How I became a minimalist

My journey began with a sense of disquiet in my soul. I took one instinctive step after another, and there I was: A minimalist.

I only realised that there was a word for what I was when, yes, I stumbled on a blog about minimalism. It was an, “Ah-ha, so that’s what this is!” moment. Totally validating to discover that you’re not the only person who thought that shucking off your worldly possessions is the most liberating act in the universe.

Still, like most minimalists, my story began somewhere. And that somewhere was a four-letter word: Debt.

More than a decade ago, I had a RM12,000 credit card debt. When I added that amount to my car debt, it became an amazing RM25,000. When I added that amount to my house loan, well, my brain exploded.

One day, I just snapped. I was tired of this weight on my psyche, this fear that if lost my job, I’d be f***ed, this struggle of living paycheck to paycheck. I want it all gone. 

I worked double time to do get rid of the debt and refused to listen to popular financial advice. (For example, people said it was a bad financial move to get rid of my car loan fast because of the low interest rates). 

How I did this is a subject for another post, but after a year, I managed to get rid of that icky RM25,000 debt.

All that money that would’ve gone to minimal credit card payments now went to my savings account.

It felt like I could breathe again. 

By then I had changed.

Stuff, I realised, got me into debt. Stuff that I didn’t use.

I felt that keenly when I had to move to Australia. Emptying my 1,000sq feet apartment turned out to be an arduous, insanely difficult process.

I had nearly 2,000 books, possibly 1,000 DVDs. The tragic thing about it all is that I have not read nor watched 50% of that collection. 

I got into debt for this? 

Fortunately, a church was looking for someone to donate things for a charity sale. My library went to them. 

After that I was allergic to stuff. That switch in my head that said, “let’s shop for fun” was flipped off.

I realised then that I had been using stuff to feel happy, but stuff didn’t make me happy. It cluttered up my life, making it hard to move easily. I couldn’t just pick up and move to another state if I wanted to - I had all my stuff to think about. 

As the years went by, I refined my approach to minimalism. I’m now a KonMari devotee, and why not - she makes my life so much easier!

 I’m still a work in progress, but I’ve come so far from where I was ten years ago. 
I no longer live paycheck to paycheck, for one, and that massive, six-figure house loan debt?


My friend once asked me how in the world I got so much things done.

Besides having an organising system that you can take to like a duck to water, minimalism was also a factor.

With minimalism, the world is now full of possibilities. The space taken up by stuff before I now spend on my interests, passion and on self-actualisation.

All that white, neutral empty space formerly cluttered up by knick knacks and trophies allow me to go into a calm state that allows me to think deeply about my life and about where I want to go.

That’s why I’m a minimalist. It makes me happy.

August book haul - massive, just massive!

After being a good girl in July and where I mostly #readmyowndamnbooks, I went a little nuts buying books in August.

Just a little.

See, Aeon Big had a RM5 bargain bin thing going on this month - how could I resist? Malaysia is a big marketplace for remainder books by the way - sales filled with these books seem to pop up every other month these days.

Now, there's a lot of politics behind buying remainder books (which I will blog about one day), but in Malaysia, it gives us a chance to read books at an affordable price. (Books here are very expensive, thanks to the weak ringgit. Imagine paying US$50 for a book. That's how it is like for us.)

Anyway, when I saw Tom Cox's The Good, the Bad, and the Furry, I knew I had to have it. I discovered Cox during one of my regular library visits to my library while I was living in Adelaide and just adore how he talks about his cat. He never fails to make me laugh. His blog is fantastic too - you should check him out.

Lincoln Child is an author I've always been meaning to try out; Deep Storm was a good read and I may get more of his books in the future. 

Extremes by Kevin Fong. what can I say? I like to read about devastating things that can happen to the body. I'm morbid that way.

And Ray Bradbury's classic Fahrenheit 451 in graphic novel form? Sign me up! 

But the bargain bin isn't the only place I raided this month. There's Bookalicious, a neighbourhood bookstore that has a great reputation for having a fantastic collection of books and having very (dangerously) knowledgeable shopkeepers. They can entice book buyers to buy when they don't want to! (Case in point: Me.)

I mentioned how Neil Shusterman's Unwind series is probably the only YA series I enjoyed so I was glad to find it at Bookalicious. Acheron by Sheryilynn Kenyon I'm not terribly sure. Romances are very hit and miss for me, but the price was right.

And Spark Joy - what can I say? I love Marie Kondo! I've been experimenting with her methods and can I say that I'm in love with her clothes folding technique?

Speaking of Kondo, I'm currently on a minimalism bent and could not resist Walden, which was free on Amazon, and The Cozy Life, which talked about why the Danes are so happy. It's all down to one word: hygge.

What did you buy in August?

Lessons learned from writing four novels

I used to be a chronic unfinisher of novels. I would start one with great excitement and fervour, then get distracted by the next shiny fiction idea. Rinse. Repeat. 

