Friday, July 31, 2015

Minimalism

I'm looking at reducing the complication of things in my life.

We don't really need that many things to exist in this life. Most of us definitely have more than enough. I never really got sucked into the materialistic wave of accumulation. Even though I fight the urge to add new toys and gadgets and things to my life I have still managed to collect a lot of things. My brief time in the Ukraine definitely has a lingering effect on my life. I was shocked with how little people had in the former communist state. When I returned to North America I was shocked and overwhelmed by the "stuff". There were useless "things" everywhere and everyone had to have them. It almost made me sick.

Growing up, mom and dad had a "thing" for everything. Too many kitchen appliances/utensils/things. Too many tools. Too many pictures and decorations. Too many hardware related items. Bar stools in storage for 20 years because they may be needed one day. Broken record players and 8-track stereos that were fixable, although what was the point? And sheds, garages, extra buildings, basements used to store it all.

And all those things require time and money to fix and maintain and store. It's just not worth it.

There seems to be a movement today to return to some sort of minimalist living. I'm not hopping on a band wagon though. I'd like to think I'm ahead of the crowd. I don't feel like I need to adhere to all the rules popping up like:

-You can only own 100 things
-If you haven't used it in 6 weeks get rid of it
-You're not allowed to travel
-You can't own a vehicle

But I don't find it necessary to own kitchen items like a rice maker that I'll use a couple times a year when a simple pot would do. I don't think I need 2 scales, or 10 vases, or 3 guitars, 12 pairs of shoes, etc. We'll see how this goes.


Monday, July 27, 2015

Delayed Gratification

Accepting something good instead of waiting for something great.

Delayed gratification isn't easy. Watch this:


Even these kids know that delayed gratification makes sense, but they still succumb to the temptation of the marshmallow. There's a lot of "marshmallows" in life. I've been working on my "marshmallows" lately. Funny enough, marshmallows are some of my marshmallows. It's not that I could have had more later if didn't have fewer now. The whole idea is that we will take minimal pleasure from some thing now at the expense of a greater reward later. Intellectually we all know it is a bad decision, but we want our marshmallows now.

Willpower.  There's a lot that's been said about will power. I won't bother writing about that now. I'll just say that it is the ability to make the preferred decision regardless of outside influences.

I've been using my willpower to eat better lately. A little over 3 months ago I was 206 pounds. I haven't touched a donut in over 2 months. I've eaten a lot of spinach and kale. And nothing happened for the first while. But I kept making long term decisions instead of accepting short term gratification.  No donouts. One month ago I was 196 pounds. One week ago I was 185. By the end of summer I'll be a much healthier 175. The result of my decisions will have taken 4 or 5 months to fully appear, but it will be much more satisfying than a summer of donuts. I'm sure my 70 year old self will thank me.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Weight

A little over 3 months ago I was 206 pounds. Today, I'm hovering around 186. I've lost 20 pounds. It wasn't easy. It was will power. I've been donut free for a little over 2 months now. That was not an easy task. I averaged about 2 donuts per day last year. This year my total donut count is at 44.When I made the decision to get back in to shape, I decided to limit my donut intake to 10 donuts per month. I exceeded that limit about 3 weeks in to the year. But, seven months later, its amazing to see the difference a few less donuts can make. I'm writing this entry wearing a shirt I haven't worn in over a year, because it didn't fit until today. I'm not so concerned about my weight as I am my health, but weight is a good indicator of my health so it is the thing I choose to measure. By the end of the month I hope to be under 190 pounds for the first time in a couple years. After that, I may end up gaining weight as I exercise and build muscle mass. Once that happens I think I'll transition from solely weight to waste size and weight.

See you at 190!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

VBS Again

I've taken a week off work to help with VBS again this year. It's good. I definitely needed time away from work. This year I am helping with the pre-school kids as well as the grade school kids. That's something new for me. I like it. The kids are so fun. I was a bit nervous as I usually work with older children but this was something that came much more naturally to me than I thought.

I'm going to be so tired by the end of this vacation.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Freedom

I've been busy but things are good.

