Minimalist Holiday: Gifting Kindle Books

kindlegiftGood news for minimalists this holiday season: you can now gift Kindle books on Woo-hoo!

As most of you know, I’m a huge fan of ebooks. They save trees, they save energy, and they save space in our homes.

You can imagine, then, how excited I was to learn about this feature. I come from a family of readers, and we’ve always enjoyed giving each other books. However, most of us have given up physical books in favor of digital ones, so our book gifting days had drawn to a close…until now. :-)

Here’s how it works:

1. Click the “Give as a Gift” button (pictured above) on the book’s Kindle page.

2. Enter the email address of the recipient. (You can also include a gift message, if you’d like.)

3. Click the “Place your order” button to pay.

The recipient will receive a gift notification at the email address you provide, and instructions on how to accept the book.

The best part: no Kindle device is needed to give or receive books. If you send a book to someone without a Kindle, they’ll simply be prompted to download one of the free Kindle reading apps.

Another nice feature: if the person already owns (or doesn’t want) the book you gifted, they can exchange it for a gift credit to purchase something else. I love the fact that this happens with the click of a button – no worries about packaging up a physical book, shipping it back, and hoping you’ll actually receive a credit.

Sure, a no-gift holiday may be the minimalist ideal; but if that doesn’t fly with your loved ones, this is a great alternative to physical presents. People can even gift you Kindle books directly from your Amazon Wish List – so be sure to add The Joy of Less, Kindle Edition if you haven’t done so already. ;-)

So there you have it: one more way to make it through the holidays, unscathed by extra stuff. Technology is making it easier to be a minimalist every day!

Minimizing Digital Commitments

laptop-150Last year at this time, I’d never heard of the term “digital sabbatical.” And I had no reason to: while I spent my days in front of my computer (writing, blogging, working), I rarely had need to log on during the evenings or weekends.

As the year progressed, however, my digital workdays grew longer: there were more blogs to read, emails to answer, tweets to write, etc, etc. I’d find myself online late into the night, or on a Saturday or Sunday, answering blog comments, working on projects, or simply keeping up with daily correspondence.

Sometime this summer, I realized my life was out of balance. Although I’d cleared my life of physical clutter, I’d taken on far too many digital commitments – and unfortunately, they were affecting my productivity, my concentration, and my sense of peace and serenity.

At first, I solved the problem by taking digital sabbaticals. I’d completely unplug for an evening, a weekend, or whenever I traveled. However, while I enjoyed being offline for a spell, I felt like I was constantly playing catch-up when I logged back on.

I realized that, rather than avoid my digital commitments, I needed to minimize them. It’s still a work in progress, but here are some of my efforts towards that end:

1. I’m resisting joining any new social networks. That’s why you won’t find me on Facebook, Foursquare, or anything that sucks me further into the world of 24/7 connection.

2. I’ve ditched my RSS reader. Instead, I check out my favorite blogs when the mood strikes. While it’s convenient to have everything in one place, it made me feel obligated to read it all.

3. I stopped answering every blog comment. I read and appreciate each one, but I just couldn’t keep up with both responding and writing new content – unfortunately, something had to give.

4. I’ve become more selective about projects I take on. While I’d like to say yes to everyone, I’ve found I prefer to work on just a few things at a time, and give them my full attention and effort.

5. I’m coming to terms with the fact that when you receive hundreds of emails each week, you can’t answer every one.

6. I turned off my news alerts. I don’t need to know about every article that’s published on decluttering or minimalist living.

7. I check Twitter once a day, and tweet only a handful of times each week.

It’s a whole new decluttering challenge for me, and in some respects, more difficult than disposing of physical stuff. I look forward to exploring these issues, and would love to hear how others have pared down their digital commitments.

{If you’d like to read more about minimalist living, please consider buying my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Why I Love Ebooks, Part 2

In Part 1 of this topic, I talked about how moving overseas (and being separated from my favorite tomes) made me a huge fan of ebooks.

Even before I moved, however, I was growing weary of physical books. I didn’t like how everything I read seemed to stick around on my bookshelf. Consequently, I committed to get rid of (resell, pass on, or donate) books directly after I’d finished them. I’m a fast reader, though, so in many cases books would leave my house just a day or two after I purchased them! That didn’t feel quite right either.

To compound the problem, the town I lived in (before moving to the UK) was NOT part of the county’s library system (!). Therefore, borrowing a book from the library involved borrowing a friend or relative’s library card, and going to their town to browse the stacks. (And being particularly diligent about returning books on time, lest they incur late fees!) Oftentimes, it seemed more trouble than it was worth.

Unfortunately, these two factors greatly curtailed my reading. There were plenty of new, nonfiction titles I wanted to read, but instead I made do with what I could read online at Project Gutenberg. I simply didn’t want to own any more books, or go through the hassle of acquiring, then reselling or donating them.

