or Less)

I am a writer. Consequently, I deal with words. But for the last couple of years, the words coming in and out of my life have been increasingly of the digital variety. For me at least, the paperless future is largely here. And it hasn’t arrived by accident. I have been very intentional about getting to this point.

I read the other day that the average four-drawer file cabinet contains about 18,000 pieces of paper. Based on that estimate, my wife and I had upwards of 50,000 pieces of paper before endeavoring to limit it in our lives. It didn’t happen overnight but today I’d guess that we have less than 1,000 pieces of paper.

How did we get to this point? For starters, we cut off the flow at the spout. We started banking online, getting paperless statements, paying bills online, getting off mailing lists and canceling magazine subscriptions. We scanned photos, ripped music and got e-books. We created PDFs of important documents.

My wife and I processed reams and reams of paper, from receipts to cards to newspapers to copies to printouts. Ultimately, we got rid of our printer, scanner, rolodex and every other contraption that was paper-centric. Before going paperless two of the biggest business expenses I had were for paper and ink, but no more.

Like many people, I used to print stuff because I thought I needed a physical copy. But when you go mobile like my wife and I have done you quickly realize the weight of all that paper. We literally could not travel as lightly as we do if we had not limited our paper to the essentials of tax, insurance and other necessary documents. Try it, you’ll like it.

Friday, September 06, 2013

No Rules, Just Righteousness

I was not exactly the class clown in school but I must admit I was one to flout the rules periodically and it was usually during the fire drills. I suppose I get why there should be NO TALKING during them but I had trouble obeying that rule. Yes, I was the one who got to write “I will not talk during fire drills” umpteen times when I returned to class.

Fast forward to today. The longer I live by faith the more I realize that Christianity is about Christ making me righteous, or in right standing with God, instead of me following the rules, or dos and don’ts, of religion. I don’t even consider Christianity a religion in the sense that religion is “man’s attempt to reach God on his terms” while Christianity is “God’s attempt to reach man on His terms.”

It is religion that stresses rules over relationships and rules without relationships breed rebellion. In my case, I had trouble being quiet during fire drills because I couldn’t relate how chatting with my neighbor jeopardized the success of the fire drill. And making me write that I’d do otherwise did nothing but make me try harder to not get caught again.

I happen to be reading a good book called Packing Light about a couple of friends’ journey across America. One of its messages to me is how their rule making, which usually led to rule breaking, threatened to ruin their trip. And I love this line from author Ally Vesterfelt: “Perhaps if we lay our rule book down, we could hear God whisper back: 'I’m right here, and there’s a whole big, refreshing, frustrating, and satisfying world in front of us. Will you put down your stuff and come enjoy it with Me?'”

As Eugene Peterson so eloquently paraphrased Paul’s words in The Message: “Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God’s grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily.” To paraphrase the words of an Outback commercial: “No rules, just righteousness.”

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Our New Digs

Friends and family know that my wife and I recently relocated to another place here in historic Franklin, Tennessee but here is an update for other readers, including a photo. As has become our custom since moving toward a more mobile lifestyle, we are leasing a fully furnished apartment, complete with art and antiques, and it even includes utilities so I simply write one check each month and that is it.

Our home is a wing of the circa 1868 Miller-Beasley House and was formerly operated as a bed and breakfast called Rebel’s Roost. It has about 1,200 square feet and even includes a guestroom for overnight visitors. But the piece de resistance as far as my wife is concerned is the bathroom. It not only features a dual-sink vanity and radiant-heat flooring but best of all it includes a whirlpool tub!

Suffice it to say that we are “living the dream” and we are very thankful to God for blessing us so. It is indeed above and beyond all that we had dreamed of, and we are reminded of a passage of Scripture that states: “So it shall be, when the Lord your God brings you into the land…to give you large and beautiful cities which you did not build, houses full of all good things, which you did not fill, hewn-out wells which you did not dig…”

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Pursuit of Elegance

I realize my last post also covered a book about Steve Jobs but I just read another thought provoking one along the same lines, albeit not one exclusively about Apple, and since the movie Jobs is out I thought it timely to write about. It is titled In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing by Matthew E. May and it presented some good stuff worth sharing here.

“Apple lovers had become accustomed to Jobs’s flare for spare. They knew that minimalism, especially relating to buttons, was his obsession. The keyboard for the original Macintosh had no direction keys for the cursor. Until 2005, the Mac mouse had only one button, rather than the traditional two of most computers. Mr. Jobs had long criticized industry-standard multibutton computer mice as ‘inelegant,’” writes May.

