In the past few years, I’ve adopted a minimalist lifestyle. Moving to America, specifically New York, arguably the capital of the world for consumerism, has been an enriching experience for me.
At the start of this year, I officially moved here and although I’ve spent the equivalent of 3+ years over the past 10 years visiting the city for business, living here I’ve become aware of unique qualities that I suspect most take for granted.
Moving to New York, I was quickly exposed to consumerism in a very high dose. Initially confused with how to engage (my apartment was empty for a few weeks, with only an inflatable mattress to sleep on), one morning in late January while meditating, I decided that I would use this as an opportunity to learn. I would experiment with mindful consumerism.
Instead of developing aversion, I decided that I would be a conscious consumer, skillfully experimenting with new products and services that caught my attention. And doing so with a level of awareness, feeling of detachment and sense of curiosity about what I could learn.
These experiments, all of which I either experienced first-hand or observed up close, anchored on one of many themes: a preview of the future, the on-demand economy, an obsession to optimize for convenience or customer experience as a business differentiator.
The hunt for shelter
19. The number of apartments I saw, within a span of 4 days. Thanks to StreetEasy, my expert-at-everything-apartment-related friend Carla and pre-deciding which areas I was open to (Chelsea, Flatiron or Union Square), the experience was expedient, easy and actually fun.
After seeing the place I ultimately chose (in Chelsea), within 24 hours the lease was signed, within a further 12 hours the funds for the deposit were wired and within another 24 hours, I had the keys and officially had the place. I was impressed with how fast things move here.
The small walk-up apartment has a “virtual doorman” service. Delivery people simply ring the doorman, are connected to a call centre (hooked into a security camera) and they can remotely unlock the main door to allow delivery people to place packages inside the building.
Self-serve internet anyone?
In Canada, you would have to call Bell or Rogers, schedule an appointment 1-2 weeks in advance, likely work from home that day and hope that it worked on the first try.
In New York, I called Spectrum, they told me to visit their location down the block from my place. The entire setup process was self-serve. They gave me the internet router and box, told me to plug it in myself and that was that.
And I was surprised to learn that month-to-month service is the norm here (unlike Canada where you’d be forced to sign a year-long commitment before even getting the service setup).
My initial intention was to sign-up for NYC Mesh, a community-owned peer-to-peer free and open internet option that is growing in the city (but not yet available where my apartment is). Hopefully later this year I’ll cancel Spectrum and use NYC Mesh.
After moving in, my landlord mentioned that I needed to transfer the electricity to my name and pay ConEdison directly. I was able to turn on my account, set up billing and transfer it under my name on my phone, within 90 seconds. Impressive.
Tales from the shelves
I’m fortunate to live very close to both a Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. And I’ve learned that as most New Yorkers do not have cars (and some don’t even know how to drive, a sign you are a true native), carrying your groceries home should not be underestimated. I learned this the hard way (a few times) after having to take frequent sidewalk breaks carrying all those paper bags a mere 100 meters.
Anyways, they have solved for this. Both Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s offer same-day delivery (for $5) for your groceries.
I have not yet tried online grocery delivery or the many meal kits, however have many friends that enjoy the plethora of subsidized meals (courtesy of Silicon Valley investors).
The Container Store takes this dilemma of buying too much stuff that you can’t carry to the next level. When walking in, you have the option to pick up a price gun of sorts and you walk around the store, simply pointing and clicking on the items you wish to buy. And at the register, give them the price gun, pay them and they deliver all your items to you.
Finding lunch in a pinch
Our office is in Flatiron and for the first few months, I found myself waiting in long line-ups for lunch, or skipping lunch because my schedule did not accommodate waiting in line-ups. Well, I soon discovered that pretty much every one of my favorite lunch spots allows me to order the meal ahead of time and simply pick it up (without talking to a single person).
My current favorites: DigInn, LevelUp and &pizza.
Seamless is a also beauty. Quick and efficient meal delivery, at your fingertips. I do not use it often but did for a dinner I hosted a few weeks ago and plan to use it again.
