Making Room For Books On Minimalism

Holding two books in my hands – The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Goodbye, Things: On Minimalist Living. I was in a dilemma. On one hand, yes of course, I’d love to read them. On the other, reading about minimalism and then adding physical clutter to my home seems…counter-intuitive.

Round and round the bookstore I walked, pondering if I should buy them. These days, prices of Kindle books and paperback are almost the same. In some cases, ebook costs even more. That’s crazy, considering the distribution model of epub is next to nothing. If there’s no such price discrimination against epub, I’d gladly load them up into my Kindle. While I love the tactile feeling of actual books, they’re eating into our modest-sized home.

The act of simplifying is a concept I admire. Like Dieter Ram’s philosophy and also Apple’s design thinking, less is more. Ironically, as much as I’m a minimalist at heart, my actions and possessions do not reflect this. It’s a shame because every time I look around my house, the clutter keep piling up. In my half-hearted attempts to declutter, I’ve built up a mountain of stuffs I probably have no real use for.

While Marie Kondo advocates for a complete (and ruthless) decluttering of possession. I took a more conservative approach to clear away the mess. Two weeks back, I decided to start with a drawer attached to my study table. I took a box and empty all the content in the drawer into the cardbox. If I needed something, I’d have to take it out of the cardbox and then put it back into the drawer. In these two weeks, the only item I took it out was a nail clipper. The rest of the items were inside the cardbox that’s filled up to the brim. I can’t even remember what’s inside the box anymore.

It’s safe to say that if I were to dump it away, I wouldn’t be losing too much sleep over it. After all, they are belongings I don’t use now. Maybe I did use it in the past but they’re not relevant to me now. The hardest thing to do is to part away with my possessions. I can imagine part of me would love to see the back of them, and another part wants to desperately hold on to the past for “just-in-case” situations.

The biggest takeway are the concepts behind this simple decluttering exercise. First, we need much lesser things than we think. Second, making major breakthrough is about taking tiny steps. I remember reading a quote that for this lady, her morning routine involves dressing up in sports attire and heading to the gym every morning. Once there, her routine is complete. Of course, she doesn’t travel all the way there and head back home. She exercises. Over time, a habit is formed.

Similarly, my intention is never to weed away all the stuffs at home in a one sweep. It’s about being intentional and understanding what I really need. It starts with one drawer at a time.

Now if you excuse me, let me try to make room for those books on minimalism.

Getting The Priorities Right

About a year back, I started an online store called Doodle Bar.

I’ve longed wanted to run my own business. Selling what I love was a natural progression. The shop was stocked with notebooks with brands like Field Notes and Word, and magazines like Offscreen and Lagom. These are my favourite items and I believe people will appreciate them too.

A year later, I shut down the online store. I didn’t renew the domain. Throughout this period, I only sold a handful of notebooks. And one magazine. The pile of magazines and notebooks still sit in my bedroom. Despite this underwhelming experience, I never see it as a failure. I was excited about every sale and customer.

Plenty of lessons can be learned from this venture. Let me share a few here:

I Created The Best Looking Website I Can (but nobody came)
Using Squarespace, I created an elegant and user-friendly website. I spent nights after work refining the design and typography. I sweated about small details like the padding of the pictures. It took me a long time to publish a version I’m happy with. However, it was launched to a quiet silence. I shared this venture with no one except my wife and sister. I was thinking if friends and family buy from me, they’re supporting me and not because they like my products. And I wanted to surprise them after I made it. At the end of 12 months, I made a grand total of 2 sales from the website. To say it’s underwhelming is an understatement.

Learn To Make Money Before Spending
Keeping overhead low, I could make do with a simple CMS system like WordPress or Tumblr to gauge interest first, before upgrading to a better platform should there be sufficient demand. Squarespace cost $18 monthly. Every copy of notebook I sell nets me a profit of $9. I’ve to sell 2 notebooks a month just to break-even. I did the calculations before signing up but still went ahead anyway. Truth be told, I just needed an excuse to keep the Squarespace site I spent so much time on going. That was a major issue as my priority wasn’t on making money, but to satisfy my desire to own a business that reflects my values.

Minimum Viable Product
A minimum viable product (MVP) is to have a functional e-commerce system. My website was just an elaborated place about the products I sell. I assumed telling a story about them would be good enough to get customers coming in and buy. For the handful of people that visited, they can’t check out the cart which was a real bummer. As it wasn’t an e-commerce site, the only way they can buy is to fill up a form and send it to me. I’ll calculate the amount and send them my bank account number. Then, they’ll transfer the money over. Once I’ve verified the fund is in, I’ll proceed to ship the product. The entire process was tedious and painful. A MVP in this case would be to sell in an established marketplace like Lazada, Qoo10 and eBay. Grow the customer base, understand which products sell and which ones don’t.

