A Geek’s Conundrum

Lately I’ve been pondering the relationship (if any) between minimalism and frugality. I’ve received some comments from friends and colleagues about my minimalism and the fact that I do buy certain things that they consider to be “not minimalist”. There seems to be a pervasive image of the minimalist as this ascetic, lifeless, joyless, boring person. I don’t know about you, but that’s not me, and I don’t ever want it to be me. Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist wrote a very good post titled Addressing Minimalism’s Misconceptions, that goes into great detail on this topic. It’s a definite must-read.

I love Serena’s tagline at Everyday Minimalist: Living With Less, But Only With The Best. Yes, that sounds like me.

Leo Babauta, one of my early minimalist inspirations, defines a minimalist lifestyle as β€œA life that has been stripped of the unnecessary, to make room for that which gives you joy.” Now, that tells me that it’s possible to let go of those things that are extraneous and are not giving us joy, but to keep those that do make us happy. We are all different, and all of us have different visions of what make us happy. Some travel all over the world. Some enjoy the best food they can afford. Some donate to charity.

In my case, technology has always been one of my major passions. Following the latest trends in technology, for me, is not about being cool or having the next great toy, but about envisioning how technology can make our lives better. And in my evolving view of technology and how I want to live my life from now on, I’ve decided I need to replace my (aging) desktop computer with a laptop. I want to spend more time writing and developing this blog and turning it into a community of like-minded souls that come together to challenge each other and learn from each other along the way. I feel I can better accomplish this by becoming more mobile. But there’s a problem.

My desktop computer is a Mac. I love Mac OS X. Conversely, I hate, hate, HATE Windows. I’m forced to use it at the office, but if I had the choice, I would have a Mac there too. (Did I mention I really HATE Windows?). Anyway, I’m in the market for a new laptop, and since I recently became debt-free, I can finally afford a nice laptop with some bells and whistles, and I would love to get a new MacBook Air 11″, with maybe an upgraded 128 GB Solid State Drive. Yes, I could buy a $300 Windows netbook, but I think I would end up hating it, besides, netbooks are not known for being good desktop replacements. I need my new laptop to handle anything I throw at it. That said, I don’t need it to be blazing fast, I just need it to be stable. Mac OS X is stable. I could buy a laptop with more RAM, more (conventional) hard drive space, and with an optical drive for about half the price, but it runs Windows. It’s a conundrum. Part of me wants it and wants to justify it; part of me says it’s extravagant and yes, not minimalist.

Most of the digital nomads I follow online do have Apple laptops. I’m sure this is because of their stability and long-term useful lives. Again, this is NOT about status symbols or being cool. I don’t want to have to buy a new laptop for at least 3 years, so it has to last. The only drawback I can see with an MBA is hard drive space, but that’s what portable hard drives are for, right?

I guess I’m asking for your input, fellow bloggers and readers. Can you tell me if you use a desktop or a laptop, what brand it is, and what platform it runs? In the case of bloggers, what is your main writing machine, so to speak? If you use a laptop or netbook, is it your main computer, or do you use it just for writing?

I need to make a decision within the next month or two, so there’s no immediate rush. I would love to hear your opinions on this matter, and what you recommend I do, and why. Thanks!!!


19 thoughts on “A Geek’s Conundrum

  1. Hi Rick! Over the past 10 years, I’ve owned two computers.

    The first was an iMac purchased in 2001, which I just sold on eBay last week. It was still in perfect working order.

    The second is my current MacBook Pro, which I absolutely love.

    I agree that being a minimalist isn’t always about frugality. Although if you want to get technical (no pun intended), I would have probably owned five or more Windows-based computers over the past 10 years had I choose to save money on each individual unit.

    When I’m able, I always choose quality and sustainability over frugality on things I really care about. A computer is one of those things I really care about.

    P.S. Tell your friends that had you blazed through the number of Windows PCs it would have taken to keep up with one Mac, you would have contributed much more to the clogged the landfills. πŸ˜‰

    1. Hi Jenny! Wow, your iMac was from 2001? Wow, that’s a real workhorse! My Mac mini’s optical drive died after a year and a half (no AppleCare, boo!), and I believe the hard drive is about to die as well. I’m surprised, to be honest. But such is life…

      I keep lusting after that MacBook Air 11″… πŸ™‚ And just like you, a computer is something major for me, and something that hopefully will allow me to make a living from anywhere, so it must be a quality workhorse, and very dependable. Hence, a Mac! LOL!

      Thanks again for your advice and for stopping by. Have a great weekend!

  2. I have genuinely enjoyed reading your blog over the last few weeks. This interesting and thoughtful post finally moved me to comment.

