This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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About intentional living

Minimalism, essentialism, simple living – is it all the same? For me, these are leaves on the same tree, sharing the same root. Essentialism means focusing most of your resources on what moves the needle most for you, in the direction that matters most. However, it does not mean you should own only fifty items. That would be extreme minimalism.

Also, a minimalist may own only what is necessary and enough for a good life – which may well mean a private library.

Finally, simple living is a merger of the two: trying to live with less frills and fuss, focusing on what is most meaningful.

In my head, all three boil down into intentional living: where each decision is consciously directed towards a way of life or a life goal one values. This is not my own invention – google it and you will discover a whole host of definitions and wise words about how to practice intentional living. For some, it has a personal wealth ring. For others, it appeals because it resonates with Buddhist philosophy. In all cases, intentional living is about shaving off random busywork, meaningless consumption without a positive outcome, and focusing time and energy on intentional decisions and actions supporting a future one envisions.

For me, this funky COVID-2020 we are all wading through has been a great practice in intentional living. I have a life plan, which I update once a year. It requires a good financial basis, and to get there means deprioritizing things that I don’t really need. And so, thanks to coronavirus, I have practiced deprioritizing the following:

  1. Owning a car. I have never owned a car of my own, although I have almost bought one more than once. Again, in my new life in Copenhagen, I conclude that even during this pandemic, the only times I really need a car are when I am in Finland, going between Helsinki and the house of my parents – which requires another solution than a car of my own.
  2. Eating out. I used to eat out a lot, both because of social reasons and the 1-3 days of weekly international travel my previous employer required. And, when I lived in Helsinki, I loved a Saturday shopping break at a ramen or pho restaurant, or hot soup or gluhwine in the Kämp library bar in the winter, all by myself, with a good book. Now, in 2020, I do not eat out by myself, and I always think twice whether it makes more sense to convert a lunch or dinner with a friend to a walk followed by takeaway tea on a park bench.
  3. Buying clothes. Since I KonMari’d my apartment in 2016 I stopped buying clothes, unless they replace item types I already own and which I cannot use anymore. Basically, the one-in-one-out rule. I still own too many clothes, because I had to buy new items when I arrived to Denmark with two suitcases. It took time to transfer clothes over during various trips to Finland, and when I finally shipped the remainder over I discovered I now have way too many summer clothes and sweatpants. Time to wear them out before buying anything new (and getting into a crowded clothing store).
  4. Buying expensive clothes, unless it is an essential long-term item (like a great overcoat). I used to gravitate towards more value for fairly pricey clothes. The quality is often better, and I used to think that if I pick them with care, I can use them for a long time and thus generate value. Then I remembered L.L. Bean. And discovered Uniqlo and Muji, and Clarks and Ecco for shoes. While these are probably not the most ethical or sustainable brands, they do the job of replacing what I have with a new item that will last a long time, which in itself decreases any footprint on this planet. And sometimes I splurge, because I still have not found better suit pants than Ralph Lauren’s, or a better fall/spring overcoat material than real Harris tweed.
  5. Buying makeup I do not really need. This became so easy with 1) less space for items; and 2) knowing my seasonal color palette (which also helps reduce the number of clothes I buy). If it isn’t Soft Summer coloring and I don’t need it to replace something I already have, I’ll leave it. Besides, Sephora during COVID-times is NOT a pleasant experience. Also, I need to find an exact color match by trying it against the palette the first time I buy the product, so online shopping only works for repeated purchases.
  6. Using taxis. I used taxis a lot in my previous travel-heavy job. In Helsinki, I often noticed I was late for something and had to uber. Now, I use the bike and even avoid public transport if I can, to avoid being in confined spaces with other people.
  7. Staying in pricey hotels. Because of my job the past 9 years, I have stayed in so many sleek, pricey hotels I crave  a more original experience when I go on vacation. And now I can’t really go anywhere for the moment.
  8. Unnecessary home decorations. Again, non-COVID-related, except for that it reduces the amount of time spent in busy interior decor stores just because I feel like “I have to have something new.” Ever since Mari Kondo’s teachings found a place in my life.
  9. An expensive rental apartment. Non-COVID-related, but after living in rental apartments the past 2 years I still feel my heart bleeds a little every month when I look at the money I waste. Some is compensated for renting out my own apartment in Helsinki, but I bleed hundreds of euros down the drain every month if I count the mortgage I have. This is the price I pay for flexibility. The balance of finding a home that is nice enough to make me feel calm and at ease, and a rental price that is not more than I get in rental income from Finland, is an impossible equation right now.

