Category Archives: minimalism

Goodbye Google, Hello DuckDuckGo!

Nothing is forever. I’ve recently made a change I want to share. We all use search engines, mostly without much thought. We type something in, look through the results, and click on a promising link or three. Most of us have been using the same search engine for years, and it’s probably Google. We’re used to it, and it seems to do a pretty good job. Why change? Sometimes change is good.

Goodbye Google

No, I haven’t stopped using the internet, nor quit using search engines — I’ve just realized that Google is no longer the Good Thing and Good Netizen that it once was. I’m not sure if their motto is still “Don’t be evil” but if it is they need to change it to better reflect reality.

Learning that they will now be keeping a permanent and uniquely identifiable  record of all activities (linked across all Google properties, too)  took me aback. Not just what I search for, but which results I actually click on. I’m not comfortable with them amassing all that data, and not comfortable with the thought of what could happen to it. Even if they claim that it is only for their own use, who knows what might change down the road and who they might sell it to. Furthermore, if I should ever become a target of law enforcement or government, I doubt Google would hesitate for even a second before turning my records over to authorities.

Same Search, Different Results

Even if you don’t think you have anything to hide (and I’ll even spare you the “slippery slope” speech just this once), there’s another problem with Google and how it uses the data it collects about you.  If you and I were to simultaneously type the same search string into Google, we’d both get the same results, ranked in the same order, wouldn’t we? One might think so, but one would be wrong. Google tailors the results to the individual user, based on history of his or her prior searches and click-throughs. Creepy, huh? You aren’t getting the best results, but rather the results Google thinks you’d want.

Hello DuckDuckGo!

Time to find a new search engine. Yahoo? They’re OK as an email provider and news aggregator, but I wouldn’t trust them with search. Bing? Even if I could stop wincing at the the name long enough to actually use it, why bother – it’s been proven to be repackaged Google results, despite their denials. Then I found this:

Enter DuckDuckGo – a search engine that doesn’t track me and doesn’t filter my search results.  It’s actually pretty cool, too. Not just a front-end that adds a layer of privacy, but a real search engine with some pretty cool features. And if you like to get involved, you can even join the community or work on development.

Call Me Google Free

I’ve successfully managed to deGoogle my browser, removing all references to Google from its various nooks and crannies, and adding DDG where appropriate and useful. While I don’t expect many of you will jump off the Google bandwagon just on my say-so, I really think you should at the very least read this and this to get an idea of what Google really does, and then make your own decision.

Comments Are Open

What do you think? Are search engine tracking and the “filter bubble” real problems? Or do you think I’m just being paranoid? After reading the facts, do you think you’ll change your search habits?

Intersection of Naturism and Minimalism

As some of my readers may already know, I’m a naturist. If you aren’t quite sure what that means, think nudist. While some draw distinctions between naturism and nudism, for the purposes of this discussion we can consider them close enough to synonymous. While much can be said in favor of a nude lifestyle and naturist philosophy, my goal here today is to explore how not wearing clothing is consistent with minimalist values and a simple, frugal lifestyle.

Minimalist Wardrobe

A naturist’s wardrobe is the ultimate minimalist wardrobe. Ideally I’d not need to own any clothes at all. In reality, I have to go out in public from time to time, where society’s laws and norms compel me to cover my body. There are also times, even here in the desert, when it gets cold enough that clothing becomes necessary for one’s health and comfort.

My entire wardrobe consists of a pair of shorts, a pair of long pants, a few t-shirts, a couple polo shirts, a sweatshirt, and a winter jacket.

Saves Time

I do laundry about twice a year, and it all (aside from the winter coat) fits in one load. I save time by not washing, drying, ironing, folding and storing clothes, but it doesn’t stop there. How much time do you spend deciding what to wear each day? I don’t. How about time spent getting dressed and undressed, multiplied by how many times you change clothes each day? Not me. Taken separately, it may not seem like much, but it all adds up over the course of a day or week. I shop for clothes even less often than I wash them — even more time saved.