I'm moving in to a new position at work which should buy more free time. Today was supposed to be a day off work. But I got called. I was called on my day off. I was called yesterday morning at 6am. I was called on Sunday. I have a problem. I'm good at what I do. Even when I'm not supposed to be working, work will track me down for my expertise. The problem with work is that, although it is made of good people, as an organization it will always take what it can from its employees. The problem with me is that I let it. I'm learning to set boundaries. I'm learning to do the same thing in my relationships so I can stay healthy. I find it really difficult asking others for what I need. But that's changing. Today was a good day, despite work tracking me down. I said no to things that wanted my time because I didn't have time to give.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Life

I don't know where the time has gone. It's almost June. The days are brighter and longer. I like it.

Life is still too busy. Unfortunately I've been too busy lately to get less busy. Is that a Catch 22 or just an excuse?

Volleyball is almost over. I won't be playing on a team this Summer. That will free up some time. Junior and Senior High Youth Groups will be happening every other week starting in July so that will free up another night during the week. I'm not sure if my small group will be continuing through the Summer. And my C&C group starts to slow down in the Summer as well. I may finally catch my breathe. I just need to make sure I don't ramp it all up again in the fall. This Friday I'm doing a sleep over with kids transitioning into Junior High Youth. In July I am taking a week off work to help with our Preschool and Elementary School VBSes.

Then in October I'm getting married. Crazy. There will be a two week honeymoon in Europe and then I'm back at it again. And that's life.



And unrelated to the rest of this entry, but I'm 195 pounds now.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

House Keeping

It's been a while.

I've been busy. As usual. Most distractions good, some tedious, few necessary.

Let's see. I restructured my company. It got bought out by our parent company and largest share holder.

I'm down to 197 pounds. I was up to 206, which is the most I've ever weighed in my life. I've been very sedentary lately and eating a lot. However, I haven't touched a doughnut in 3 weeks. Previous to that I would average 1-2 doughnuts per day. Any way, I'm scheduled to run a half marathon in a month so I should probably start training for that.

I got engaged 3 weeks ago. That's cool.

Now I'm on a big push to simplify my life because things are going to get a lot more complicated this next year.

Thanks for checking in.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

20 pounds

I've reached my goal. I'm not sure why it was a goal. I think as a little boy I always wanted to weight more than my dad. Today I'm 202 pounds. He's under 200. I win! I'm not sure how the last 20 pounds snuck up on me though. One day all my clothes felt tighter. My new goal is to lose 20 pounds. I know its easier said than done. I'm a stress eater, and work has been stressful. But I will do it. And I'll use this blog to track my success. Here we go.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Hello St. Louis

I'm away from work. Funny enough, because I'm doing training for work in St. Louis. I can't have much affect on the office back home, and, because I'm training, I've tuned out all other work distractions like email and texts. This is the most "free" I can be right now. It only happens once a year. Despite the stress and rigour of the training it is quite relaxing to have no other responsibilities. Even the normal day to day demands of life like doing laundry, buying groceries, maintaining the yard or paying bills are on hold until I get back.

I'm taking some time to reflect on what I've learned.

Sleep is good. I need more of it.
Exercise is good. I need more of it.
Junk food is bad. I need less of it.
Stress is bad. I need less of it.
Relationships are good. I need to invest in them.
Learning is fun. I need to budget time for it.
Families are important.
Work is necessary, but should never interfere sleep, exercise, diet, learning or family.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Real Value

I've thought a lot about the connection between time, money and happiness lately. Here's someone else's thoughts on the same thing. I like what he said, so I'll repost his post for you. Here's Captain Capitalism's take on the subject.


"Wealth" or being "wealthy" is well understood by most people in society. We know "wealth" when we see it. We all know we want to be "wealthy." But when it comes to having a thorough and fundamental economic understanding of wealth, most people (even economists) fail. The reasons are many, but most people just don't have the time or intellectual desire to fully think through "wealth." However, if you take the time to do, not only do you drastically improve your understanding of economics, but you also dramatically increase your chances of being happy. And that, ultimately, is the point and purpose of economics and life.

