Interview with Nina Yau

Courtesy of Nina Yau

Nina Yau is the blogger behind Castles in the Air and the author of the Radical Minimalist, Minimalist Freedom, and Inspirations for the Radical Minimalist. She is an incredibly talented writer. Fierce, intelligent, and a very sweet person, she is shaping the movement of minimalism in a great way. In November, she quit her day job in the corporate world and now she is traveling all over the world to Taiwan, Chile, Thailand, Portland, Los Angeles, and who knows where else. What I really love about Nina that shines through in her writing is her unapologetic love for life and experiencing it to the fullest and I know that’s what you’ll see in this interview! Enjoy!

Kate: Congratulations on quitting the daily grind in November! Tell me how it felt to finally say goodbye to the corporate world, and if you had any fears about doing so?
Nina: Thanks, Kate! Words cannot express the most liberating feeling of all when I stepped out the door on my last day at work: freedom. Unleashed, piercing freedom to do what I love, not what I hate.
And to be honest, I got over most of my fears before I took the leap of faith. These fears include condemnation, ridicule, financial concerns and rejection. And even if I still have traces of such fears, it is only through the courageous act of taking responsibility for my life that I am able to continue on in the face of adversity and challenges, both external and internal.
I’ve hit rock bottom and know what it means to feel desolate, used up, lifeless and hopeless. If I can come out of that, I knew I could do anything. Nothing and no one can stop me.
Kate: In your recent series on Focus, you speak about finding yourself through eliminating the unnecessary. What kinds of things (besides your job) did you find yourself eliminating in your journey?
Nina: Besides my corporate job, I eliminated useless activities or commitments that did not provide value in my life. I’d rather be productive than busy. If that means I only tackle one project at a time — but which gives me supreme focus and intent purpose — then so be it.
Mediocrity is not for the driven. Steadfast determination and audacity is.
Kate: When did you decide to leap into minimalism and were there any doubts about the lifestyle?
Nina: I begun my minimalist journey in the summer of 2008 and have never looked back to my hoarding and consumerist days since. I’ve never experienced doubt due to living a simple life, only liberation.
Kate: You’ve decided to travel quite a bit in the next few months. My husband and I are also gearing up for a big adventure and I can only imagine how excited you are! Tell me about your decision to leave, and how you decided where to be, and how to plan for such a big change.
Nina: I’ve always wanted to live in Taiwan (I’m half Taiwanese and half Cantonese) but my corporate life would not allow for such an opportunity. So instead of trying to find a way around it or wait for that perfect time (hint: there is no such thing as the perfect time; the time is now), I just created the opportunity myself.
It took me just a few short months from the initial decision to live in Taiwan to actually going there. In the meantime, I saved up money (a minimalist life helps to curb the overhead) before quitting my job, applied for my Taiwan passport, got all my papers and necessities in order, made housing arrangements, then booked the flight. Done.
Kate: How have your family and friends reacted to your lifestyle change?
Nina: Surprise. Amusement. Fascination. Envy.
Many say, “You’re young, Nina. You’re able to do it now with no responsibilities back home.” Or, “Wow. I am so incredibly jealous. I wish I can do what you do.”
To these statements, my response is it is not a matter of age. It is not a matter of whether or not I have responsibilities at home. It is not a matter of just wishing for something.
These are superfluous.
It is a matter of courage and looking fear in the eye. To live boldly and vicariously for yourself. No one else will so you must.
Kate: Congratulations on a kick ass year! You were able to accomplish so much! What are some of your goals for this coming year?
Nina: This year, and every year, my only hope is to always live life with no regrets. To not take my days on Earth for granted and to make the most of my own human potential.
I am currently working on a third book project that I believe will be incredibly fun and inspiring. I’m very excited about it!
Kate: I loved your guest post, The Fragile and Flawed Nature of a Minimalist’s Life, for Tammy Strobel’s blog,! It was truly inspiring, and something all minimalist’s deal with. In your post, you say “it’s dangerous to be ignorant of your shortcomings as well as your own strengths”. What are your shortcomings and strengths?
Nina: I have a tendency towards wanting a complete, polished finished product. Most of the time, this product is me. Other times, it’s my writing. The way I dress or speak. But I need to go easy on myself at times. I am often my own worst enemy yet my own best ally.
My strengths include courage, tenacity, a healthy view on risk-taking and challenges, the ability to adapt and learn quickly, and listening to my intuition. All these characteristics have served me well but they did not come about easily. Many were cultivated my entire life, shaped along the way by my life experiences, culture, self-education and experimentation.
Kate: You’ve seen huge growth in the last few months with your support base. Why do you think you’ve succeeded so far above the status quo, and what advice would you give to those new to the movement?
Nina: I’m ecstatic with my growing support base and am truly grateful. When I think about how far I’ve come in just a matter of a few months, I quietly reflect upon how I did not get to where I’m at without experiencing my lowest lows and my highest highs.
To those who are new to the minimalist movement, I say when in doubt, listen to yourself and don’t be afraid to try new things. There will be countless best practices, advice, suggestions, and ways to do things. But in the end, it is your life we’re talking about. And if you are not happy with where you’re at, you need to be bold and embrace change. Take responsibility for your life. And more importantly, take action.
Kate: What resources have you found helpful in your journey?
Nina: In my journey of powerful transformation and explosive self-growth, I’ve found the following books highly inspirational and insightful to me:
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss
Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
The Art of Living by Epictetus
Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck
Vagabonding by Rolf Potts
I’ve also been watching more TED talks recently in order to stay abreast of dynamic issues that certainly concerns us, some more than others.
Kate: Is there anything else you’d like my readers to hear?
Nina: Live life courageously and according to your own terms. It’s too short for regrets and what if’s.
Thank you so much, Nina! I look forward to reading about your adventures on Castles in the Air, and good luck!
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