Saves Money

With my small and seldom-worn wardrobe, I spend very little money acquiring, maintaining, and replacing clothing. I can’t remember the last time I went clothes shopping, or even bought a bottle of laundry detergent for that matter. Without a layer of clothes insulating my body, I can be comfortable in room temperatures five to ten degrees warmer than a clothed person, allowing me to keep the thermostat higher in the summer – saving electricity saves money.

Saves Worry

When I wake up in the morning, I don’t worry about what I’ll wear today. I’m already wearing it! I don’t have to worry about ruining my clothes by getting them torn, worn, or dirty if I’m not wearing any. On the rare occasion I don clothes it isn’t a problem either because what little clothing I own is simple and inexpensive (and often from thrift stores). I’m not terribly concerned if something gets soiled or damaged.

Saves The Environment

Think of all the water I save by not washing clothes. Imagine if a whole city turned naturist how much water could be saved. And all the phosphates and chemicals from detergent I’m not using. Digging a little deeper, one could consider the environmental impact of clothing manufacture as well. All the water used to grow the cotton (or, worse, petroleum products used to manufacture synthetics). Energy to run the machines in the factory. And all the fuel consumed and pollution generated in transporting from field to factory to warehouse to store to home. As a bonus, by buying fewer clothes, I can afford to be choosier about what I buy and how it’s made, and hopefully avoid contributing to third-world sweatshops. Also, the electricity I save by needing less air conditioning in the summer doesn’t just save me money — it helps the environment, too!

Saves Space

How much space in your home is occupied by clothes? Closets, dressers, hampers. I’ve seen wardrobes bigger than my whole house. More space to store clothing care items – washing machine, detergent, softener, lint brushes, iron, ironing board.

Saves Distraction and Discomfort

It has been suggested that we avoid wearing labels and logos. What easier way to avoid those gratuitous marketing cues than avoiding clothes entirely?

Does your clothing irritate you? Does it ever itch? Restrict your movement? Make you uncomfortably warm in the summer? Not me.

But Wait, There’s More!

I’ve already mentioned how lack of clothing simplifies my daily routines, lightens my workload, saves me money, and reduces my environmental footprint. While I’ve been primarily pointing out the practical advantages of a nude lifestyle, there are other benefits to be had that cannot be measured in dollars, hours, or square feet. When looked at in a social context, nudity further simplifies my life by reinforcing my minimalist values while simplifying and enriching social activities.

Simplify Social Intercourse

Our opinion of other people is influenced at both a conscious and subconscious level by what they wear. That’s why there exist sayings like “Dress for Success” and “The Clothes Make the Man.” As much as most of us would like to think otherwise, our first impression of another person’s manner and style of dress as well as quality and cleanliness of their attire often makes a lasting impression, deserved or not. It can also have an profound effect on how (or even if) we choose to interact with that person.

When we all are nude, we all are equal. It is much easier to see the real person within when we don’t have the distraction and (often subconscious) prejudice created by their wardrobe. Likewise, other people see us for who we really are. Our preconceived notions are cast aside and we must engage in conversation to learn about our fellow humans, rather than drawing assumptions based on their choice of textiles used to cover their bodies.

Comments Are Open

Naturist or not, minimalist or not, I’d love to know what you think.

Invisible Shoes: Minimalist Footwear Review And Comparison

Invisible Shoes vs. Vibram FiveFingers

When I first tried Vibram FiveFingers shoes a few years ago, I really liked them. They soon became my everyday shoes – at least when I’m not barefoot. One big drawback they have, especially in the summer, is the fact that they hug your foot like a glove. Despite the thin top and side fabric, they don’t breathe very well, and my feet get hot and sweaty. Maybe not so much compared to regular shoes, but for someone who prefers nothing, the Vibrams, while providing the barefoot ergonomics, still feel like wearing shoes.

I thought I would see what I could find that was open like a sandal while keeping a barefoot feel. I looked at the Teva Zilch, but I didn’t like the big toe loop nor the cross strap over the little toe.

Eureka!

Then I discovered Invisible Shoes. They are basically just a piece of sole material and a string to hold it onto your foot. Invisible Shoes are as close as you can get to barefoot while still offering the bottoms of your feet a bit of protection. My feet stay cooler and drier. No more white stripes from sandal straps or white toes from FiveFingers to mar my all-over tan. They also go great with my usual wardrobe, or, shall I say, my lack thereof.

