Minimalist Life Hacks: Donation Sundays

In my quest to own less things, I stole borrowed one of Danny Dover’s minimalist life hacks called “Donation Sundays.” (What can I say? It was a great idea.)

Since December 2013, I’ve reduced my possessions by five things every Sunday. Over the course of 55 weeks, this amounts to 275 things!

Donation Sundays Step-by-Step Guide

Here’s how you can try it for yourself:

  1. Set up a recurring to-do item in your task manager of choice to repeat every week. I use OmniFocus and love it. It should say something like “reduce possessions by five items.”
  2. Find a donation box that will temporarily hold your discarded stuff.
  3. Before you go to bed on Sunday night, find five things you no longer need and put them in the donation box.
  4. Rinse and repeat each week.
  5. Every couple of weeks, take your donation box (or boxes) to the Salvation Army or local Goodwill.

Donation Sundays Tips and Tricks

It has been pretty tough to keep it up for so long. Toward the latter half of the year, I started facing some difficult decisions—do I get rid of family heirlooms? My favorite books? Entire video game systems?

Through it all, I discovered some tricks to keep me motivated. If you’re thinking about paring down your belongings through Donation Sundays, then maybe these will help you, too.

  • Start with books, DVDs, and CDs. I found them easier to give away than most other things. They can be easily repurchased in digital formats if you truly want them, and it enabled me to get a head start and build some momentum at the beginning of the year.
  • Don’t worry if you get a week or two behind. That can easily happen if you go on a trip or get lazy. Just find ten things (instead of five) the following week to catch back up.
  • Don’t take conference swag. It’s relatively worthless and only serves to embed brand names in your brain and on your desk. (Although I have to admit that most MozCon swag is pretty great and tough to resist.)
  • At birthdays and holidays, ask for gifts of experiences, services, subscriptions, or time with friends or family. These will give you memories which are lightweight and easily transported. Need some ideas? Check out SoKind Registry’s gift ideas for meaningful alternatives to toys, clothing, and gadgets.
  • The bonus for donating your stuff in the United States (and probably elsewhere): itemizing charitable contributions can help get you an income tax deduction.
  • Periodically ask friends and family whether they want to rummage through your donation box. New parents especially love snagging toys, books, and board games.
  • When your possessions are reduced to the point of tough choices, ask yourself whether the thing will be useful, bring you joy, or have some sort of inordinate value? My general rule of thumb: if the thing hasn’t been used in over a year, it may not be all that useful to keep.
  • Tell someone what you’re doing. It’s way more difficult to quit if someone knows about your goal and occasionally asks about it. I decided to publicly blog about it—you might try that yourself.

I hope you find some ways to reduce your stuff. Life becomes lightweight when you get rid of things.

What do you think? Do you have any minimalist life hacks that work well for you? Let me know on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+.

How to Make an iPhone Battery Last Longer

Probably once a week I get asked by someone how to save iPhone batteries from dying so quick. Do I have any tricks for how to make an iPhone battery last longer? Of course I do.

The best article on this comes from Scotty Loveless:

One quick thing before we start — 99.9% of the time it is not actually iOS that is causing your battery to drain quickly. I guarantee you that if you erased your phone and there were no apps or email on it, it would last for ages. But, no one uses their device like that, nor should they. Hopefully with these steps you will be living in iOS battery bliss while still using all the apps and features you love.

Check it out for yourself and enjoy your long-lasting iPhone!

How to Meet New People with IFTTT

Have you ever wondered how to meet new people who are influential in your particular industry?

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook you may have noticed some weird airplane symbols. You may have even noticed some of our mutual friends doing the same thing.

What is that about, you ask? Good question. Let me explain.

A few years ago I heard a great talk by Wil Reynolds at SES New York in which he espoused the benefits of IFTTT (If This Then That), an automated service that ties the Internet together using “recipes.” In order to meet new people of various industries, Wil would use IFTTT to trigger an email whenever someone Tweeted or posted their arrival in Philadelphia using the name or airport code of PHL. That way he could see if someone influential was close, and then he’d reach out with an invitation for a drink. Smart.