Mealpal is a subscription meal service, where you pre-purchase 10-20 meals for the month (at a steep discount on the normal price), and each day pick the meal you want (from over 1,000 options, all of the normal lunch spots). The value is getting diversity and a good price. I liked it in theory but found in practice that my schedule (travel, client meetings) did not have enough consistency (I could not use all the meals I purchased in my first month).
I know, it’s been around for a while now, but I only started using Amazon Prime this year and I remain impressed. I consume a ridiculous amount of seeds and nuts (which my mom refers to as bird food), all of which now gets delivered to me. Thank you Amazon.
Although the number of folded Amazon cardboard boxes on the sidewalks of Manhattan is concerning and makes me question if I will continue to use Amazon or not.
When Silicon Valley takes you to the movies
Moviepass is a subscription movie service that you pay $10/month for the ability to see as many movies you want in theatres. There is a high chance the service will go out of business soon (thanks Silicon Valley investors for the fun while it lasted).
I really do not know why I signed up for it, but I did. The app has not worked consistently (once I ended up paying for movie that I thought I was signed up for) and I found I ended up going to watch movies I would normally not want to go see, because I had access to it.
In the spirit of experimenting, I did it. And learned that I need to be aware of how these services influence decisions on where I invest my time. Anyways, I cancelled the service today.
Finding a double dopamine hit
Exercise and a good deal.
I’ve been practicing yoga consistently for a few years now and it’s been an important part of my lifestyle. My two favorite studios in New York are Laughing Lotus and Yogamaya. I also happen to live very close to both now (that may have influenced my choice in apartment location).
Classpass is a subscription service where you pre-buy credits each month that you use to take classes. Well, my two studios are on Classpass and I’ve found that I spend about 50% less on classes now. As a consumer, it’s great. As a business owner (if I say owned a yoga studio), it’s not so great.
If you do sign-up, use my link http://class.ps/im0ow (we both get $40, thanks again to Silicon Valley investors for subsidizing our fitness efforts).
How to hail and pay for a cab in New York
Uber, Lyft and other services make the payment process so convenient, I will use them for that perk alone. However I do find myself still taking yellow cabs, thanks to the ease to catch one.
Curb and Arro are two apps that allow you to pay for yellow cabs from your phone. I tried to set both of them up, but had two issues. They would not accept my Canadian phone number and they do charge an additional transaction fee (I could not justify it outside of the experiment).
Ask me in a few months if I’ve figured out how to easily hail and pay for a cab.
How meditation helped me buy a comforter
The most difficult purchase for me was finding a comforter.
Why? The choice and selection was overwhelming and paralyzing for me (as I was not used to buying “stuff”). I went into Bed Bath & Beyond on three occasions and left empty-handed. One late-January morning, after I woke up feeling cold from the night before, I decided that this would be the day I come home with a comforter.
Determined, when seeing the selection available at the store, instead of thinking, I basically meditated while feeling the different options. Choosing to tune out my thoughts and tune in to how I felt inside. And the decision became very easy, and served as a reminder that my thoughts can get in the way of what may already be clear to me.
Furnishing my apartment from my phone
After spending a few weeks in a furniture-less apartment (where many friends enjoyed a home cooked meal with me...sitting on the floor), I decided that I wanted to test the limits of mobile commerce and committed to ordering all of my furniture from my phone (without seeing any of it in real life).
Thanks primarily to Gilt (and a few other sites, and expert advice from Carla and Kanika), I now have a couch, bed frame, coffee table, writing desk, chair, rug, whiteboard (yes, I know), bookshelf and counter stools.
I was very close to finding someone on Handy to come assemble my furniture, but could not justify it mentally for the experiment. And the satisfaction of self-assembly was worth it.
Mattress in a box
The amount of advertising happening by mattress startups makes you question how often everyone else buys a mattress, because you know you don’t that often.