“He had removed on/off power buttons on desktop units. He had removed buttons from elevators in multilevel Apple retail stores, along with standard retail queues and counters. Rarely if ever could he be seen wearing a shirt with buttons,” May adds. One of the striking things to me about that statement is how Jobs even applied minimalist principles to his wardrobe.

It is something I have done myself. While I often wear shirts with buttons I actually prefer ones without, such as zippered pullovers, sweatshirts and turtlenecks like Jobs loved. And whereas Jobs favored lace-up running shoes, I prefer slip-on footwear like loafers, further minimizing my dressing time, not to mention time spent going through security checkpoints.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Strength of Simplicity

I finished reading an insightful book the other day titled Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success by Ken Segall and it reminded me of the strength of simplicity. Segall is the one responsible for the “i” in iMac, etc. and as a member of Apple’s creative team he saw firsthand how simplicity made Apple the success it is today. According to Segall, simplicity is the “core” value at Apple and its leader Steve Jobs wielded the Simple Stick whenever things threatened to get complicated.

It was Henry David Thoreau who famously admonished: “Simplify. Simplify.” But Steve Jobs stated even more succinctly: “Simplify.” Segall says that Jobs insisted on the iPhone having only one button since one is the simplest number. He resisted creating three buttons for the functions people use the most: Internet, phone and iPod and made them front row icons on the iPhone’s home page instead. Consequently, even the silhouette of an iPhone distinguishes it from its competitors.

Before Apple’s iPhone, Segall writes, “People lived with their phones, but they didn’t love them.” But Apple changed all that. “It was technology that would make iPhone capable but Simplicity that would make iPhone lovable,” adds Segall. I have had my iPhone for several months and I must admit that I love it. Not simply my only phone, it multitasks daily as my camera, map, compass, radio, computer, watch, calculator, television, camcorder, etc. It is my all-in-one device…and that is the strength of simplicity.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Celebration of Love

Earlier this month my lovely wife, Linda, and I celebrated our silver anniversary by visiting Paris for the day. Paris, Tennessee, that is! And as the attached photo attests, we even got our obligatory photo with the scaled replica of the Eiffel Tower. While we had planned to visit THE Paris in France, we realized that with our upcoming move, perhaps it made sense to postpone those plans. So a couple of weeks before our anniversary we hatched our backup plan.

Hungry for irony, we started our day by eating breakfast at the nearby Henpeck Village Market, where the owner paid for our meal upon hearing it was our anniversary. After a scenic road trip, we browsed the quaint shops of downtown Paris and enjoyed ice cream at Café a la Mode before heading homeward. And for supper we indulged our appetite for more irony by eating at one of our favorite places, the Loveless Café.

As we celebrated 25 years of wedded bliss, we reminded each other of special times through the years and how, despite the challenges of married life, we managed to age rather gracefully by the grace of God. Of course, not having kids or pets may have helped with that! And after all is said and done, we owe an eternal debt of gratitude to the One at the center of our lives and the ultimate celebration of love.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Stability of Mobility

My wife and I are moving this weekend for the tenth time in our 25 years of marriage and for the fifth time in the last 25 months. Suffice it to say that our last five moves have come more frequently because we have lived more freely since selling our house and furnishings in Florida a couple of years ago.

Moving is no longer the hassle it used to be and because we lease furnished places that usually include utilities in our fee we even look forward to experiencing a different place every year or so. And since our latest move is so close we are able to make it using only our mid-size sedan instead of a moving van.

As we were considering the pros and cons of our newfound lifestyle anew the other day my wife and I agreed that it has turned out even better than we had anticipated. It is incredibly liberating to live a debt-free, location-independent life and it is one we do not take for granted. Mobility has become its own form of stability and we love it.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Story of Stuff

In about a week my wife and I are moving and, as our new home is only a couple of blocks away, it will be the shortest move we’ve ever made. But the other thing that helps make the move low stress is our shedding of so much of the stuff that makes toting and transporting boxes necessary. We can fit everything we own in a couple of carloads and love the liberty of living so lightly.

Not everyone is so inclined. According to the Self Storage Association, there are about 50,000 self-storage units in America and one in 10 households currently rent a self-storage unit. Total rentable self-storage space in America is now about 2 billion square feet or about seven square feet of self-storage space per person. That is enough for every man, woman and child to stand simultaneously under the canopy of self-storage roofing.