Invisible Shoe

Okay, so I like the look and feel. How about the actual wearing? Well, once I got them tied right, which takes a bit of patience and careful following of directions, I took a test-walk.

Walk, Don’t Run

I should probably mention right here that I am not a runner. Minimalist footwear has created quite a stir in the running community, but it’s my opinion that going barefoot, or as close as possible, is best for everyone no matter their level of activity. While I can’t remember the last time I ran that I wasn’t being chased, I usually walk a mile or more each day. Most of that is on rocky desert terrain.

Been There, Done That

Since these are not my first minimalist footwear, and since much has already been written elsewhere about the advantages of barefoot walking and running, as well as transitioning to minimalist shoes, I’ll be noting what I have observed to be unique about the Invisible Shoes as well as how they compare, in my opinion, with the Vibram FiveFingers Classic for a walker and hiker.

Breaking The Habit

The first thing I had to learn to do was stop clenching my toes. Having worn flip-flops for years, the sensation of the lace between my toes make me reflexively clench, as is necessary with thong footwear to hold on to them. With the Invisible Shoe, however, this is not necessary, as the lace also goes around the back of the foot. They aren’t going  anywhere no matter how swiftly or vigorously I move my feet. Once I broke myself of the toe-clenching and let my foot relax, the walking was great.

Feel The Earth And Air

They felt comfortable and secure over most terrain. The open design means that the rare tiny pebble might get between the shoe and the sole of the foot, but is easily dislodged, usually by simply shaking the foot. I found the complete lack of anything, save for the thin lace, on top of my foot to result in a wonderfully free feeling. On most surfaces the tactile feedback was very similar to the Vibrams. The Invisible Shoes come in different sole thicknesses; I chose the thinnest, 4mm, which is, incidentally, the same thickness as the FiveFingers Classic soles. The Invisible Shoes are actually more flexible, however, as the result of two significant differences. First of all, the 4mm thickness includes the raised tread pattern, so the flexibility is actually equal to a 3mm sole. In spite of their razor-siped soles, the Vibrams retain the stiffer feel of their 4mm thickness. Also, the Invisible Shoes are essentially flat, while the Vibrams have raised edges, especially at the heel, toes, and balls of the feet, further reducing flexibility.

Bottoms Up!

While the Vibrams, with their mostly smooth soles, offer ever-so-slightly better feeling of tiny terrain details, it doesn’t make much noticeable difference in actual use. Possibly more significant is the lack of sides on the Invisible Shoes. This allows for better feeling near the edges of the foot. While I’d already learned the importance of careful foot placement wearing the FiveFingers, I found that with the Invisible Shoes I had to be even more careful because of the more flexible soles and unprotected sides and toes. Still, it becomes second nature and is mostly a subconscious attention that causes little distraction.

Nothing’s Perfect

If I had to find a fault with the Invisible Shoes, it would be that they are probably not well suited for especially steep terrain or climbing. They offer plenty of traction for normal walking and running, but they just don’t feel especially secure in situations involving extreme lateral forces.

Conclusion

I think I’ve found my new favorite footwear. I won’t be getting rid of my FiveFingers — they still have the edge for cold weather and steep terrain. Overall, though, I’ve found the Invisible Shoes to be closer to my ideal of being barefoot, and about as minimalist as a shoe can get. They never stink and are easy to keep clean. They are thin and light, making them easy to carry and store. Invisible Shoes are inexpensive at under $30 for a pair (even free, if you’re handy and resourceful – DIY instructions are on their website).

Do you have experience with minimalist footwear? Have questions about mine? Comments are open!

Simplifying Email Saves Time

It is amazing how much time email can take up. I recently made some changes in the way I work with email and it really surprised me how much time it saves me each day. There are a number of ways you can streamline your email process.

