zen habits : breathe

A Day in the Life of a Minimalist

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Joshua Millburn of The Minimalists.

I do not have a daily routine. I no longer need one.

I do, however, have habits on which I focus every day.

Don’t get me wrong, I used to have a daily routine — before I quit my six-figure job to pursue my passions and live a more meaningful life. And I hated that routine. Every day felt like Groundhog Day: awake to a blaring alarm, shower, shave, put on a suit and tie, spend an hour or more in mind-numbing traffic, succumb to the daily trappings of emails and phone calls and instant messages and meetings, drive home through even more mind-numbing traffic, eat something from a box in the freezer, search for escape within the glowing box in the living room, brush my teeth, set the alarm clock, sleep for five or six hours, start all over again in the morning.

That was life most days. The same thing over and over and over. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

And then last year I decided it wasn’t for me anymore. I realized working 60 to 80 hours a week to make the money to buy more superfluous stuff didn’t fill the void I felt inside. It only brought more debt and anxiety and fear and loneliness and guilt and stress and paranoia and depression.

So I canceled my routine. Or, rather, I traded in my routine for better habits.

It didn’t happen overnight, but over a few years I pared down my possessions, got into the best shape of my life, paid off my debt, jettisoned my TV, eliminated Internet at home, left corporate America, started pursuing my passions, stopped buying junk, and started living a more meaningful life — a life focused on growth and contribution.

During that time of personal growth I developed new habits I love, habits I look forward to each day, habits that make me happy: exercise, writing, reading, establishing new connections with people, and building upon existing relationships.

I am also developing the habit of contribution. I believe giving is living — we don’t feel truly alive unless we contribute to other people in meaningful ways. Donating time to Habitat for Humanity, local soup kitchens, and various other community organizations has been a starting point on my journey towards developing this habit. I also enjoy contributing to the readers at our website and inspiring them to change their lives, much like Leo and Zen Habits inspired me to change mine.

Many readers ask me what my typical day looks like now that I’m no longer forced into an unnecessary routine. My answer is always the same: every day is a blank page, although there are habits I act upon daily.

Presenting last Thursday as an example, this is how I enjoyed the day:

I woke at 4:50am without an alarm, excited and refreshed. These days my habit is to wake when my body tells me it’s rested. But there is no routine.

I ate a banana, drank a cup of coffee, then wrote from 5am to 11am. As I primarily write literary fiction, I prefer writing in the morning when it’s quiet and I’m closest to the dream world. My writing room contains only a desk, a chair, a laptop, and my notes — the only things I need. Nothing else. There’s no phone, no Internet, no clock — no distractions. Just me and my habit, which I enjoy immensely. Each day I write until I don’t feel like writing anymore. But there is no routine.

After a writing-fueled morning (interrupted only by push-ups every hour or so), I walked to the neighborhood park and alternated between pull-ups and push-ups under the midday sun. Exercise is important for me, and I enjoy it daily. But there is no routine.

I showered, dressed (jeans and a T-shirt), and walked to a local burrito joint to eat a modest, vegetarian lunch. I eat when my body tells me I’m hungry, irrespective of the time (I don’t own a watch). Some days I eat lunch at noon; other days I might eat at 10am or 3pm. But there is no routine.

After my meal, I walked to my favorite coffee shop, ordered an herbal tea, used their Internet connection to check my email and publish some writing online, then visited with some of the regulars (as well as some strangers). There were 37 emails in my inbox, which was okay as I only check email two or three times per week. Sometimes more, sometimes less. But there is no routine.

After two or three hours on the Internet, I walked to a park, sat on a bench, and read a novel while the sun set fire to the sky. Some days this habit invites me to devour chapter after chapter, hour after hour; other days I read for only half an hour. But there is no routine.

After a few chapters, I hit the gym with my best friend (and online writing pal), Ryan Nicodemus, and enjoyed some cardio and weight training. We habitually visit the gym four or five days per week. We drop by at different times each day. But there is no routine.

Throughout the day I made sure I was hydrated. Besides coffee and herbal tea, I drank only water. No alcohol. No sugary drinks. No soda (or ‘pop,’ for those of us in the Midwest). I attempt to drink my body weight in ounces of water each day, which isn’t always easy — so sometimes I drink only half that. But that’s okay: there is no routine.

I own a car, but I didn’t drive it on Thursday. I didn’t need to. It was a nice day, so I walked instead (even though Dayton, Ohio, isn’t exactly the most walkable city in the world). Some days I need to drive to where I want to go; other days I can walk. But there is no routine.

Later that evening I enjoyed dinner and a conversation with a friend, and afterwards we walked to a local concert. Other days I might watch a movie at the indie theater or visit a friend’s house or spend time in an art gallery or volunteer a few hours of my time, all habits I enjoy. But there is no routine.

After the concert, I walked a few miles by myself, gathering my thoughts. It had been a beautiful day, followed by a beautiful night — a denim sky illuminated by a waning crescent moon, a million diamonds afire, and the prospect of a new day at midnight.

The good news is my life is no different than yours, minus the routine. Sure, the details are different, the circumstances are different, but we all have the same 24 hours in a day. We all have one life to live, and that life is passing by one day at a time. The only real difference lies within the decisions we make and the actions we take.

Joshua Millburn writes essays with Ryan Nicodemus about minimalism and living a meaningful life with less stuff at The Minimalists. Follow him on Twitter or subscribe to his website.



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