Downtown LA, 2015
Downtown LA, 2015

I own a lot of shit. I don’t think it is bad to have a lot of material possessions. However I find for me, more stuff, more problems.

Rather than having stuff that adds value to my life, I feel it holds me down. I become a slave to my material possessions (rather than my material possessions being my slave).

I’m also attached to metaphysical things— like the number of followers I have on social media, the 0’s in my bank account, my pride, my ‘fame’, and whether people respect me or not.

All of these things weigh me down; I feel handcuffs around my wrists, and a chain around my neck.

I am also a slave to my past— I let all my negative experiences hold me back. I am attached to a “shitty” childhood growing up, mean things people said to me on the internet, and even by positive experiences (I want to re-live them). I am generally dissatisfied with the present moment, the life I currently have— and always want more.

Social media purge

Downtown LA, 2014

One social media app that always confused me is Snapchat. Why would you want an app that would have photos that simply disappear?

It then occurred to me— “real life” is impermanent. When we have an experience, it is fleeting. You can’t hold onto a memory. But we try to, by taking photos, by writing journals, and by sharing stories.

There is nothing wrong with memories. They add value, meaning, and happiness to our lives. However the problem is many memories and the past can hold us back. We get attached to the past, rather than enjoying the present (and anticipating the future).

In this moment of clarity— I realized that I didn’t want to be attached to my old photos and my past. I then went to my Instagram, and purged all 3-years worth of photos.

I wasn’t quite sure how to do this at first. I then figured it out— I would look at each image, try to re-live the memory, smile, say “thank you for this memory”, and then deleted it. Many photos I were attached to, but strangely enough— purging these photos of my past made me feel lighter— both physically and mentally.

Now the only photos that remain in my Instagram are photos from my “Cindy Project.” These are the photos that currently bring me happiness in life, and I want it to be a reminder of what is important in my life— not the amount of social media followers I have, not the “likes” I have, not the 0’s I have in my bank account, not fame or fortune— but the love I share with the most amazing human being in the world.

Shockingly, I saw advertisements in my Instagram feed today, which made me to seriously consider quitting Instagram. But more on that in a bit.

Purging other things in life

Hollywood, 2012

After my social media purge, I felt far better. Kind of like when you are feeling bloated from eating too much crappy food, having a fast (not eating) is what your body needs to feel healthier. There is a process called “autophagy” (which is activated when you are hungry and fasting) which is like a “vacuum cleaner” effect in your body. Your body literally eats the weak proteins in your body, and thus— your body becomes stronger.

Similarly, I feel that purging negative influences from your life is more important than adding positive people from your life. I’ve recently cut ties with my dad (negative influence) from my life the last year or so, and it is the best thing I have done for my mental health in the last decade. I plan on reconnecting with him in the future— but not now, I am still personally not mentally stable enough myself. That is another thing— tend to your own garden before trying to water the garden of others.

I’m also trying to purge other things in life. I own way too many clothes in my closet. I have pretty much pared my “essential” “uniform” (inspired by Steve Jobs) to a pair of jeans, black shoes, and a black V-neck shirt. I’ve even retired my beloved red G-Shock watch, as it is just another accessory that makes me a slave to time (rather than time being my slave).

Traveling with less stuff

Downtown LA, 2014.

I tend to over-pack for my trips. It all stems from a sense of fear, and the “what if?” syndrome.

My essentials when I am traveling include:
– Smartphone
– 1 Camera
– Laptop
– Chargers
– Toiletries
– 1 extra pair of shirt/boxers/socks

That is pretty much all I “need” everything else is superfluous, which include:

  • Kindle
  • Paper books
  • iPad
  • Headphones (these are nice to have, but not essential)
  • Water bottle (I can just drink tap water from a sink)

It is hard being ruthless when I am traveling and trying to pare down.

Funny enough, I am starting to realize that even having an extra shirt is superfluous (every night I wash my polyester shirt in the shower with shampoo, wring it, and hang-dry it) and it is dry overnight (I sleep without a shirt on). The same is with my socks (dry overnight). The only thing I don’t like is sleeping with wet boxers (trust me, I have done this, it isn’t pleasant).

Purging cameras

Downtown LA, 2013

I also have tried my best to purge unnecessary gear and cameras from my life. Cameras I have given away to friends and those in-need include:

  • Rebel XT
  • Canon 5D
  • Fujifilm x100s
  • Fujifilm x100t
  • Fujifilm XT-1
  • Pentax K3
  • Leica M6
  • Ricoh GR1v
  • Contax T3

The only two cameras which are in my life include a Leica MP (and 35mm f/2 lens) and a digital Ricoh GR Mark I.

I have a friend who wants to get more into digital photography— so I am going to send him the Ricoh GR to help him achieve his potential.

I am not sharing this to brag about how selfless I am. In-fact, I think it is a quite selfish thing to give away superfluous gear. Why?

When I give away my cameras, it brings me more joy than selling them (and just earning a few hundred bucks). It brings me joy to see how excited they are, and how they are able to become empowered with the new camera. I have the selfish feeling of feeling that sort of satisfaction.

