Category Archives: simplicity

The doom and gloom of retail at Christmas

So early reports are that sales are down 4% this year retail wise compared to last year.  While that doesn’t sound like that much, it is if you are a store owner who depends on Christmas sales to make or break your year.  Wendy and I were in Sears in early December and we were the only ones in the store, I originally thought it was closed and even while shopping, I had my doubts.  A week ago I walked through the store again and was shocked to see bins of stuff marked down from 40% to 75% off.  Even when were at Eddie Bauer, everything was marked down 30% in the store and there really was no rush of people in the mall, despite the Boxing Day prices.

It’s easy to blame the economy and that is no small part of the equation but in Saskatchewan we are experiencing an economic boom.  We are a frugal people but on the Saturday before Christmas, I walked in and out of Wal-Mart in ten minutes.  That never happens that close to Christmas even in less prosperous times.

Saskatchewan Roughrider Jersey Barbecue Cover What happened?  As a geek, there really wasn’t that much I wanted this year.  Sure a big hard drive would be nice and who wouldn’t want a Nikon D90 but other than a couple PSP games, nothing really made it on my Christmas list.  Even Lee, who is a bigger geek than I am didn’t ask for anything tech this year.  Neither one of us are excited by Microsoft Vista and we are too intelligent to use Macs (calm down, I am kidding).  There was some team gear that was kind of cool but too high priced to get (Saskatchewan Roughrider jersey barbecue covers were pretty cool but at almost $100 too much money) but other than that, I wasn’t that blown away by much of anything on the shelves.  Lots of people were looking for a Nintendo Wii but for other gaming systems, there really wasn’t a must have game.  Instead a lot of places seemed more determined to sell me a 50” television than anything else and if I wasn’t into that… what else did I need to have?

I am wondering if after years of easy credit, do not pay for 2 years, low APR financing, not only are we debted out, we are consumed out as well?  Maybe after years of consuming, we are full.  They speak of the insatiable American desire for more stuff but take a look at what Amazon had for it’s gift guides, it hasn’t changed that much in years.  The Google Android is cool but it is really enough to make you drop your BlackBerry or iPhone for?

Even among books I struggled.  Over the last several years there has always been a “must read” but this year only the re-release of Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christian trilogy generated any kind of interest and that was only because it was a good gift to some friends.

Maybe we are finally approaching the point in our lives where we realize that our economic future can’t be taken for granted and just maybe we may have enough for now.  In some ways I wonder even if this doesn’t turn into a depression (although reading that Ohio lost 100,000 jobs in 2008 was staggering), our collective economic woes may bring about changes to the world on the same scale that 9/11 did to the American worldview and I am not sure that is a bad thing.

The Tumbleweed Tiny House Company

Over the years I have become a big fan of Tumbleweed Tiny House Company designs and what Jay Schafer is doing there.  Not only does Tumbleweed design great homes, I have really come to appreciate their website.  It is an excellent design with a great CMS and uses web services like Flickr really effectively.  I guess I should expect a website like this from a company that builds homes as well designed as they do.

Make Something Day

Make Something DayThere is only 26 more days until Make Something Day.

From the site.

In response to the over-consumptive habits of western culture, Adbusters magazine has been promoting Buy Nothing Day for years now. The Friday after Thanksgiving in the U.S. is typically marked as the busiest shopping day for Americans. But we live in a world that can no longer handle our consumptive habits here in the west. And while we pile up on things we don’t need a large portion of the world exists without basic human needs being met every day. We applaud Buy Nothing Day… but it isn’t enough for us. We believe that giving is a central part of being human. So, we replaced the negative with something positive: Make Something Day. Go ahead and give gifts this holiday season. As they say, giving is better than receiving. But that doesn’t mean buying something is. So, we encourage folks to avoid shopping on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Instead, stay home, put a log on the fire and try making something for someone. Don’t feel creative? Check out the different pages on our site, get inspired and share your stories with us!

As a Canadian I can’t imagine the horror which is the day after Thanksgiving but I can relate to the idea of Make Something Day and I assume you can as well.   I am not sure what I am going to make but I’ll post some photos of whatever we do that day.