    My main PC is a netbook — an inexpensive Eeepc 1000H which is about 2 years old running Linux. I use it for general computing and blogging. Reliability has been great and I’m really happy. I really don’t like using Windows either and I don’t want to spend large sums of money on a Mac. Mac is good, but doesn’t really appeal to me much. For me, the 10″ screen of the netbook is a bit small — I think I’ll probably buy a nice 14″ laptop in a year or so. At the moment I still have a seldom-used desktop for photo editing or when the netbook screen seems a bit cramped.

    I use several versions of Linux and absolutely love it. It has much to recommend it: it is stable, secure, easy to use, very capable and works well on old hardware and (most) new hardware. It is typically bundled with lots of useful software and it is most often completely free. I love the vibrant, freedom-conscious and co-operative outlook of the community. Linux has a reputation for being difficult to use but it genuinely doesn’t have to be that way. I have got my mum running Linux for example and she absolutely loves it. If you’re interested, the best place to start is perhaps Linux Mint, OpenSUSE or Ubuntu. You can easily boot from a CD or DVD on your existing hardware to see if you like it.

    My very, very modest blog about ultralight backpacking/minimalism runs from a tiny, energy efficient, Linux-based plug computer in my home. Linux can be wonderfully versatile and empowering!

    1. Reading back over what I wrote caused me to think I may have sounded somewhat fanatical! For the record, I completely agree with you that minimalism doesn’t have to equate to asceticism. For example, if you’re going to make very good use of a new Mac laptop then I think that is justification enough. On some level minimalism is a quest for quality: in our work, in our free time pursuing our other passions and in our relationships with people and the objects around us.

    2. Hey Chris, welcome and thanks for stopping by! I’m so happy to read that you’re enjoyed my blog for a while now, so double thanks for commenting and adding your voice to the conversation. πŸ™‚ Thank you so much for your advice, I do appreciate it. I’ve bought netbooks in the past but always (always!) ended up returning them. If it wasn’t because they couldn’t run Netflix (sorry, I must have my Netflix), or they were just too painfully slow, or in some cases, deceptively heavy, it was always something (although the small screen never bothered me). That’s why I said that if I get another one, I might end up hating it. I’ve also been spoiled by my iPad’s 10-hour battery and anything else now seems puny by comparison (even the 5-hour battery on the MacBook Air). But I want the portability and the small size, and that’s why I keep looking at the 11″ and not the 13″.

      I’ve tried Linux several times in the past, but it was just too time-consuming and frustrating for me. That last time I tried it was when Ubuntu first came out, and I would always get stuck somewhere. I used to enjoy tinkering with my computers back when I was much younger, but I’ve lost that interest; not sure if it’s age or just accumulated frustration. At this point, I need something I can grab and go and write. You are right about Linux, and I don’t think you’re being fanatical at all (smile). I probably sound the same way about Macs, believe me. Just yesterday my co-worker asked me if I had just had my kool-aid because I was just going on about the Mac. It’s kinda funny. So don’t worry. I do appreciate your advice and might give Linux another try.

      I checked out your blog and I really like it! The concept of a plug computer (never heard of it before) is very interesting. I will keep visiting your site and hope you keep visiting mine. Cheers!

  3. The macbook air should work fine for your needs.

    I use a powerbook G4 and a newer mac mini. The laptop is 5 years old. I’ve replaced the battery and cloned the HD, that’s it. Still runs great. As an audio engineer, I do a lot of hardcore processing. I bought the mini so when I take projects home I can get them done much faster. If I’m working in a place that has a monitor or HD TV (common), I bring my mini, laptop and my recording gear in a backpack.

    So unless you’re going to be doing a lot of audio/video creation/editing, I think the Air should be plenty of horsepower.

    1. Hi Joseph! Thanks for stopping by and for commenting. I keep going back and forth between the Air and the MBP; I guess I’m afraid of not having enough space somehow. But I don’t do video editing and don’t plan to, except for maybe some very simple YouTube videos, so all I want it for is writing, and like you say, it has plenty for horsepower for that. The lightness and portability are what keep making me come back to the Air. We shall see. I’ll post back here and let you guys know what I did get. Thanks again for your advice and come back soon!

  4. Hi Rick,

    You’re so right. I sense that a lot of people think all minimalists sleep on a mattress on the floor and have no furniture. While that may be some minimalists, it’s not me! For me, minimalism is about stripping away all the excess to just the important things, but certainly not living with a lack. Check out the Vanity Fair article on Jack Dorsey who sounds like a minimalist to me, but with the very best things (of course he’s rich, so his best things are expensive!) http://bit.ly/f4nyfq

    Anyway, to answer your question, I had an Apple Macintosh growing up, went through 2 PC desktops and 1 PC laptop and then finally in 2003 I went back to Apple with a Powerbook G4. I now have a MacBook Pro 13″ which is my main computer and what I prefer to blog on rather than the iPad, which I surf & read on. The 13″ is perfect for me & lightweight. The 11″ seems a little too small & the airs don’t have a DVD drive built in. Good luck with your decision!