I’d be curious to know if there are things you deprioritize and which you think I could add to the list. Naturally, I also have a list of the things I actually value and prioritize – which cascade down into a life plan – but that is for another time. (Copenhagen, Denmark; October 2020)


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A temporary home

I am used to living in modern spaces. My apartment in Helsinki has elegant gray hardwood floors, a top-notch kitchen, a glass sliding door to the bedroom, and a tiny but top-notch bathroom. I love minimalist, airy, monochromatic, and timeless.

This year I have lived in three old houses in Copenhagen. My current home was built in the 1850s, the kitchen is from the 90s, and the walls could use a layer of paint. But the floors are quite new, the general feel is neat and clean, and I love the soft indirect light.

So here it is: my temporary home until next summer or so. The bedroom hosts a few last boxes of things to be sold. The ceiling lights are the landlady’s, and my wonderful huge design lamp is stored in the attic, along with most of the artwork as new holes in the walls should be minimized. The bathroom is large for Copenhagen standards, and for me it’s it’s the first bathroom ever with a window.

Can you spot the screwdriver in the living room? I used it to screw the glue-enforced door hinges back into the sideboard. I am surprised the door is still sitting there, two weeks later. Good stuff, that glue I got.

(Copenhagen, Denmark; October 2020)


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Brief interlude in Malmö

This warm, late September Saturday was my fourth time eating in a restaurant this year (wow!). Outside, while it still wasn’t too cold, behind the plexiglass shielding us from the Öresund strait winds.

On returning to Denmark, we were reminded to don our masks, in the train. Like all other times this year I was prepared with Danish health insurance card, apartment rental agreement, and Finnish passport, but the border control station at Copenhagen airport was closed and entry was free. How luxurious and uncomplicated, in 2020.

(Malmö, Sweden; September 2020)


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Last breaths of summer

It has been a long summer: from a June heatwave through unreliable July weather to pleasant August days, and finally stretching into persistent summer temperatures all the way to the last days of September. But the leaves in the trees, while green, look worn out at the edges. Like the wings of an aged butterfly. The flowers are all done for the season, withered stalks haggardly waving in the first winds of fall. The swanlings in the Faelledparken pond look identical to their parents, save for the soft gray color of their feathers.

It has been a long day and Nature is tired. Time to cast off the party dress and go to sleep. And for me, time to light a candle, bring in daily meditation into my routine, and remember to go to bed early – because the only way to tackle dark mornings is to feel rested.

(Copenhagen, Denmark; September 2020)


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Books of wisdom, part II

What would be a good topic for a 30-something person to delve into, I wondered, one and a half years ago. I har just finished my 106 Books of Pretention project after 10 years of reading. More classics? Books on naturalism? Meditation? Biographies? Or just some freaking great modern novels? 

I decided to go for books that weigh heavy on wisdom, but are still readable and captivating even on work days, when my head is busy with so many things. I googled. And I found three excellent lists, shared here. Out of those 48 books I have now read 39. The wisdom in a book really only unfolds when the reader resonates with the writer’s language and style – there are shared elements of thinking, visualizing, and speaking. A writer may surprise with uncommon ways of expression, but only if they play a string within us do we truly feel the message.

And so, some of the books from the compiled Books of Wisdom list ended up on my own list. All these lovely things have shaken my world for the better. Some have forced me to add a building block. Others, to tear down what I thought I was going to make, and rebuild it as something else. But most of them have been subversive: a quiet, but relentless and constant whisper that has stayed with me long since I put the book down. As I go on discovering new works of wisdom, I will share them in my (Reading) Lists section of this blog.

