Seth Barham Design
Minimal and effective design, inspired by culture.

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The Importance of Rituals

The word “ritual” tends to apply to religious acts of worship, but they can apply to any sort of “solemn” rite or series of actions in our lives. There are many things we do daily or weekly that may appear mundane to some, but these actions hold an elevated position of importance. Everyone has their little rituals that get them through the day with small bursts of positivity. Here are some of mine.

Making my first cup of coffee

This is something that must be done before anything else can be done. When a client is satisfied with a job, they should be thanking caffeine for most of it, not me. On average, I probably consume about 3 cups of coffee per day. Two in the morning and one after lunch. That first cup is what makes the world go round. It is one of those things that is as sacred as something can be to someone who holds a relatively secular worldview.

The coffee I had this morning is an unwashed, medium-roasted Ethiopian blend with floral and fruit notes and a nutty finish. I know exactly what it smells like, but sticking my nose into that glass jar and taking a big whiff is the first step in the coffee ritual. I fill up my grinder with just enough for a full French press and pulse grind until coarse. You don’t want to grind too finely for a French press. Gotta smell it again after that. My favorite part comes after letting it sit in the press for 10-15 minutes: pressing the plunger down. There’s a metaphor for drugs in their somewhere. All is right in the world.

Cleaning my apartment

Anyone who knows me and has been to my apartment knows that I am a neat-freak. Not quite serial killer levels of cleanliness, but I do like everything to be in its proper place and tend to clean as I go while going about my day. Minimalism has a way of revealing a lot of apartment underneath all of the unnecessary clutter that once occupied it. Untidiness is a lot easier to notice, but it’s also a lot easier to take care of.

I do a big clean on one of my days off, typically if the night before was a late one. Cleaning is something you can do while shuffling about in a half-human state of existence with the added benefit of feeling like you actually accomplished something at the end. I’ll throw some music on, burn some incense, and get down to it. I don’t mind it at all. For me, it’s a meditative activity that sets everything right in both a physical and mental space.

Cooking

I’ve never been great at it. I learned pretty much everything I know now from my wife and Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. I’m slowly adding dishes to my repertoire that I can do reliably well. The thing is, you don’t really need to cook in China. The country has one of the most varied and tasty cuisines in the world, and it’s as cheap as chips. More and more, I cook simply because I enjoy it.

Kate will tell you that I’m a pretty damn good prep cook. It could be because it’s a mindless, monotonous activity, or because I like knives, or both. Like tidying up, there is a meditative quality to peeling, chopping, dicing, and slicing. The whole process is something that requires time, care, and creativity, and the end result is always worth it.

Cleaning my e-cig/replacing coils

Yes, I vape. I like to think I’m not too annoying about it, though. China got scary with how common smoking is, and I didn’t like how often I was accepting cigarettes just to be nice. I picked up a JUUL as a friendly way to tell the locals I don’t smoke but I’m happy to vape with them while they do. While not as essential to my daily routine as coffee is, I’ve found that nicotine works well as a nootropic for me, so I’m keeping it around for now.

With a typical box mod and atomizer combo, you eventually need to take it apart, clean it, and replace the coils (cotton thingy that absorbs the e-liquid). For me, this needs to be done about once every 3 weeks. Once everything is clean and dry, you prime the coil with a few drops of your favorite liquid, put it all together, fill it up, then boom. That first vape is magic, and it’s everything the ritual of cleaning it was building up to.

Rituals are a reliable spark of joy.

Rituals tend to be parts of our normal daily routines, but there’s something special there that separates them from mundane chores. That something special is how they make us feel. It’s a phenomenon that can be likened to the concept of “sparking joy” from Marie Kondo’s minimalist Bible, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It’s a simple decluttering method that has helped millions make radical life changes. The idea is to shed all material things that don’t give a sense of joy.

Most rituals do require some material possession to carry out, but they are just parts of the whole action that inject a bit of joy into our day. Isolating these actions and recognizing their importance have the same mental boost as decluttering. Appreciate your rituals for what they are. They can make a shit day an acceptable one, and good day a great one.

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Uprooting | A Beginner's Guide to Extended Travel
Another ritual of mine? Methodically packing my bag, which I cover in my travel guide! You don't need to be the host of a travel show or a trust fund kid to have some incredible experiences abroad. After 5 years of travel through 12 different countries - and living in 4 of them - I've tried to encapsulate everything I've learned into this short guide for anyone who wants to hit the road long-term.