    1. Thanks for joining us, Selena! I will definitely check out that article – looks very interesting! Thanks.

      My very first computer was a PC (Windows 3.1) and my second computer was a Mac (Performa) and I was forever hooked. I’ve gone back and forth to PCs and back to Macs and back to PCs but have been Mac-only for about 3 years and don’t see that changing ever again!

      I love the smaller footprint of the 11″ unit and the small screen doesn’t bother me at all. I don’t really use my optical drive (very seldomly) and keep a lot of my stuff in “the cloud”, so I’m not sure I’d miss the optical drive. But what keeps me coming back to the Air is how incredible light it is! It’s just insane. It’s a writer’s dream come true. I will wait a little longer and see what happens. I will definitely let you guys know what I got. Thank you again for your advice and for sharing your computer info. Take care!!!

  5. Rick, I own a Dell Dimension e1721. It’s a few years old, and is working great by my standards – but I’m a PC guy. Not by a conscious choice per se; it’s just where I drifted and wound up staying.

    Here’s my thoughts on your situation. I set out my working definition of frugality back a ways on my blog:


    By that way of thinking, the MacBook Air (or another Mac of some sort) is probably the most frugal option for you.

    This is because frugality is a total package deal. It’s not just about the cost.

    The MacBook Air is super-light. You’re used to the way Macs do things. It’s comfortable for you. You like the interface. You believe they have good support and reliability (I have no knowledge of this one way or the other, but it’s what you think that matters here).

    None of this is true about the PC equivalent. And you said it yourself – you hate Windows. Actually, I think you said that you “hate, hate, HATE” Windows. πŸ˜€

    If you have the money to buy the MacBook, and if you’re not one of the Apple Cult that need to replace their devices every time something new comes out, the extra money is a very valid investment in your happiness and/or future sanity.

    Think of it this way. You can either have a laptop you hate for three years (if it makes it that long), or a laptop you love. Your cost difference between a nice Windows notebook and the MacBook Air looks to be about $200 per year (assuming you only get a 3 year lifespan).

    $200/year is about $16/month. You’ll have to answer this question yourself, but from the sounds of your post I’d say you’ll alleviate more than $16/month in headaches by going with the Mac.

    Just my $0.03 (two cents, plus a generous 50% tip). πŸ˜€

    1. Hey Robert! Thanks for visiting and for your thoughtful comments.

      Yes, I’m a total Mac guy, and although I don’t consider myself a member of the “Apple Cult” who must have the latest and greatest (although I wish I could afford to!), I do feel strongly that, like you said, you should use what works for you and what you’re happy with and what you can afford, regardless of what other people say. I know myself, and I could never keep a laptop that I hate for 3 years. Actually, I’d be surprised if it made past one year. My very first computer was a PC and I’ve owned many throughout the years, but in the end, working on a Mac is just something that makes me happy. Okay, now I’m starting to sound like a cult member, so I’ll shut up. πŸ™‚

      I really liked the way you broke it down in terms of dollars and cents, and how the extra money might make the difference between a great experience and a really bad one (for me). And your argument about frugality being a total package deal is spot on, and I really liked your blog post on the topic. I don’t always see myself as being frugal, but it’s always good to look at every angle and every option and then make an informed decision. Thanks again for your advice and see you soon!!!

  6. Hi Rick,
    I am no computer geek but I did just buy a brand spanking new 13inch MacBook Pro and I am loving it. That may have more to do with the fact that I was running a no less than 6 years old Dell laptop that took about 10 minutes to coax into life each day and about the same to shut down at night. Needless to say every operation in between took forever to execute as well. I was the last person in the family to change over to Apple and I did cling to that old laptop longer than was necessary because I hate waste and feel inclined to justify every purchase I make. I have been blogging about decluttering/minimalism for the last 12 months at 365lessthings.com and was really struggling with the old laptop. I now run google chrome and it is great, spell checking is so much easier, I am adapting quickly to the different applications and everything is soooo fast. I did look at the MacBook Air but wasn’t happy with the things it was lacking that this one has. Yes it is light weight and my husband and I do like to travel but we like to travel so light that we don’t even want to carry the weight of a MacBook Air. I set my blog up in advance of travelling and we only take and iPod touch and enough camera memory sticks so we don’t need to download photos. If I do go places with my laptop I want it to be able to do everything I need it to do. I am certainly happy with my choice but your needs are probably different to mine so do your research and good luck!

