‘You buy furniture. You tell yourself, this is the last sofa I will ever need in my life. Buy the sofa, then for a couple of years, you’re satisfied that no matter what goes wrong, at least you’ve got your sofa issue handled. Then the right set of dishes. Then the perfect bed. The drapes. The rug. Then you’re trapped in your lovely nest, and the things you used to own, now they own you.’Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club
There have been times in the past where I bought something, a book, game and afterwards wondered why. I didn’t use the games, read the books or watch the films and now I’ve something that takes up space in my home.
I’ve found with the same with digital services. It’s all too easy to press a few buttons and have something new on my hard-drive I don’t use.
Looking back I see it as a way to avoid unpleasantness, boredom, difficult tasks, like writing, art and business. This anecdote is indicative of consumption as a way to avoid living life. It forced me to look harder at how I live and what I consume and purchase.
Some of the values we live by today come to us through by capitalism. Here the philosophy of consumption, accumulation of wealth, possessions, status have been valorised and touted as the right way to live.
We procure stuff to fill up our lives and ideas for minds supposedly to create meaning. This spending and hoarding odyssey seems wasteful. A lot of what I’ve bought over the years I no longer use. It was stuffed away in boxes somewhere is or discarded shortly after purchase.
A few years ago I heard about Minimalism as a lifestyle. The ethos being that by reducing our possessions we can lead a simpler and happier life. Away from the mass consumption of capitalism. I read some posts even bought a couple of books. It coincided with my study of eastern philosophy and culture.
I gave me the impetus to think about the possessions I have, why I bought and hold onto them. It forced me to see that like so many of us I keep stuff around because I just forget about it. Or hope one day it might be useful again.
The more I looked the more I realised I’ve moved on in life. I’m no longer the person that bought these items. Their value to has diminished. With this insight I began as a side quest to downsize my possessions. Selling, donating where I can and throwing away the rest.
It made me look harder again at my shopping habits, questioning why I need such items. A good example is my laptop. I spent over a year contemplating and assessing, then another two months deciding what to buy.
Possessions take up space and time, they need to be repaired, replaced, cleaned, tidied, sorted, and stored. All of which takes resources away from more important tasks and hamper efforts to change and grow.
The usefulness of having less became clear, fewer possessions meant less organising, housekeeping and cleaning. More time on the things that mattered to me. It solidified in me that Minimalism is an idea worth investigating and practising.
Below are a few thoughts on how Minimalism can show up in life.
Although known as an art style the most well-known aspect of Minimalism is as a lifestyle. Clean and tidy homes.
We hoard possessions because they indicate wealth, and with that safety, and security, the real basis for all that purchasing. We look at the empty life and try to fill the hole with clothes, cars, technology. Is it really necessary to buy a new phone every year?
Minimalism cuts through this desperate scramble for wealth, status and possessions buy seeing the virtue of just having what you need, and valuing what you have.
The paring down of belongings to what matters and nothing more. A simplicity to life which is very much a part of Japanese attitude towards living.
Over-consumption can be found in more than just our homes, but also in how we take care of ourselves. Health issues like diabetes and obesity come from our lifestyle and dietary habits. We consume to much food that’s also full of sugar, unhealthy fats with little nutrients from vegetables and fruit. Such diets create chronic diseases.
We overeat because we don’t care enough about health and the food that affects it. We are more concerned about working harder and faster.
One popular idea from the research is Calorie Restriction, where you eat less or restrict the times of day that you eat. It can mean skipping meals or fasting. Lower food/calorie intake means less fat is stored, and the body becomes leaner. A healthy diet is one where we eat what we need, and that’s far fewer calories than many of us consume.
Another aspect is mental health. We worry over things we can’t change. Bombarded with bad news because we are always connected. I have learned as part of Digital Minimalism (See below) to restrict a lot of it and try to stick to the news and problems that I can influence.
The result, I find myself far less upset by the world. Instead of trying to catalogue all the ills of the world and despair at the cruelty and malice of humanity. I now focus more on what I can offer and help others. We need to be careful what we let into our minds, a lot of negativity can and does create despair and cynicism.
Minimalism for ecological and environmental reasons is obvious. By consuming less, only buying needed possessions we end up using less of the worlds finite resources. Some of which have a toxic, polluting effect on the planet and ourselves.
Less energy from coal, or gas fire power stations for energy, less drilling for oil to make plastics, fewer trees cut down for paper. A minimalist lifestyle is a more a sustainable one. Where we get to clean up the earth from our misuse. Minimalism is one way that we as individuals address a global problems. There’s a lot of advice on the net about how to do this. From cooking, and food, to interior design, to transport, energy use, plastic etc.
It’s not just about more and better technology but better behaviour. Having more technology means more resources are needed to build it.
What I learned from Minimalism is that it’s more than just a lifestyle, but a way to save the planet.
Having fewer possessions was more than just having less to own or housework to do. Spending more time on meaningful work and relationships my life has become happier.
Minimalism can be seen as existential attitude, a parsimonious attitude towards life as a whole.
Consumerism can be so distracting, by having us purchase possessions, spend time whiling away hours with TV / Internet we can quiet the voices of doubt, despair and fear through mass addiction. Doing with less is not new in spiritual practices, there is fasting, isolation and contemplation. Great religious thinkers have advocated such practices as a way to further our growth.
Minimalism is a useful life skill in our search for a good life. Having fewer possessions and distractions gives us more meaning by focusing our lives on what matters. Which makes life more fulfilling.
This is where minimalism takes you. Without the noise and voices of the world telling us what to do, and what to like, what to aim for. In the emptiness, the tranquillity, and tidiness of the minimal life we find out who we are, what we want and what we value.