The moral of the housing crisis

Michael Lewis on the sub-prime mortgage crisis

The real moral is that when a middle-class couple buys a house they can’t afford, defaults on their mortgage, and then sits down to explain it to a reporter from the New York Times, they can be confident that he will overlook the reason for their financial distress: the peculiar willingness of Americans to risk it all for a house above their station. People who buy something they cannot afford usually hear a little voice warning them away or prodding them to feel guilty. But when the item in question is a house, all the signals in American life conspire to drown out the little voice. The tax code tells people like the Garcias that while their interest payments are now gargantuan relative to their income, they’re deductible. Their friends tell them how impressed they are-and they mean it. Their family tells them that while theirs is indeed a big house, they have worked hard, and Americans who work hard deserve to own a dream house. Their kids love them for it.

Across America, some version of this drama has become a social norm. As of this spring, one in 11 mortgages was either past due—like Ed McMahon’s $4.8 million jumbo loan on his property—or in foreclosure, like Evander Holyfield’s $10 million Georgia estate. It’s no good pretending that Americans didn’t know they couldn’t afford such properties, or that they were seduced into believing they could afford them by mendacious mortgage brokers or Wall Street traders. If they hadn’t lusted after the bigger house, they never would have met the mortgage brokers in the first place. The money-lending business didn’t create the American desire for unaffordable housing. It simply facilitated it.

It’s this desire we must understand. More than any other possession, houses are what people use to say, “Look how well I’m doing!” Given the financial anxieties and indignities suffered by the American middle class, it’s hardly surprising that a lower-middle-class child who grows up in a small house feels a burning need to acquire a bigger one.


Too busy

"We can talk on the phone as we eat fast food while using the ATM. Not only are we better at multitasking and becoming more productive and efficient, along with the increased pace, more is required of us. And so we hurtle through life faster and faster, becoming busier and busier. The result is that in our busyness we are becoming increasingly efficient at leading meaningless lives."

Don Whitney, professor, Midwestern Seminary

My Gadgets

I was called a bit of a hypocrite for my last post because of my own perceived technology usage.  I assume that some think I have a disposable collection of iPhones but in reality I am a bit of a luddite.  Here is my list.

  • Samsung flip phone| 3 years old and is a pay as you go phone from SaskTel.  You can call me on it but unless I am travelling or am call for something, I won’t answer.  It probably won’t even be on.
  • Moleskine| Darryl Dash got me to switch from my obsolete Sony Clie a couple of years ago.  I go through one every year or so.  I don’t know if you can call paper and a pen technology but I carry one with me lots.
  • I have use a larger hard cover book that my friend Darren Friesen talked me into using.  Instead of keeping files, I date pages, write notes, and make them into action items if needed later.  I file them and the moleskine as an archive of my thoughts when they are done.
  • Sony PSP| Lee game me one for Christmas.  I do have a half dozen games for it, the game I enjoy the most is baseball.  The main use for it is watching downloaded videos from YouTube and Google Video at the lake.  It’s also cool in that I bring it on the road and with Skype installed, it is a cheap way to call home.
  • iPod Nano(four gig) | This is my favorite possession and I use it quite a bit at work, home, and at the lake.  I have a couple of cheap speakers I plug it into at the office and hit shuffle.  For Father’s Day Wendy and Mark gave me some speakers that we use at the cabin in place of having a stereo there and moving CD’s back and forth.   I also use it to listen to a couple of podcasts a week (Nick and Josh, Meet the Press, CBC Sask and CBC Ideas).  It integrates in with and it allows you to see what I have been listening to on the sidebar.
  • I have an old Dell D600 notebook.  I got it cheap and it runs Windows XP pretty well.  Sub notebooks are still a vice of mine.  If I need a 19 inch screen, I’ll buy a desktop.