    1. Hi Colleen!

      Thanks for visiting my blog and thanks for your advice and the very valuable information! I’m really torn between the MBA and the MBP. The MBA is *so light*, and it fits anywhere and everywhere. As long as I can write on it and post to my blog, as long as it runs Netflix and Hulu, as long as I can Skype on it… I’m good!!! I do love the extra power that the MBP has, so we’ll see what ends up happening. One thing I have decided is that I’m sticking with Mac OS X/Apple… there’s no going back to Windows! I’m so glad to hear you’re enjoying your first Apple computer. They’re awesome. Enjoy and again, thanks!!!


  7. I know I’m late to the party, but I have to say that I have a 13″ Macbook and I just adore it. I bought it in 2006 and have upgraded a few things over the years, but overall it still runs like a champ and does what I need it to do.

    I personally am anti-MacBook Air, but that’s because I do enough CD burning and such on the go that I prefer it to be part of my machine rather than a peripheral. But if you’re using it mainly for writing, I would think that it would be a good choice for you — and so pretty! (On kind of the same note, I’m glad to see you’re not toying with the idea of an iPad!)

    What did you eventually end up going with?

    1. Hi Dana,

      Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for sharing your experience with the MacBook. I had a black MacBook once, and I loved it. And don’t worry, the party is always going on at uberless.com! πŸ˜‰

      I actually *did* make a decision regarding my computer purchase, and I’ve been meaning to write a post on that, since I actually did promise I would. So, I will actually write a short post on that – very soon! Thanks for stopping by and do come back often. It’s always good to have you here!


  8. Hi Rick,

    I’m a little late to your Mac party but I thought I’d share my thoughts. I believe you and I were researching the same thing at around the same time. Have you made your decision yet?

    I’ll share what I went with in case you haven’t. I’ve always used Windows computers before, mostly because of cost. Patrick and I recently went debt free though and decided to splurge on some good equipment (justified since we use them full time for business and our old machines were quite old.)

    Patrick chose a Macbook Pro and I went with a maxed out 13″ Air. I have it a little over a month now and it is a dream. Plenty of space, incredibly fast, no glitches, and yes, it handles video just fine (unlike what some reviews say out there).

    I lusted after the 11″ but wasn’t sure how I would feel about the screen size in the long run. Since we’re not traveling much right now I chose the 13″ and it is a dream.

    1. Hi again, Tanja!

      Yes, I did make a decision and I did make the purchase, and yours is the second comment asking me what I decided on. I promise I will write a post very soon letting you and everyone else know what I went with. Thank you for sharing your story, and I think you’ll be happy with my choice! πŸ˜‰


  9. Compromise and get the 13″ macbook. You still get your mac but it should be less than the air. Especially if you go refurb straight from apple. Costs a bit less and has the same warranty.

  10. Hi Rick,

    I have been reading your blog for a couple of weeks now, and I really enjoy it. I have begun the process of becoming a minimalist, although it is in baby steps right now. I feel very inspired by all of the people out there who are living a fuller life with less stuff.

    I made the switch to Mac about two years ago, and I am so happy that I did! Like Colleen, I had Dell desktops for years and found that they were constantly plagued with viruses and all sorts of “clutter” that had wandered, uninvited, into my unit. It took a long time to boot up and shut down and caused me countless headaches (since I am “technologically challenged”) trying to weed out the numerous items that my teenagers downloaded on what seemed to be a daily basis. Those unwanted and usually unused items slowed my machine, and as a result, my productivity, down greatly.

    My Macbook Pro allows me to have my photos, music, work, and entertainment all in one portable unit. I find that it is easier to let a CD go, once I have downloaded it into my iTunes account. I also recently downloaded Evernote (the free version) and have been able to save all of my recipes and other paper paraphernalia. The Mac (whom I’ve named Henry, because I don’t think that my first-born cost as much!) is actually a great help in the minimizing process. I have freed up a lot of space in my home and I am still able to keep what I need in a way that is easy for me to maintain and use. And when I don’t need something anymore, the DELETE button is a keystroke away.

    Henry is helping me organized my life. The investment was well worth it to me in the time and energy that I have saved and the frustration that I have avoided. In my opinion, minimizing doesn’t mean getting rid of your IRA. And if I break down the actual cost over the two years, Henry has set me back only $25/month. In the past, I spent more than that on a gym membership that I never used, and I use Henry every day. So, if the point of minimizing is to free up time and space in which to really live, I think you have to really consider what will make you happy and go for it. Best regards.


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