Thursday, January 16, 2014


My last alarm clock began to make buzzing noises last weekend, the final waypoint in its death spiral to the big recycling center in the sky. I've had it since 1993. It had survived innumerable moves, being smacked at all ungodly hours of the morning by an ungrateful me as I clawed my way out of sleep. It had seen three presidencies, eight jobs, two wars, several police actions, the dotcom bubble (both of them), the beginning and end of the great recession and the entire career arc of Britney Spears.

But it was time for it to go. It had developed a short across the speaker which resulted in it making a constant low hum, like the kind you imagine that power lines make at night, possibly in a corn field in Kansas. Not perceptible while awake, but very perceptible while sleeping. So I unplugged it and put it away in my closet, where I will run across it in ten years, laugh, then plug it in so I can pretend it's 1997 again. Possibly while listening to a Sugar Ray song while dreaming of girls with Jennifer Aniston hair.

I like to think of myself as relatively minimalist. I don't put things in my life that I don't need or get much value out of because clutter causes stress and unhappiness. If you have more things, you have more things to clean, worry and care about. If you have less things, you can get on with the art of living life.

For example, I live in a relatively small apartment because it's all the apartment I need. I have one car, a lagom amount of furniture, one television, three speakers plugged into it, one laptop, very little redundancy in my kitchenware and so on. Lagom. Not too little, not too much.

For someone in Bangladesh, perhaps, I have a lot of stuff. For an American, I'm virtually a monk.

I experiment with having less because usually I wind up happier because of it. I don't buy low quality goods and I tend to use things as long as I can. Not because I'm cheap or even very frugal, but more because I like having decent quality equipment that's built well. You have a better life experience with good tools and it feels nice not filling up dumps and waste piles with your discarded refuse.

When I unplugged my last alarm clock, I decided to experiment. My cellphone does a fine job with setting an alarm; I'll just use that for a while. Why buy an extra gadget when one of your existing ones does the same thing?

I made it about a week and a half.

As an alarm clock, my cellphone does a fine job. No complaints there. What I found missing, however, was something more subtle: without my alarm clock, I couldn't tell the time at a glance.

Not a big deal, you say. In the 21st century clocks are everywhere. That little widget in your OS's system tray will tell you the time. Click the button on your phone and the display will fulfill every one of your grody little desires. Even your television will tell you the time if you ask it nicely enough.

On top of it all, wouldn't it be nice to not have to meter and parcel out time when you're not at work? Live in a state of timelessness, just being yourself at your own pace. It would be relaxing.

Well, not really. It's the at-a-glance aspect that kept tripping me up. Popping out of the shower to see how long I've been showering. Wondering if I'm late to hang out with some friends. Am I running late for work? How long has that frozen pizza been in the oven? Little bits of worry kept accumulating during the day, but where it really added up and caused me pain was at night.

It turns out I'm a clock watcher when I'm sleeping. A lot. When I roll over at night, I'll apparently crack an eye open for an update. If the time looks good, I'll give a contented sigh, roll over again and go back to sleep. I'm theorizing I do this a lot, so much in fact, that I don't remember most of it when I wake up in the morning.

After eight days I found myself turning into a basket case due to poor sleep. One trip to Target and $10 later, problem solved. Minimalism experiment failed but sleep experience enhanced. Apparently, clocks are important to my mental health.

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