Thursday, May 19, 2011

A step by step guide to a decluttered digital life

Modern technology and minimalism

Minimalism applied to your computer, that's what this is all about. These days, a big part of our lives can be digitized.

Minimalists have succesfully used modern technology to put all there information, important papers, old fotos, etc. in some digital format on computers and harddisks.This is a good idea, because a file on a harddisk and a fotogragh are both 1 physical object. But 1000 fotographs on a harddisks is still 1 object, the harddisk, whereas 1000 real fotographs are actually 1000 objects.

But there's a danger in there too... without careful planning, it's possible to move your clutter to your computer. That way, you have a minimalist home, free from clutter. But once you turn on your computer, the misery starts again: looking through heaps of directories just to find that one file, having a slow computer because there's a lot of files and directories and subdirectories...

A guide to a minimalist computer

There a lot to say about this subject, but it can roughly be categorized in 3 main parts:

1. Organizing your filesystem in a clean, elegant and practical way.

2. Using only the applications you need and use.

3. Using applications that have a minimal design and do what they need to do and nothing more.

Below is a step by step guide to organize and improve your digital life.

Step 1:
Remove all temporary files, old backups (that are no longer needed or way to old), files you accidently created, etc.

Step 2:
Make an inventory of all your files and write it in a text file or on a piece of paper.

Step 3:
Think about how you want to organize everything. This step is the longest and hardest part. Think long and hard about this, it will make your life easier.

Step 4:
Stop using too many subfolders and names that are too obscure or too long. It's been said that using no more than 3 sublevels in your folder hierarchy in combination with foldernames that are maximum 8 characters long, will provide the best structure that you can easily remember.

I've tried this myself and the results are amazing. It's now a lot easier for me to find a specific file or folder. Even on the computer, the saying "a place for everything and everything in its place" is a valid one. If you know the purpose of each folder, you don't have to think long about where to find, download or save a file. That's 3 times less thinking!

Step 5:
Move everything to the correct folders, only keep what you need and stick to it. Take te time to review everything once in a while. Clutter will creep into your digital life easier than in real life, so you need to keep decluttering you harddrives too.

Step 6:
Once you have a simple folder hierarchy, it's time to review your applications. What do you use often? What don't you use at all? If you ever installed applications to try something out, they might still be there. Do you still have games installed that you don't play anymore? Remove everything you don't use.

Step 7:
Make sure you use simple and minimalistic versions of your applications. Sometimes (and especially in Windows-land), applications can become too bloated with features you don't even need. If you have a clock application that can display the date and time, but that can also check your e-mail for new mail, than it's not a good clock application. A clock should be a clock. Date and time. Period.
I try to use as much applications as possible, that adhere to the unix philosophy. This means that they are applications that do only one thing, but do it well. An example is the unix 'date' command. It can show you date and time, in all available formats. Thats it. Nothing more. Date and time. Period.

So try looking for alternatives if you feel that your current application is too slow, has too many features or when you find one that does the same thing in a faster and/or better manner.

Step 8:
This step is closely related to step 7. If you use a lot of minimalist software, there might be a way to make it even more simple. Try to see if one application can replace the functionality of the other. Try combining functionality in 1 application.

A small example that I implemented: I used a calculator on the linux command line called 'bc'. But I'm also a python programmer, so I have python installed. Now it so happens to be that python can do everything regarding calculations. So I removed bc and whenever I need to make a calculation, I start the python interpreter and do my calculations there.
This has 2 advantages: I use python more, so I learn faster and that's one less application that takes up disk space.

Step 9:
Your desktop is NOT a folder/trash can/work area. I often see computers that have a desktop full of icons and files and shortcuts... Why put it there and not in a folder? If you want a temporary storage place like that, create a dedicated folder for that. Call it something simple and clear (see step 4) and make it easily accessible (see step 3 and 4).

Step 10:
A good colorscheme and a nice wallpaper make all the difference. If your wallpaper has a picture of a junkyard, it will give you a feeling of clutter. If your wallpaper is dark, it will make the room you work in, seem smaller. I often use light wallpapers, preferably even photographs of landscapes and nature.

Colorschemes of applications should be minimalistic. Photographs incorporated into the menu's of your application will make your computer look like a mess. It will annoy you after a while. Try to give everything an elegant, clean and uniform look.

Step 10 is all about personal perference and it might take a lot of experimenting to find the right combination, but it makes your computering a more pleasant experience, if done right.


Minimalism can be applied everywhere, in every aspect of your life. But regardless the fact that you're a minimalist or not, using this guide to organize your digital life, will make the time you spend behind the computer an experience that's more valueable and pleasant then ever before.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Returning home to simplicity

Today I experienced a new kind of feeling, related to my journey towards a minimalist lifestyle... I was working on an assignment at work (one that I don't like) and for that assignment I need to work on very messy systems in software that can show unexpected behaviour.

During all that work, I suddenly thought about home. A place where I continue to purge unnecessary items, where already most of it has been eliminated. A simpler place, where everything has it's place. Where mostly functiontional items are what remain.

And I was happy. Happy to know that I could return home after a long day of annoying work... to a place of simplicity, peacefulness and serenity.

Do you have a nice and simple place to come home to? If not, it's worth creating one... even if it's just one room in an entire house. You won't regret it.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Early retirement calculations - part I

The most common retirement equations you need
In order to achieve (extreme) early retirement, there are a couple of things you want to find out:
  • When can I retire?
  • How big does my nest egg need to be, so I can keep living on my investments?
  • How can I retire sooner?
Behind all these questions, an answer is hiding. One that mathematical formulas can show us.

