Minimal Baggage

Minimalism is a worthy idea. I aspire to be minimal. Most of the time I think I am living a minimal, earth-friendly, small-footprint, getting-things-done kind of life.

Until I have to go somewhere. That’s when I realize how much my life revolves around stuff: having stuff, getting more stuff, fitting stuff in a suitcase small enough to fit in the overhead bin.

Getting packed for a lengthy trip makes me realize two things:

1) I can live without most of my stuff for two or three weeks. Ergo: I don’t need all this stuff.

2) There is a lot of small clutter in my life that takes up space in my suitcase. How much time am I spending each day on clutter?

Years ago I flew home at Christmas to see my parents. They lived in New York; I lived in Chicago at the time. In Chicago I was bumped onto a later flight. My two suitcases, already on the first plane, flew ahead of me. I was assured that in New York they would be safe until I arrived.

You already know what happened: when I arrived in New York, one of my suitcases had gone to visit someone else. It was the one we had nicknamed “Gigantor” – except that I think the real Gigantor had wheels, or rocket jets or something. Mine had to be carried. I never found out who carried Gigantor away, but I am sure that they imagined it was full of expensive gifts. The theives must have been disappointed when they cut the lock off: the only thing inside was my entire KMart wardrobe. (I was poor.)

I never got Gigantor back. I got a check from the airline, bought some new stuff, and went on with life.

Now, all these years later, do I remember anything specific that was in that suitcase? No.

Moral: Stuff is replaceable.

Application: Don’t keep stuff around, thinking that you’ll one day need it. You won’t. And even if you do, you’ll go out and buy a new one.

How to Eliminate Clutter and Minimalize Your Stress

I am an organized person. Not a neat-freak, but I dislike clutter. Even so, it accumulates. My living space, however, is fairly spartan. How do I manage this?

My De-cluttering System:  More

In the Cloud

About a week ago my MacBook started doing something alarming. As I was typing along, the screen would suddenly go dark. Not completely black – I could still see my desktop, but too dark to see what I was typing. If I shut down and restarted, it was fine – for a while. After a few days of this, it stopped being fine, even for a while.

MacBooks aren’t supposed to do alarming things. Annoying things, perhaps. Sometimes the beachball of doom spins endlessly until I force an unresposive app to quit, but that’s easily fixable. No permanent damage.

Having a too-dark screen doesn’t leave many possibilities for noodling around, trying to figure out a fix. So I went to visit the geniuses.

I had never been to the Mac Store before. It’s not like other stores – no aisles, just large tables where customers played with iPads and Macbook Airs. At the back of the store was a long bar with stools. Customers were seated on the stools, and blue-shirted geniuses behind the bar typed into Macbook Pros. There was no paper anywhere.

Before I could brace myself for frustration, a smiling genius approached me, carrying an iPad. “Do you have an appointment?” he asked.

I did not have an appointment. I should have known that geniuses do not speak to mortals without an appointment, but I had foolishly assumed that since macs rarely need service, there would be nobody in line.  More

New Math

A few weeks ago I was summoned to the principal’s office to discuss my failure rate.

I knew it was high. When the first grading period ended, of 22 my students were failing English. Things got better, though. By the end of the fourth quarter, only 13 were failing — still too high, but only unreasonable in the fantasy land where we achieve 100% proficiency by the year 2012 — right before the apocalypse takes place.

But the conversation we had was a wake-up call for me. I explained what I had done to improve things – calling parents, cutting deals with students, etc. I didn’t explain how ridiculously easy it is to pass my class; that would have been defensive. But you can be sure that anyone who is failing my class has exerted very little effort.

The awakening happened about three minutes into the interview. I noticed that his data did not include all my classes. My total failure rate is not 36%, as he said, but 31%, because the class he overlooked had only two students failing, a 10% failure rate for that class. 31% is nothing to brag about, but I pointed out the omission.

“Hmm,” he said, shaking his head. “Well, if we add in the 10%, that gives you 46%. Nearly half of your students are failing.”

I was stunned. Was this some kind of New Math? The same kind of math, perhaps, used to calculate other things – graduation rate, adequate yearly progress, proficiency test scores?

Before I could think of anything to say in reply, he stumbled on. “Well, make sure that you’re calling home, etc., etc…”

This was the moment when I knew that all was lost. More

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