Dan Erickson is the passionate simple-living writer behind Hip Diggs. We’ve been following Dan for a year or so now. He’s a teacher by trade, a single father, musician, talented writer and a passionate minimalist. In this conversation, we talk about blogging, minimalism and speaking out without worrying about what other people think.
So, Dan Erickson, why did you start Hip Diggs?
I first got into minimalism about six to eight years ago.
My interest in the tiny house movement led me towards minimalist architecture.
I like the feel of space. In fact, I’d much rather have a house a bit bigger but with little in it. When I say bigger, I don’t mean a large house by typical standards, but certainly larger than the 100 square-foot dwellings you see in tiny houses.
These ideas slowly got me thinking about living with less.
I’ve never been one to live with a lot, to begin with, partially because of financial circumstances. When I was younger I didn’t have much money, and I lived in trailers, studio apartments and very small one-bedroom apartments.
It wasn’t until I got married and started making more money—that I started increasing what I owned. I was thinking, “I’m married now, so we need to get more furniture, and we need to get a bigger house.”
In time, I realised that chasing these material possessions was only going to complicate my life. So I started cutting back on things and living a life with less.
I was going to start a blog about tiny houses. But finding these houses and getting permission to take photos was too complicated. So I had another idea: home improvement.
I bought my first home a few years ago and decided to document the projects I was doing around the house. But after 3–4 projects, I ran out of things to blog about.
And then it just dawned on me. I love simple living.
At the time I was following blogs like Zen Habits and Becoming Minimalist for a couple of years, and I thought to turn Hip Diggs into something like that.
Hip because it’s modern. Diggs because it’s home.
What inspired you to start a blog of all mediums?
I started my first blog with no clue about what a blog really was.
In 2011, I bought danerickson.net and started writing poetry. I also wrote my first book about being a child in a cult around that time. I wrote it entirely online.
But I never really found my niche at my Dan Erickson blog has become a place to record my thoughts on creativity a couple of times a month. You might find poems, songs, and book excerpts over there, too.
When I launched Hip Diggs, everything just clicked. It was easy for me to write topics. Even now, you’d think after a few years I’d run out of ideas. But I haven’t.
Minimalism and simple living apply to so many areas of life. From your home to your car, to your relationships, to your job, to how much time you spend exercising.
As a writer, I found this to be a remarkable thing because you never run out of things to write about!
How do you capture ideas for topics?
I tend to post articles in advance. For example, in 2015 I had already scheduled two posts a week for all of 2016.
I get on writing sprees and ideas tend to flow off one another. After a while, I might get tired or sidetracked, but that’s okay because I have posts scheduled in advance.
Dan Erickson, how did you go about building the technical skills to create websites?
When I first started, I had no idea how to build a website. Things like getting a domain name and setting up a web host were foreign, and I actually got a friend to do it for me.
Nowadays it’s so much easier to get things set up. It’s just a one-click install, and you have a WordPress website.
I mean sure, it would have been nice to have somebody show me how to add links to articles, explain buttons on toolbars and things of that nature. But over time I figured it out.
Generally speaking, I found it fairly easy.
If someone has the skills to sign up for a social media account and pay their bills online, I think they could figure out how to build a blog.
There are some that believe blogging is dead. Do you think the platform is becoming obsolete or is it very much still alive?
I see that blogging is starting to require more forms of media. For that reason, I’m starting a YouTube Channel in 2017 to compliment the Hip Diggs blog. Podcasting is another emerging channel.
In general, I don’t think blogging is dead. However, if your goal is to make a popular blog and generate income from it, it’s certainly more challenging than what it used to be.
We admire how you’ve been able to take a firm stance on specific topics. What would be your advice to those who want to communicate more authentically?
Twenty years ago I don’t think I was as comfortable in my own skin as I am now. A lot of it comes down to time and age.
I teach public speaking as my day job, and my students often are afraid of what people are going to think about them.
What I tell them is that what other people think about you is their problem, not yours.
It has taken me a while to get to this level, and I think a lot of it has to do with coming out of a cult and being able to talk about the experience honestly through my writing.
You have to focus on the message more than the audience. Sometimes that means accepting that others may not agree with you. Sure, you want to cater to your audience, but you don’t wish to focus on them so much that you worry about what they think.
Can you tell us a little about your experience growing up as part of a cult?
My father was a minister, and he was never happy with the Christian message in the town we were living in at the time. He felt that it was watered down.
So he began meeting some Christians who had some other ideas.
We were living on the East Coast of the United States at the time, and my father had met a man there who was starting his own group on the West Coast.