Reduce Volume

The first step should be reducing the volume of incoming mail. Unsubscribe from mailing lists you’ve lost interest in (don’t forget Yahoo, Google, and similar “Groups”). Same thing with Usenet Newsgroups. Are you getting unwanted mail from e-commerce sites? If it is a site you do business with, log on to your account with them and check your communication options. Many have an option to only send you mail regarding actual orders (status, shipping notices, etc.) but no marketing mail. If it’s a site you don’t do business with, but is a reputable site, follow the unsubscribe instructions they give at the bottom of each email. If all else fails, blacklist the sender via your spam or other blocking filter.

Fewer Accounts

Many of us have multiple email accounts. One for business, one for e-commerce, one for family and friends and even one for blogging. If you have to go to different websites or use different programs to check each one, a lot of time is wasted logging in and out checking each one. Multiply that by how many times each day you make the rounds of all your email accounts. If you don’t really need that many, you might be able to drop one or more of them. If possible, migrate all your correspondence to one email address. If you can’t do that, then you should try to get all your email in one inbox. There are a few ways to accomplish this.

Forward

One way would be to set up all but your favorite account to forward your mail to the favorite one, or perhaps a new one you create for just this purpose. This also works as a great first step toward  reducing the number of email accounts you maintain. The downside of this method is that you will be handling all mail through a single account, and all your replies will come from the account you are using. This may confuse some recipients. You can mitigate this confusion by placing a note in your signature line explaining what you are doing and suggesting that everyone please start using your preferred address.

Fetch

Some email providers will retrieve your mail from other accounts, allowing you to manage all your mail in one place.  This gets all your mail into one inbox, while allowing each email address to keep its own identity. This is one option if you plan to keep separate email accounts for different functions.

Use A Local Email Client

Back in “The Old Days” everyone used a local program to manage their email. While many people still use an email client, especially with ISP or workplace provided email accounts, web-based email has become much more common, especially among the free email providers. The advantages to the user are virtually no setup, ease-of-use, and the ability to do mail anywhere, on any device with a web browser. The advantages to the provider are a drastic reduction in need for tech support as well as the ability to tightly control the user experience (read “advertise”).

There’s A Better Way

If you are willing to make a one-time investment in time and effort, and possibly enlist the help of a techie friend if you are not so inclined, then you can set up an email client. Using an email client will do several things for you. It will allow you to collect all your email in one place, with a single look and feel. No more bouncing around to different websites and systems. It will give you an ad-free email experience. No more distracting links to your email provider’s other properties, nor ads for products and services you don’t want and don’t need. It will give you total control over your email experience. Size and place windows so they are easier for you to work with. Manage all your contacts in one place, and share them among all your email accounts. Share email easily among accounts, too, even replying and forwarding across account borders.

Time-saving Features

Better filters with more sophisticated rules. Spam protection, blacklisting, and whitelisting to remove distractions from unwanted mail. Download mail in the background so you don’t waste time waiting for each email to load. Specify whether or not to display embedded images. Download all your mail and work offline – great for slower connections and dialup (free up your line for calls while you’re reading and answering email) , as well as for working on the go when there’s no WiFi or 3G connection.

More Time-saving Tips

Receiving and displaying your email as efficiently as possible speeds up email handling tremendously. Streamlining the way you work with email helps, too.

FIFO Handling

Once you’ve got all of your email coming in to a single in-box, you can deal with it in a linear, first-in, first-out fashion. Open the first piece of new mail. Deal with it right now. If an action is required, like a reply, do it immediately. Once you are done, but not before, move on to the next piece of mail. Doing this helps you fully focus on each piece of mail. Unimportant items are quickly discarded. Important items receive your undivided attention and are promptly handled.

Avoid Procrastination Enablers

I used to like to sort my email into different folders based on mailing list, sender, and other criteria. I had filters set up to do the sorting automatically. I was pretty proud of myself, thinking how efficient I was. In reality, I’d just been making it easier to procrastinate. Sure, it all looked organized, but I wasn’t reading and replying in a timely manner. The folders gave the illusion of having done something, and enabled me to empty the in-box faster, but left lots of unread mail. Experience has taught me that the best plan is as I described, handling all mail in the order it is received. No flagging, filing, or other procrastinating. If I don’t deal with it now, chances are it will sit until It ends up being too old to matter and gets deleted.

Your Ideas?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, ideas, and suggestions on handling email in a simple and efficient manner. Comments are open!