The first "stage" or level of understanding of wealth people have is money. I remember a friend of mine and I in college walking across campus on a blustery fall day. The wind was blowing and somewhere upwind somebody must have dropped some cash because soon $1 and $5 bills were blowing right across our feet.

For a nanosecond we were stunned because, well..."there's money blowing across our feet." But soon our innate, human instincts kicked in and we were scrambling to grab as much cash as we can, pushing each other out of the way in a spirited friendly competition of enrichment. After grabbing all we could see we were each about $15 "wealthier," but what I remember most about it was the IMMEDIATE and RAPID genetic response we both had to chase and push each other over bits of green colored paper.

The question is why were we so excited about paper?

Obviously it wasn't the paper as much as it was the stuff the paper could buy. And if we could grab that money it would allow us to buy stuff that would directly help support and enhance our lives. And this is the second "stage" of people's understanding of wealth. It's not about the money. It's about the stuff.

This is a key epiphany to have because what you realize is that economics is not about the "money" a nation prints. It's about how much stuff it can produce. This is why, again, Adam Smith wrote "The Wealth of Nations" not the "Money of Nations."

However, what precisely is stuff? Yes it is goods and services that can be used to help extend, maintain, and enhance your life, but does just having more "stuff" necessarily make you wealthy?

Well, yes and no.

Everybody needs a certain amount of "stuff" to survive. We all need a certain amount of food. We all need a certain amount and quality of shelter. And we all need a certain amount of clothing. But for the vast majority of mankind's 2 million year existence on this planet just scrounging up this basic level of "stuff" was incredibly challenging. Again, it was no more than 300 years ago that hunger was the number on thing humans were battling against for survival. Thus it is very much hard-wired into our brains to scrounge and consume as much stuff as possible for survival (which is why dogs will not stop eating just as humans won't either and we have an obesity problem despite the "food" problem being solved). Ergo, human's drive to be wealthy is not so much about the stuff itself but to have the peace of mind, sense of security, and psychological benefit that comes with being wealthy. i.e. - you never have to worry about starvation, survival, shelter, or work again (notice how immediate and happy people are when they win the lottery).

Now, in a literally sense to be wealthy, this would mean you would have to store up all the food you're going to eat, have a house you will live in forever, and have all the other material items and "stuffs" collected at some massive depot. Then, slowly, but surely, you'd eat through these resources, dying fat and happy.

But "stuff" doesn't work that way. Food rots. Milk spoils. Even houses deteriorate and collapse without maintenance. So how does one get wealthy without owning that actual stuff?

Well, welcome to the third stage. Time.

At first you'd be tempted to say, "well I would just store all my wealth in the form of money to purchase future stuff!" And this is true. You could store your wealth in the form of money in a bank account, silver or gold in a vault, or some other form of economic medium that stores your wealth.

But (bar winning the lottery) how did you get so wealthy in the first place? Where does this "wealth," the ability to buy future stuff (and so much of it you don't have to worry about it anymore) come from?

Well, the answer is time.

Again, barring winning the lottery or inheriting wealth, you have to understand what wealth really is and what its origins truly are. For while wealth is just "a lot of stuff" stuff at its "economic-atomic level" is created with human time.

I've mentioned this before in several of my books because the concept is so important, but everything you see around you ONLY exists in its current form because human time went into it. The computer you are reading this on right now was sand, metals, and minerals in the ground. And that sand, metal and minerals would remain there had it not been for humans to dig them up out of the ground, refine them, and then assemble them into this computer. The walls and sheet rock in the room you are currently in would still be timber and rock somewhere had it not been for humans who cut, hauled, and built the building around you.

In other words, yes, stuff is the true source of wealth, but stuff does not exist unless humans exchange their time turning raw materials into usable, consumable stuffs.

Thus, when we look at this or any other economy, it is no so much various tradesmen and specialists exchanging their wares, products and services as much as it is an exchange of time. I will give up my time producing a car in exchange for money. This money will allow me NOT to buy groceries, but rather to pay for the time of the thousands of people involved in producing groceries.

