Quiet Habits

In a noisy world, it's important to find a little quiet

Note: this post contains a few affiliate links. All the links are to wonderful books that you should read. And despite this entire post being about clutter, I still recommend owning them because not only will you learn a lot, but you'll be supporting great authors (and a small percentage helps this blog stay online).

Another resurgence of minimalism, simple living, and decluttering is making the rounds of social media, news sites, and blogs. Whether you're following Marie Kondo's Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, playing the #MinsGame, or reading The Minimalist Home by Joshua Becker, eventually you're going to end up with a life with fewer possessions, an emptier home, and a bunch of free space and time in your life. And that empty space is a beautiful thing, if it is preserved. Unfortunately, I've often found myself with fewer possessions and burdens and treated it like an empty plate at an all-you-can-eat buffet or an empty shopping cart at the store on Black Friday. I imagine many of you have found yourself in the same boat. If you keep reading, you'll find many of the mistakes I've made while decluttering over the years and some of the best advice I've read and used to help keep the clutter out for good.

You found a reason to declutter or simplify or KonMari your house. It was a great reason. You found a method or a blog or a video or a documentary or a book that helped kickstart your journey. It outlined how to let go of physical clutter in your life. Some things were easy to get rid of, some were difficult. Some days it was easy to haul those boxes out of your house, while other days you sat in the hallway reminiscing over old high school memorabilia. Whatever your journey, it led you to a final moment where your house and your life were free of clutter and excess. Maybe you finally got rid of that storage unit or you cleared out your basement office. It's such a wonderful feeling to have that clutter gone. You feel free again!

But, as I noted earlier, we so often lose our way on this simplicity journey and end up in a buy-declutter-buy-declutter cycle. When the “honeymoon stage” of simple living and decluttering wears off, we tend to buy back into our old ways. It might start with a good deal on Amazon or a sale at the clothing outlet stores. Next thing you know, your closets are full, your kitchen cupboards are lined with unused gadgets, your basement is full of boxes and bins filled with things you haven't touched in months. You're back where you started. How did this happen? You go back to your inspiration. You read the books and the blogs again. You rewatch the documentaries and videos. You try to figure out what went wrong and where you faltered.

You begin to wonder what's wrong with you or what's wrong with the system you followed. How could you let this happen again? Maybe you wallow in self-pity or get upset at yourself or the blogger or author or minimalist who led you down this path. Maybe you find a renewed determination to really do it this time and stick to it. Whatever your reaction, you either accept your failure and give up or you determine to give it another try.

Let me find a bit of fault in some of these decluttering programs, books, and documentaries (although I think many of them are wonderful and you should definitely follow their advice). They provide encouragement, evidence, testimonials, and guidelines to help you declutter your stuff and/or your life. They offer a crash-course in getting rid of your junk. And often they leave you there, at the end of your decluttering journey, to fend for yourself in maintaining your newfound clutter-free life.

Think about it this way: imagine you are hired as a support technician for a large software company. Your job is to answer customer questions about the software, help them troubleshoot problems, and generally provide assistance to software users. You arrive at the office on your first day and are immediately placed in a conference room with a trainer. She proceeds to train you on all aspects of the software and walk you through a bunch of example questions or problems you might encounter. After a few weeks of training, your manager hands you a laptop and a phone and sends you home. He tells you to answer any questions you receive via email or phone. He also tells you to avoid bothering your coworkers or supervisors with any questions. Good luck!

Don't get me wrong, I don't want to put down or discredit any of these programs, books, blogs, or whatever (after all, I'm a regular contributor to all this talk about simple living!). I think they're fantastic! But so many people miss out on opportunities to continue to live simply or the initial joy and benefits wear off over time. While we're reading the book or following the program or watching the documentary, we feel so inspired and so hopeful! Unfortunately, when that excitement and inspiration fade over time, we fall back into our old ways.

I hope the rest of this post will provide some help and encouragement and ideas to keep you going when the initial benefits begin to fade (or help keep them from fading at all).

So, how do you stick with the simple life year after year? How do you keep the clutter out instead of letting it creep back in and starting the whole cycle over again?

If you have the answer, please let me know!

Every situation and human being is unique, so unfortunately I don't have a magic pill that will solve all the issues that you face while keeping the clutter out or maintaining a simple life.

