Category Archives: Gen Y

Zen and the art of stuff

Ending materialism doesn’t mean forsaking all your possessions. Ridding yourself of everything you own would only prove you are still too preoccupied with possessions themselves. Someone who has developed a healthy inner world would see possessions as neutral. This shift is more about attitude than specific actions. ~ Scott H Young

Growing up, I moved every few years because my dad was in the military.  Each time we moved, we had a big moving sale.  While over time I slowly purged most of my old things, I always felt it was important to hold on to certain things from my past. This weekend I helped my mom clean out my old room before she moves.  When I moved to Virginia Beach two years ago, I knew I didn’t have room for all my belongings.  I boxed up everything I couldn’t use at the time and my mom stored all of it in my old closet.

I’ve mentioned before on my blog that I moved six times between 2000 and 2008.  I was never one to stay in one place very long.  Now that I am in a good place in life and love my location, I plan to move into a new place and stay as long as possible.  This new space requires some major downsizing on my part.  It’s time to simplify on a whole new level.

Minimalism vs. Materialism

My Google Reader is filled with great posts about Minimalism. It is a huge movement in our generation.  Rightly so.  Sometimes we become attached to stuff and we allow the stuff to control us. As Chuck Palahniuk wrote in Fight Club: “[…] you’re trapped in your lovely nest, and the things that you used to own, now they own you.”  I think some of us see our friends and family struggle with needless debt while they keep up with the Joneses and we don’t want to be there in ten years. Sometimes we also hold on to old things because we do not want to let go of the past. We grip tightly to that book or toy or outfit or whatever it is because we cannot allow ourselves to move on.

As I get older, my values change and evolve. What I valued at 10 is not at all what I value at 27; therefore, the things I value now are not the things I valued at 10.  I am also a Pisces.  I am sentimental sometimes to a fault.  I sometimes feel that when I let go of the thing, I will leave part of myself behind. I know memory is often fallible. I feel if I give away a gift from a friend of family member, I will forget those memories created around the object. I will no longer have a salient cue to remind me of those experiences I had with those people who are so important to me.

I believe moving from one end of a spectrum to the opposite side of the spectrum can become a form of attachment in and of itself because we become obsessed with the idea of not being, doing or owning something. So how can we find the middle ground between Material and Minimalism? I don’t think I will ever be a pure minimalist for various personal reasons.  I do know I have to look inward, reflect and ask myself, “What do I keep and why do I keep it?”

How I simplified and still kept my Pottery Barn dishes


Barrie Davenport from Love Bold and Bloom wrote an excellent guest post on this topic at Zen Habits: How to Simplify When You Love Your Stuff. She says to consider some “parameters” when thinking about things and to ask yourself if:

  • It brings beauty into your life and stirs your soul.
  • It supports a passion or hobby.
  • It helps bring family and friends together in a creative, meaningful way.
  • It educates and enlightens.
  • It makes life profoundly simpler so that you can pursue more meaningful things.
  • It helps someone who is sick or incapacitated.
  • It is useful and necessary for day-to-day life.
  • It’s part of a meaningful tradition or a reminder of a special event.

Spot. On.  Thinking about my belongings in the context of those parameters makes perfect sense to me.  After some deep breathes, tears, smiles, laughs and long talks with my mom, I decided to keep about 1/4 of the stuff in that old room.

  • I kept my nice Pottery Barn dishes because I will use them for the dinner parties I plan to host in the future with my friends and family.
  • I kept a set of gorgeous pottery someone very special to me brought back from Japan.
  • I kept some of my old books I cannot imagine leaving behind yet.  Most of these books were gifts from loved ones.  Each book represents how much I value relationships, education, learning and growth of mind, body and spirit.
  • I kept a small box of love letters, cards and notes I’ve collected since 1997.  They stir my soul and will always be beautiful reminders of the incredible love in my life.  An old card from my grandmother saying she is proud of me, a letter from my Dad signed with Love when I was in middle school, five handwritten pages from my mother before I went to college and a love letter from someone I almost married are worth more than gold.
  • I kept this Mr. Punch poster that Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean autographed.  It is a beautiful piece of art to me because Neil Gaiman is my favorite writer, Dave McKean is one of my favorite artists and The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch was one of the first graphic novels I loved as a teenager.
  • I also picked out a few stuffed animals that carry with them cherished memories of times with my family and friends.

The rest of my things are going in a yard sale, on ebay, to a shelter for victims of domestic violence, to the library and to the local fire station.*

It feels good to know more about what I value as an adult.  It feels good to leave certain aspects of the past behind me.  It feels even better knowing my mom only has five boxes to move from that room instead of twenty.  I know I need to let go of certain things so I can move on.  It is OK to have stuff when I understand why I have that stuff.  I can hold on to a thing that makes my soul shine a little brighter, when it makes me smile, when I can share it with my friends and family or when it reminds me of the most important people in my life.