It is a pretty boring list and is a long way from where I used to be.  (Remember the Timex Ironman PDA?)   I am not sure what changed but the technolust that I used to have isn’t there anymore.  I am not saying that gadgets are bad but they don’t mean nearly as much to me as they used to.   Looking through the archives of this site are embarrassing for me.  The sad thing is that I used to think they were the key to the future of the church in North America (high end media system, 3D animations, webcasting, streaming interactive sermons…)  While I still use a lot of technology and I like to think I still understand technology, I am far more selective in what I am using.  Eugene Peterson reminded me in The Jesus Way that uncritical adoption of technology is not a good way to live life.  I think this can be demonstrated by almost every Blackberry user that I have ever seen or some of my friends on Facebook who are shocked that when they post photos of themselves at their friends stag cause people to gossip about them at work.  I don’t think I have it right by any means but the above list has been agonized over.  Even if it does mean I am a Luddite.

Review: Life on a Diet

Put Your Life on a Diet: Lessons Learned from Living in 140 Square Feet While I was up at the lake, Dennis lent me his copy of Put Your Life on a Diet: Lessons Learned from Living in 140 sq Feet by Gregory Johnson.  I read it a couple times now and I liked it a lot.   After a divorce, the author found himself living in a small studio apartment and later in a Tumbleweed Tiny House Company built house that he refers to as the mobile hermitage.  The premise is that while we live in a consumption based society, we don’t have consume like everyone else does and by living differently, it frees us up to explore other areas in life.

Wendy and I have always lived in a small house (it is a little hard to be married and raise kids in 150 sq feet) and I personally prefer to be on the grid rather than off it but at the same time he is correct in that we need very little to live happily with.  Too often what we own ends up owning us and we start to make life decisions based on what is right for our possessions rather than what is good for us. 

The book looks at how we consume in five main areas

  1. housing
  2. food
  3. technology
  4. utilities
  5. transportation

DSC01100Of the five areas, the sections on housing, food and tech interested me the most.  While living in 140 square feet isn’t practical for many of us, there is a lot in the book worth pondering and adopting.  I found his best arguments to be based around how we get caught in the trap of living in bigger spaces which require us to buy more stuff and then we need even more space because we have all of this stuff.  If you feel trapped at times but the culture we live in, this is a good book to read as it shows there is a different way to live.  While context is important to understand while figuring all of this out, there is enough in the book for anyone to be able to read and rethink how we go about this thing called life.

Of course the running joke was that if I had read this book before we started to paint the cabin, we would have only had to scrape down half of the cabin OR we could turn it into a duplex 🙂

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The rustic re-use cabin

I live this a lot and it only cost $15,000.00 so far to build.


Paul Stankey (of hive Modular prefab fame) and his brother Scott (and their wives) have (almost) completed the container cabin they’ve been building on their family property in northern Minnesota for the past nine years. Cost so far: $15,000.

Readymade Digital

hiveMODULAR’s first blog post on the cabin & an update

The Death of Suburbia

This video is from TED and is one of a long series of videos I am downloading off of YouTube and converting to my PSP for viewing again later.  I am a big fan of Kunstler’s view of the future (although I think he underestimates the power of capitalism and innovation a bit) but the video is one that you will want to watch.

In James Howard Kunstler’s view, public spaces should be inspired centers of civic life and the physical manifestation of the common good. Instead, he argues, what we have in America is a nation of places not worth caring about. Reengineering our cities will involve more radical change than we are prepared for, Kunstler believes, but our hand will be forced by earth crises stemming from our national lifestyle. “Life in the mid-21st century,” Kunstler says, “is going to be about living locally.”

Simplicity starts in the mind

Bill has a great post on how simplicity starts in the mind.

With so much inner clutter, we can never achieve the clarity we crave. Plagued by our own abiguity, we keep quiet when we ought to speak, we mistake nice for loving. Bamboozled by the call to love, we get mixed up, and think it means having to be incessantly lovable, cuddly regardless of circumstance. But Jesus was anything but. Calling the spiritual aristocracy of his day snakes & mactac covered caskets – [pretty outside, maggoty inside], wasn’t really very nice, almost void of cuddliness. Our challenge is that our motives ARE often ambiguous. We are prone to self-delusion. ok. But does that excuse us? As creation itself is more than groaning now, it’s shouting or maybe growling, and the religoius right is poised to go into one of its regeneration phases in which it appears to be dormant but is really anything, and chisel chinned tv preachers reduce our faith to a cheap informercial and big box churches sell lattes while american theocrats develop mercenary armies and we want to think it’s all gonna pass, but it’s not going to. Not without a fight, anyway. Not without some clearly articulated words. Somehow we the spiritually ambiguous need to find a voice, God’s hopefully but at least our own and say something, something that matters.


