Note: This is a review of Enough, the new book by Patrick Rhone. It’s available today from First Today Press.

I’ve been fascinated with minimalism for several years now, and it’s a concept that I strive to implement in many areas of my life. Minimalism is one of the precepts of Quarter-Life Enlightenment, and even when I don’t explicitly say so, its values influence much of my writing here.

One of the goals of minimalism is to “omit needless things”, which causes many people to withdraw in apprehension.

“Why would I want to live with less things?”

“Why would I want to own only two pairs of shoes?!”

“Why would I want a small house?”

Our society has instilled within us a belief that “bigger is better”, that more is a sign of success, and that a person’s worth is determined by the grandeur of his possessions.

Of course, this is not necessarily true, and minimalism — when properly understood — isn’t a source of fear or ridicule. It’s a source of freedom.

The goal of minimalism is not to eliminate everything; it’s to eliminate needless things.

The notion that a minimalist should be able to fit all of his possessions into a backpack is overwrought. It’s not about living with nothing; it’s about making sure every thing counts. It’s not even about living with less; it’s about living with enough.

Patrick Rhone seeks to guide us to this sacred middle ground in his newest book, Enough. It’s absolutely wonderful.

On the surface, Enough is a series of short essays written in straightforward, thoughtful prose. But, each entry contains a wealth of wisdom that will challenge and inspire you. Patrick crafts a beautiful thread using the theme of Enough and weaves it through this memorable writing collection. With topics ranging from the practical to the metaphysical, Patrick’s friendly, mindful tone makes for charming company.

Rest assured, Enough is not the work of an evangelical minimalist. Patrick makes no demands of his readers. He simply offers an alternative perspective, revealing a way — to live, to think, to act — that you might not have known existed.

I read Enough in one sitting, including frequent breaks to highlight and take notes on my Kindle. These essays are decorated with pearls of wisdom, and I felt like I was bookmarking something on every page. Enough is short enough to read in an afternoon, but the ideas presented here will have you thinking for many hours afterward. I may decide to read just one essay a day on my second time through. While the length of Enough can be learned from a page number, the book’s depth is best realized with a comfortable chair, an open mind, and a few hours of solitude. It will comfort, inspire, and enlighten you.

Enough is a book I truly recommend. It speaks to me, my values, and those I seek to express here on QLE. I found myself nodding more and more with each essay, wishing I’d written it myself. My favorite is “Letters Left Unsent”, which you can read along with so much more starting right now.

Buy the book in paperback, ePub, and/or Kindle versions.

Read more from Patrick in his first book, Keeping It Straight, and on his excellent weblog, Minimal Mac.

Instapaper Zero

So Much Internet, So Little Time

I do a ton of reading on the web.

Most of what I read comes through RSS and Twitter. I subscribe to about a hundred RSS feeds from various sites, blogs, and writers. Not as many as some, but enough to make staying on top of them necessary. I use Reeder on all of my devices to manage RSS.

A hundred feeds is modest enough for me to be able to zero out my unread count each day, but there are still plenty of instances where I come across something I don’t have time to read.

The Instapaper Conundrum

The solution for this issue is, of course, Instapaper. As I’ve written before, Instapaper is a service for saving articles you want to read later. The web service is free, and it’s also available as a universal iPhone and iPad app for $4.99 on the App Store. This isn’t intended to be another praise-Instapaper article, so I’ll just say shame on you if you’re still not using it.

I’ve been using Instapaper for several years, and it’s always been a critical — and abused — part of my online workflow. You see, Instapaper is a double-edged sword when it comes to keeping my mind clear and calm. On the one hand, Instapaper’s very nature frees you from having to worry about missing out on things to read. Find a great article right before heading off to work? No problem; just send it to Instapaper.

But on the other hand, it’s easy to get carried away and end up throwing anything and everything into Instapaper, at which point the dreaded “Instapaper guilt” begins to creep in. Having hundreds of articles to read later is the same as having a stack of books on your nightstand, all of which you’ll get to “someday”. No fun.

Eventually, my Instapaper queue was overflowing to the point where I knew anything that got sent there would probably never be seen again. I thought about just deleting everything and starting over, but I couldn’t help thinking there was some deeply buried article that contained the secret to wealth, power, blogging success, and/or happiness itself. There were valuable things in my Instapaper account. That much was fact. But finding them would be like panning for gold.

I needed a solution.

What I found was…

A Holy Trinity of Web-Reading Management

I’ve already discussed Instapaper at length, so I’ll detail the remaining two apps and how they combine to form a cohesive system.

My first task was to find a way to process my Instapaper account quickly and efficiently. The web view isn’t ideal for this, and there was no way I was going to go through hundreds of articles on my iPhone or iPad. I needed keyboard-driven Instapaper processing.