Furthermore, having fewer cameras in my life is less stress. I always preach the mantra of “one camera, one lens” and to be honest— I always deviate from it. ( am afflicted more by G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) than anyone I know. By giving away my cameras, I have more focus on the gear I already own— to make the best out of it.

I am not telling you to give away all your cameras. But I have a personal rule— if I haven’t used a camera for 6 months, it needs to be donated or given away. If you are a professional (or passionate hobbyist) it is good to have several cameras and lenses (as a chef you don’t just want 1 knife, although I do think a good chef could subsist on just having 1 knife). My suggestion is just don’t let your gear become a burden for you.

Distraction purge

Downtown LA, 2013

I am like a pigeon— I am distracted by shiny stuff. People sometimes ask me, “Eric, how do you write so much and be so prolific?” The secret; eliminate distractions (rather than trying to “add” productivity apps to your life). For example, I made it a personal rule to try to uninstall one app from my phone everyday. Now I no longer have email, any social media apps on my phone— the only thing that remains is Firefox, Evernote, Dropbox, Google Maps, and Uber. Effectively my phone is the closest thing to a “dumb-phone” (with having all the benefits of a smartphone, and none of the distractions).

I love being focused. I love feeling like when I am in “the zone” of writing, photographing, or conversing with my friends. But once again— I am so prone to distraction. Even with a good conversation with my friend, if I feel a vibration of a text message, it totally details my entire conversation (this is why I always keep my phone on mute, and often switch my phone to “airplane mode” or just turn it off completely in the evenings).

I know social media brings a lot of value to the lives of many in the world. Yet for me, it is just another distraction. So I need a distraction purge— which means getting rid of the superfluous.

Uninstall

Downtown LA, 2013

I am constantly installing new apps to my iPad, smartphone, and my laptop to try to make my life more “efficient”, “optimized”, and “streamlined” — in the hope that I will find a magical app that will fix all my life’s problems (and then I will finally happy).

Sorry that is bullshit. It is only when I uninstall apps from my life is when I find more space and happiness.

Today I just logged onto Instagram (to share some photos from my “Cindy Project”) and I was shocked; I saw an iPhone 6S ad in my stream. Then I suddenly thought to myself:

“Oh, it would be nice to have an iPhone 6S because of that new ‘live photo’ feature and because it is so much more streamlined and slick than Android. Oh yeah, and the iPhone is so much more ‘minimalist’— which fits my philosophy! And not only that, I am a huge fan of Steve Jobs, and he helped design the iPhone! Therefore by having an iPhone, I will be closer to Steve Jobs, and make him happy. Also, Android is just owned by Google and they’re trying to sell my personal data, and with the iPhone I can use iCloud and own my own data! (bullshit).”

I then slapped myself, and thought to myself, “Oh hell no— goodbye Instagram.” In this (brief) moment of clarity, I uninstalled Instagram from my phone.

For a while, I actually went on an Instagram “fast” and didn’t use it for a month. It brought me a lot more happiness in my life; I wasn’t anxious about constantly uploading new photos (what if my fans forget about me?) and also anxious about how many likes/comments I got on each photo.

But how will people see my photos?” I personally plan on focusing more on doing “offline” photo-related things (making prints, books, photo albums) and to share it with fewer people (close friends, family, fellow colleagues).

Avoid “free” services

Downtown LA, 2013

I will probably get back on the Instagram bandwagon later— but this made me think of these “free” online services.

I was talking to a student of mine in my LA workshop (who works in the SF tech industry) and it is pretty freaky what they do with all of your digital data. They have all of our personal information down to a pin, in order to sell us more shit (we don’t need) and to advertise to us.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not a Luddite. I know that when we use “free” services (Gmail, Google Maps, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook) we are trading our privacy/personal information for “useful” services to make our lives “better.” I’ve had a Gmail account since I was 16 years old, and I am married into the Google ecosystem. All of my “friends” are on Facebook— and I’m starting to get pretty hoooked on Instagram. But no service can be truly “free” (unless you pay for a monthly membership, like Evernote, Dropbox, Lightroom, Spotify— all of which I have a monthly paid membership, which is totally worth it).

I heard a saying: If you don’t pay for a product, you are the product.

I was wondering where all of my subtle desires for stuff comes from— and honestly, it can only be advertising, comparing myself to my friends and others around me, and other sneaky forms of marketing.

You can’t even watch a movie without seeing a company (clumsily) trying to insert their products into the film. I was watching “I, Robot” with Will Smith; and there is a scene when he is putting on his new Converse All-Stars with a close-up product shot (suddenly I wanted to get an old-school pair of Chucks). He then drove his futuristic Lexus (or Audi) somewhere (created another urge for me to buy a fancy car), all while drinking Pepsi or Coca-cola or something (I’m probably making this up).

