The Season of Stuff

In a few days, the Season of Stuff will officially begin. During this season, we are actively encouraged to get more stuff, buy more stuff, give stuff to those we “love”, and be thankful for the stuff we have.

This Friday, for instance, sellers of stuff will drop prices to all time lows in order to make it easier for you to give and receive this stuff. Of course, this is in the hopes that the money saved on this stuff will encourage you to buy other non-discounted stuff. You know this, of course, right? You cherry pick the cheap stuff and leave the other stuff for the suckers, right? Of course you do…

All of this stuff will generate a bunch of stuff to be thrown away or recycled. Wrapping, packaging, spent gift cards – they all have to end up somewhere. Not to mention all of the stuff we had to build and machines we run in order to make the stuff we give and receive.Then once the season is over, in fact the very next day, comes the inevitable stuff we have to return (for cash to buy stuff if you have the receipt, exchange for different stuff if not).

Just try to remember that there are plenty of ways to deal with this stuff. You can pledge to get rid of an amount of stuff equal to the amount you receive. You can let those who love you know that you do not want more stuff but want something less tangible instead (breakfast in bed, money for a favorite charity, etc.). Ask for specific stuff you really truly need that will add years of value to your life on a daily basis… and stuff. The point is, control the stuff. Don’t let the stuff control you.

Doing it wrong.

One of the things I have always liked about successful people and companies, is that they are often successful by doing everything the others say is wrong.

Let’s take a look at an example. Hmm… Let’s see… How about Apple, for instance. Shall we?

When everyone else in the tech industry was cutting research because the economy was on a downward slope, Apple increased it and released things:

A lot of companies have chosen to downsize, and maybe that was the right thing for them. We chose a different path. Our belief was that if we kept putting great products in front of [customers], they would continue to open their wallets. – Steve Jobs in Business Week, 2003

When other companies are laying off their employees to cut costs, Apple does everything it can to hold onto theirs:

We’ve had one of these before, when the dot-com bubble burst. What I told our company was that we were just going to invest our way through the downturn, that we weren’t going to lay off people, that we’d taken a tremendous amount of effort to get them into Apple in the first place — the last thing we were going to do is lay them off. – Steve Jobs in Fortune, 2008

Instead of making over a hundred computer models in several different lines in order to meet every need and price point, they make a few great ones and continue to post record profits with enough cash on hand to buy the one making hundreds outright if they wanted to and still have spare change.

My point being is that sometimes, if you want quality, you have to ignore everything the others tell you you need – or need to do. In fact, it usually means you should do the opposite. Be a skeptic. Be suspect of every application or gadget or idea – especially when the exchange of money or time is involved (and if you don’t think the two are intimately inseparable then you do not value either enough). Even be suspect of this one I’m presenting here. I don’t claim to know all of the answers. Simplicity is a journey, not a destination. I’m on a journey here just like you.

What I do know is that when I look at the people, ideas and companies that impress me, they’re doing it wrong. And if that’s the case, I don’t wanna be right.

The Document Escalation Path

It was not until recently that I realized something about my workflow. Please forgive me if this is all “Big Duh!” to you. I have a document escalation path. – a definitive point of creation for the most basic needs and a progression of steps for when the item outgrows those needs. My flow generally goes something like this (links to other posts here where appropriate):

  • TextEdit – All writing on my Mac begins here. I have it set to default to plain text, 90 characters x 50 lines, Menlo for my font (after a long flirtation with Droid Sans). If longtime readers here have not caught on yet, I am a big fan and think this is one of the most underrated programs on the Mac. This can do the job I need to get the words down on a blank space. If I need to do more than that then the escalation path continues to…
  • TextMate – If I need to do some markup to the content, for instance, to publish to the web, then this is the next stop. I usually format in Markdown and then use the convert to html tool from there.
  • Bean – If I need to format into Rich Text for print or PDF, here is where I turn. I’ve discussed Bean here before and it had a few added and very useful features for RTF creating that do not exist in TextEdit. These include full screen mode and word and character count.
  • Pages – If I really need to do some advanced word processing, including style management, headers and footers, inserting images, etc. I use Pages. That said, I rarely have to do so because the options above are enough for me. That said, as word processors go, and despite it’s shortcomings, I really think it is the most elegant word processor available today. I have created some stunningly beautiful work with it.

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