And an association study shows that 50 percent of renters now simply store what doesn’t fit in their homes—even though the size of the average American house has almost doubled in the last 50 years to 2,300 square feet. And about 25 percent of customers told the Self Storage Association they were storing items that they no longer need or want.

However, according to Annie Leonard, author of The Story of Stuff, “A growing movement of people in the United States and internationally have chosen to opt out of the relentless treadmill. This approach…involves embracing a shift toward working and spending less. The focus is not on doing without, but on enhancing nonmaterial aspects of their lives, which they believe—and evidence supports—are greater sources of happiness and security anyway.” Amen.

Friday, May 31, 2013

What's In Your Wallet?

After reading Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You I was reminded how what we carry on our person speaks volumes about us. And what is more personal than our wallets? As for me, I carried a bulky Rolf organizer wallet for 20 years before switching to the much more minimalist one I carry today. My old one included several card slots as well as space for my checkbook, calendar, cash, notepad and mileage log. Needless to say I freaked out the handful of times that I misplaced, but fortunately never lost, my leather lifeline.

Once I became a minimalist I traded my walloping wallet for a simple card case handmade in New Hampshire by Osgoode Marley that I got in a cool leather goods shop when I lived on the island of Nantucket. All it contains are my driver’s license, library card, AAA card, Sams Club card, credit card, debit card, couple of cash cards and cash. It is as light as a feather and I love it. In the words of that ubiquitous, if slightly annoying, credit card commercial: What’s in your wallet?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Moveable Feast

Whether we realize it or not we have all become conditioned by our consumerist culture to want more stuff, even though we rarely need it. And the remedy to this condition is to learn a new language, the language of less. Stuff is less likely to clutter our lives if we strive to limit its accumulation in the first place.

Asked how much consumer culture contributes to clutter, Marilyn Paul, author of It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys,” said she believed advertising’s natural outgrowth, consumption, is part of many people’s problem. “The more stuff you’ve got, the more skillful you have to be in managing it,” she said. Paul also noted that “clot” is the root of the word “clutter.”

In 1900 the average Westerner wanted 27 different things, and considered 18 of them essential to happiness. Today the average Westerner wants 500 things, and considers 100 of them essential to happiness. Greed has many faces but it speaks one language: the language of more.

The average three-bedroom house contains approximately 350,000 items. Meanwhile, the average person spends between six and seven hours a week looking for misplaced items. That translates into 312 hours a year, which amounts to 13 complete days, or almost two full weeks out of one’s life.

Two years ago today my wife and I moved out of our dream home with the proverbial white picket fence to pursue a new dream of a location-independent lifestyle and it has been even more fun than we ever dreamed. Living with less stuff has enabled us to experience life as a moveable feast and we are enjoying the menu.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Time: The Priceless Possession

I finished reading Timelock: How Life Got So Hectic and What You Can Do About It by Ralph Keyes and thought I’d share some of its insights here. As Keyes writes: “One of the most basic questions one can ask in getting out from under timelock is, ‘What would you be doing if you only had six months to live?’ Those who filled out questionnaires did so.

Their answers were revealing. With half a year remaining, the most common preference was to spend time with family, look up old friends, travel, read, and write.” That is exactly what my wife and I have been doing since selling our house and stuff a couple of years ago. Living by design with an eye on eternity means treating time as the priceless possession it is.

Here is a “butcher’s dozen” [one less than a dozen] tips from The Timelock Antidote Handbook chapter of Timelock:

Develop a new sense of time…realize it is a relative concept.
Plan life, not time…get a bigger picture perspective.
Manage time organically…remember the journey is the destination.
Decelerate…slow down the pace of your race to succeed.
Modulate…moderate your lifestyle with regular breaks from action.
Reduce awareness of time…quit clock watching in favor of living.
Seek sanctuary from time…celebrate sabbatical periods of inactivity.
Limit purchases…create stuff instead of consuming goods.
Pay attention to yourself and others…prioritize time with people.
Upgrade family time…go for quantity as well as quality.
Achieve more by doing less…accept that you cannot have it all.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Journey of a Lifetime

Journeying may be the quintessential metaphor for life. None of us can call this world our ultimate home, particularly if we believe the Bible. From Abraham’s journey to the land of Ur and Moses’ trip toward the Promised Land in the Old Testament to Jesus’ walk across the Sea of Galilee and Paul’s travels to Mars Hill in the New Testament, it is common for saints to act on their faith by journeying somewhere.