However, after several false starts and restarts on my own decluttering journey, I've definitely learned a few things about how to keep going after the “honeymoon phase” wears off. I've made about a million mistakes along the way, so learn from my mistakes and the wisdom of others who have also walked this path! I'm also not an expert or a guru, so I've provided plenty of links to other articles written by people who are smarter and have more experience than I do with keeping the clutter out for good.

Have a Why

This is possibly the most important paragraph of this entire post. Having a good 'Why' behind your 'What' and 'How' while decluttering is vital for success. If you don't know or fully understand why you're getting rid of your excess stuff, you will almost definitely fail and end up with a house full of clutter in the near future. I can't tell you what your purpose is or why you need to declutter. But I do know that having a reason beyond the simple “I'm tired of all this junk!” is powerful. Know why. Try to envision what your life will be like with less clutter. Who are you at your core? How is the clutter covering you up? Who do you want to become? What is important in your life? Questions like these can help you find your why. Courtney Carver lists having a why as her number one tip in her Decluttering 101 post.

Overcome the Just in Case Mentality

Courtney Carver of Be More With Less also has some wisdom to share about the “just in case” mentality and how it keeps our homes and our lives cluttered. She says it so eloquently, I'll refer you over there instead of trying to hash out my own version.

Enjoy Missing Out

I'm sure by now you've probably heard of FOMO (fear of missing out) and JOMO (joy of missing out). A lot of clutter comes from this fear of missing out, which is related to envy, fear, and insecurity. We think more stuff will fill the gaps in our life, make us feel better, or make us look better. The truth is, people who have a ton of stuff still have the same insecurities, fears, and feelings as everyone else. Stuff is often a distraction from dealing with our problems and realizing our full potential. Enjoy missing out on the swag, the latest trends and fads, the newest iPhone, or that Amazon item that you think you can't live without. If you look for joy in things that aren't sold in a store and don't come with 2-day shipping, you'll discover that there really is a joy in missing out on the clutter because with clutter, you're missing out on a lot of joy. Courtney Carver also has a bit of wisdom to share about FOMO and JOMO.

Curb the Need to Shop

You shop because you're bored. Or for therapy. Or for fun. Or maybe you actually need to buy something! Whatever the reason, shopping, both in a brick and mortar store and online, has become one of America's favorite pastimes. According to the US Department of Labor, adults who engaged in the purchase of goods and services spent, on average, over 1.5 hours per day doing so. However, I doubt that includes the type of shopping that many people would consider leisure time. The pull to shop is everywhere. Advertisements bombard us on highways, televisions, apps, news feeds, and websites. Social apps like Instagram and Pinterest now include links in posts that provide instant access to buy items featured in posts. Shopping malls and websites draw us in with the allure of a deal. These tactics may be one of the biggest reasons why we let the clutter creep back in (I know I've given in to Amazon's daily deal more than once).

Here are some great reads about how to curb your need to shop and how to stop buying future clutter:

Confessions of a (Reformed) Shopaholic: No Sidebar

Breaking Free From Consumerist Chains: Zen Habits

But I Love Shopping: Be More With Less

Use the 1 in/1 out rule

This is a simple, yet powerful rule to live by. If one thing comes into your house/life, one thing must leave. Typically, this rule should be applied to things that need replacing. Your favorite pair of jeans has finally worn out? Dispose of them responsibly and buy a new pair. Don't keep the old pair hanging about in your closet. There are times when this rule may not apply or be useful, such as when you welcome a new child or pet into your life, or if you begin a new hobby or profession that requires you to obtain new stuff. But for most gadgets and doodads, this rule should be applied rigorously.

I failed to apply this rule for some time with headphones and earbuds. I spent a good year looking for a new pair of good headphones or earbuds. Instead of waiting for the ones that best fit my needs or replacing broken earbuds, I acquired several (6) pairs of various earbuds and headphones. I only have one set of ears and can only listen to one thing at a time! I've since cut back drastically and now have a specific purpose for each set I've kept (I have different headphones for editing audio, use at work, and for wireless listening). Use the 1 in/1 out rule to make sure you're not just adding and adding to the contents of your home. If you want to go for bonus points, try using the 1 in/2 out rule to really cut the clutter.

