Today I’m going off-piste and giving myself my own journalling prompt. Last year I read the book Level up Your Life by NerdFitness founder Steve Kamb. The book, whilst very nicely written, is essentially just a swiss army knife style summary of some of the things I’ve also been reading over the last few years. Namely, it contained a very condensed version of the Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, some advice on goal setting, a bit of minimalist philosophy, and a (relatively) low barrier to access exercise regime in order to allow people to “live a life of adventure”. I should note that whilst I enjoyed the book, it read very much like the “if I did it so can you” that is common amongst white middle-class cisstraight males. THere was a good section covering different socio-economic circumstances, and Kamb did a good job of pointing out others who could act as mentors for those with different backgrounds, but I feel that this is worth noting.
All in all, I enjoyed the book as it served as a very good summary of a lot of other things I’d been reading such as Happiness By Design, some minimalist stuff, and even The Spirit Level. Also worth a note is Homo Deus as it also covers some of the same themes in part.
The common themes in the books was that purpose is an essential part of how we derive joy in our life. Both from our actions (we could speak of Marx’s theory of Alienation as well here…) as well as the objects around us. I’ve since embarked on a de-cluttering mission designed to evaluate each of the objects that I have about my personal space and get rid of the things I don’t need. On the other hand, this has also involved an evaluation of personal habits that I want to affect change in. Unfortunately, the change I want to engage in occasionally requires that I purchase or otherwise bring new items (shudder) into my life. The fact I want to save money towards a mortgage doesn’t help with this cognitive dissonance.
To get around this, I’ve began utilising Kamb’s concept of “Levelling up” with my purchases. A purchase that I make should enable me to do something. This can be making an existing process more efficient, in attempt to reach a grander goal, or can allow me to do something new within the context of an existing hobby (e.g. a new pull-up assistance band). This post, therefore, is a way of cataloguing all of the things I have floating around in my head and how I think that they will level me up in various aspects of my life.
I recently got a bicycle from the charity that I work with, for my consistent volunteering on Mondays. The reason I wanted a bike in the first place was to make me more mobile, without having to invest in learning how to drive or actually get a car. As I exist primarily in urban areas, it’s relatively easy to peddle around a my bike affords me cardiovascular exercise, recreational activity, and increased mobility between places (and therefore a net saving on time spent travelling).
At first, my bike sat unused for a month or so, then I began to take it on recreational trips. I couldn’t use it for commuting, since it didn’t have a lock. After a few recreational trips, I purchased a lock and some lights in order to be able to use it for quick jaunts to and from the city centre, and to local supermarkets (obviously role-played in my head as scouting and supply missions). What follows is a brief summary of my envisioned level ups for my bike:
- Helmet, will make me feel more confident using the city’s roads as means of travelling more effectively throughout the city
- Hi-Viz Vest I am changing my clothes habits to be more layer based. A Hi-Viz jacket will combine with the helmet and the lights to make me more confident on the city’s roads, as well as enable safer night cycling. Such mobility!
- Bike multitool Will allow me to perform basic maintenance on the bike, as by this point I will have invested enough points into it that it’ll begin to get used quite frequently and thus see some wear and tear.
- Spare inner tubes and hand pump Punctures happen. Spare inner tubes, combined with the multitool, will allow me to adapt to dangers on the road. Puncture repair kits are a bit naff. This adaptability also increases me roaming and exploration capacity for when I’m out just riding, as opposed to commuting or travelling.
- Panniers These will allow the bike to become a much more effective transport steed, allowing me to perform much better-planned shopping trips.
- Phone case By this point, discounting any unforeseen requirements, I will have made myself quite secure and adaptable on the bike and it’s time to take some longer journeys. A phone case that straps to my handle bars will allow me to plot longer journeys to commute between the city centre and some of the outskirts, as well as the outlying towns and places of interest.
The next question I need to answer is how do I determine when I’ve earned the level-up? I obviously don’t want to fall into the trap of just buying a whole bunch of bike gear and then never using it. I’ve obviously started to use it, but I think that every month I should have clocked up so many trips on the bike based on what I want to use it for: recreation and commuting. There’s no magic number during the month, but consistency should be the key element.