Our patriarchs’ journeys are all the more impressive given the challenges of ancient travel. Suffice it to say that to “walk the walk” of faith in those days was no walk in the park. However, aiding them in their ventures was the practice of traveling lightly. To effectively move about it was customary to only pack what they could comfortably carry on their person or, at the most, their beast of burden.

While we have much more sophisticated means of travel at our disposal today we are nonetheless left with the continuing challenge of traveling lightly through life, both literally and figuratively. Sometimes our heaviest baggage is not the luggage we carry but the emotional burdens we bear. Yet armed with the type of faith our forebears used to blaze trails before us, we also can reach our own promised lands.

A friend recently shared with me that a famous Brazilian photographer, Sebastiao Solgado, spent time traveling with the nomadic Nenets who move their reindeer herds hundreds of miles each year to seasonal pastures. Solgado reported that “I learned from them the concept of the essential...if you give them something they can’t carry, they won’t accept it.” It would benefit us all to consider what “the concept of the essential” means to each of our journeys.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Keys to Simplicity

It is funny what inspires you sometimes. I was sitting here at my favorite café minding my own business when a fellow with a giant ring of jangling keys walked by and inspiration hit me. When I heard all those keys I couldn’t help but think of my own keychain and how little noise it makes.

All my “keychain” consists of is a key fob to our push-button car and a single key to our apartment. That is it. Gone are the days when I carried multiple keys to the multiple doors of our house and the multiple vehicles we owned. One home, one vehicle and one key…I love it. And the truth is, we could probably leave our door unlocked but we don’t.

It got me thinking about how else my wife and I have streamlined our stuff. As minimalists we strive to pare our possessions down to what we consider for us at the time to be “an irreducible minimum.” That is often a moving target but it is a target nonetheless. And it has become a pastime for us to see how little we can live with.

While we presently live with a total of less than 500 things between us, there is no magic number to which we feel we must whittle our things down. It is more a matter of what fits our current situation. Since signing a one-year lease for our present place we’ve picked up a few extra things we left with our parents and that is okay.

But if the situation called for it, we’d simply shave stuff off our list by asking ourselves what we wouldn’t want to live without. There is nothing like the need to fit all your stuff in a mid-sized sedan on moving day to motivate you to live with less. Ultimately, the keys to simplicity come down to what fits your lifestyle and what you love to live with.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Changing Times

With the recent time change to daylight savings time and the changing of seasons to spring it has made me mindful of changing times and seasons in my life. As my wife and I went through our closets the other day for a regular pruning [as minimalists “spring cleaning” is year round for us] I tried on my last suit and while it was still in fine shape it didn’t come close to fitting mine so I donated it to our church’s benevolence ministry.

To appreciate what this means, I need to share a little backstory. I hadn’t worn a suit in several years and I gave away the last of my ties to a friend more than a year ago [don’t ask me why I had a suit and no ties]. But once upon a time, I owned half a dozen wool suits and a dozen silk ties, including a bowtie and pocket squares for special occasions. I even had my dress shirts dry-cleaned and pressed, a fact that seems comical to me now.

Even before leaving the corporate world a dozen years ago to start my own communications business, dress down days were morphing into dressy casual wardrobes, so suits and ties were on their way out. However, before that I was an ordained minister who actually enjoyed dressing up [unlike most guys I know]. All of which is to say that times change and we need to change with them. And so I am making another change.

I have been very selective about joining online social networks over the years, limiting myself to Shelfari, which I quit after a couple of years, and LinkedIn, but a couple of days ago I finally joined Twitter. My epiphany came upon reading leadership guru Michael Hyatt’s Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, in which he attributed the building of his personal brand largely to Twitter.

In sync with this blog, I tweet about my musings on the art of life and other cool stuff @SeanFowlds, so be sure to visit me there also to get more timely, nugget-sized notes and quotes about lifestyle design issues like simplicity and minimalism. And consider joining me on Twitter if you are not a member yet. You can follow me and others whether or not you post tweets yourself.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Living With Less

My mother-in-law died the other day and so we just returned from another round trip to Florida for her funeral and here to Tennessee for her burial. All of which has served to remind me of the relative brevity of life and our relationship with stuff during our lives. One poignant reminder came with my wife’s request for, and receipt of, her mother’s wedding ring. It was the only thing she asked for and her father and older sister graciously agreed to it.