Everything Has a Home

You've probably heard this advice from Benjamin Franklin before, “A place for everything, everything in its place.” Having a home for each item can help reduce clutter. Almost every item in your home deserves a permanent (or at least semi-permanent) place to stay. Here are a few things I've learned over the years about this advice:

  • Have an inbox for incoming items (mail, packages, paperwork, gifts, etc.) that you clear out at least once a week. This provides a temporary home until a permanent home is found.
  • Keep a filing cabinet or other easy-to-sort location for important paperwork that you need to keep for extended periods of time. Create a system that lets you easily and quickly sort, deal with, and file away any new papers.
  • Leave empty space. If you fill up every nook and cranny with stuff, it might all have a home, but you're laying the foundations for future clutter. If you leave blank space between items or groups of items, you make your space calmer and make your things easier to find and care for.
  • Avoid the organization traps. Bins, boxes, drawers, shelves, units. There is a massive industry to help you organize and stow away all your stuff. But remember, the things you put your stuff in also count as extra stuff. And what's the point of having all that stuff stored away, sitting unused? I think most of us need some drawers, bins, and shelves for some of our things (like keeping cleaning supplies out of reach of the kids), but if you find yourself buying more and more bins and shelf-organizers for your stuff, it's probably a good sign that you need to go through and declutter that stuff again.

Put It Away Right Away

This tip goes hand in hand with the last tip. If everything has a place, put it there immediately after you've finished using it. When you change into your pajamas, put your clothes in the laundry basket. When the dishwasher finishes running and the dishes are dry, put them away. Put the oven mitts back where they belong after you take dinner out of the oven. Put the scissors back in your desk drawer. You get the idea. Clutter breeds more clutter. And flat, empty surfaces are the perfect breeding grounds for that clutter. If you put things away when you're done using them, you'll effectively sanitize these areas and keep the clutter from growing. Trouble spots in our home are the kitchen table and kitchen countertops. My wife, Sarah, and I have been working through this habit and it is a tough one to break! But it can be done and will help you keep the clutter out.

Break the Twitch

One of my favorite blogs is Break the Twitch by Anthony Ongaro. He began his journey when he realized he had a “twitch” to get on Amazon and make small purchases. After a while of making these $20-$30 purchases, he looked back through his order history and realized that he had spent thousands of dollars on mostly cheap junk and little gadgets that hadn't really improved his life or made him happy. He decided that he was going to break the twitch and start living an intentional life instead of blankly scrolling through whatever feed and making random purchases. I recommend doing the same. We have an impulse to buy things because they're on sale, they're a good deal, we want them, they look cool, or sometimes just because we're bored and we know we have $20 to spend. Break that twitch and stop bringing in the clutter. I promise that extra charger, phone case, earbuds, or pressure cooker won't bring you real, lasting happiness. I do know that they'll probably add complexity to your life when they break or don't get used and end up collecting dust in storage bins in your attic.

Shopping Ban

I'm going to let my friend Cait explain this one to you. She has done at least two year-long shopping bans where she only purchased essential items or pre-defined items (for example, she knew she would need a few new clothing items, so she listed them before her ban started). I can't recommend her book and blog enough.

One other thought to go along with the shopping ban. If the year-long shopping ban seems too radical for you right now, try this instead: When you feel the urge to buy something, wait for a month. Add it to your wish list or write it down somewhere. I use a price-tracking site to store some of the items on my list, but you can use whatever works best for you. Usually after a month, the “new and shiny” phase wears off and you either forget about the thing or you realize that you don't need it. If a month passes and you still feel compelled to buy this item, list out alternatives by answering these questions: Can you borrow one? How often will you use it? Do you have something similar? Will it make life easier or better in some way? If you make it through all of these questions and you still want to make the purchase, I think you can go ahead and buy it without feeling guilt. But remember the 1 in/1 out rule and make sure this new thing will have a home.

Practice Gratitude

And finally, tying this all back into “having a why”, we come to gratitude. Gratitude is one of the most powerful forces to keep clutter out. We should practice gratitude daily. Be grateful for everything we have. Be grateful for this beautiful Earth, for our sun and moon, for our bodies and our families and friends. Be grateful for our homes, for running water, for green grass, for trees, for access to almost limitless information and interaction with people around the world. Be grateful for things big and small. For your carpet and your toaster and a bowl and spoon and the grocery store.

Try this exercise: When you're not at home, make a list of all the material items that you own that you're grateful for and that you can think of. I know my list would get quite long. Then think of the reasons why you're grateful for that thing. Then, when you get home, go through the things you didn't list or didn't think of. Do you need to keep those things? Are you grateful for them? Why/why not? Then, make a list of non-material things you are grateful for (e.g., spouse, kids, pets, Earth, water, religion, knowledge, etc.). Compare the lists. If you had to lose all the things on one list, which would you choose? Which list is more important to you?