Read Later: Instapaper Processing for OS X

For this, I turned to Read Later, formerly known as Read Now. As I wrote in my review, Read Later is essentially Instapaper for Mac. Its keyboard shortcuts and swipe gestures make it perfect for taming Instapaper overflow.

I fired up Read Later and downloaded all of my saved Instapaper articles (500 at a time anyway). Anything deemed unessential after a quick skim was archived with a swipe. Progress, but it wasn’t long before I found an article that I did, in fact, want to read — or at least be able to consult — later. I could have kept them in Instapaper, but that would have been counterproductive. To get down to Instapaper Zero, I needed someplace to store these articles as reference files.

Enter Yojimbo

Yojimbo is an “effortless, reliable information organizer for Mac OS X”, and it lives up to its tagline. Yojimbo is what Shawn Blanc refers to as an Anything Bucket; you can save bookmarks, notes, images, PDFs, and more, tagging and organizing to your heart’s content. You can also set keyboard shortcuts for quick input; I chose ⌘+Y. Side note: Yojimbo is $39, but sometimes great software costs money.

With the combined power of Read Later and Yojimbo, I was equipped to tackle the Instapaper beast.

The Great Instapaper Purge

In Read Later, I quickly swiped from article to article, archiving the unessential. When I came across an article I wanted to save, ⌥+C copied the permalink, and ⌘+Y brought up Yojimbo’s quick input field. Yojimbo automatically uses your clipboard when creating a new bookmark, so all I had to do was name the bookmark, enter any tags, and hit Enter. CMD+Tab back to Read Later, and repeat.

Using this system, it only took me a couple of hours to process several years worth of saved Instapaper articles. I saved about 120 articles in Yojimbo for reference and eliminated the rest.

I had done the impossible: my Instapaper account was back to zero.

Better Instapaper Habits

Now, the last thing I wanted to do was fall back into my old habits and have to repeat this process every few months. To prevent that from happening, I needed to change the way I collect and manage articles on the web.

Using Instapaper as a bookmarking service filled with hundreds of old items doesn’t work — at least not for me. Before cleaning it out, I couldn’t remember the last time I actually used Instapaper to read something. The fear of seeing all those unread articles was simply too strong.

Moving forward, I’m going to be far more judicious with what gets sent to Instapaper. By now, I’ve learned how to distinguish what’s worth reading from what seems worth reading, but isn’t. Only things I intend to actually read later that day will be sent to Instapaper, and I’ll review them each night to keep my Instapaper queue at zero and prevent overflow.

Items that I do not intend to read later, but would like to be able to reference if needed, will be sent directly to Yojimbo, where they will be tagged and readily available via search.

The Instapaper-Read Later-Yojimbo system will allow me to better consume, process, and manage articles that I can’t read in the moment. With diligent implementation, this system will help me read the web more effectively and prevent me from being inundated with read-it-later overload.

I’m feeling good about it.

Sign up for Instapaper free, and buy it on the App Store.

Buy Read Later on the Mac App Store.

Buy Yojimbo on the Mac App Store.

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Year of the Habit: March

Happy March to you and yours!

Last month, I declared 2012 to be the Year of the Habit, the goal of which is to facilitate more effective New Year’s resolutions by making one small change each month, rather than trying to reinvent yourself overnight.

Here are my 2012 habits so far:

  • January: Started flossing every day. I’m pleased to report that this is still in effect. I can’t shower without flossing. Take that, scolding dental hygienist.

  • February: Stopped biting my nails. I’ll spare you the photographic evidence, but this has also been going very well. Scratching itches is exponentially more satisfying. I need to cut them because they’re new and subsequently fragile, plus they’re getting in the way of my bass playing. I also still feel the urge to bite, so I’m going to stay mindful with this one.

As an aside, I’ve found that concentrating on these habits also inspires me to make positive changes in other areas of my life, even though they’re not “official” Year of the Habit changes. Specifically, I’ve gotten into the habit of writing and publishing every week day, and I’ve also developed a workout routine that I’ve been diligently adhering to for several weeks now. These “bonus habits” speak to the momentum of small changes. Even a little change can make you feel great and inspire you to get better.

That brings us to March, also known as the month of the gods. After careful consideration — and in the spirit of Dr. Seuss’s birthday — I’ve decided to make reading my habit for the month.

Since buying my Kindle, I’ve been reading a lot more, but my consistency leaves something to be desired. I’m constantly reading on the Web, but I’d like to dedicate more time to reading actual books (on my Kindle).

I’m going to keep it simple and focus on reading for at least a few minutes each day, usually before bed. I only read one book at a time, and I’m looking forward to finally finishing The Shadow of the Wind.

My favorite part of finishing a book is choosing which one to read next, and this reading habit will be a great help in that department.

How’s your Year of the Habit going? What small change are you making for March?