During flights to other cities or countries, I started marking up my Tweets and posts with the airplane emoji (✈️) and airport codes (e.g., MDW). And oddly, it kinda worked! Even though scant few of my friends were using IFTTT with Wil’s recipe, I began receiving text messages from folks in each destination city.

It would be awesome if everyone had similar nomenclature for travel. That way we could meet up in cities all over the place.

Here’s how you can get started:

  1. When traveling, post to Twitter or Facebook with your originating and destination airport codes or city names. Separate them with a travel emoji such as the airplane (✈️), train, bus, or automobile.
  2. When at home, create an IFTTT recipe to track influential people against airport codes and cities in your area. When they post on Twitter or Facebook, the recipe should automatically email you so you can arrange a a meet-up.

Pro tip: you can access a Mac emoji picker with the key combination control+command+space.

I’d love to meet up with you, too. Feel free to track my travels on Twitter or Facebook.

Calibrating Toward Travel

Some folks might say that I have wanderlust. Who knows, maybe that’s true.

Colin Wright recently wrote the following about prioritizing travel in your life:

Calibrating toward travel is really about recalibrating away from things that are less important to you. It’s about prioritizing the freedom of movement and exploration, rather than spending all of your time, money, and other resources on the perceived security of possessions and locked doors.

Well said. I think this is very true for me both as an aspiring minimalist and destination aficionado.

Great New Music in the Middle of 2014

A few weeks ago I got a text message from Melanie Ness, an old friend from my competitive swimming days in Worthington, Ohio. She said:

So… random question: What’s your most-played song this week? (…I need new music)

Although I responded to her with some specific suggestions, I figured others might benefit from some new songs for their old playlists, too.

Bleachers is a one-album band created as a side project by Fun. guitarist Jack Antonoff. Songs off their first album, Strange Desire, are equal parts 80s synth and anthemic drum beats. I especially like Wild Heart, Wake Me, and Like a River Runs, although most people will love the optimistic tone of I Wanna Get Better the most.

In a reference to an Indian restaurant chain, Bombay Bicycle Club is a moody, melodic, guitar-driven indie rock band. Three University College School students—all of which 15 years old or younger— formed the Canals in North London in 2005, but then later adopted a fourth member and changed the name of their band. My favorite album is 2011’s A Different Kind of Fix, with highlights How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep, Lights Out, Words Gone, and Shuffle, the latter being my favorite. If you’re in the mood for bouncy, Brit rock, check out this awesome band with a deep catalog.

Slow, contemplative, and stunning, S. Carey is a percussive genius whose main gig is the drummer and pianist for Bon Iver but who also releases solo albums during tour breaks. His songs would play nicely with roadtrips across Iceland or boating during sunset. Try his newest album, Range of Light, for truly beautiful songs Glass/Film and Alpenglow.

With a little twang, reverb, and Bob Dylan-esque vocals, Philadelphia’s The War on Drugs is a great end-of-summer band that makes you feel as if the work day is over. I’m not a huge classic rock fan, but their newest album, Lost in the Dream, is decidedly modern and really good. Try out my favorite songs on the album: Under the Pressure, Red Eyes, and Disappearing.

So what do you think? Any other great new artists or songs that I should hear? Send ’em my way on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+.

How to Overcome Your Fear of Flying

I get a little freaked out when I fly. According to some sources, it’s called aviophobia, but I’m not sure my fear is actually strong enough for an official label.

On a flight from Nashville last fall, during which we attempted to land in a derecho-like storm, I harkened back to my camp days and sang desperate renditions of “Over My Head,” “I Love You Lord,“ and “Sanctuary” under my breath. My brain gets carried away on calm flights, too, as I start to imagine the many scenarios in which the plane will nosedive or blow apart. I have even noticed an increase to my phobia over time as I experience more flights—you’d think it would get easier, but for some reason it has not.

Recently, airlines in the United States have begun allowing electronic devices during taxi, takeoff, and landing. It used to be a widely held belief that signals from electronic devices—even ones set to airplane mode—could interfere with a plane’s instruments. But with the new mandate it’s become a little obvious that they’re just fine.

Thankfully, I discovered a trick, a travel hack, that helps me overcome my fear of flying.

