Travel, minimalism, dopamine.

I’ve been housebound for a few days due to illness (not coronavirus), and decided it was a perfect chance to try out an idea I’ve seen on the interwebs, the “dopamine detox.” I follow a few productivity gurus who favour it.

The idea is basically that a modern hedonistic lifestyle gives us way too much reward (chemically, dopamine) for way less effort than evolution has calibrated us for. Basically I agree. There’s so much sensory information now that for most people it’s pleasant but thoroughly boring to just sit on the porch and admire the view.

The proposed solution is to regularly set aside a day of dopamine deprivation, which by contrast will make hard-earned rewards feel more rewarding. I’ll get to how it went, but first: interior design.

I’m very pleased with the functionality of my tiny Japanese apartment. The bathroom doubles as a drying cupboard, and I can’t understate how useful that is. However, despite moving here with one suitcase, I quickly managed to make a mess. My foldaway table was stacked high with notebooks, plates, and spare change. So was my spare chair. The kitchen was always a trial. So I decided to try minimalism while I still could.

Time Ferris, guru of hands-off business and off the wall lifestyle experimentation, said that travel promotes asceticism. When you can only carry what you need, you learn to live with it. When you pack less than you need, you find out how necessary were the things you forgot. With this in mind, I’ve made some small changes.

My chairs are stored away, and my foldaway table folded to make a nice sideboard for family photos, my tea whisk, and a bit of miscellaneous apparel. The new coffee table is the only bit of furniture touching the floor. It seems obvious I guess, but I’m noticing that if I keep the floor clear of everything except, as you see, my slippers, there is nowhere for mess to appear. Everything must be put away properly because there’s nowhere for it to be put away improperly. (It has definitely helped to have way more storage space than I need, so I have a place for suitcases and bags, good boxes, etc.

The lack of chairs is taking some getting used to, but they weren’t that comfy in the first place. I’m getting used to sitting cross-legged, kneeling, and leaning against the wall and I’m pretty sure it’s good for my flexibility.

Remaining problem areas include my shelves, which need organising, my kitchen shelves the same, and the TV desk which is the resting place of some toiletries and random debris from my pockets waiting to be sorted into a bin or a shelf. For the oranges, I have no excuse.

My kitchen also needs some attention, mainly because the rubbish collection system is complicated and I have a backlog of glass bottles and tetra packs waiting to be put out.

So what’s the point? Reduce mess, increase functionality. I was amazed that a place could get so messy with such a small amount of stuff, but it can. So I’ve removed most of my surfaces and decreed the floor a non-orange-thing-free-zone.

I’m pretty happy with the results, but didn’t notice any real change in my behaviour until a few days ago when I tried a light dopamine detox. I haven’t tried one to date because I got into the trap of thinking that leisure and entertainment on my weekend were more important, but with a few days to spare, I figured why not?

This dopamine fast was not extreme by any means. Some people say you should go without food, electronics, or human contact for the day, and eliminate low-cost rewards from your regular life as well. I didn’t go so extreme. I set myself some rules. No pure entertainment TV or reading. Some political content allowed, but mostly nonfiction, educational, and motivational videos. Facebook was out but discord was OK due to the lack of regular new content on my usual servers. My goal was to see what would motivate me in the absence of light entertainment (basically cat videos), in a near-empty room. I’ve also been eating very simply and haven’t touched alcohol for a week.

I ended up doing a lot of cleaning, reading some nonfiction books which I haven’t done in a while, and a lot of research and initial work into some projects outside this blog. This is day three free from light entertainment and today alone I’ve written 2500 words for an eBook about moving to Japan (watch this space), including some research. I’m feeling majorly motivated to accomplish things. I’ve done this post in less than an hour. Obviously all achievable, but unusual for me to smash it all out in one go.

Why doesn’t this work usually?

I think when people find themselves unable to access their usual light entertainment, they don’t immediately look for better alternatives. They look for a way to get it back. I’m gently but definitely removing bad, unproductive options for dopamine and replacing them with productive options while exposing myself mainly to media that raises my expectations about the value of what I’m doing.

Long story short, I feel great, not burned out, and you should get rid of all your chairs. Seriously, maximise floorspace ruthlessly.

1 reply on “Travel, minimalism, dopamine.”

I love this article. It also fits with some things that I’ve been thinking about anyway.

Hey, you’re writing an ebook? Awesome!

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