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"A Physical App"

Diego Basch on the Kindle:

The Kindle is so cheap that I see it as a “physical app”, just like the iPod Shuffle. I couldn’t care less about the object itself. I don’t have a case for it, and when it breaks I’ll order a new one overnight without thinking twice about it.

I agree. I love my Kindle, and it’s nice that it’s so easily replaceable.

Via Brett Kelly

Read to Discover

Devir Kahan has a nice post on reading outside your bubble, wherein he shares a conversation with a teacher who feels curating what we read is problematic:

He said that reading things solely online - and curating what you read through things like RSS - is an even bigger problem. If we are only reading things that interest us, we'll never find anything new. We'll never try something a little bit outside of our comfort zone, and we'll never grow as humans.

I definitely see his point, but like Devir, it makes me feel a little self-conscious because I enjoy reading things online. In fact, browsing my RSS reader is one of my favorite things to do on my iPhone or iPad.

I also agree with Devir in that I feel I've grown a lot via the articles I read online. If I had never gotten hooked on reading the web, I might never have discovered minimalism, the Apple community, the Paleo lifestyle, or any of the other things I'm passionate about today.

That's why I feel it's important to differentiate between merely "reading the news" and "reading online". For me, "reading the news" refers to the headlines and events of the day. Whether that comes from CNN or Engadget, it's primarily informational and (hopefully) fact-based. You could say it's the who, what, when, and where: the essence of reporting.

This basic reporting is different from opinion pieces and editorials about the news. John Gruber discussed this distinction with Josh Topolsky on On The Verge last week:

The thing I always wanted to do is, in newspaper parlance or magazine parlance, is I don't want to be a reporter, I wanted to be the columnist. I wanted to be the guy on the back page. I wanted to be the guy on the ed-op page who just gets to say what he thinks.

What distinguishes Gruber — and what makes me prefer Daring Fireball to a news aggregate like Engadget — is that he tells me what happened, but he also tells me what it means and what he thinks about it. It's the "how" and "why", which I feel is more valuable and more interesting. This is not to say I prefer to be told what to think, but rather that I enjoy hearing others' opinions on topics that interest me. It humanizes what would otherwise be a list of facts.

(Coincidentally, there's been quite a bit of fervor over opinions in the news lately. See: MG Siegler and Ben Brooks.)

This distinction comes down to reading headlines versus reading writers. That is, I prefer to read Gruber rather than Engadget, Gizmodo, TechCrunch, et al. because I feel he offers more depth than a typical reporter. Most of the online reading that I do, therefore, is not "reading the news", but reading my favorite writers. I don't follow CNN, I follow Merlin Mann, Shawn Blanc, and Michael Lopp because these are the writers that offer valuable articles on topics I enjoy. Rather than an endless regurgitation of headlines, these writers expose me to new ways of thinking: their own. That's why I choose to follow human beings.

That brings us to this quote by Tim Van Damme, which Devir cites:

Living inside a comfort zone is dangerous, and turns you into an uninteresting human being fed by other people’s opinions. Broaden the topics of things you read and learn how to have your own opinion.

This is true, and it's good advice, but I don't think you should force yourself to read things you don't care about either. How many topics do we need to read about to avoid becoming "uninteresting"? I think a better strategy would be to seek out as many different opinions about our chosen topics as possible. I'd rather be knowledgeable and passionate about A, B, and C than knowledgeable and indifferent about A-Z. We do, however, need to be mindful and avoid the trap of accepting opinion as fact, which I've discussed several times before. It is the responsibility of the reader to evaluate an opinion before accepting it.

Devir concludes that there are three different types of reading, all of which are vital to our growth as human beings:

  1. "Technical writing". To me, this is reporting. While I wouldn't necessarily label this kind of reading as "dangerous", it can be dry, unimaginative, and do little to expand our horizons. That doesn't make it useless, however.
  2. "Books". I agree with Devir here. Books are timeless, fun, and have the potential to inspire. I use books as a means of escape. Reading a book is also different from reading online, which is why I own both an iPad and a Kindle.
  3. "Inspirational and insightful articles". For me, these are original pieces written by the authors mentioned above. Very different from just "covering the news" — and far more fulfilling.

The only tweak I would offer is that any piece of writing — not just articles — can be inspirational and insightful. An aspiring journalist might find a piece of technical writing very impressive, just as a budding author might be in awe of Dostoyevsky. We must also not discount verse, newspapers, magazines, or other ways to read. So, while there are innumerable mediums, any and all of them may be deemed inspirational and insightful by a particular individual. As I've said in defense of e-readers, it's the content that matters, not the medium in which it is presented.

I can see why some would argue that reading only technical writing is cause for concern, and it's certainly possible. In the end though, my conclusion is a cliché: variety is the spice of life. For those of us who live to read and learn, the solution should be wonderfully obvious. We shouldn't force ourselves to read stuff we don't care about, but by exposing ourselves to a greater variety of media, we increase our chances of discovering something new and delightful.