This then puts the onus and origins of wealth in the only place it can be - your time. Specifically, how valuable is your time relative to other people whose time you are going to exchange yours for.

If you are going to become an "English major" or an "aspiring rap artist" or a "professional activist" let us be very clear what you are saying. You are saying,

"My time is worthless. One minute of my time has little to no value because nobody will exchange one minute of their time executing their profession for me executing mine."

However, if you were to become a doctor, an engineer, a pharmacist, or a tradesman you are saying,

"My time has value. One minute of my time will command MULTIPLE minutes of other peoples' because my trade, my skill is that much more difficult, specialized, and in demand."

And it is this disparity, this difference, this deficit between how many minutes of other people's time you can command with a mere minute of yours that builds wealth.

This is why the "Masters in Pansexual Horned Frog 19th Century Literature Studies" makes $9 an hour serving fries to an electrician who makes $50 hour wiring the house of a surgeon who charges $90,000 for 5 hours of open heart surgery. However, don't think of it in terms of "dollars per hour" think of it in terms of "minutes of a skilled person per minutes of an unskilled person."

If I do the math right, just ONE MINUTE of the surgeon above can command 2,000 minutes of the Pansexual Horned Frog Literature major. And since it is human time that ultimately makes all stuff, you can see with such an huge ratio how skilled people can accumulate and command such wealth.

This, technically explains to the atomic level what wealth really is and where it comes from. However, this is only on an economics level. There is one final stage to truly understand wealth, and this also involves time.

Understand there is a law of diminishing returns to wealth. That once you get enough of it, you derive less and less benefit from it. So when Bill Gates made his first billion, no doubt he was very happy. But what about the next billion? And the next billion? And that one after that? For all practical purposes the "first" billion took care of most of his material needs, desires, and wants. But as fun and awesome it is to have lots of "stuff," stuff is not the most important or sought after item in the world.

It's other people. Specifically their time.

Yes, you can command people through money and the labor market to give you 4 minutes of their time in exchange for 1 of yours. But they are working for you and in the end are giving you the finished product of "stuff." But what humans truly value is the time and company of other people who do not give them a "product" or a thing in the end, but companionship, love, friendship, and intellectual stimulation. It is (again) why playing video games is fun, but playing against your friends online is even better. Going to a movie is great, but watching it with friends is better.

In other words the ultimate form of wealth is other people WILLINGLY deciding to spend a percentage of their finite and dwindling lives hanging out with you. Not in the expectation there will be "stuff" at the end, but simply because they want to.

This then changes the focus of wealth from "skilling up" or "leveling up" so your time is more precious than other people's time in the labor market, to that of being a good and enjoyable person. A good and enjoyable person that people willingly spend their time on.

Are you honorable?
Are you honest?
Do you speak the truth?
Are you interesting?
Are you funny?
Are you selfless?
Are you altruistic?
Do you have standards?
Do you have ethics?
Are you charming?
Are you entertaining?
Are you interesting?
And are you humble?

In other words, to be truly wealthy you need to command other people's time in two different ways. One, economically so you can accumulate enough wealth all your material needs are taken care of. But, two, socially so other humans willingly spend time with you and you have good social, familial and romantic lives.

This final "stage" or epiphany is arguably the most important economic lesson humans need to learn. Because once realized not only does it makes people happier, but it has a drastic and amazing effect on your personal finances. For once you realize that true wealth comes from friends, family, and loved ones, your need to make a ton of money for material wealth disappears, or at least is severely lessened to a minimalist level. And if all 315 million Americans realized this, imagine what would happen to our finances.

Nobody would be borrowing money to buy a fancy car they can't afford to impress people.
Nobody would be buying designer jeans or bags to impress people they hate.
Nobody would be slaving away to pay for a mortgage on a McMansion next to the Joneses.

Nearly all consumer and personal debt would be wiped out (or severely lessened), people would adequately save for retirement, and a level of sanity and economic knowledge would pervade the entire population that no doubt would lead to a much more stable, brighter, and happier economic future.

But something tells me more people will tune into Kim Kardashian's derriere than read this article.

Oh well, enjoy the decline!