Rather accidentally during a bumpy flight takeoff, I set my iPhone to play Heather’s Song by Andy McKee, a terrific all-guitar instrumentalist. The song was a light, cheerful, playful mix of a August Rush-like childhood quality, and it had me bouncing in my seat, bobbing my head, and embracing the minor turbulence with the attitude of a kid again. It was fun!

The trick here is to find a song that channels feelings which counter your fear. Play the song on repeat with headphones, and embrace the turbulence as something enjoyable. Face your fear head-on and disarm it, rather than hide from it.

And if that doesn’t ultimately work like it has for me, then try reading this article on how to overcome your fear of flying. It’s more factual and less playful, but it might help nonetheless.

Please let me know if you have any tips or tricks on overcoming your fear of flying. You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+.

Today I Turned 30 Years Old

Today I turned 30 years old.

That looks a little intimidating now that I’m typing it out. But over the past few years, I’ve managed to accomplish quite a bit thanks to a little prodding from my 30 Before 30 list—a bucket list with an end date of today, August 6, 2014.

Actually, I didn’t finish my list. And while that should probably make me sad, I’ve decided to take a glass-is-half-full approach and dwell on the great experiences I’ve had as a result of the list. After all, I only created the thing about a year and a half ago, and I checked off 22 of the 30 items on the list. I guess I didn’t give myself enough time!

I’ve decided to roll over the unfinished eight items from my 30 Before 30 list into my new 40 Before 40 list. They’re still important to me, and now I have ten more years to get them done.

One thing I’ve learned is that having a publicly-posted set of goals motivates me to get them done because other people read them. During meals or trips or online conversations, I’m constantly reminded by my friends and family of the things I want to accomplish. And really, honestly, it’s just a game—a truly fun one.

The first day of my thirties has been filled with blueberry pancakes, boating in the sunshine on the lakes of Sioux Lookout, Ontario, and spending time with my family. I also received a startling number of international mail from all of you! (Thank you so much, by the way; they were really fun to read.)

Being 30 really isn’t all that bad.

40 Before 40 Bucket List

Some people create a bucket list filled with items that must be completed before they “kick the bucket,” which to me sounds a little too far in the future and also a little macabre.

There are others such as my friend, Danny Dover, who set a specific deadline that is much sooner. Why wait until the end of our lives to create new memories?

Since I didn’t quite finish my 30 Before 30 bucket list—I only gave myself about two years to get it all done—I decided to roll over the few remaining eight items into my 40 Before 40 bucket list. And here it goes.

Since I have ten years until I turn 40, I have until August 6, 2024, to accomplish these. And I only have one rule: the list cannot be modified after my 31st birthday.

  1. Live in another state
  2. See the Badlands
  3. Go to a rodeo
  4. Go to an MMA fight
  5. Visit Yellowstone National Park
  6. Visit Glacier National Park
  7. Visit Zion National Park
  8. Visit Mammoth Cave National Park
  9. Eat at three Michelin three-star restaurants
  10. Build a six pack (the muscle kind)
  11. Buy a same-day plane ticket
  12. Run at least one mile in each of the fifty states
  13. Become a published author
  14. Go fly fishing in a river
  15. Ride a jet ski
  16. Ride on an elephant
  17. Fly in a floatplane (“puddle jumper”)
  18. Walk on a glacier
  19. Take a yoga class
  20. Take a dance class
  21. ✓ Take a cooking class
  22. ✓ Drink wine in France
  23. Drink beer in Germany
  24. Eat gelato in Italy
  25. Eat sushi in Japan
  26. Sleep in a tree house
  27. Hike a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)
  28. Attend the Olympic Opening Ceremonies
  29. Attend a TED conference
  30. Participate in a flash mob
  31. Get a hot stone massage
  32. See an active volcano
  33. Go to an oxygen bar
  34. Attend an opera
  35. Go Zorbing
  36. Visit an island in the Caribbean
  37. Ride a sailboat
  38. Hike a portion of El Camino de Santiago
  39. Fish in a fjord
  40. Bathe in a geothermal hot spring

So there you have it: my 40 Before 40 bucket list. What do you think? Can any of you help me accomplish one of these?