It’s all about balance and introspection, isn’t it?  It’s all about Zen and the art of everything.


Not sure what to do with your old toys?  Call your local police department, fire department, domestic violence shelter and children’s hospital to see if they accept toy donations.  You never know when a child or teenager might end up in a tough situation without something to comfort him.  You can also check out these great charities: Project Night Night and Stuffed Animals for Emergencies (SAFE).  And a quick tip: Your kids aren’t going to want your toys from the 80s.  Have you seen the bad ass toys kids have now?  Right.  I promise your Barbies will be happier if they end up in the hands of a child who just lost all her things in a fire and your own child will be happier with a newer, more anatomically correct Barbie.

How Gen Y (and beyond) can benefit from the truth

A brief preemptive disclaimer. My Google Reader is filled to the brim with writing from amazing, self-less, motivated, hardworking, genuine and beautiful bloggers.  These bloggers  challenge the status quo and break every known stereotype out there about Gen Y.  They are remarkable individuals (and it pains me that I have met so few of them in real life), but they are also role models.  I’m talking about Doniree, Michelle, Derek, Jenny, Shane Mac, Jennifer, and Ashley, to name only a handful of bloggers we have all grown to love.  There are exceptions to every rule.  To every stereotype.  The purpose of this post is to address how we can, as Gen Y bloggers, be role models for the upcoming generations by being honest and expecting more from each other. The point is, don’t get your panties in a wad about some of the things I say about Gen Y until after you read the whole post. Then you can get anything you want into a wad.  Thanks in advance.


The power of truth

Yesterday, I blogged about the Life Raft Debate.  This is a second post inspired by the “Tough Guys” segment on NPR’s This American Life in which the Life Raft Debate is featured.  Every year (since 1998), students and faculty at the University of Montevallo (my Alma mater) come together to prove the value of a Liberal Arts education in America with a little event they call the Life Raft Debate*.

For a few years, the audience voted for the debate winner based solely on how well that faculty member “pandered” to the audience, using theatrics and humor.  In 2007*, one faculty member had enough.  He was tired of the faculty not treating the audience, the students, with enough respect to treat them like educated adults, to challenge them or to hold a real debate. To make the Life Raft Debate an exercise in true Civics.  That year, there was no winner.  The audience did not vote because none of the debaters actually debated anything.  The audience said No.  All the faculty drowned.

Dr. Jon Smith says we must stop treating each other like this.  We must stop acting as if the audience are complete morons who can only make a decision based on whether they laugh or are entertained. Dr. Smith thinks we can find a way to grow a spine and raise our standards with the help of role models.  He cites Simon Cowell (yes, from American Idol) as a breath of fresh air because Cowell is willing to say what no one else is willing to say: the truth.  Everyone who loves to sing or wants to sing will be able to make a career doing it, but some people are not told they lack a certain skill as children.  We cannot actually live all of our wildest dreams.  We have limitations, believe it or not. We are not perfect.  Sadly, we live in a society where we are afraid to tell people No. We are so concerned with people’s self-esteem that we are not honest with people about their limitations.  We are not always honest with ourselves about where we need to draw the line between attainable dream and fantasy.

Gen Y can handle the truth

Many Gen Y-ers grew up being told they were special.  My generation’s parents were told No by their parents and they don’t want to tell their own kids No.  The animated film, The Incredibles, touches on this topic beautifully.  In Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk even addresses how many men are raised by single mothers can never say No because they feel incredible guilt.  Gen Y-ers (and the upcoming generations like my little brother and step siblings) were told they could do anything.  Now our kids are told yes yes yes.  That they can do no wrong.  That they deserve a trophy for being last in the race.  That they are entitled to anything they want.  That they deserve a high paying job right out of college without working hard.  That it is perfectly acceptable to shop for things they cannot afford or to buy a house by the time they are 25 because they have a credit card.

But in actuality, those Gen Y-ers who have been told they are so special all the time are NOT** narcissistic, fragile people who will buckle at the first sound of criticism. They are ROBUST.  They WANT to be challenged.  They NEED to be challenged. We need the truth.  We want the truth. And the generations to come need it, too.