This powerful exercise in gratitude should show you what's important to you and where your priorities are (or where they should be). It also shows you that material things can be replaced and are temporary. They wear out or break or get lost. Finally, it helps you realize just how much you have already been blessed with. With a list so long, how could you possibly spend your evening scrolling through cheap gadgets on Amazon or browsing the local big box store? When the urge to buy something that is not an absolute necessity, refer back to this list. The impact of such a simple list may surprise you.

For more motivation in practicing gratitude, the amazing blogger Leo Babauta of Zen Habits has some great advice:

Gratitude to Cure the Impulse to Buy More Stuff: Zen Habits

The Transformative Power of the Gratitude Habit: Zen Habits

By no means is this list meant to overwhelm or scare you away from decluttering or becoming a minimalist. Please do not feel that you have to go out and apply all of the advice listed here or completely overhaul your life overnight. Simplifying your life is a process that often take years to implement and perfect (and even then, you'll still make changes and tweaks). It's not a race or a competition. When the going gets tough or you feel the clutter creeping back in, come back to this post and choose just one thing to help you out of the funk. Even one small and simple change will make a lasting impact in your life.

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A Few Blog Updates

First, like I've said a few times before, I'd like to do more writing here. Publish better content, and more frequent content. Those are my goals. I've kept this blog alive for over 5 years now, but I feel like it's limping along and some months it devolves into the rabbit hole of forgotten hobbies. Quiet Habits is not a business and never will be a business, but I also don't want it to turn into a personal journal or a site where I post random things about my life. I want to stick to the mission statement.

Second, speaking of the mission statement, I think it deserves a bit of clarity. When people come and read this blog, I want them to have a quick understanding of what the content is all about so they can make an informed decision about whether to stick around and subscribe or go find something else to read. I'll clarify and post in the coming weeks.

Third, I'd like to make an audio version of this blog. I have the resources and can find the time. I'd like to make my voice heard beyond the words on your screen and make what I write more accessible.

Fourth, I'm toying with the idea of asking for donations. As one of my dear readers, what are your thoughts on this? I'm not going to block access or put up ads or do any yucky online money-making junk if you don't donate. But this blog (and the coming audio version) takes some time and money to maintain. I never intended this to be a full-time gig (I have a day job that I absolutely love), but I want to make it sustainable for the future. Send me an email: nathan “at” quiethabits.net with your thoughts about the donation/Patreon/tips model. If I do ask for donations or tips, I'm going to invest a lot more time/energy into writing even more great content.

Mission Statement Update

I've been blogging for quite some time. Over 6 years. During that time I've had many false starts, restarts, and fresh starts. I've changed blog names, domain names, and niches. I've moved hosts and platforms and have gone through periods of flood and famine with publishing content. A lot has changed in the 6+ years since I started writing and publishing things on the Internet. A lot has changed with this blog and with me and my life. A few things have remained the same and I think I've once again refined the purpose of this blog, which requires a mission statement of sorts. Perhaps that's too strong, maybe a statement of purpose or just a list of things I'd still like to blog about.

  1. Keep it real. This blog has always been and always will be about real life. I might not share any intimate details about my life, but I don't think faking things or sugar-coating them helps anyone learn anything and doesn't benefit anyone. If I fail at something, I'm going to let you know and write about it. If I succeed, I'll celebrate. If I find something isn't working, I'll talk about how I want to make a change. Life is all about the ups and downs. I'm not perfect and I hope that comes through in my writing about my experiences.
  2. This is not a “how-to” or “guide” blog. I'm not going to give you 5 tips to get your life together, get organized, become a minimalist, find inner peace and happiness, and become enlightened. Mostly because I think most of those articles and lists are useless trash, but also because I'm still at the beginning of the path to most of those aspirations.
  3. A small shift. This blog began its life under a different name (smplife) and became Quiet Habits after a lot of thought. It started out as a blog about minimalism and simple living. It evolved over time to be about habits and lifestyle changes. Now, I think it's gone through another evolution. I may still write about minimalism and essentialism and habit change, but mostly this is “The story of an introvert learning to thrive in an extrovert's world by learning to live a quiet, happy life one habit at a time.” The “new” Quiet Habits is going to be more personal, more focused on my struggles and my wins as an anxious introvert, and the habits that bring me closer to living a happy life. I'll be focusing my writing heavily on introversion, anxiety, habits and habit change, essentialism/minimalism/whatever-isms, and my personal search for happiness and fulfillment. You may also notice a new tagline: “In a noisy world, it's important to find a little quiet.”