Cooking and diet
One of my current goals is to consistently ensure that I am not just defaulting to purchasing lunch at work when I could have prepared a meal. I bought a slow cooker some time ago, and have recently began using it again very consistently. Whilst I definitely enjoy the act of cooking things, when it’s required in order to prepare a meal later I prefer to batch-cook and reduce the amount of labour required when it’s divided across meals.
Since returning from Madrid, I’ve been really into making chilli in my slow cooker. This is good. Combined with the increased mobility from my bicycle I’ve been able to retrieve supplies and cook them really effectively. A quick reflection over my cooking practices has shown that this has been key in preventing me from defaulting to delicious yet unhealthy and expensive takeaway food. The fact that I know am ok with fasting in the evenings has also contributed to this. Where I’ve been falling down, however, and causing myself some stress, is that I require a means of cooking the carbohydrate portion I enjoy with meals (generally rice or potatoes) whilst minimising the attention I need to pay to pots boiling over.
On a Friday and Saturday, I also treat myself to a large bag of crisps. I’ve largely been successful in reducing snacking, but it’s been creeping back in. Some way to increase the healthiness of the snacks is required, that isn’t overly labour intensive.
- Rice Cooker I’ve been banging on about getting one of these for absolutely ages. I really want one. The ability to just turn it on, and then do something else for 20 minutes whilst the rice cooks will mean the absolute world to me. Combined with my slow cooker, this would effectively reduce the cognitive effort required to plan and produce my lunchtime meals to near-zero, with delicious results.
- Mandolin Something I’ve fancied for a little while, but haven’t been able to justify until recently. A Mandolin will allow me to slice vegetables really thinly, which make for good sandwiches (good for scouting missions to the cliffs), and more importantly: good for crisps. I absolutely adore crisps, to the point where I have zero portion control. If I could offset the cost of crisps to producing them myself it would be good. I am not alienated from the product and thus lose an element of consumerism, and I get a bit more control over what I put into my body. Seems like a win win.
There are various other specialist items I want, but can’t quite justify yet so I won’t even mention them. In terms of determining when I’ve earned the level, I think that a similar approach to my mobility levels will be appropriate. This probably means I can get my rice cooker soon (in fact I am going to) since I’ve been realllly consistent with my slow cooker this year. I’ve only bought lunch on special occasions, where I’ve already brought in my chilli! The mandolin I can get some other time, really. One thing I’d like to try and do, though, is cook something like a curry in my slow cooker. That would be a good way to make the most of it.
Home space and Minimalism
It sounds really weird to say that you want to purchase things in order to become more minimalist, and in fact that’s often my problem with the diehard approaches that people take to it. This section stems, therfore, from the relationships I have with my physical space at the moment and the ones that I desire to have in the near-future.
I’ve always enjoyed a reconfigurability for space. I like the idea that you can make the most out of something by just shifting some things around. I also enjoy large open spaces, which is difficult when you’re trapped in the smaller bedroom of a flat. Unfortunately this requires some equipment to facilitate this reconfiguration.
Electronics Trolley I don’t much care what the material is, but a small trolley that would replace my main desk with the ability to move would be a fantastic thing for me. Currently, I envision that this allows me to enjoy the space of my flat’s communal space whilst other people are engaging with the main television there. The trolley would contain my games consoles, a space for my laptop, and a power strip; being topped by the smaller television that I essentially use as a monitor. In the mornings, I could wheel this out of my bedroom into the front room to play games whilst my partner watches netflix on my laptop, or if I wanted to work she could keep the trolley in the room whilst I took the laptop to work on.
Hard drives and USB pens Having recently experienced a catastrophic drive failure, resulting in the loss of nearly all of my personal data history from 2010 – present, this is a sore one for me. Currently, I have a 500GB external drive sat on my desk that requires power, and is pretty static. We mainly use it to watch The Simpsons of an evening, but it’s useful for quick back-ups etc. My problem with it is that it takes up room, and requires a separate plug in the power strip. Replacing this with a 1TB 2.5” drive would make this more portable and require less power. It also turns out that my television can accept a USB input. With USB pens being relatively inexpensive these days, I can envision a dedicated USB pen for TV shows (ie cartoons) so that I don’t need to power both my TV and laptop in order to engage in our nightly rituals. The smaller drives would allow them to be stored away in drawers for space saving as well.