The other day I also got a haircut and looked through a Playboy, GQ, and Muscle & Fitness magazine— and was shocked to see how many ads were in there. After trying to filter through all the noise (about 90% ads) I suddenly wanted to buy a new Rolex watch, drive a new Ford Mustang, and get some $300 raw-denim pants.

Can you do without?

I’m currently typing all of this at a stand-up table in Starbucks (I’m like an old man; I can no longer sit without severe back pain) and I brought a paper book (Thich Nhat Hanh), a notebook, a water bottle, Bose QC15 noise-cancelling headphones, an iPod nano, and I was a bit overwhelmed. I ordered a blonde roast (actually pretty good), and started to get to “work” — but was distracted by Instagram, then I read a little bit, wrote a few notes, tried to turn on my music (then realized my headphones ran out of batteries), and I just realized; fuck all of this, and put it all away into my backpack, and pulled out my laptop and started writing.

I wonder to myself— why do I travel and carry all of this crap with me when I’m just going to a coffee shop to do some writing? Why do I need a paper book, a notepad, headphones, music player, water bottle, smartphone, and all of these other forms of distractions?

I just want to purge all of this shit— to give it away to friends who might need it more than me. My stuff is often more of a distraction to me, than something that adds value to my life.

Funny enough; I actually quite like not having headphones that separate me from my environment. I hear some nice Aretha Franklin jazz music in the background, the gentle humming of the coffee machine, the smell of freshly ground beans, and the nice murmur of other people in the background. I feel nice and cozy— oh and there are some nice croissants being baked in the back (I still love the smell, even though I don’t eat carbs).

I remember another instance when I was riding the BART to the Oakland airport and my headphones ran out of batteries. I put them away, and just looked out of the window and enjoyed the view (never realized how beautiful it was outside). I also ended up chatting with a guy (never would have done that if I still had my headphones on). I also made it a point to turn off my smartphone; which helped me actually enjoy the natural beauty all around me (trees, water, birds in the air and such)— which I would have never noticed when I am usually glued to my smartphone (checking email, posting to Instagram, scrolling through songs to listen to, listening to podcasts, texting friends).

I want to try a small experiment; to try to use my smartphone as little as possible this upcoming week. Also to put away my books, to put away my music players, and try to directly experience life and reality for what it is.

It was really nice— last night I had Korean BBQ with Cindy’s family, and I made it a point to keep the smartphone at home. I had a small fear (what if someone dies and needs to call me?) but I dismissed it; and went to dinner. And it was amazing— I was 100% present for the conversation with her family, enjoyed the food more, and felt less distraction.

At times I fantasize about purging the smartphone from my life— but I think it just comes down to being more mindful how I use it. A smartphone is just like another tool (like fire or guns)— can be used in positive ways (hunting food to not starve to death) or in negative ways (killing other people). I tend to demonize technology (my main research interest in college was how social media was pulling us further away, check out my ‘Sociology of Facebook and Online Social Networks’ syllabus that I taught). Technology in itself is fine— but I know that I am a sucker for it, constantly distracted by it, and I just want to be happy damn it, less distracted, and to live life more fully.

For now, goodbye Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, music, books (maybe not books), and other forms of distractions. I love you guys, but honestly— you guys are massive distractions, and I want to live more fully by purging you from my life. I want more time to enjoy the attention and conversation of my friends and family, to write more, to worry less about how many ‘likes’ I’m getting on social media, to feel less anxious, and to be less distracted.

If you have an iPhone, check out the “Purity” app (yes it costs money, but invest in the app, and it will prevent you from having urges to buy other stuff from advertisements). On the computer, Safari and Chrome has Adblock plugins (get it for YouTube as well). If you want to have fewer ads in your life, stop watching TV that has ads (stream Netflix instead), go to the mall less, shop less on Amazon (I have a prime membership which is a blessing and a curse), be okay with being “bored”, avoid gear-review and gear forums like the plague (these sites probably have cost me at least $15,000 in the course of my lifetime), and any other places that breed dissatisfaction (oh if you just had this new BMW M3 or Porsche 911, all your life’s problems would disappear!)

Once again friend; I’m not immune to any of this. As Seneca says, I am just another ill patient in the hospital, who happened to find a few remedies that (partly) work. And like a good friend, I want to share these tips and ideas with you.

I’m not a perfect human being, and I never will. I know I am the biggest sucker for advertising, marketing, and wanting to buy new shit. But at the same time, I am trying to follow Ulysses’ advice, and tie myself to the mast, and fill my ears with beeswax (to avoid the calls of the sirens).

So let us have fewer distractions in our life, fewer desires to buy new stuff (cars, cameras, houses, clothes, watches, bags), fewer stresses and anxieties (how many likes am I getting on Instagram?), and to have more room for conversation with loved ones, time to make photos, and of course— coffee.

Love always,
Eric

Thursday, 9:25am, Nov 19, 2015. @ Starbucks at Cal State Fullerton (business building) with a small Blonde roast (actually quite good!)

Oh yeah and if you want to learn to be more of a “minimalist” in your life— check out mnmlist.com (I seriously read all the articles yesterday, which gave me some peace of mind).