I think that's about it. For now. I used to feel bad about making these iterative changes, like I was failing or giving up on the way I used to write or what I used to focus on. Now, I realize that iterative change is a good thing and necessary for survival. But the more I change things and shift around my mission and content, the more I realize that the core values and reasons behind why I started this blog remain very much the same. Thanks for sticking with me through the years!

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Despite being one month into this quarter of 2019, I'm still writing about my goals and plans. And, as predicted, I've made a few changes. If you remember my Year of Change post, I committed to do 100 pushups in one go by the end of the quarter and to journal every day. Well, personal and professional goals and focuses have shifted since I wrote that post, so I've made a small update to this quarter's goals. I'll still be striving to do 100 pushups by the end of the quarter, but I've decided to shift my focus from journalling every day to planning my time more effectively.

Let me explain why I made the change. In my day job, I have days that feel so unstructured that it feels like I get nothing done. Sometimes this lack of structure is a blessing that allows me to explore my passions, learn new things, and tinker. Other days, it feels like a pit of despair that is sucking away my life and work. At home, things feel the same. There seems to constantly be a list of things that I want to accomplish or need to get done, but that rarely get worked on. For example, it's taken me several weeks to finally write this blog post. My newly created non-fiction podcast has been sitting stagnant for a couple of months, and I still haven't organized our new reading room. In short, my time is unscheduled and turbulent. I don't have an anchor or a plan or a direction, so I get tossed about by the whims of outside forces. I want to change that.

While I am currently a slave to disorganization and chaos, I don't want to become a slave to my calendar and to-do list. I do, however, want to plan and use my time more effectively and accomplish more with my limited time.

Before I get into my goals and plans to use my time effectively, let me tell you how I plan to reach my goal of 100 pushups by the end of March.

When I started a few weeks ago, I did 12 pushups before my arms gave up and refused to push anymore. Yup, just 12.

This past week I did 2 sets of 20 pushups in a row, which is a pretty big deal for me. Here's my plan:

  • Saturday: Max out
  • Sunday: Rest/stretch day
  • Monday – Friday: Do about 10-20% fewer per set than my last max (e.g., if my max on Saturday was 20 pushups, I would try to do 15-18 pushups per set). I'm trying to alternate 1-2 sets one day and 2-4 sets the next day so I don't get too sore or tired.
  • Occasionally do some cardio, like the 7-minute workout, to boost endurance.

And that's it. It's not rocket science. It's probably not the best plan and it's definitely not perfect. I'll tweak it throughout the next two months, but that's my plan so far. Hopefully it works!

Now, on to my planning plan.

I want to keep this whole daily planning thing as simple as possible. I basically have 2 things to plan for: home life and work life.

I want to plan them in the same place, but I'd like to keep some of the planning process separate. Here's my plan:

  • Monthly: The last day or two of the month, I will plan my entire month, mostly including recurring items (work days/hours, family dinners, grocery shopping, date nights, bills, paydays, etc.) and big events (birthdays, travel, vacation, holidays, etc.). These things are easy to plan because they typically happen at the same time every month/week/day.
    • My wife and I will also plan meals for the entire month and plan 2-4 grocery trips during the month for those meals (2-4 because some produce just doesn't last that long)
  • Weekly: On Sunday, I will plan out the next week Monday – Sunday. Verify plans from monthly planning and make necessary changes. Finalize weekly things like meal plans, grocery shopping, and work schedules. Plan time for things like blogging, podcasting, R&R, cleaning, house projects, etc. I'll also write out a list of items I need to accomplish during the week and schedule tentative times and days to accomplish them (things like “Call the bank” or “Return library books” or “Get rock chip repaired”). I'll also create any reminders in my phone for things that don't require an event, such as “Bring camera to work” or “Request time off work”.
  • Daily: Each night I will review plans, events, and reminders from weekly and monthly planning. I'll make plans to accomplish tasks that need to be done the next day (for example, if we have a birthday party this weekend, I would make plans to pick up a gift and a card at the store after work, which might look like “5:45pm – buy gift and card for Joe”. I will fill remaining time with things I want to or need to do. I won't fill every available hour with an activity or I will leave open time for fun, relaxing things (watching a movie, browsing YouTube, playing with my daughter, going for a bike ride, etc.). The idea is, by the time I reach daily planning, most of my time should be scheduled, so I'll need to either confirm plans or fill in any remaining gaps.