Futon The big one. I’m talking about a proper Japanese futon as opposed to the ones associated with Ikea (not that I have a problem with those). My reasons for this being that I find sleeping close to ground very comfortable, and there are numerous health benefits to sleeping on the floor. The futon will provide a degree of comfort in exchange for a slight reduction in health benefits (a net gain compared to a bed) but, excitingly, is designed to be rolled up and stored when not in use. This basically allows me to reclaim the space taken up by a bed, prevents me from laying on the bed during the day (and therefore not sleeping), as well as providing a nice nightly ritual that signals to me that it’s bed time.
These are all relatively big purchases, and I wouldn’t be making them for a little while yet. Especially since all of them explicitly require new purchases to be brought into my home. In order to level up to these things, I want to have gotten rid of swathe of things first.
I’m generally really good with clothes as I don’t go clothes shopping a lot. In terms of the ‘levelling up’ aspect of this part of my life, though, sometimes I like to change my clothes around a bit for variety and to experiment. I don’t think this is unique at all, and everyone does it. Eventually, I want to create a capsule wardrobe which I can just continually wear, and provide a lot of variety.
The main thing that I noticed when evaluating my wardrobe, however, is that I actually currently own less items of clothing than recommended by most minimalist guides! The reason for this is that I am fortunate enough to have a working environment in academia that is relatively relaxed in terms of the clothes that I wear. I’ve never owned a full suit, partly due to this and also partly due to the investment being useless since my body changes constantly due to training (mainly waist growth, although that’s levelled off for the moment). Similarly, I’ve outgrown all of my old shirts and never bothered to replace them. I mainly exist in a state of switching between Workman’s trousers, Cargo trousers, and a variety of tees.
Whilst happy with this, I did mention that I crave a bit more variety, and I also think that I can condense a few of my duplicate tees into a few nicer quality ones, that fit better and have been made by slightly-better-paid slave children (I joke but this really upsets me that it’s difficult to escape this practice).
Tees I used to by my tees from Primark due to their inexpensiveness and liking the cut. As my body has filled out thanks to push-ups the tees, even when bought larger, have begun to hang off my body in a way that I don’t necessarily like all the time. I recently played with getting a plain tee from Gildan, and I like it much better. It fits good, I like the colour, and the cotton is of higher quality so it actually feels nice on my skin and I don’t overheat. In future I would like to replace my Primark tees with Gildan ones, effectively collapsing the amount of tees that I have in my drawers. To illustrate, I have three of the same blue tee from Primark. I can collapse them all into a single higher quality Gildan tee. This means less clothes, but will likely mean I can wash the majority of my clothes in a single wash as opposed to only half. That appeals to me for future potential travelling.
Shirts I’ve been trying to break into the shirt game for a while but have been put off for a number of reasons. Mainly, I don’t want to invest in a nice shirt when I could outgrow it in 6 months (thanks pull-ups, you tough-yet-rewarding dickheads). Not-nice and cheap shirts make me overheat rapidly. Ideally I want about three shirts. A flannel one, and two cotton of different colours. Combined with my tees I should be able to make a fair few outfits from that.
Hoodie A project I’ve been tossing around in my head for a little while. I currently have three hoodies; work, weekend, and training. They’re all also different brands and qualities. What I would ideally like to do, is purchase a good quality build of hoodie and then modify it so that the arms zip off. This means it becomes an all-year hoodie that’s modular and adaptable so I can use it for travel, training, and commuting (or wearing around the house).
This is probably the easiest part to decide when to level up. Whenever I’ve decided that I’m sick to death of wearing a particular set of clothes, I’ll allocate some of next months’ budget to condensing the wardrobe in a particular fashion.
This post has been the product of a morning’s reflective journalling, and I’ll likely have some leftover itches to scratch and reflect on. So I might update the post when I know more about what I want. Until then, this is more than enough to strive towards in the quest of my life :-P