Why Do We Encourage Breeding?

This has been a long-standing pet peeve of mine, along with disproportionate emphasis on families (as opposed to individuals, people, humans, citizens), particularly by government and politicians.

Don’t Hate Me Now

I suppose I should start with a disclaimer,  lest I be thought of as some evil child-hater or something. I don’t hate children. I often like them, in fact. Of course that’s irrelevant because like them or not, if people stopped having children, it would mean the end of the human race. Nor do I hate parents. While I can’t understand what motivates some to want to have five, ten, twenty, or more children, I think everybody should have the right to raise children if they so chose, provided they are physically, emotionally, and financially up to the task.

Once Upon A Time

What I object to, however, is the encouragement we give, as a society, to reproduction. There might have been a time in history when it made some sort of sense to attempt to “go forth and multiply,” making as many of “your own kind” as possible to populate the earth. That’s probably why governments and religions alike originally got into the business of encouraging  breeding as well as frowning upon recreational and other non-procreative sex.

Biological Programming, Or Social Conditioning?

Now, however, we have plenty of humans on this planet. Some might say we are on the way to having too many, or are even there already. All the while, the world’s population continues to grow at an exponential rate. Yet we’ve been socially conditioned to ooh and ahh and coo and congratulate people for simply doing what most humans have been biologically programmed to do. Those of us with different programming and those who intentionally don’t have or don’t want children are looked upon like there is something wrong or we are somehow shirking our duty as humans.

Governmental Encouragement

While some governments actually attempt to control the birthrate by limiting their citizens’ reproductive rights, we here in the US do the absolute opposite. We offer financial incentives for breeding, in the form of tax deductions. We all subsidize babysitting (“child care”), education, and medical care for children.We have laws that favor breeding (or even just potentially breeding) families over single individuals or non-traditional family units. We even have laws that attempt to limit birth control, making it more difficult for responsible citizens to plan if, when, and how many children they’d like to have. Perhaps it is time for the human race to start practicing minimalism with regard to reproductive habits.

Am I Alone?

Am I the only one who thinks this way? Or am I just the only one willing to actually say so? With all the financial difficulties our government has, why has nobody suggested eliminating all child-related tax deductions? How much money would that save? Are they afraid that people only have kids for the tax write-off, and once we stop subsidizing breeding, nobody will want to anymore? Should I start looking over my shoulder from now on because I’ve spoken out against America’s sacred cow of incentivized breeding?

What’s Your Take?

Where do you stand on this issue? Should government stop rewarding people just for proving their fertility? Should we encourage responsible parenthood and smaller families? What would you do if you got to make the rules?

Does News Matter Anymore?

I’ve always been one to keep up with what’s going on. I watch the local and national news on TV when I can get it (for free, using an antenna). I read newspapers (usually online). I listen to the radio, too (NPR and BBC). I think it keeps me reasonably well-informed, but sometimes I wonder if it’s worth the investment in time, and if it even matters.

Time For News

I probably spend about four hours each day ingesting the news. Do you find that shocking? So did I. Until writing this post, I’d never tried to quantify my news consumption.  At least an hour of that is spent reading, often two, and sometimes three. I get the New York Times headlines in my email several times a day, so I skim those and if something looks interesting or important, I’ll click through and read it. I spend another hour or more with television news, but often it is just on in the background while I’m doing something else. I’ll stop and look up if something catches my attention. I also spend anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours listening to the radio, but usually while I’m doing something else.

The Vast Wasteland

Television is often called a vast wasteland, and what passes for news is often as bad as the rest of it. When you consider that there are only about 22 minutes of content in a local 30-minute newscast, and five of them are sports (how is sports “news” anyway?) and another two or three for weather, that’s only fifteen minutes left for actual news. Half of that ends up being fluff, so it has taken half an hour to receive seven minutes’ worth of actual newsworthy information. Not a very good return on investment.

Reader’s Choice

When reading the news, I get to scan the headlines, and then read only the stories I choose to. If a misleading or misunderstood headline takes me to a story I’m not really interested in, I don’t have to read it. I think with reading we have the most control, and can be more efficient consumers of news and other written content.