Therefore, I was thrilled when Amazon released the Kindle-for-PC reader last fall. I downloaded it the day it came out, purchased a few titles I’d been longing to read, and felt like I was in touch with the literary world again!

Mostly, however, I wanted to be able to read ebooks while traveling. I often take long flights and train rides, and relish those hours of uninterrupted reading time. But I travel carryon only, so the weight and volume of books always presented a problem. The titles I took on a trip would be determined by page count and font density (in an effort to find the longest, yet lightest-weight book), rather than what I really wanted to read. (Although, as a result, I became quite well-read in Russian classics!)

I considered purchasing a Kindle or Sony Reader, but didn’t want to carry yet another electronic device. I always take my iPod on the road, so decided to replace my Nano with a Touch—that way, I could have just one device for both music and books. I downloaded the apps for Kindle, Barnes and Noble, and general reading, and it’s worked out beautifully; I can read on the Touch for hours with no problem, and it’s much smaller and lighter than a dedicated ereader. Better yet, it’s always with me: so I can read on the bus, on the subway, while waiting for appointments, etc. I even curl up in bed with it at night!

Going forth, my goal is to purchase as few physical books as possible. I plan to use a combination of the library (to which I now have access!) and ebooks for all my literary needs. In the future, I’d love to see the following:

1. Lower prices on ebooks, given the absence of manufacturing and distribution costs.

2. The ability to borrow ebooks from the library.

3. A secondhand (“used”) market for ebooks, which would allow me to sell my “ownership” of one to someone else, at a reduced price.

4. The ability to share or trade the ebooks I own with friends and family.

5. Ereaders that can display color photographs and pictures, so that art, architecture, and other graphic-intensive books can be read digitally.

That doesn’t sound like too much to ask, does it? ;-)

Anyway, I love how technology is making it easier (and more fun!) to be a minimalist—and I’m looking forward to what the future holds!

Why I Love Ebooks, Part 1

In response to my post on Printing to PDF, Stuart brought up the subject of ebooks. Oh Stuart, you had to get me started… I know this is a controversial topic here, and some of you fundamentally disagree with my opinion. But it’s an issue near and dear to my heart, and I just can’t refrain from pontificating on it. :-)

I have a love/hate relationship with books. I love the content, but I hate the physical format. It’s not that I don’t like to hold a book in my hands while reading it; I don’t mind that at all, and in fact, sometimes relish the tactile experience of diving into its pages.

However, that same physicality (the covers, the binding, the hundreds of pages—and the resulting weight) is what’s currently separating me from my collection! The fact that I can’t enjoy my favorite books, because they’re too heavy, unwieldy, and expensive to ship, is what gets my knickers in a twist.

Before I moved overseas, I culled my library to roughly thirty books. These are the tomes with which I’m loath to part. They’re primarily non-fiction, covering topics like art, architecture, philosophy, travel, history, cultural studies, and writing. I wish I could invoke my minimalist superpowers and simply let them go; but for the most part, they would be difficult, if not impossible (some are out of print), to obtain again if I so desired.

Now, I’d have no problem giving them up, if I could simply nip down to the library when I had the need to consult one. But unfortunately, only two were available from my local library system (one through Interlibrary Loan) the last time I checked.

(Fortunately, fiction does not pose such a problem for me. What I read generally falls in the Great Classics of Literature category, and many of my favorites are in the public domain. They’re readily available in libraries, from bookstores, and on the internet. Therefore, I don’t feel the need to own them in order to secure future access to them.)

So, out of my thirty books, only four currently reside with me (the most I could fit in my duffel bag when I moved). I’d intended to have the rest shipped over once we were settled. But I’ve come to realize that when living abroad on a visa, you’re never really settled (and for the record, I don’t consider that a bad thing). However, I’m reluctant to pay big bucks to transport them over here (the Post Office no longer offers the cost-effective International Media Mail), only to have to drag them around the next time we move.

Ebooks, then, are the answer to my minimalist prayers—well, theoretically. If I could replace every book in my “permanent” collection with a digital version, I’d do it in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, however, only a handful are currently available in electronic form. Amazon has an “I’d like to read this on Kindle” button on each book’s product page, that sends the request to the publisher. I’ve been clicking that link like mad for the books in question, with the hope that someday I’ll be (digitally) reunited with my beloved volumes.

Wow–this post is getting too long, and I’ve barely begun to wax poetic on the wonders of ebooks and how they’ve changed my reading habits. I think I’ll call this Part 1, and continue my discourse (I told you not to get me started!) in my next post…

As always, comments (both for and against ebooks) are welcome. This is one of my favorite topics, and I love hearing everyone’s opinions!