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Posts from the ‘Minimalism’ Category

The Durability Paradox

I was reading this article on durable product design at Core77 when I came across a phrase that struck me as being somewhat incongruous.

But what he found was that most of these so-called durable goods were not up to snuff…

… In April of 2010 the first iPad came out, and Hofert bought one. The iPad had of course been a top-secret project at Apple, and upon its release there weren’t a lot of cases available for it. Hofert got himself a scrap of leather hide and decided to make one of his own.

via Core77

The article itself is quite interesting, and Hofert has built himself a fanastic group of products around this idea of durability in an age of ravenous consumption. However I found the example to be an odd one. I also purchased the original iPad and saw this problem unfold myself. Initially only the base cover from Apple was available but over the next few months many alternatives came about. Leather, canvas, wool, all kinds of interesting and not-so interesting designs. Being a bit of a fashionista myself when it comes to a daily carry I can appreciate designs in the finest and most durable of materials and was attracted to these myself. I never pulled the trigger on buying one though, and I think this article helped me understand the reason why. A leather case for a first generation iPad is a durable solution to a non-durable problem.

A durable problem is a problem that lasts. A durable product is a product that lasts. A durable product for a durable problem is a product that lasts solving a problem that lasts.

A leather wallet is a durable product. A waxed canvas bag with buckles instead of zippers is a durable product. A double stitched pair of duck cotton work pants is a durable product.

Storing your ID and cash is a durable problem. Carrying items with you as you walk, bus, bike, or drive is a durable problem. Wearing pants is a durable problem.

Carrying a $500 technical accessory that will be replaced in 15 months is not a durable problem. In fact I would argue that in the course of designing a durable solution that problem, you are actually creating more problems than you solve. If your leather backpack lasts 30 years, that’s great, you’ll get 30 years of great service. If an iPad case that fits the original iPad lasts you 30 years you end up with a fantastic case for 2 years, and a strangely shaped piece of leather for the remaining 28 years.

Creating durable solutions to durable problems is an investment in the future and a fantastic use of time and resources.

Creating durable accessories for non-durable problem is a fashion statement, and a potential waste of time and resources.

Not that there is anything wrong with fashion statements. Nor do I think that an iPad case was really Hofert’s goal, just his first experience in leather working. I simply find it a funny example to choose when trying to highlight the benefits of building durable products, to choose that example.

What is worth fixing

As progress progresses, increasingly there are fewer things for which it’s worth paying what it costs to fix them when they break.

via Tim Bray

It’s an unfortunate side effect of our society. I thought I’d put together a list of some things that definitely are worth fixing.

  1. Socks: Especially wool socks. While they are worth the extra price for comfort and warmth, they tend to wear out faster than synthetics or cotton. If you learn how to darn them they will easily last 2-3 times longer.
  2. Clothing in general: Here in Seattle we have a patagonia store. If my clothes are in need of repair I can drop them off and they will fix them free of charge. I’ve had a few sweaters and jackets that have last several extra years thanks to this free mending service.
  3. Camera gear: Honestly, we all use iPhone apps to simulate the look of old photography… what if we just used some older photograph gear?
  4. Notebooks: Still have a few pages left in that moleskine but the binding is going bad? That’s why the good lord saw fit to give us duct tape. The resulting mend will give you an additional few weeks of use and make you look even more the struggling poet you are.
  5. Bikes: Most often you can effect your own repairs with a little ingenuity (read: zip ties). For the more major components the local bike mechanic can likely get you rolling again for a modest fee. I’ve know folks that have cobbled bikes together from several cast aways. These franken-bikes are the ultimate hipster accessory.
  6. Furniture: With a few tools and a little time, you can often repair any of the structural problems in a piece of furniture. My friend is a seamstress and has gotten a lot of life out of a few chairs by putting together her own covers.
Any other ideas?


reduce, reuse, recycle – a cardboard iPhone stand

I saw an advertisement for a very clever iPhone stand.

Which I think is a cool idea, and in fact solves a problem that I have. Not the bracelet part, but the propping up of my iPhone part. Rather than scouring the internet for a solution I could prop up on my desk, maybe something in a nice brushed aluminum. I made one of these.

cardboard iphone stand


I like it so much I made another one to leave at the office, and I’ve still got a whole amazon box of cardboard left over!