But when I took fiction more seriously, I came across an author who said that authors should finish their shit. Since this wisdom was echoed by many authors I admired, I decided to make it my life mission to finish my shit. (Fiction, that is. I always finished my articles or I don't get to eat!)

Not only did I get big a burst of satisfaction and confidence each time I completed a book, I learned new skills with each one. And guess what, Bird by Bird as Anne Lamott said. After making that promise to myself, I have since written nearly a dozen novellas and short stories, and four novels that ranged from 50,000 to 100,000 words.

If I may ever be so bold, you may take a bazillion writing workshops or get a souped up MFA, but finishing your novels is the No.1 way to improve as a writer. And note that I said novels. Yup, you got it. Write so much that you forget how many novels you've ever written.

May I present to you exhibit A - How I grew as a novelist, novel by novel:

First novel (80k words): An Angel fanfic

Frustrated by a rather painful season cliffhanger, I wrote this one to ease the pain. I wrote on pure instinct, pantsing wildly, and dreaming up plot twists. I posted a new chapter on each week (though I didn't keep a strict schedule). It was thrilling to see how readers responded. They cheered me on. Yelled at me to write faster. One even said she cried at work reading a chapter. As a writer, there was no greater achievement than that! It took me two years to complete the novel, and it remains, to date, one of the few works I truly enjoyed working on.

What I learned: Using digital media to interact with readers - there's no thrill greater!  

Second novel (50k): A young adult novel

I wrote this on order, meaning, a publisher wanted it and I had to come up with an enthralling story that will sell. Needless to say, I panicked a little, wondering what the hell I got myself into. Then, with only six months left to deadline, I wrote up a storm. It wasn't an enjoyable process, especially compared to the orgasmic experience I had writing the Angel fanfic. I quickly learned that deadlines = stress, especially if you didn't have a method to ensure that you met the deadline. Although I wasn't exactly thrilled by the novel I wrote, I was absolutely floored I managed to reach the finishing line. I may dust it off one day, rework it, and put it up on Wattpad. See? You can't do that with an unfinished novel!

What I learned: Pantsing isn't a great way to write a novel in six months. It makes for lots of rewrites, unnecessary scenes,  wasted time and stressss. I need a new method - but can a pantser be a plotter?

Third Novel (60k): Shadows of Corinar  

Because the YA novel took so much out of me, I wasn't sure if I could ever write another novel again. Perhaps I loved self-torture, but in 2012 not only did I decide to write another novel, I did it during Nanowrimo. Gah! It was exhilarating to pound out thousands of words a day with millions around the world - I made great friends, some of which are still best friends till this day - but I promptly fell ill at the end of November and was left with a mess of a novel. An incomplete one at that!

Doggedly, I told myself I'd finish this thing. And I pecked at it. And pecked at it. And I swear I pecked at it until my proverbial beak fell off but the granite which was the plot wouldn't give. One night, I moaned/cried at my fellow writing friends' home, convinced that perhaps I should abandon this loveless hunk of words. Hell, I even thought that my main character was a whiny bastard.

What I learned: That sometimes it was necessary to be cold and cruel and abandon your word baby ... and start from a blank page. I was so determined to use the words I wrote during Nanowrimo that I inadvertently blocked myself. When I finally detached from the sunk costs of it all, I waved the Nano zero draft goodbye and wrote from scratch. To my surprise, the words flowed really easily. And it was during the writing of this novel, while typing outdoors during a cool autumn day in Hahndorf, that I discovered a crucial skill that would help me plot far easier: Brainstorming.

Fourth novel: Nexus Point (Science Fiction)

Surely writing this word monster would be easier this time? Like, no. Nexus Point, the sequel to Shadows of Corinar, turned out to be the most complex novel I've ever written. Not only was it the longest novel I've ever attempted, I was also juggling multiple points of view, character arcs, writing more action scenes, which I'm weak at. Oh, how about the fact that I'm establishing what could possibly be a four to five-novel space opera series with dozens of accompanying short stories? This was my most ambitious project to date, and I felt the heat.
On top of that, I was now working full-time so time was of the essence. I decided to learn techniques on how to write faster and sharpen my brainstorming technique to create a more systematic way to plot my novel.
What I learned: I became a student of story structure. Before, I knew a novel was not working but didn't know why or how to fix it. The book that helped me finally get it was Larry Brooks' Story Engineering. I also changed the way I wrote; I stopped editing while I wrote, I began to write as fast as I can in 30 minutes. I also created a novel journal to organise my ideas, adopted a bullet journal system, and created a TODO task list system that enabled me to not only see my progress with my novel but gave me a clear idea what to work on each day.

Phew. Wow. Damn, it's not until writing this blog post did I realise the huge range of skills I've developed since my first novel. Time management, creative skills, plotting ... All because I made a promise to myself that I'd finish every novel, novella and short story that I started.

So, yeah, finish your shit. That's how you learn!