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Making Shelter Simple: An Interview with Lloyd Kahn

Lloyd Kahn is the editor-in-chief of Shelter Publications. His latest book is Tiny Homes: Scaling Back in the 21st Century.

Avi Solomon: What do you see in your childhood that pointed you onto the path that your life took?

Lloyd Kahn: When I was a kid I had a little workbench with holes in it, and the holes were square or round or triangular. And you had to pick the right little piece of wood block and hammer it in with a little wooden hammer. And so I'd hammer with it, put the round dowel into the round hole, and hammer it through. And then maybe the most formative thing was when I was twelve - I helped my dad build a house. It had a concrete slab floor, and concrete block walls. And my job was shoveling sand and gravel and cement into the concrete mixer for quite a while. We'd go up there and work on weekends. One day we got the walls all finished, and we were putting a roof on the carport, and I got to go up on the roof. They gave me a canvas carpenter's belt, a hammer and nails, and I got to nail down the 1" sheeting. And I still remember that, kneeling on the roof nailing, the smell of wood on a sunny day. And then I worked as a carpenter when I was in college, on the docks. I just always loved doing stuff with my hands.

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Muji's background music


Muji sells high quality generic products at inexpensive prices; think Ikea with better taste and a Japanese flavor of minimalism. This is its background music. Bruce Sterling: "More starkly minimal than the muzak from lesser outlets of capitalism."

Superminimalist movie posters


You may be fond of creating minimalist movie posters, which cleverly boil down a whole production to a single distinctive, cinematic motif. I'm afraid Slacktory's Jed Stoneham has you all conclusively beaten.

Pull-out furniture and moving dividers cram a good-sized apartment into a 450sqft Manhattan studio

A New Yorker with a $235,000, 450sqft studio apartment in Manhattan paid $70,000 to remodel it with a series of clever, well-thought-through dividers and pull-out furniture that makes very good use of the space, effectively giving him a guest-room as well as a good-sized kitchen and bedroom

Tiny Origami Apartment in Manhattan (via Runnin' Scared)

Travel without baggage

Kevin Kelly has posted a piece on his Technium blog about four modes of no-baggage travel:

1) Total Nada

2) Just Pockets

3) Day Baggers

4) Minimalist Borrowers

yevin.jpgTotal Nada. In this mode you take your passport, a toothbrush, some cash, a cell phone, the clothes you are wearing, and that's it. It's pretty radical. You have to be in a certain zen state to enjoy this, but like many things, once you jump in it is not hard to do. This mode is great if you are drifting, going with the flow, and not trying to do anything else. If your travel entails producing something, you'll need tools (keyboard, or cameras, or books, or maps, or hand tools), which takes you out of this mode.

But a number of folks sail off this way every year. For one example, Jonathan Yevin travelled for a month in Latin America in Total Nada mode. He wrote of his adventures in Budget Travel. (That's him [above] with all his luggage.):

I just completed a month-long, bag-free trip through Central America. I ran the full length with nothing but the clothes I was wearing: cargo pants, maroon T-shirt, and gray fleece tied at the waist. On my person was an American passport, a Visa credit card, about $50, a toothbrush, a tiny Canon digital camera with extra battery, a Ziploc bag of vitamins, and a copy of The Kite Runner, whose chapters I tore off as I read them. Begging for toothpaste, it turns out, is a great way to make new friends.

...My lack of luggage did raise suspicions, among travelers and government officials alike. Border crossings were particularly interesting. Unsurprisingly, immigration agents were annoyed, as they clearly missed the opportunity to rummage through my bags in search of weapons or smuggled Rambo bubble gum. What about washing clothes? An amused agent asked, "vas a recorrer mi tierra desnudo?" ("You gonna run around my country naked?") A valid point.

...I would recommend a second pair of socks; you can streamline by putting one in each pocket. Sweaty T-shirts and boxer briefs doubling as swim trunks can be dried in transit by hanging them from a car window (assuming the vehicle has windows).

Body odor notwithstanding, I was free to walk anywhere at any time and to completely improvise and revise my itinerary in liberating fits of spontaneity. All of which brought me into more intimate interaction with the people and places I came to visit.

Travel Without Baggage

Simple Science: Minimalist examples of scientific concepts

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Linda Dong, a friend of mine in the design department at CMU, has been working on this series of photos and videos demonstrating basic scientific concepts. What sets them apart from the rest is the attention to detail in her work: it's clean, simple, and usually on a plain white background. She even got some time on the school's scanning electron microscope to get images of a bug's eye and some pollen. I like the photos like this one representing potential energy:

simple sciencepotentialscaled.jpg

Although they may not perfectly convey the concepts to people who aren't familiar with them already, these could probably be shown in a classroom setting and get the point across with a little explanation. These are more conversation starters than full descriptions, but they certainly made me look!

Simple Science by Linda Dong

Rolf Potts is traveling around the world with no luggage

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In a recent Boing Boing guest post, I talked about Neo-Minimalism and the rise of the Technomads. Both terms describe a wide array of practices relating to reducing the stuff you own and becoming more mobile.

In what is potentially the most minimal "technomadic" experiment ever, Rolf Potts (author of one of my favorite travel/lifestyle books Vagabonding) has set out on 6-week, 12-country, round-the-world trip without a single piece of luggage.

His trip is sponsored by ScotteVest (covered frequently here in the past), and yes, it's kind of a stunt. But it's also a super interesting experiment in travel minimalism. Exactly how much do you need to bring with you to get by on a trip like this?

I've written before about how travel is a great way to help you pare down and figure out what you truly need.

This no-baggage adventure will be more than a stunt to see if such a thing can be done: At a time when intensified travel-stresses and increased luggage fees are grabbing headlines, it will be an experiment to determine how much we really need to bring along to have the trip of a lifetime.

What items, if any, are essential to the enjoyment of a journey to other countries? How does traveling light make a trip cheaper, simpler or easier (or more difficult)? What lessons from this no-baggage adventure might apply to day-to-day life—both on the road and at home?
The trip started in New York City, and Rolf has already made his way through Europe. He's posting frequent written and video blog posts on this site tracking the trip. You can also follow him on Twitter. As someone with a growing interest in super-minimalism who travels all the time, this is totally relevant to my interests. I missed running into him in Paris by just a few hours, but with any luck, we'll cross paths at another point on our respective journeys. I'm following along closely to see what issues arise and how he handles them.

The nitty-gritty of whittling down your possessions

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Boing Boing readers had a lot to say regarding yesterday's post about Kelly Sutton, the fellow who has gotten rid of almost everything he owns apart from his digital / Internet technology. I asked him to write about his lifestyle and here's what he wrote. It's fascinating.

About a year ago, I came to the conclusion that the most logical thing to be done was to rid myself of all (or most) of my possessions. After meticulously itemizing all of my stuff, I put almost all of it up for sale on a site I built in a weekend, Cult of Less. Yesterday, the BBC News ran an article about myself and a few other folks replacing their physical media with their digital analogs. There are many implications of selling everything, some great and some not so great. I was a bit hasty in my desire to expunge my personal inventory but it's something worth considering. The following are a few things I learned, and where the project is going from here.

Read the rest after the jump. (Photos by Aaron Sonnenberg)

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