The process can be scary, facing your own demons, but it’s immensely rewarding. A life of abundance and meaning because you’re no longer distracted by the cacophony of the world.
Minimalism is the result of Parsimony or Discernment. Knowing what to ignore and what not. What to keep and what to reject.
A pitfall with minimalism is all the emptying of life can make you feel exactly that, empty, facing that void. With time to spare you can feel bored, listless. With fewer possessions, you can feel your life is too small. All this emptiness and space can feel intimidating and even scary to people unfamiliar with it.
You have to feel comfortable with less. It’s a change not just of your external world, but also of your internal one, your comfort zone. Also recognising that a desire for more is the desire for meaning, for greatness.
Possessions prove that we exist, they validate our existence. But fear of insignificance is a fear of the ego. We can’t accept our tiny role when we’re told to be bigger, famous, successful.
Minimalism changes us by helping us be happier with less, we find contentment faster and easier.
This minimalism is not limited to the places where you live and work. But also to your own mind. Once I had a piece of software where I would collect all the great ideas I came across, (with an eye to writing about them). But after accumulating hundreds if not thousands of citations I realised that there was no way I was going to need all this information.
I am the sort of bookish type that likes to read and learn. I was sort of addicted to ideas and collected them, as a way to avoid writing. This shows that even ideas are like ornaments in a house. It’s called cyberhoarding, curating digital information is just like hoarding physical possessions. You can have a cluttered mind just like a house. To live better I had to give up on so much consuming and move towards producing my own work.
You might call this Conceptual or Intellectual minimalism. Only having the ideas that are of practical use. You don’t need to know it all. I went through my citation manager and deleted most of it, keeping only the links I felt were important, ideas I really wanted to write about.
I was curating all this information for a ‘one day-maybe’ situation. A rule I learned from minimalism books is that such a day is unlikely to occur, and even if it does such information will still be around.
Knowledge is about learning and I had to learn that I didn’t need as much knowledge as I thought. There is such a thing as studying too much. Theories will never replace direct experience, the map is never the terrain.
It’s also here that I started to get rid of many of my books, especially self-help. Questioning whether or not the ideas inside are still useful. This insight helped me understand my social anxiety too. I gathered ideas and knowledge as a way to deal with my anxiety, but now I see such over-studying merely helped me avoid my fears.
Since so much information is now digital it’s also part of my Digital Minimalism quest.
With technology so prevalent in the world today, there’s a growing concern about how all of this tech is affecting us. For us as individuals, it’s the persistent and pervasive presence of technology in our daily lives.
Mostly it’s about information (see above), but it also manifests as email, social media, chat and more. Our always connected existence can mean we never get a chance to relax and enjoy our surroundings, other people.
Such technology creates distractions that can prevent us from doing important work or connecting face to face with our friends. Leading to reduced productivity, poorer social lives, illness, loneliness and meaningless.
The Digital Minimalism movement is asking us to try and do without the phones and tablets quite so much.
Living with the Uncertainty
With all this minimalism I’m advocating I need to point some very important skills to realise it. Discernment, and also honesty. A discerning mind is necessary to appraise your life. What matters to you, what’s useful and what’s not, what sort of life do you want and not.
The aim is your truth, to no longer fool yourself, and answer such questions about your life honestly. Is a lot of time spent on social media really helping you live life? Will this new phone make a difference? Is this relationship nurturing or draining to me, and them?
We all need a reality check, seeing our lives clearly. Such discernment brings us success and happiness by making better choices. It helps us cope with a life of uncertainty because we worry less about the things we can’t change.
Through discernment, you get more control over less.You get more things done because you waste fewer resources on the unimportant.
Going too far?
It’s knowing what you need and valuing what you have.
But let’s not be too strict, too ascetic, to hard on ourselves. A little distraction now and then is no bad thing. An occasional impulse purchase, because of it’s not about perfection or efficiency.. But beware as such things can easily overtake us, becoming our way of life.
Another issue is minimalism can be just another way to aim for perfection, by chasing after an idea of a life with very few possession, and immaculate homes. Almost making the minimalist lifestyle a badge of status to impress others. It can become an way the ego again drives us so hard we become unhappy.
‘Amateurs seek to add more, a Master seeks to take away.’
I may be taking Minimalism to far in this post. But as an ethos, I see it has a lot of potential to address the problems we face from personal to societal and global.
Amateurs are not very skilled so they try to accumulate props, hacks to compensate for poor technique, ignorance or lack of skill. We look for hacks and tricks to find the short cuts to mastery and success, but the masters themselves know there aren’t any.
To be better at life is to realise that we need far less than we imagine. Our over-consumption comes from our fears, insecurities. We accumulate to give ourselves a sense of comfort and meaning which seems convincing but can end up illusory and fragile. It seems to be a major preoccupation of humanity as a whole, safety and comfort.
Minimalism is not only a way of life that can help streamline our lives. We can gain more meaning and fulfilment by focusing on what matters more. To face our addictions and insecurities.
- It keeps us focused on those projects that bring in the greatest value.
- It can keep us young and energised by letting go of the stuff we don’t need and keeping or bodies lean and our minds sharp.
- It make us more resilient by teaching us to go without, making do with less, so we have to be more creative in our solutions.
- It also helps us save the planet by demanding less of it.
Perhaps it’s time for us to all question why we have so many ‘ornaments’ in our lives. The stuff in our homes, the beliefs we hold, the ideas we keep. I have deleted, donated, sold, thrown out a lot of stuff in the past couple of years, let go of many ideas that didn’t work for me. I will continue because minimalism is not a destination but a way of life.
The philosophy of minimalism is a philosophy for living well. I call it ‘Travelling Light.’
Back to you. What have you bought recently? Did you need it? Is it taking you away from something that you want and need to do?