to living in the McMansion. The micro-compact home or the Tiny Tumbleweed Housing Company which are not much smaller than my house 🙂 Of course another option to sprawling burbs is living in a shipping container. I link to these because a couple of years ago Wendy brought home a magazine and it hard a feature on a family of four who decided to purchase and live on a house boat all year long in Toronto. Two teen boy and two parents and not a lot of space. The mother talked about the discipline it brought to them in regards to materialism because for everything that made it’s way on board, something had to be tossed. Everything they bought cost them twice. First for the purchase and then the loss of something else. Wendy and I are working on that right now and I think it is a good idea.

Living in an over inflated housing market like Saskatoon does change the way we live. If we were to sell, we would get between twice and three times what we paid for our home but to purchase again, we would have to leave the city for a rural outlying area and commute in (thanks but no thanks). The alternative is to change the way we live being changed as opposed to the container we live in.

The Beauty of Simplicity

An article on simplicity in design in Fast Company..

To make it to the home page, a new service needs to be so compelling that it
will garner millions of page views per day. Contenders audition on the advanced-search page; if they prove their mettle–as image search did, growing from 700,000 page views daily to 2 million in two weeks–they may earn a permanent link. Few make the cut, and that’s fine. Google’s research shows that users remember just 7 to 10 services on rival sites. So Google offers a miserly six services on its home page. By contrast, MSN promotes more than 50, and Yahoo, over 60. And both sell advertising off their home pages; Google’s is a commercial-free zone.
So why don’t those sites simply hit the delete button and make their home pages more Googlesque? Hewing to the simplicity principle, it turns out, is tougher than connecting with tech support, particularly if you try it retrospectively. “Once you have a home page like our competitors’,” Mayer says, “paring it back to look like Google’s is impossible. You have too many stakeholders who feel they should be promoted on the home page.” (MSN says more than half its customers are happy with its home page–but it’s experimenting with a sleeker version called”)

My friend Gloria and I argued this all of the time at Lakeview Church. I favored a more Google approach and she favored a more MSN/Yahoo! approach. From this it looks like I was right and apparently petty enough to bring it up.

The article talks a bit about John Maeda

John Maeda runs the Media Lab’s Simplicity Consortium. His goal is to find ways to break free from the intimidating complexity of today’s technology and the frustration of information overload. He is a gentle, soft-spoken man, dressed elegantly in a crisp, white collarless shirt and black pants. And he is an unusual amalgam: having the mathematical wizardry of a computer geek with the soul of an artist. Indeed, in 1990, he left MIT for four years to study art. “My whole life changed,” he says. “I thought, This is a great way to live.” But rather than throwing over his digital life entirely, he conceived a mission. “I came back to MIT to figure out how you could combine simplicity, which is basic human life, with this thing–technology–that’s out of control.”

In his book, he asks the basic question. How simple can we make it and how complex does it have to be which is something I have been mulling over in regards to how we live life.

I am not alone is looking for something simpler. Again from the Fast Company article

Philips deployed researchers in seven countries, asking nearly 2,000 consumers to identify the biggest societal issue that the company should address. The response was loud and urgent. “Almost immediately, we hit on the notion of complexity and its relationship to human beings,” says Andrea Ragnetti, Philips’s chief marketing officer. Consumers told the researchers that they felt overwhelmed by the complexity of technology. Some 30% of home-networking products were returned because people couldn’t get them to work. Nearly 48% of people had put off buying a digital camera because they thought it would be too complicated.

It explains a bit of why I am using AbiWord for writing my book. It just allows me to write. If I really need a complex chart, Open Office is a couple clicks away and yes I know how to use all of its features but at times, I just want to communicate with words.