The man had suggested we move and join this group, which I thought was just a church. But when we got there, I realised that it was more of a commune. Many of the people lived on the property.
My parents had their own home. However, I lived in the commune as a minor, for “training”.
What that essentially meant was that I was a slave to help the leader build his empire. The members helped him to create several businesses including farms, stables, local florists and things of that nature. We basically owned a quarter of the small town we lived in.
So my experience meant that I was raised for six years of my life (ages 10-16) by the commune instead of my parents.
Eventually, everyone aged 18 and under was sent home as investigations began.
The end result of this cult, as it happens with a lot of cults, was that the leader was participating in activities that were illegal. Particularly, in the way he acted and treated girls and young women. In the end, he was arrested for statutory rape and indecent liberties with underage girls, which is quite common in cult situations.
As far as I’m aware, the males were not abused in that way. But we were abused in the way that we were forced to work for long hours and endure long indoctrinating meetings. And if there was anything that the leader or the top men didn’t like, we were disciplined fairly strictly.
How did that experience impact the rest of your life?
After I got out, I experienced what I’d say is too much freedom. I went from being completely sheltered to being able to do whatever I wanted.
My friends would ask me to go out and party and drink beer. So for about eight to 10 years, I lived that kind of lifestyle. I think part of that was trying to escape my past.
Also during that time, I started developing some intense fears and paranoia. Thinking that once the cult leader had gotten out of prison, he was going to hunt me down and find me because I was involved in the break up of the group.
These fears were all in my head, and they may have stemmed from my alcohol and marijuana use.
Luckily, I stopped doing those things and focused on education. I slowly started changing my mindset because the cult I had grown up in was a very right-wing conservative Christian cult—even though they didn’t strictly follow the ideas in the Bible.
So I still had these ideas that if I did things a certain way I was damned or I would burn in hell.
It took a long time for me to train myself and realise that these were just ideas planted in my head. Not that it’s like we can live however we want and abuse our power. But you’re not going to suffer consequences for every little mistake you make in life.
It was about a 10-year journey to get myself out of that funk, then another 10 years to start expressing myself without worrying about what other people thought. It’s all led to the Dan Erickson I’ve become today.
If the whole world was to become minimalist, what kind of macro impact do you think it would have?
First of all, I think it would be great.
However, someone arguing that point would say that we need to stimulate the economy. There’s the thought that if everyone were to become minimalist, we wouldn’t stimulate our economy and our market system would crash.
And there might be some truth to that. But I’m not completely convinced.
I’m not a fan of the tiny house movement because it’s a little extreme and the same can be said for minimalism.
I think we need to find a happy medium. Houses in America have increased on average from 1500 square feet in the 1970s to as much as 3000 square feet today. We need to get back to much less space in that regard.
When I was growing up, most families would have one car. Now some families have three or four cars.
Even if we got back to living with the necessities 50 years ago, that would be good. And today, I think we could go even further and more efficiently use bicycles and mass transportation.
We could develop ways to use power that is off the traditional grid. We have the technology now to have families live in a way that decreases their environmental impact.
On a macro level, I think if we slowly moved towards minimalism it would be good for the environment and people’s personal lives too.
Focusing less on what you have, gives you the ability to focus more on what’s around you.
How do you go about keeping what is only essential in your house despite having the space to fit more than what you need?
I think what is essential is what is used.
If you have a piece of furniture to sit there for the sake of it, it doesn’t make sense to me.
My house is mostly furnished with old furniture from antique stores. They’re not refurbished antiques, so they look a little beat up. But they have character.
They also double up as a useful source of storage.
I would say have the furnishings you need and use and be careful of saying “oh that corner is empty”. I’ve done that before, and you end up putting something in the space which is of no practical value.
The more I’ve been involved in minimalism, the more I appreciate that empty look. It’s aesthetically pleasing to look at it in that way.
So, Dan Erickson, how do you balance ambition and simple living in your mind as it relates to mental clutter?
What I’ve found is that when I start a project, it’s not the project itself that stresses me out, but it’s the time it takes away from day to day things in life that can.
In the last two or three years, I’ve learned how to compartmentalise projects. For example, over the last couple of months, I’ve been focused on Hip Diggs and writing. But once I get ahead with my content, I might decide to spend a month or so on a musical project.
At some stage I’d like to write more fiction but I know I’ll do it at a later time.
I’ve learned to stop trying to do it all at once. I compartmentalise the projects so if I don’t get to writing that novel for another six months or a year, that’s okay.
There’s nothing that’s so pressing that needs to be done immediately. I’m quite happy focusing on one project at a time.