Go Get The Customers
It’s ironic that as a marketing graduate, the one area I struggled most with was how to market my store. For most start-ups, the problem doesn’t lie with the products or services. It’s getting people to discover them. I should focus my effort on selling them and not creating the best brand nobody knows. If I were to start another venture in the future, I’ll do everything I can to get my brands before my target audience. Tell family and friends, go to tradeshows, attend exhibitions, try popup stalls, join like-minded Facebook groups. It’s building awareness and my focus should be selling, getting feedback and improving.

This post is inspired by Sketchplanations on A release strategy for happier customers, sooner.


Green, slightly unsightly and rough to the touch. That’s the perception I have of avocado. Given its healthy fats and high nutritional values, it’s perhaps an underwhelming way to leave a first impression.

Naming an app Avocado is a fun and quirky way to attract attention. It gives off the playful and youthful vibe that doesn’t take itself seriously. Beyond the green alligator-like texture, did you know about these interesting facts?

  • Avocado fruit grows in pairs
  • Avocados were symbol of love & fertility to the Aztecs
  • Avocado trees only bear fruit when grown near another tree

Issue 3 of Offscreen features an interview with Avocado founder Jenna Bilotta. Besides sharing her stories on her experience of working on various projects like Google Reader, she also spoke about her new venture Avocado – an iOS app targeted specifically at couples.

Making an app is not exactly hard, but thinking of how to monetize it is tough. There’s always the dilemma of releasing a free app to gain traction and momentum, or charging for the app to build a sustainable and viable business from the start. Having to charge for the app would slow down its growth, and this is something most developers dread against. They can opt for a free app and then implement several in-app purchase scheme like selling stickers (ala Path). The crucial thing seems to be focused on extending the reach of the users at the least shortest possible time.

If the app and user base gets so huge for the big players to ignore, they may eventually get acquired. There may be several reasons why the buy-out is in the horizon: get the talents behind the breakout app, squash the threat and control the market or simply to think of way to better integrate them into their own business.

Going back to Avocado, Jenna said the organic growth will stall after a couple gets it. That’s the deadwall for them, because that’s the way the app is designed to be. It’s not a social-based community app where people come together. It’s a private space for couple to converse in. So naturally, growth would be slow.

On the other hand, if they find the right way to increase user engagement, these customers would be more than willing to pay for something that find valuable. Those people that don’t wish to pay will never pay in the first place. They app-hop around and it’s not advisable to concentrate your attention to convert them into paying customers. These resources would be better served by focusing on customers who are already paying, as they are willing to pay for more in the future. These people would be your advocates that spread positive word around for you.

There are several roadblocks that I can think of straight off my mind for an app like Avocado. What if things doesn’t work out between the couple and they go separate ways. The app would be useless for them until they get attached. Even then, I’m not sure if they would want to use it again.

It’s not a communication medium like Whatsapp. It’s a personal kind of app where intimate conversations are exchanged and lovely pictures get shared. People can get emotionally attached to the app, and using it again with a new partner may remind them of the painful past.

As for data, all the information are locked within Avocado at the moment. As a user, especially a paying customer, you want an option to backup and export your intimate pictures and private conversations. That’s a question mark hanging there, as with most other apps in the competing field, it’s one of a major stumbling block.

Half Half Travel

Becca and Dan are travelers, photographers and a couple.

Dan is currently doing a year of traveling and visiting a new city every month across four continents. Becca previously spent 2.5 years in Hong Kong and China, and is currently based in New York City, traveling internationally on her own.

What’s the catch? They’re apart.

@halfhalftravel is a project in which Becca and Dan match up their travel photos side by side, comparing each of the places that they’ve been and the experiences they’ve had on their own.

Only couples who have been through long-distance relationship know how tough it can get to keep things going.

Well, if both are wanderlusts at heart and enjoys photography, it’s natural to put together something they love.  It’s this kind of little charming projects that keeps the relationship fresh and fun.

Check out their Instagram @halfhalftravel

(via Swissmiss)

A History Of Nintendo Logos

Pictures credit: Steve Lin

The above pictures are from a brochure Nintendo gives out for potential recruits. Inside here, you’ll find the history of the company, and the evolution of logo since it was established in 1889.