I don't expect any of these planning sessions to take up too much time, but I do want to have specific, scheduled time set aside for planning. I think that weekly planning will be shorter and easier because I've already done monthly planning and daily planning will be even shorter and easier because I've already done monthly and weekly planning.

That takes care of most of my home life, so work life will require a little extra effort. I'm on the computer all day at work, so almost all of my planning will be done in Google Calendar. I work for an ed-tech company on a small team, so things change and evolve from time to time. Because of this, I won't be doing in-depth monthly planning.

At work, my plan is to review major events for the coming month at the end of each month. These include scheduled meetings, team events, major releases and milestones, etc.

Each Friday, I will spend the last 30 minutes or so of my day planning out the next week. I don't always know what projects I'll be working on, but I typically can plan a general sense of what my days will look like. I'll plan any meetings, schedule tasks that I haven't completed yet or that are coming up, write down reminders, and tentatively plan out my time with known projects (for example, I might plan a 3 hour block to respond to user comments on Monday afternoon).

Every morning I will spend 10-15 minutes planning my day. I'll confirm the weekly plans I've made, move things around, add new things that have come up, and schedule all my time, including time for professional development.

Then, every evening, I'll spend another 10-15 minutes before I go home reflecting on the day. I'll ask myself what went well, what I accomplished, what didn't go as well, where I got off track, and what adjustments need to be made. I don't expect to ever stick to a schedule 100% of the time, but I'd like to reflect and find out what worked and what didn't. Then I'll write down any tasks or reminders for the next day or later in the week or month. I also want to briefly plan out the next day. I think spending 10-15 minutes at the beginning and end of my work days to plan and reflect will help me be more mindful of the work I'm doing and where I'm spending my time.

And that's it. That was kind of a long explanation for something that I hope won't be too overly complicated. The idea is to simplify my life by planning and structuring my time. I hope to not only be more productive and efficient, but to find time to enjoy more in life and not feel worried or stressed about what I have going on in my life.

Social Media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit. It seems like it's everywhere, permeating our lives with its presence. Almost everyone you know is on at least one platform and more people are joining every day. But people are also leaving platforms in droves, either permanently or for a short “fast”, for a variety of reasons, privacy concerns, mental health needs, minimizing their online presence, online bullying, a bad breakup, or wanting to spend more time in reality, everyone who leaves has a reason. There are tons of blog posts, tweets, facebook posts, and “stories” about why someone is leaving the platform and why you should, too.

And yes, I'm adding another “I'm leaving social media” blog post to the pile. But I hope mine is a little different. I'm not going to provide reasons why you should leave social media or provide tips for leaving (as I've done in the past). I'm not going to berate you for continuing to use the platforms or list 5 reasons why a certain online platform is evil and will steal all your data. I'm trying not to take a “holier than thou” or “this is how you should live your life” approach to this whole thing. Simply put, this post is not a guide to quitting social media or an essay to convince you to quit. It's a thoughtful look at my own social media usage, how it affects my life, my mood, my mind, and how I'm going to handle taking a break for a while.

First, the confessional. I spend a lot of time on social media. Probably about an average amount of time, maybe a couple of hours a day some days, maybe 30 minutes another. I check or post to a social media site at least once a day. I spend most of my time on Twitter, Reddit, and Instagram. I don't interact with most of the posts I see or people who I follow, but when I see something that really strikes me as interesting I'll like it or retweet it, and sometimes, very rarely, I'll comment. Most of the time, it's mindless, endless scrolling. Sometimes I fall asleep scrolling and accidentally tap a link or like a post that I didn't mean to like. It's a problem.