The Ever Expanding Free-time Myth

I was cruising through some old notes about blog post ideas and I hit on this one… this article is so much more poignant now that I’ve procrastinated it into October.

Researchers have found that humans are very bad at predicting “resource slack.” When asked to guess how much money and time they’ll have in the future, they accurately predict that their financial situation will remain relatively the same, but they think that their free time will expand.

via The Art of Manliness

I think this should serve as a call to action. Let’s not squander the free time we have today. We think that by pushing something off until tomorrow we are only delaying it, not fully realizing that the decision to put something off until tomorrow may be putting it off forever. You’ll never take that big road trip if you don’t start planning your stops and e-mailing your buddies to line up your schedules, you won’t have any more time to do it next month.

The other way to view this is as a call to enjoy and appreciate the free time that we have now. Things aren’t going to get simpler, up until that grand retirement. If we want more time to pursue our true interests we are going to need to find ways to make use of the time we have now.

  1. Disconnect the Cable to get back the night hours
  2. Find ways to carpool or take mass transit so you can get some thinking done on the way in to work.
  3. Skip the stationary bike, start biking to work.

I forget where I heard the following advise, but it rang true when I did and it’s stuck with me since. There was a very prolific artist who said the best way she was able to launch new projects was by using the gap time she had available in any given day. Instead of reading an RSS feed, or playing a game on her iPhone, she would use that gap time to work on a project she was trying to get off the ground. By making that effort over a few months she was able to make steady progress until eventually the gap time became the full time, and new projects would need to back fill into that new gap time.

how I smashed my tv

via flickr user DieselDemon

It’s about time I address the namesake of this site and talk about smashing televisions.

via smashyourtelevision

It can be hard to leave behind your tv. As I mentioned in the eulogy, for me it was a multi-step, multi-year long process. Smashyourtelevision’s post on the subject inspired me to document my journey in more detail.

The main reason I was so attached to my tv is that there is simply no easier form of entertainment. TV executives have built their entire careers around trying to determine what kind of television you would like to watch, and then putting it on at the right time of day to line up with your work schedule, your moods, even your demographics. Since everything is done for you, all that is required is make a single decision… to watch.

The first step for me was to take the programming decision out of the network’s hands. I started watching more of my content digitally via iTunes and Netflix and DVR (digital video recorder). Once I had started making programming decisions for myself I was much less likely to spend an evening watching “whatever was on the discovery channel”. The quality of the television I watched went up dramatically. I became a more discerning consumer.

The next step was to eliminate the cable delivered content entirely. I had been using a third party TiVo-like device, which fell out of favor and was no longer supported by the manufacturer. Rather than replacing it, I started going without DVR. And since I no longer had the patience for commercials, I shifted all of my watching hours to either TV shows I had purchased from iTunes, or Netflix DVDs. I still liked to watch sporting events, but decided that most times I would rather watch those with friends anyway. Once that decision had been made I was able to cut the cable. The biggest sacrifice I had to make at that point was the sports programming.

About this time I picked up a few extra activities outside the house that kept me busy in the evening hours. Crossfit and Ultimate frisbee had supplanted television as my primary source of diversion during the evening hours.

I still had a 37” tv that was connected to an XBox for Netflix streaming and to serve as a DVD player.

After a year or so in that configuration I moved from the Ballard Neighborhood in Seattle to Bainbridge Island with the knowledge that I would be moving back in about a year. The GF and I intentionally arranged our living room to minimize the impact of the tv and as a result I found myself watching it even less. It had become more convenient to open the laptop and watch a movie on the external 24” monitor than to watch on the 37” tv across the room. Upon the realization that I would have to move this monstrously heavy thing back to Seattle is what finally pushed me over the edge.

I unloaded the tv and the xbox on craigslist, (talk about a depreciating asset) and haven’t really missed it since.

Here are the key points I learned in the process.

1) Take it one step at a time: If I had gone from a 3-4 hour a day tv watcher to nothing overnight I think I would’ve gone crazy.

2) Slowly decrease your tolerance for bad tv by watching only good tv: The beginning of this whole process was my decision to adopt DVR and Netflix. In the short run they probably increased my tv consumption, but allowed me to become more discerning.

3) TV is a hobby, and is best replaced with other hobbies: Even though I no longer have easy access to tv, I will still watch it if I find myself home alone between the hours of 6pm and 8pm.

Additional reading at the happiness project