Hello Radio

While broadcast radio has become as bad as, and sometimes worse than television, there is some good news to be had. I avoid the shoutfests hosted by loudmouthed wing-nuts. I don’t need to be yelled at. NPR has decent headline  news and offers in-depth coverage, too. The BBC News Hour, carried by many (most?) NPR stations, is thorough, and I like getting a non-American perspective on USA and world events. Perhaps the best part is that you can listen to the radio almost anywhere. Since it does not occupy your eyes, you can listen while you are driving, doing household chores, exercising, or while doing some crafts and hobbies. Radio makes for great accompaniment while decluttering, too!

So Many Stories, So Little News

A big problem I have with news is that so little of what purports to be news, especially on television, actually is. Between sports, celebrity gossip, human interest bits, and various health, safety, and home maintenance tips (which always seem to feature some local “expert” who invariably advertises on the same station) you have to look pretty hard to find the news in a television “newscast”. Reading is a little better, but only because you get to pick and choose. Radio, surprisingly, is often he most efficient source of actual news.

Does It Really Matter?

Perhaps the bottom line is “What’s the point?” Most of the news, particularly at the national or international level, is not going to have any immediate impact on my everyday life. It’s also not likely there’s anything I can do about any of it either. Much of it saddens or angers me. I know people who pay no attention whatsoever to the news and seem to be just fine. Maybe better than fine, as they don’t have to deal with the stress of knowing what a mess the politicians are making of our country, or hearing about crime, accidents, and disasters every evening. Is ignorance bliss?

What Do You Think?

I suppose it has some value as a form of entertainment, or conversational fodder. I do find it entertaining sometimes, when it isn’t raising my blood pressure, but I tend to be a pretty lousy conversationalist in spite of it. Do you watch, listen to, or read the news regularly? Why or why not? D0 you think it helps or hinders the effort to live a simple and serene life?

Decluttering Decisions – The “Lost Or Stolen” Test

(For those of you eagerly awaiting the next installment of “Exploring RV Living,” it will be coming later this week. If you haven’t done so yet, subscribe via email or RSS to make sure you don’t miss it. Links are over in the right-hand column, below my mug shot.)

I’ve always been a thorough researcher when it comes to major purchases, and have read my share of online product reviews. While trying to come up with a relatively easy rule to help me decide what to keep and what to eliminate in my decluttering efforts, I remembered a question I’ve seen asked by at least one review site, and is frequently volunteered by reviewers on other sites, especially musician’s gear sites: “Would you buy it again if it was lost or stolen?” In the context of a product review, it’s an excellent question. If something is so useful or desirable that you couldn’t be without it, that’s about as good as a personal recommendation can get.

Not Just For Reviews

It turns out that the “lost or stolen” question makes a really good test during decluttering. What we would do in the event of the sudden disappearance of an item is a good gauge of that item’s actual necessity and value to us. The low hanging fruit (or maybe the fruit that’s already fallen from the tree?) is quickly eliminated by asking ourselves “If this was lost or stolen, would I even notice?”

What Would You Do?

Where “lost or stolen” really shines, though, is after the first few rounds, after the obvious fluff has already been eliminated. Now the decision process is more challenging. We need to separate the “that’s really nice” stuff from the “I really need that” stuff. As you look at an item, ask yourself “If this were lost or stolen (or broken beyond repair) would I immediately run out and buy another one just like it?” If you can honestly answer “yes” to that question, then the item is probably a keeper. If, on the other hand, you answered that you’d figure out how to get on without it, then you probably don’t need it. If your answer is “I’d have to replace it, but probably not with one like it,” that’s a sign that it serves a needed purpose, but is probably not a good match for your current lifestyle. In that case it might be worth considering replacing the less-than-ideal item with something more suitable. No hurry, though — you can wait until it needs replacing anyway.

Terrific Test

While this isn’t the answer to all decluttering dilemmas, such as what to do with sentimental and decorative things, the “lost or stolen” test is a great tool for making decisions regarding practical things. Can you think of any other  simple tests to help with decluttering decisions? What have you found that helps you separate the wheat from the chaff? Comments are open — don’t be shy!