Monthly follow up from my Year of Living Without. February was no sweets.
February “no sweets” month was mostly a success. I did fail a couple of times, but not so many that I can't count them on one hand. In short summary, I had a donut twice (couldn't turn down a loving gesture from my wife, both times), I absentmindedly ordered and consumed an ice cream treat with my oldest daughter during her paleontologist field trip and I ate some ice cream with my family on the last night of the month after returning from some business travel. Those missteps were tiny in comparison to the number of times I would have eaten some cookies, or ice cream or Valentine candy treats that the kids offered, but did not due to the “without” mentality.
A few days into the month, I did recognize that I was a bit annoyed, and then later connected that it was likely because I was still mentally adjusting to doing without sweets. I didn't cut out things like a small homemade cortadito (a small espresso with some sugar and cream drink). I found myself drinking juice and the occasional soda more frequently. I think recognizing that these things were likely in an effort to replace the definition of “sweets” I was using is valuable. I included in my off limits list things like ice cream, cookies, candies, chocolate and other dessert type items. Ultimately, I was much more present in the way I made decisions of what I was about to consume. I think that was the main goal, in addition to being more comfortable with discomfort. I'm pleased with the end result for February, but am not continuing it into March the way I did with grayscale mode from January.
March is my month of “only water or coffee to drink; coffee must be black, no dairy, no sweeteners.” So far, I haven't failed yet. I was not a frequent soda or juice drinker before February, but I think March will reset from my increases in February when my body (and mind) were seeking something sweet. I could see March creating a new baseline where I just don't drink certain things anymore as a general rule (soda being one of them).
The forever journey continues... two steps at a time.
Monthly follow up from my Year of Living Without. January was grayscale mode on my phone (and Apple Watch).
Grayscale mode on the phone has been an interesting experiment. As many others in various writings and Reddit posts have commented, it does take a bit of time before your brain gets “tricked” into what it is visually processing. Once the light bulb goes off, though, it’s pretty jarring how much those saturated and vivid hues really do pull one into the retina beauty that is your smartphone screen.
Steve Jobs, when demoing the Mac’s Aqua UI for the first time said, “We made the buttons on the screen look so good you'll want to lick them.” That’s a pretty good way to describe how you’ll see the colors on iOS’s screen of icons when you toggle the color back on after not having it for several days. The colors are gorgeously rendered and talented designers have done a great job creating icons that beg to be tapped.
I wrote more about the tech aspects of my experiment over on my tech & coffee blog, including how I toggled the color on for obvious necessities like photo viewing/editing and a turn-based variant of the game Wordle that my wife and I play. These little tech tweaks made it seamless to have color enabled when I needed it, and automatically disabled when I didn’t. It’s one removal of friction that made the experiment “stick” for me.
Speaking of sticking, it is now February and I haven’t turned color mode back on as a default. I turn it back on occasionally, to view a photo or product or do some quick CSS code behavior confirmation. Sometimes, I do it to simply remind myself how jarring it is to see the vibrancy of the default UI as the rest of the world around me does. I realize that grayscale mode as a default isn’t for everyone. I recognize (and have been reminded by those that love me for me) that this self-imposed removal of color is a bit odd. I’m okay with that, since what I find odd, or rather uncomfortable (bordering on disgusting), is the normalization we’ve leaned into as a society that life happens on the other side of a “lickable” piece of glass.
Here’s the daily log for the second half of January’s declutter challenge. The only space I didn’t hit (that would have really helped hit the daily goal numbers) was the garage. I won’t be tracking on a daily basis, but the effort will continue into February and March. Considering this the “Declutter Quarter”.
- January 15 – I cleared out more read-later app articles and deleted old notes from the Notes app I no longer needed.
- January 16 – Not much in the way of decluttering, but had an amazing breakfast with my dad this day.
- January 17 – Got rid of an old outdoor camera system and threw out 20 old door and window sensors that were prone to fault. Decluttered and secure.
- January 18 – Went through my cords bin in the office closet and eliminated a bunch of micro USB and other port types I don’t have many of around the house.