Now, the challenge. There are numerous reasons for “fasting”. People do it for religious reasons, health reasons, for fun, or for medical reasons. Fasting is usually associated with food, although lately it's been associated with lots of things, especially technology-related things. Fasting, generally, is to go without something in order to gain some reward. Sometimes it's spiritual enlightenment, sometimes it's realizing how blessed we are to have food, and sometimes it's great health benefits. My social media fast is for one big reason: I want to focus all of my time and attention on family and friends this month. It's Christmas time and we have a lot of parties, family gatherings, dinners, and more. I don't want to bury my face in my phone while I'm with family. I don't want to try to get the perfect Instagram shot of the tree or Santa or some presents (although I'm still going to take lots of pictures). I don't want to worry about what someone else got under their tree or what yummy food someone else is eating or cool parties or how much snow some other city got. I want to focus on the tangible, real-time events happening around me. In short: I want to be 100% present and aware this month.

So, for the entire month of December, I will not be browsing Twitter or scrolling Facebook. I won't be double-tapping on Instagram photos or tapping through stories. I won't be worrying about likes or laugh emojis or retweets or followers. I will be focusing on hugs and smiles and laughter and the sound of tearing wrapping paper and the witty banter at family dinner and the smell of fresh crepes and the look of joy on my daughter's face as she opens her presents and the twinkle of Christmas lights and the stillness before snow starts falling. I'll be living in the moment. Feel free to join me. This isn't a challenge or an invitation or a mandate. Think of this as an open suggestion. I don't think it will be too difficult to live without being constantly connected, but I hope the effects are felt and have a lasting impact.

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Something has been eating at me for a while. Something I haven't been able to put into words. A problem. A dissatisfaction with the current state of things. With incumbency in online spaces. With comfort. With the way things are. I think I've finally figured it out, or, figured part of it out. I'm dissatisfied with the way things work for writers online, with basically the whole system. Here's how it works now, in a super-simplified nutshell: You want to start writing. You find a cool domain name for your blog and purchase it. You choose a content management system that's been around for a long time. You pay a hosting company (likely a shady conglomerate company with horrible support recommended to you in a blog post entitled “How to Start a Succesful Blog”) a small monthly fee, install Wordpress, run through a few initial admin things and you're ready to start writing. You might be ready, but your newly created website is far from ready.

So far, unless you're pretty tech savvy, you're already a couple of hours into this project. But now you must find a theme for your website (let me guess, you're probably using Wordpress and hosting on Bluehost?). Now you've found out about site hackers, comment spam, Wordpress security holes, updates, shared hosting slowness, Google Analytics, Google Ads, affiliate links, membership sites, Wordpress admin settings, email newsletters, RSS feeds, social media updates, Medium cross-posting, SEO services, mail servers, etc., etc. Whew! What an exhausting list. And that's not even everything!

After a year or two of posting quality content to an ad-filled site (you've gotta pay the bills, right?), you're struggling to find even 1,000 readers every month.

And you're dumping hours and hours of your precious weekend into managing all the barely functioning pieces of your blog.

And you're constantly barraged with emails about guest posts, posts about your online presence, and sad statistics.

You brought this blog into existence because you wanted to write, right? You didn't want to play the marketing/SEO games, fight constant attacks and spam, manage incoming and outgoing email, update your site, upgrade your hosting plan.

And yet here you are. Most blogs and websites get abandoned in the first couple of years. While this is for a variety of reasons (lack of traffic, lack of time, loss of interest, lack of monetary earnings, among others), I think a lot of these come down to bloggers not having an easy, affordable way to sit down, write, and publish.

You started out as a writer and suddenly you're either juggling 15 different tools and services to keep up with the current blogging “requirements” or you're looking at paying someone else a lot of money to do this for you. Either way, you just want to get back to writing great content and interacting with your readers in meaningful ways. After all, that's what being a writer is all about: bringing valuable content to the eyes or ears of readers (or listeners).

And ultimately that's what I've been struggling with. I didn't start writing online so that I could become a content manager or a web developer or a businessperson. I'm not in the business of managing content or a brand or a marketing campaign.

I'm participating in the longstanding tradition and art of writing. And yes, like any artist, I want visibility (and I'd like to make some money on the side if people are getting real value from what I create) and I crave knowing that people find value in what I do. But I refuse to split my time between 20 different projects that are a “requirement” to participate in today's blogging/marketing garbage heap. Yep, I said it. Most articles published online are content marketing garbage that is not intended to uplift, inform, or entertain. Their sole purpose is to sell something. And the irony is that these posts are usually on sites plastered with ads that also only exist to get you to spend money. And money is the goal, right? That's what many people (ironically, many of the same people who create these online courses and garbage blog articles) want you to think. Don't get me wrong, I'd like to make money from the art that I create and the value that I provide. But if money was my only motivator and goal, there are much better ways to earn it. I, like many bloggers, have a day job that pays the bills.