I know, some people can’t handle the truth, right?  Mommy and Daddy paid for everything, told them they were so smart, so pretty, so perfect, that they could do no wrong.  Well, they are in for a rough road, if they think they are entitled to something without putting something real out there first.  If you think your first try at something, a work report or presentation or paper or publication or journal article or book or song or painting is going to be perfect, you are wrong.  We all need constructive criticism.  We all need help.  We all need feedback. It is much better to have someone tell me the truth early so I do not waste my time.  Or so I know what I am doing wrong so I can improve. My time could be spent doing something more rewarding.  I am on my seventh draft of my thesis proposal.  It doesn’t mean I am a horrible writer, but it means I can always be a better writer.  I used to want to sing and dance.  I loved singing and loved dancing.  But somewhere along the way I was told I was not good enough.  And I had horrific stage freight.  It hurt.  A lot.  But I thank the person who was coming from a good place when he was honest with me early. It doesn’t stop me from belting it out in the car or from car dancing or even dancing in my chair while I study.  It doesn’t stop me from loving musical theater, for example.  But I know I had to put my time, effort, money, passion into other things. 

We can be role models

So tell Gen Y and Z the truth.  Expect the truth.  Be a role model.  Debate.  Educate yourself.  Expect others to educate themselves.  We all deserve respect and love and truth.  The truth is not always easy and it can be painful, but it is an essential part of growing up.  The truth will set us free, after all.  It will allow us to have a more fulfilling, happy life. Things will not always fall into place exactly how we picture them.  That is OK.  It gives us the opportunity to learn and grow and find our true paths.   Being a role model is more than living by example and empowering others to DO.  It is also about being honest.

A very wise man once made a call for us all to be the change we wish to see in the world.  It can start with us, friends.  We can demand more from each other.  More from ourselves.  With a simple No.  With a simple Truth.  We can be honest with our younger siblings who are told No less often than we ever were.  We must be honest with our own kids.  When the truth comes from a good place, it is beautiful.


*You can listen to the podcast from the last Life Raft Debate in which Jon Smith called upon the audience to make a statement with a simple No vote.  The “Tough Guys” segment on NPR’s This American Life in which the Life Raft Debate is mentioned begins at 41:00.

** OK, yes, I know some actually ARE narcissists.  But that is a whole other conversation. One you can read more about here here here and here or with a simple Google search.

The Life Raft Debate and the importance of a Liberal Arts education

{Life Raft Debate}

The Life Raft Debate

Every year (since 1998), students and faculty at the University of Montevallo (my Alma mater) come together to prove the value of a Liberal Arts education in America.  In the Life Raft Debate, the scenario is simple:

There has been a nuclear war and the survivors (the audience) are setting sail to rebuild society from the ground up.  There is a group of academic-types vying to get on the raft, and only one seat is left. Each professor gets to give an introductory account of his or her discipline, then give a brief rebuttal to the others, and, finally, the audience will be allowed to ask questions and vote. Each professor has to argue that his or her discipline is the one indispensable area of study that the new civilization will need to flourish.  At the end of the debating, the audience votes and the lucky winner climbs aboard, waving goodbye to the others.

The true purpose behind the debate is to highlight the importance of a liberal arts education.  Each discipline brings something to the table, to the world, to the lives of students.  To the Raft, as it were.  We, in reality, cannot survive without any discipline.  They are all equally important.

Liberal Arts

A broad undergraduate education is valuable for many reasons.  Understanding the basics of multiple disciplines forced me to think outside the box, to ask questions, to learn how to do research and to learn how to think analytically. I earned a Bachelor of Science with a double major in Psychology and Sociology at the University of Montevallo in 2004 (wow, I’m getting old).  Despite have a concentration in two disciplines, I still took courses in Math, the Hard Sciences, Engineering, Law, Political Science, History, Foreign Language, Sociology, Psychology, Economics, the Arts, Religion, Philosophy and more.  I learned how to love to learn.  I learned how to learn.  A Liberal Arts education prepared for the real world and for a graduate level education.  And I will always be a proponent of liberal arts education at the undergraduate level.

This weekend, NPR’s This American Life podcast featured the outcome of the 2007 Life Rafe Debate.  Listen to the “Tough Guys” segment on NPR’s This American Life in which the Life Raft Debate is mentioned.  (It begins at 41:00.)

In the segment, Dr. Jon Smith said:

There is a degree to which we sortof expect public discourse is going to be horrifically debased.  That we are going to have these god awful debates and there is nothing else except crappy emotional appeals that may or may not actually have an impact upon real issues.

That quote reminded me of an old episode of Real Time with Bill Maher in which Richard Dreyfuss discussed the importance of teaching Civics in school.


Few undergraduate programs will ever include even a glimmer of Civics in their curricula.  It is our responsibility as citizens of the world to be active in that world. To make a difference.  To ask questions.  To educate ourselves and not allow the status quo to dictate what we think, feel and do in our lives.

A Liberal Arts education challenged me to be a better human being, student and world citizen.  I will be forever grateful for such a gift.