Recently, I’m smitten over Nintendo’s latest console – the revolutionary Switch that has received much acclaims from almost everyone.

It’s not perfect: the battery life comes up a little short, the neon color looks better in pictures than in person, and the processing power…well, Nintendo has never been big on specs anyway.

It’s nitty-gritty details so I’m not anything away from the fine work they’ve done. I’m equally excited about the party games in 1-2 Switch as I’m about Zelda, Mario Kart and other upcoming titles.

Ad Network: The End Of The Deck

How do you view advertisements? Most people have disdain for them.

Not me, though. I don’t dislike them because I admire the work of David Ogilvy, and also because I see advertisement in good light. It’s influential in effecting good behavior, changing perceptions and informing the mass.

The Deck was a pioneer of putting non-intrusive ads on the right indie websites for the right audience. Suddenly, placing your ad there became cool and classy.

More interestingly, I discovered many quality sites from The Deck’s page. It sounds strange to say this because it’s typically the other way round.

I once dreamed of being part of it’s network. I also thought I could replicate the mechanics to other indie publications.

The demise of its ad network brings the question of how difficult it is to make it work.

All good things must come to and end. 11 years in the running, a fine run it has been.

Three Tasks On The To-Do List

As the list gets longer, my anxiety grows stronger.

It’s not the first time it has happened, and it won’t be the last.

How did it gets so big it becomes more and more unmanageable?

Many of the tasks on my to-do list are actually really easy to do.

Things like:
– Sign up for a run
– Renew my passport
– Trim my eyebrows
– Making peanut butter bar
– Reorganising the bookshelves

I’m reminded of the phase I used to remind myself: “if something can be done in two minutes, do it immediately.”

That’s it. Why push anything back when it can be done right now? By pushing it to a later date, we are not only adding mental workload for our brain, it actually creates unnecessary stress for ourselves.

An incomplete task will continue to linger in our subconsciousness. Unless we strike it off the list, the mind will always remind us of this pending activity. And the longer this go on, the less likely we will complete it. That’s how procrastination happens. That’s how a simple tasks turn from two minutes to two days to two weeks and eventually never get done.

I realise the crucial element holding me back is there are too many tasks to be completed. It overwhelms me. It’s like going to a supermarket and be confronted by so many choices. Shoppers gets tensed and end up buying nothing. The same happens here. There are so many things to do and I didn’t know where to start.

Prioritising the tasks become the starting point. I wrote down the tasks on paper, evaluate them, and choose only three most important activities to be completed the following day.

I did this the night before so comes tomorrow, I already know what to do. Ideally, I rank the tasks from the easiest to the more challenging ones. This way, once I knock one task from the list, the momentum will carry me to the next task. It’s also one way to celebrate small wins and see actual progress being made.

My three most important tasks for the day are:
1) Apply for one job
2) Call to make hair appointment
3) Write 100 words

I’ve done all these and felt good. I intentionally set a low target just to get started. I didn’t apply for just one job, I did two. I’m into 400 words for this post already.

Things often exceed our expectation if we just get started.

I don’t need fancy management app to help me manage them. The act of writing three tasks down on paper puts me in control. As I write, I mentally prepare myself for these tasks. If I type, I felt detached from the tasks. It’s like putting pixels into the screen. A lack of mental connection.

Coming towards the end of this post, my anxiety subsided tremendously. Looking at the list, I remind myself of a great quite on getting things done: “If it’s something on the list, do it. If it’s not, then do something on the list.”

Introduction to Wind Pinball

I sat down on the grey sofa, holding a book given by my wife.

It was a cool Wednesday afternoon. Unusual, because usually this time in March the sun would be scorching hot. The gentle breeze eased its way through the windows.

It’s a perfect setting for reading. Hours and hours of page-flipping.

The tactile feeing of turning the pages on a paperback.

The book is called Wind Pinball, by Haruki Murakami.

A short introduction takes readers to the beginning.

His early works involved late night writing on a kitchen table, right into the early hours of the morning.

Unless it’s truly out of love, it’s impossible to sustain.

He loves running the jazz bar and he loves writing.

Life is strange, he said. He had sent the only copy of manuscript for Hear The Wind Sing to an editor.

Had that got rejected, he would probably not continue writing.

Simple short and effective sentences. Clarity of thoughts and clear writing.

It’s a difficult skill to master. A style that Murakami has defined, as much as his surreal plots have captured a loyal following.