- January 19 – Today is the day that my wife’s side of the closet collapsed. It wasn’t her fault. The shelves weren’t installed properly, but now they are. This connects to decluttering because she weeded out a portion of her clothes she no longer felt value in keeping.
- January 20 – I’ve fallen off in the last several years when it comes to pruning my text messages. I just let them fall to the bottom of a list I never scroll through. Today I went back and deleted hundreds of old text convos I no longer needed to have in an endless scroll in Messages.
- January 21 – Not much decluttering today.
- January 22 – Threw out several boxes from Christmas decorations that were getting organized into the garage for 11 month storage.
- January 23 – Deleted 100 shortcuts from the Shortcuts app that I no longer use.
- January 24 – Another cord cleanse. Not 24 cords discarded, but what I have left is what I actually need.
- January 25 – Last of the electronic declutter. More cords (yes, I know… WTF) and two old alarm units that I don’t think anyone will buy.
- January 26 – Not much decluttering this day, but did organize so that things have their place in the office closet.
- January 27 – Deleted tons of files no longer needed from my cloud storage and phone.
- January 28 – Cleared my podcasts queue out. There were many back episodes of shows that I didn’t need to keep around since if I was going to listen to them, I would have by now.
- January 29 – Busy Sunday with the kids, so no decluttering of note.
- January 30 – Sold off a pair of kids shoes that were still in great shape, but that was it.
- January 31 – While I had plans to end the month super strong, I had a busier than expected day at work and didn’t end up throwing away 31 items from the garage. Good thing this game isn’t limited to a single month.
I’m already not one that’s prone to clutter, but with a large household consisting of my wife, 6 kids, an English Mastiff, a cat and me… things build up.
I decided that in addition to my Year Without challenge, I’d use the month of January to also do a declutter challenge. I’m using the method detailed by The Minimalists that can be summarized as succinctly as you eliminate the number of things that matches the numerical day of the month, for an entire month. While gamification is great, I didn’t want to set things aside to sandbag, so if I have more things to get rid of than the day of the month, so be it. Below is a log of the first 15 days:
- January 1 – I cleaned out an entire sock drawer in our master closet dresser. Also go rid of Christmas pajamas that we used for our yearly family photo, but that didn’t fit great after a wash and we knew they wouldn’t get added into normal rotation. Total haul was two 8 gallon trash bags of unneeded stuff.
- January 2 – I’m a firm believer that digital clutter shares much of the same anxiety inducing qualities of physical clutter, albeit not the same trappings of a home overflowing with “stuff”. Today I went through the App Library on my iPhone and deleted 11 apps that I either no longer used, no longer needed, had never used or simply didn’t want to have such frictionless access to via the computer that’s always with me.
- January 3 – Today was my first day back to work after the holidays. Due to a fractured ankle back at the beginning of October, most of my work from my home office had been from my knockoff Eames lounger so that I could keep my foot elevated. Since I’m back to being able to stand for longer periods, I spent portions of today gutting the closet in the office and discarded two trash bags worth of things I no longer need. A few items got listed on Mercari to sell off vs. donate or discard.
- January 4 – Discarded more items from the home office (another small trash bag full). Also cleared out my entire newsletter queue in Mailbrew. Feels light and great to have both physical and digital clutter removed. First day back at the standing desk is tomorrow!
- January 5 – By some purest measurement, I failed the declutter challenge yesterday because I didn’t rid myself of 5 physical nor digital objects that I can remember. I’m okay with that, because what I did rid myself of was the crushing mental weight of not having my home working environment the way I find most productive. Working at the standing desk yesterday was so freeing after the last 3 months of ankle issues. Yesterday was also an amazing evening with my lovely older daughters and wife seeing Hamilton for the first time as a live show. What an amazing day all around.
- January 6 – Another day of failed declutter challenge, but not feeling bad about it. Between work in the morning and a trip to celebrate a family birthday out of town, our day was pretty packed. I did manage to clear the anxiety of having not sent any newsletter update in some time. Yesterday was just a heads up on the platform change, but next week the letters start flying again and I’m super excited about all the changes in my process.