When can I retire?
I already covered this question in a previous post.

n = (((income-saved)*12/swr)-P)/saved/12
n = number of years you need to save/compound your money
income = your current monthly income
swr = safe withdrawal rate, this is typically 4% or for conservative people 3%. I pick 4%
P = principal (the money you start saving with) 
saved = amount you can save from your income each month

Lets take the following assumptions:
income = 1400 EURO
saved = 600 EURO
A 27 year old guy named Joske starts with 25000 EURO.

According to the above formula, he needs to do 30 years of saving to become financially independent.

I'll use the same numbers in the next eqations.

How much money will I have?

If you want to retire (extremely) early, you need to save money. The pile of money you end up with, should be big enough so you can live from it. To make this happen while you are still alive, there's a magical thing called compound interest. You save, invest and reinvest your interest and magic will happen.
Actually, it's not magic, it's a nice mathematical formula, that goes like this:

K = P*(1+APR)^n
K = required nest egg (final Kapital with a capital K)
P = principal (the money you start saving with)
APR = the interest you earn on your money
n = number of years you need to save/compound your money

For more information on how to get to this formula, you can watch this excellent movie that I found on youtube:

Deriving the compound interest formula

 That guy explains everything very clearly.

So how much money do I need? Well, lets use an example.
Suppose we start with 25000 EURO as I already mentionned above. This would be our principal.
 So we have:
P = 25000
APR = 0.05 (I use 5% interest, that's more interest than the banks give you, but you can do better if you invest wisely)
n = 30 (see above)

K = 25000*(1+0.05)^30 = 108047.50 EURO

That's less money than I expected... but it takes 30 years to get!

How can I retire sooner?
The biggest factor in that equation is the amount of money you can save from your paycheck, as was also explained in my previous post regarding early retirement calculations.
So save, save, save...

You'd like to do more than just save? Okay, than lets see what else we can do...

We could make sure we make more money, so the interest gets bigger and that too will have an effect on compounding.

Suppose we make twice as much, meaning an APR of 10% (=0.1).
K, P and the APR are known, but we need to know n. Thats a problem, we'll have to refactor the formula...

K = P*(1+APR)^n
K/P = (1+APR)^n
ln(K/P) = ln((1+APR)^n)
--> if you do the same thing with both sides of the equation, it stays the same
and now for a cool mathematical trick:
ln(K/P) = n*ln(1+APR)
--> Yes people, that is a legal move!

n = ln(K/P)/ln(1+APR)

So for our example, this formula says:
n = ln(108047.50/25000)/ln(1+0.1) = 15.3572 years

Thats approximately 15 years less than our previous 30 years if we can double our interest rate!

The mathematical formulas show us that there are 2 things we can do, to reach our early retirement goals:
  1. Save as much as we can from our pay check
  2. Get a high interest on that money, by investing wisely
Option 1 is by far the most important one, because it's one we can have complete control over. So start saving... ;)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Experiments outside the norm I - Growing a full beard

Dual monitor to single monitor
In my previous post, I wrote about switching from a dual monitor setup to a single monitor setup. I tried again to discard the second monitor, but failed again. Why? The second monitor is too important when I'm buying and selling stocks. It gives me an edge.
That's no to say that I'll buy another one if one of them breaks. But it's too much of a convenience to get rid of.

I do this a lot. Testing if I can live without something, trying out something new, trying out weird things, etc. If someone explains that something is better and he or she gives some good arguments, no matter how weird or outside the norm it may be, I'll try it out! If it sounds good to me, I'll give it a shot.
Experimenting lets you experience new things, find out more about yourself and/or your environment and it can let you grow as an individual.

Growing a full beard
I've always had a beard of some kind, usually something small. After a lot of experimenting, I settled with the circle beard. This style suited me best. There's a part of my beard that grows thicker and has darker hairs. For that reason, I can never look clean shaven... I consider it to be natures way of telling me: "You sir, need to grow a beard!". And I did.

But was it enough?
The hardrocker in me always wanted to have a longer beard of some kind. And several weeks ago, that desire led me to another experiment...
The idea was to grow a longer beard.  The first thing I did, was look up different styles, to see what was possible. All information about beards, can be found on this excellent website:
Reading up on that website, I read several stories about people growing a full beard.
Now for me, it all came down to 2 options:
1) grow a longer circle beard (stay closer to my comfort zone)
2) grow a full beard (try something different)

The title of this post already says it: I chose option 2! How did I make that choice? I drew beards on an older beardless picture of mine. The long circle beard looked kinda stupid on me, the full beard looked good.

Personal growth
Growing a beard like that is something not many people do. It gets a lot of reactions, positive, neutral and negative ones.
The negative ones are the classical comparison with terrorists. That's actually where the interesting part of the experimentation lies. By doing something that provokes reactions, you can learn to disregard negative comments, even minimize the influence of positive comments and just focus on what you think of it. That in turn, will give you more self-confidence and it opens up the gates to new changes in behaviour, thinking and character.
After all, it's you who lives your life and not society.

End of the experiment
I'm still growing my beard and it's already of a respectable size.
When will the experiment end? If the beard gets so long that it starts to bother me or even when it stops looking good. Or perhaps I'll find another style or experiment to try out. But at the moment, it looks like
the beard's not going away any time soon...