Philosophy & meditation

  1. Marcus Aurelius – Meditations
  2. Epictetus – Manual for living
  3. Shunryu Suzuki – Zen mind beginners mind
  4. Ryan Holiday – Ego is the enemy
  5. Jon Kabat-Zinn – Where ever you go, there you are

Mastering the body and mind

  1. Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner – Think like a freak
  2. Jordan B. Peterson – 12 rules for life
  3. Ryan Holiday – The obstacle is the way
  4. Malcolm Gladwell – Blink
  5. Pema Chödrön – When things fall apart
  6. Matthew Walker – Why we sleep
  7. Patterson et al. – Crucial confrontations: Tools for resolving broken promises, violated expectations, and bad behavior 

Business & personal finance

  1. Harvard Business Review – 10 must reads on managing yourself
  2. Ray Dalio – Principles
  3. Nassim Nicholas Taleb – Fooled by randomness
  4. Wallace D. Wattles – The science of getting rich
  5. Yvonne Chouinard – Let my people go surfing
  6. Ramit Sethi – I will teach you to be rich
  7. Michael Watkins – The first 90 days

Happiness psychology & creativity

  1. Sonja Lyubomirsky – The how of happiness
  2. Brene Brown – The gifts of imperfection
  3. Marie Kondo – The life-changing magic of tidying
  4. Elizabeth Gilbert – Big magic

History, science, society

  1. Yuval Noah Harari – Sapiens: A brief history of humankind
  2. Jared Diamond – Guns, germs, and steel
  3. Jared Diamond – Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed
  4. Sunstein & Thaler – Nudge
  5. Peter Wohlleben – The hidden life of trees

Novels

  1. Richard Bach – Jonathan Livingston Seagull
  2. Paulo Coelho – The Alchemist
  3. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry – The little prince

(Copenhagen, Denmark; September 2020)


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Back to just sitting

Some weeks ago I sat down on this one, for the first time in well over a year. The last time I meditated was last year’s December, at a vipassana retreat in England. When life gets stormy and I would need meditation the most, it is always the first good habit that slips away. I wonder why – and I wonder how its disappearance goes unnoticed, until it is way past late?

This past summer I had so much time on hand that I did not need more meditation than simply going out for runs or walks in the countryside and forest. But when August came around, along with a new job at a new company, I had to build a new daily routine. After letting the swells of newness and exhaustion sweep over me the first two weeks, I pulled out the pouf, set the Insight Timer app, and sat down. Just for fifteen minutes.

How could I have forgotten the physical sense of relief and relaxation that comes when I just am, for a while?

(Copenhagen, Denmark; September 2020)


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What a 2020 highlight looks like

Throughout history, there were many predictions for the year 2020 and beyond: moves like Blade Runner, steampunk Japanese anime, The Matrix, and of course much of Jules Verne’s imagination. So what happened?

Well, the Earth is not quite yet a scorching fireball, or a post-apocalyptic smoky mess. Cities are huge and growing, but green areas are more important than ever, such as for example in Singaporean city planning. Countries like Denmark are  pushing a climate-fronted agenda, including my current employer. Air travel has become common and cheap, but we are still waiting for the rocket fun ride to the moon and back. And the colonies on Mars.

The most unexpected “new normal highlight” of 2020 is a night out with a small group of friends. Just a handful. Outdoors, socially distanced, tapas picked up with serving spoons instead of individual forks, and with a bottle of hand sanitizer on the table. Because one can never know which friend might be seriously ill with a new virus raging. Indeed, this is a highlight – because not only were all restaurants closed for months on end, meeting people inherently carries a risk in the year 2020. Fortunately, smartphones with video calls and social media are one of those crazy futuristic predictions that became an abundant reality. Most of my 2020 is made up of social isolation, either at home or in Finland, with my family at their home.

By the way, a hundred years ago, this artist below envisioned video calls in the future – spot on! Although fortunately one does not need to smoke anymore to be cool. Now where’s my milkshake and personal aircraft?