Hit me up on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ and let me know.

Wardrobe Life Hack: To the Left, To the Left

In my conquest to own less things, I’ve been developing some life hacks to whittle down my possessions or to not acquire new ones.

One of my favorite wardrobe life hacks has been smartly dubbed “To the Left, To the Left” by my good friend Mary Gwen, and it helps me decide which articles of clothing are worth keeping or if I’m able to give them away. It works like this:

  1. Hang all shirts, pants, coats, hoodies, and sweatshirts in a closet.
  2. Go about my normal life wearing clothing items from the closet.
  3. When finished with my day, I hang each used item on the far left-most hanger.
  4. Over the course of several months, my most used clothing gravitates to the left and my less important items filter toward the right.

With this hack, I can see at a glance which items are truly worth keeping and which are not. This has made my decisions on Donation Sundays much easier.

I hope this inspires you to try this wardrobe hack yourself. Do you have any hacks of your own? Hit me up on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ to share your own ideas or questions.

Airline Alliances for Beginners

This year I gave the gift of new memories to both my parents. Each one was given the choice of one destination out of five. I’m really excited to be traveling to China with my dad in May, and I’ve been heavily researching airline alliances and airline rewards programs so we both can maximize our flight miles for future trips.

I guess I feel altruistic today, so here’s what I’ve learned about airline alliances.

Full disclosure: I found this blog post on “rookie travel tripsextremely helpful in coming up with this summary.

Why Alliances?

The three main airline alliances, including oneworld Alliance, SkyTeam Alliance, and Star Alliance, now account for almost two-thirds of the total world airline capacity and more than 80 percent of air travel spend between the world’s top 100 business cities. (Source: oneworld fact sheet)

Most people want to travel internationally to different markets, but local laws and ordinances make it almost impossible for a single airline to operate under all those pressures. Alliances enable like-minded airlines to work together for the benefit of passengers.

I’ve included a summary of each airline alliance below, along with member airlines.

oneworld Alliance

Member airlines: airberlin, American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines, LAN, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Qatar Airways, Royal Jordanian, and S7 Airlines.
Soon to join: SriLankan Airlines, TAM Airlines, and US Airways

Countries: 151
Lounges Available: 603
Destinations: 883

SkyTeam Alliance

Member airlines: Aeroflot, Aerolíneas Argentinas, Aeromexico, Air Europa, Air France, Alitalia, China Airlines, China Eastern, China Southern, Czech Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Kenya Airways, KLM, Korean Air, Middle East Airlines, Saudia, TAROM, Vietnam Airlines, and Xiamen Airlines.
Soon to join: Garuda Indonesia.

Countries: 178
Lounges Available: 530
Destinations: 1,024

Star Alliance

Member airlines: Adria Airways, Aegean Airlines, Air Canada, Air China, Air New Zealand, ANA, Asiana Airlines, Austrian, Avianca, Brussels Airlines, Copa Airlines, Croatia Airlines, EGYPTAIR, Ethiopian Airlines, EVA Air, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airlines, Shenzhen Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, SWISS, TAM Airlines (moving to oneworld Alliance in 2014), TAP Portugal, THAI, Turkish Airlines, United, and US Airways (moving to oneworld Alliance in March 2014).

Countries: 195
Lounges Available: 1,000+
Destinations: 1,328

Tips and Tricks for Airline Alliances

From what I’ve researched, there are a number of great ways to take advantage of airline alliance benefits.

  • You don’t have to join the alliance rewards programs to take advantage of their benefits.
  • Join one major airline reward program per alliance. Even though in most cases you can’t transfer points or miles between airlines reward programs, you can still book flights from a single airline across the whole alliance. For example, if you book a flight on Air Canada, you can use a rewards program from any other airline in the Star Alliance. Most travel experts recommend joining American Airlines AAdvantage for the oneworld Alliance, Delta Air Lines SkyMiles for the SkyTeam Alliance, and United MileagePlus for the Star Alliance.
  • If you achieve status in one airline, it will carry over to most other airlines in the alliance.

Let me know on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ if you have any airline alliance tips or tricks of your own!