I don't want a “media empire” or a “million-dollar website” or a million followers or to be a social media influencer or to beat the SEO game. I want to write what's in my head and my heart and then edit it so it's valuable to my readers. I want to get an email from a reader that says, “Thank you for writing this, it really made me laugh (or cry, or think differently, or change my habits).” That's real value. I'm not a marketer or content manager. I'm a writer and I will continue to write the best content I can. If it's good, I believe it'll be shared with the relevant audience. If it's not, I'll hear about it. That doesn't mean that all great content gets shared all the time. It's an uphill battle to get your writing in front of reader's eyes, but I believe that eventually, every writer finds their audience if they consistently write and publish great content. Great content gets shared and remembered. Garbage content gets skimmed and forgotten and lost in the endless pile of articles on the Internet.

Online writing is experiencing a shift. With the rise of new platforms like Ghost, Medium, and others, there is a new breed of writers and a new way to earn a living from practicing your craft. Value is being assigned in new ways and the old ad-based, click-based, view-based system is slowly dying out. The days of garbage writing are over. The days of readers supporting artists that they love, care about, and relate to are coming into maturity and I can't be happier about it. There's still a lot of work to do. A quick online search will tell you that content [marketing] is still king and that the SEO hackers and sites plastered with ads are still winning the majority share. We have to vote with our views and our clicks, and if possible with our wallets. Block their ads. Don't read the crap. Abandon the sites that hound you with ads, pop-ups, sign up forms, autoplay videos, and site notifications. Downvote them into extinction and allow the new generation of writers and writing to emerge from the ashes.

I hope to provide the highest quality content possible on this site for as long as possible. There won't be ads here. There won't be affiliate links to random products (I'm still going to post links to writers and content that I love, and some of them will help me make money to keep this blog running). Everything here will be valuable and uphold the mission statement of this blog.

Enter Write.As. I found Write.as a while ago. Probably through a search for blogging platforms. I bookmarked it, tried it out, and moved on. This past week, I rediscovered it and fell in love (despite its minor flaws and quirks). The service provides not only a simple way to publish anonymously but a super simple way to write a blog as well. It fits all the important criteria that I ranted about on Twitter.

I don't think there is a “perfect” writing platform, just like there isn't a perfect car or house or pair of jeans. But Write.as certainly comes close. Most importantly, it fits my needs and isn't trying to fill every possible use case (like most CMSs and site builders nowadays). The most beautiful thing about it is that I can log in and immediately start writing. I'm never bombarded with updates, stats, plugins, spam, etc. I simply log in, write, edit, and publish. The company is small but has a great business model that's working. And they have wonderful guiding principles (something more companies need nowadays) And as a bonus, it's super affordable.

So, dear reader, you've made it this far and are probably wondering “Well, what now? What should I expect from Quiet Habits going forward? What's this blog about? Why should I come back for more?” And the answer is that there isn't an easy answer. The fact is, I've been pretending to try to become an expert in habits and life changes and minimalism for too long and I don't want to be an expert. Yes, those things are still my focus and interest. But I don't want to write list-style posts or give advice like I know what I'm talking about. I want to write about my experiences in these spaces like the messy human being that I am, mistakes and all. So, don't expect a change in topics, just a change in approach. Expect higher quality content that may be longer and as frequent as possible (quality over quantity, right?) on the same topics that lead you here in the first place.

As for the technical side of this blog, it'll be hosted and run using Write.as for the foreseeable future so that I can focus more on writing and less on all the other stuff. And I can promise you everything you read here will be authentic, well-written, interesting, and worth your time. I don't sit down in order to create fluff so I get more web traffic and boost my Google rank. I sit down and write because I need to express my thoughts and I want to add value to the lives of others.

I'm also toying with the idea of recording these posts and making them available as kind of a podcast/audio-blog. Basically, I'd just be reading and recording my blog posts mostly verbatim for those of you who prefer listening to online articles over reading them. Let me know what you think about the idea on Twitter @quiethabits or via email nathan “at” quiethabits.net.

As an aside, I promise to not write too many more of these “I'm changing everything about my blog and here's why” blog posts. Your regularly scheduled program will return shortly. ;)

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