20-future(Copenhagen, Denmark; September 2020)


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Corona walks, volume twenty-eleven

Corona walks, alone or with friends, have become a favorite pastime of mine. This crisp September Saturday I strolled Østre Anlæg and Kastellet, my two favorite central Copenhagen parks, for 4 hours with a friend. We talked about living a creative life, hormonal hair loss and what ovulating feels like, how women’s proper dress is and is not described in the Quran (veils are not mentioned, by the way), and where to get good ice cream. Sometimes I want to run a mile when such topics are being brought forward, but today they felt necessary. Especially the ice cream.

(Kastellet, Copenhagen; September 2020)


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A stilleben of pears, and a list of life principles

Observing the pretty stack of fresh Danish pears in a dish in my kitchen, I realized that I never knew pears ripen as late as September. I knew plums do, but while I work on improving favoring seasonal, locally produced food, I conclude I have much to learn still. Also, Danish organic pears are much smaller and fresher than the mass-produced Conference pears that are flown in from where ever in the world the season happens to be. These Danish ones are less sweet, and less overwhelmingly pear-y.

So how does this link to life principles, the real topic of today? Well, building life principles requires paying attention: not only to what one eats (if a life principle involves food), but being observant enough about what is going on, in order to create tangible principles that improve one’s quality of life. Such as favoring Danish organic pears when in season, if one lives in Denmark.

Last year I read Ray Dalio’s famous guide to life and business, called “Principles”. Inspired by it, I made my own list of life principles. Then I forgot about it, in the tornado that once again shook me loose from the life I knew. Recently, I rediscovered it: all the conscious and subconscious rules I play by, neatly on two pages of a notebook. Some of these have traveled through life with me for more than twenty years, while others are just a couple of years old. Hopefully some of them will inspire and help you, as they have me, in living better – intentionally.

  1. Search for a quiet inner joy, not happiness.
    Happiness brings an equal measure of grief. Happiness comes from outside; joy from the inside.
  2. Live each day by your highest sense of right.
    Choose how you live each day, consciously. Do you do the right things? Do you do things right? Live today. Do not merely exist.
  3. Recognize that the essence of fear is nothing more but an inborn will to stay alive. 
    Use fear to find out your priorities as well as your weaknesses.
  4. Stand up straight. 
    Physically as well as mentally. For yourself and for others.
  5. Make a life plan. Revise it at least every two years.
    Get it down to “next 10 years”, “next 5 years”, “next year”, and “this year”. Do not treat your life plan like a New Year’s resolution.
  6. Prioritize sleep like you prioritize work. You get paid in life currency.
    Do not underestimate the impact of years of brain-fog on your life – especially on the last third of it.
  7. Use food as fuel. 
    That said, also use food as enjoyment.
  8. Practice yoga, every day.
    If not asana (yoga on the mat), then meditation, mindfulness, or compassion for yourself and others.
  9. Never stop learning.
    Include constant education in your life plan.
  10. Never stop exploring.
    Travel, try, learn, take a chance, bend your mind.
  11. Pick your battles.
    Let the other ones go, like water off a bird’s back.
  12. When confronting an irritated or frustrated person, calm yourself with compassion for their struggle.
    It may not be obvious or even justifiable, but the person is reacting to something causing them pain and upset. Remembering this helps to steer clear from participating in their drama and getting the outcome you want, even if it is just to walk away, with calm.
  13. Remember to say you’re sorry. 
    If you don’t, your children will need to learn this all on their own, and much too late.
  14. Quoting Ray Dalio: struggle well.
    Struggling takes effort. Don’t waste that effort. Learn from your mistakes.

(Copenhagen, Denmark; September 2020)


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Low season at the airport

Looks busy as usual, right? The truth is, when I flew back to Denmark in late August these two aircrafts were the only ones I could see across the entire terminal and runways. But the Finnair lounge was open, in contrast to my last visit in late July. Progress? Perhaps – or just a little bubble of normalcy before the next wave of coronavirus.

I was scheduled to be in Finland this weekend, mid-September. The incidence count in Denmark is three times higher than the limit for freely entering Finland. While I can always return home with a Finnish passport, I would need to self-quarantine, or take the chance that I bring illness to my parents’ small current home town, still nearly free of the virus. So I have postponed my flight until mid-December.

It is going to be a long fall and winter.

(Copenhagen, Denmark; September 2020)