Well, I apparently do. I’ve now bought 4 mattresses in the past 5 months living in New York. This is one over-drawn experiment that is still in progress (unfortunately).
It started with an inflatable mattress (which of the 4 mattresses I’ve bought is the most comfortable and reliable for my sleep needs, and great for guests). And after a few weeks, I bought a Casper. While it was fun to setup (it comes rolled up in a box), the sleep was not as great for me (too soft). That was returned (at no cost, except to the environment).
Then I purchased a Helix. They are known for custom-built mattresses to meet your needs. I was curious, and went to their showroom for my “fitting”. I was suspicious but went with it. And it turned out to be far too soft as well. That was returned yesterday.
Part of my experiment was also evaluating the customer experience while trying to return one of these online purchases. It was pretty good.
The fourth (and hopefully final) purchase was defaulting to the traditional brick-and-mortar store Mattress Firm. Desperate for sales (the place was empty), I feel I could name my price. And I did just that. The mattress arrived yesterday and ask me in 30 days if it’s still here.
My advice for you: don’t ask me for advice on how to buy a mattress, ask someone else.
Home insurance made easy
I put off getting renter’s insurance for a few months (don’t tell my landlord, actually they know because I received an email every week on it). Those that know me know that discipline generally comes easy and I am not one to procrastinate. However the thought of trying to navigate setting up insurance was daunting, so I put it off.
And then someone on my team told me about Lemonade. I signed up for insurance within 2 minutes online and it was done. And very affordable. When I see services like these, I worry for the traditional industry as they are about to be massively disrupted.
Dry cleaning at your fingertips
Typical dry cleaners are open during business hours, when typical professionals who wear dress shirts or suits are working.
FlyCleaners is a service that has reimagined dry cleaning by offering to pick-up and drop-off with very specific 1 hour time windows (up until midnight). I used it, purposefully changed the time windows constantly (curious to see when it would break) and it worked fine and was very accurate.
Now I have gone back to the traditional dry cleaning approach, given there is a place down the street from my apartment (and it’s a fraction of the cost of FlyCleaners).
Move over WeWork, the plethora of co-working spaces in New York is a maze on its own to navigate. We are currently working out of Grind in Flatiron and like the space (for now).
We are starting to see specialized co-working spaces. The Assemblage is one that is worth highlighting. It’s an entire building (now three locations actually) that is designed to attract people and groups working on for-purpose initiatives and ventures, with a strong dose of mindfulness, spirituality and collective consciousness designed into the physical space. Meals (vegan, of course) are provided, alongside yoga classes, meditation spaces, community events, world-recognized speakers and local community led workshops. Pretty impressive. The minor catch is that it’s not accessible financially and a significant premium over the alternatives.
The one service I may just try next
A new breed of entrepreneurs have become passionate about giving you plants for your place...on a subscription model. Yep, you pay a monthly fee and get plants delivered to your place, every month. A preview here.
3 insights from my experiment
If you’ve read this far, congratulations. I hope you bring a dose of awareness, detachment and curiosity to your next purchases.
While many of you may have been exposed to some of these already, imagine (if you can) what it would be like to get exposed to all of them for the first time within 100 days. That’s what my experiment was all about (and is now complete).
Here are 3 takeaways from my experiment:
User experience as a differentiator: it became very obvious after exposing myself to so many consumer services in a shortened time period which companies have thought long and hard about the user experience and which ones have not.
A preview of the future: stepping into this head-on, I feel like I’ve gotten a preview of the future and will continue to do so living here. If you are in a role that requires you to imagine, influence and inspire the future of anything, being surrounded by others is helpful.
Gratitude for what we have: as I went into this experience with a level of detachment, I became more aware of what is already present in my life. It helped me cultivate a greater sense of gratitude for everything that is (versus obsessing on what is not or what may be).
I continue to enjoy my own transformation from ‘more is more’ to ‘less is more’, and choosing to live in New York has been a deliberate effort to understand what it means to be a conscious consumer. It is possible and I’m thankful for the opportunity to practice, experimental and learn.