- January 7 – Went through my coffee kitchen cabinet and rid myself of tools, mugs and other related goods I no longer need or use. Removed well over seven items. Also deleted over 600 pics from my Apple Photo Library that were one-time use images or screenshots that served no purpose and were just backed up for no reason other than they existed.
- January 8 – While I discarded a few items (a Corkcicle tumbler, a book, etc.) I don’t know if I hit 8 things or not. I’m okay with it since I know progress is progress.
- January 9 – I discarded 10 edible items which I decided I couldn’t in good conscience consume the entire container. Sometimes we check a box, but 9 or more things is 9 or more things.
- January 10 – Donated a couple of ankle injury items (scooter/leg crutch) to a contact. Listing a laptop for sale that’s no longer used. While it isn’t ridding ourselves of items, all the indoor Christmas decorations were put away today, which as the space feeling fresh. Also cleared a ton of articles out of my read-later app that are either no longer relevant to me or were read and never archived.
- January 11 – Discarded the original set of key caps from my Keychron K6. So however many keys that is, it’s more than 11.
- January 12 – I uninstalled a ton of apps on my iPad today. Also did another pass at mechanical keyboard key caps and discarded ones that are part of my current set, but that don’t fit my keyboard layout.
- January 13 – Busy day, don’t believe any items of relevance were discarded.
- January 14 – spent some time deleting a ton of bookmarks that were things I no longer needed in Raindrop. The count was over 100.
- January 15 – I cleared out more read-later app articles and deleted old notes from the Apple Notes app I no longer needed. There's so much digital cruft that gets left behind simply because it doesn't occupy more than hard drive or cloud storage “space”.
After reading Manu's great post about his newest year without experiment and the original inspiration from Leo Babuta, I'm ready to embark on my own.
I'll take the month-at-a-time approach and am only thinking through what the first 6 months of 2023 will attempt. As I get closer to the mid-point of the year, I'll evaluate what I should eliminate for the last half. I'm planning to write about each month as it concludes with a short retrospective on how it felt and if I succeeded.
Here's my list for January – June:
- January – Phone in grayscale mode only.
- February – No sweets.
- March – Only water or coffee to drink; coffee must be black, no dairy, no sweeteners.
- April – No Apple Watch.
- May – No podcasts or audiobooks.
- June – No email newsletters.
Should be interesting! Email me if you have questions or want to discuss.
Manu with another perfectly-timed post for the way I’m thinking of late…
And what is causing all these problems is the internet. Now, I don't plan to go a year without internet since that's impossible considering the work I do but I do plan to go a year without consuming internet related entertainment. So no mindless browsing out of boredom, no YouTube videos, no random scrolling on Reddit.
I’ve been creating some systems to deal with this, but Manu’s approach is more simple and therefore likely better.
I’m using the awesome Mailbrew to create digests of internet content I still want to consume that get delivered as “brews” or newsletters on a weekly or monthly basis. I’ve uninstalled the Youtube app from my phone and am using an app called one sec to put a barrier between apps/websites and my compulsion to view/open them.
I’ll write up a full post on my tactics and plans for 2023, but intentionality in what I consume, lessening that consumption and repurposing that time for better things is the central theme.
Twins are partners in a forever journey.
Great post from Carl Barenbrug that hits very close to my overall feelings on the topic of connectedness (or lack thereof).
We struggle to find worthwhile connections and conversations with those we can learn from and engage meaningfully with. It’s difficult to know why exactly. There’s probably many reasons—work, personal commitments, not knowing where to find them, or too afraid to even seek them out.
I’d make an argument that most of the reasons stem from an oversupply issue. The oversupply of “connection opportunities” has completely eroded the ability to spark, fertilize, incubate and hatch what is a strong connection. Social media, endless scroll and the collective “phone screen as life’s viewfinder” are all to blame.
I’m leaning into older and slower methods. Regular, scheduled and valued phone calls. Long-form letters in the modern convenience of emails. Investing in another human is something that should bring mutual value and growth for both parties.
Twitter/Instagram/etc will make you feel like you can reap dividends by investing time in tiny bits that are equivalent to mere pennies. I’ve come to the conclusion those methods are nothing more than wishing wells.