While in Florida, my wife and I offered to help her father start the process of going through his wife’s belongings but he was not yet prepared to deal with it and we understood. The good news is that once the time comes there won’t be that much to process since my mother-in-law was not one for owning lots of stuff. For as long as I knew her [more than 27 years] she never cared much for accumulating the things of this world. Her focus was rather on the spiritual side of life and I admired that about her.

On the very day of my mother-in-law’s burial there appeared in The New York Times an op-ed by Graham Hill titled “Living With Less. A Lot Less.” and it really resonated with me, especially in light of recent events. As Hill stated, “Intuitively, we know that the best stuff in life isn’t stuff at all, and that relationships, experiences and meaningful work are the staples of a happy life.” Hill, a successful entrepreneur who happens to live in a 420-square-foot studio in New York, summarized: “My space is small. My life is big.”

I’ve never seen a trailer behind a hearse and life is brought into stark relief when you stare into a pit dug about six feet deep and truly realize that “you can’t take it with you.” During the funeral for my mother-in-law, my wife reminded us all to keep life in its proper perspective: “Live like today is your last; love like there is no tomorrow; and laugh like you have no sorrow.” Amen to that.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Searching for Mayberry

Maybe we’re chasing an illusion, but I don’t think so. As I write this, my wife and I are trying to decide whether or not to stay here in the Nashville area or to continue “searching for Mayberry.” I originally wouldn't have thought of our journey in such terms but upon closer reflection I must admit that we are indeed on a quest for the type of community depicted in the popular television program.

The other day I read that a local author likened where we live here in Franklin to Mayberry and I had to agree that it comes as close as anywhere we’ve lived to date, and we’ve lived in some pretty cool places by anyone’s account. Whenever we mention living in such places as Savannah, Georgia and Celebration, Florida and Nantucket, Massachusetts and Franklin, Tennessee people act incredulous.

And we’ve not only lived in cool places but in cool spaces within those cool places, right in the heart of the historic districts of each. Suffice it to say that a sense of place is very important to us and we love living within walking distance of cafes and other so-called “third places” apart from work and home. But it is other people that we most desire to connect with and that part has been somewhat wanting in our experience.

While my wife is typically more sociable than I am we are both pretty outgoing and even though we have no trouble meeting and making friends it seems that people are often too busy to maintain friendships nowadays. And while we can’t necessarily turn back the clock to bygone days of yesteryear we are striving to live counterclockwise on our journey toward a kinder and gentler pace of living. We crave community and connection.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Entering the 21st Century

Sitting here at my favorite local café I am reveling in the ability to do what I do, namely write, using the latest technological tools available. For the record, I only upgrade computers about every half-dozen years so I relish using my state-of-the-art MacBook Air laptop, which weighs just a couple of pounds and is capable of truly amazing stuff.

But the piece de resistance of my high tech arsenal is my new iPhone 5, which my wife and I gave each other as Christmas presents last year. Even though we actually attended the MacWorld convention at which the original iPhone was unveiled in 2007, we had never taken the plunge and gotten one ourselves.

Now that we are armed with what has been called the best smartphone made to date we feel as if we have finally entered the 21st century. For the entire past decade we simply used a couple of Nokia prepaid phones and they suited us just fine but I looked forward to getting an iPhone one day and that day has come.

The above setup is not actually mine but a representative photo I got online that not only features my laptop and cell phone but also my external hard drive [tethered to the laptop]. The camera pictured is a Nikon and mine is a Leica but they look similar. With a computer, cell and camera, I am good to go. All I need to do now is renew my passport.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Living by Design

As I celebrate my birthday today I am mindful of the tagline on my blog: “musings about the art of life.” And I recently came across the approximate French equivalent: l’art de vivre, or "the art of living." If anyone knows how to celebrate life it is arguably the French and with our twenty-fifth anniversary rapidly approaching my wife and I are planning to experience the French lifestyle firsthand by paying them a visit this summer.

What impresses us so much about the French style of life is the emphasis upon savoring each day as it comes and enjoying the simple pleasures of life, such as a leisurely meal, a stroll in the park or a visit with a loved one. Since I am self-employed I indulged myself today by spending time away from the home office, including a steak-and-egg breakfast at a new bistro and a lunch of soup with baguette at one of my favorite cafes.

Due to the inclement weather here in our area I wasn’t able to take a stroll in the park today but I am enjoying a nice supper at home with my beautiful, young wife and savoring the simple life. Whether we realize it or not, such days are more available to us than we think, if only we will strive to live by design rather than default. It only takes a little thought and planning to make a day memorable and special, birthday or not.