Lifestyle

In Praise of Minimalism

“Be Content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”
~ Lao Tzu

In our modern American society today there exists a constant push to acquire things. Advertisers tell us that we’re not going to be happy until we buy that brand-new car with all the bells and whistles; the pharmaceutical companies sternly inform us that we have to have a medicine cabinet full of drugs in order to be functional, and anyone else with anything at all to sell appeals to our finely-tuned sense of hoarding.

But is this all really necessary? Do we have to have loads of things to live a full life?

A lot depends upon your personality. If you’ve always been the kind to want the newest toy in every category then the odds are you’ll always be that way, short of a ground-shaking epiphany. Likewise, if you’ve always been the frugal type then absent winning the Power Ball lottery you’ll pretty much stay that way. Yet there are a few people that have made the conscious decision to cut back, to whittle down to the essentials and to get rid of all the extraneous fluff. They are called “minimalists”.

Upsides

  • Be More Productive

We spend time working to save up enough money to buy our things, then we worry that the store will be out of our things by the time we get there. If we’re lucky and our things are in stock, we buy our things and quickly bring them home, giving them a place of honor – at least until the next new thing arrives. Then we worry about our things being broken or stolen, so now we have to protect our things.

  • Freedom From the Comparison Game

This one is easy if you’re a hard-core counter-cultural type, but even if you’re a middle-of-the-road type you stand to gain from minimalism. You won’t have to work quite so many hours to keep up with the Joneses.

  • It’s Easier to Clean

When I had a lot of stuff it always took a long time to clean, because I had to “shift piles”, as I called it, to get to the dark, hidden places that accumulated all the dirt. SO much easier to have open spaces and just clean up in one great sweep.

  • More Freedom

You don’t have stuff to worry about. You’re carefree. You can come and go as you wish.

  • Good for the Environment

A smaller footprint should be a goal for anyone who is in the least concerned about Mother Earth. The less you own the less you have to take from Her. She’ll appreciate it.

  • Spend Less

Just think how much extra cash you’ll have in your pockets when you stop chasing material things. Especially given today’s high prices for just about everything, you stand to make out like a bandit. Do the math – you might be surprised at the results.

  • An Example for Your Kids

Kids have sponges for brains and will absorb whatever message is aimed at them. Why not spare them a life filled with dread and scrub-work while they’re still under your influence?

  • Support Other Causes

Charitable giving is at an all-time low, because our money just doesn’t stretch far enough to support our favorite causes. When you go minimalist you’ll discover new sources of funding for your charities.

  • Own Higher Quality Things

I would rather own one well-crafted, perfectly working thing than 20 cheap knock-offs of that thing. Less space utilized, less stress, more pride in ownership.

  • Less Work for Someone Else

It’s a chain-reaction – you can influence the world by your actions.

  • Be Happier

There’s a certain lightness of spirit, a joy of living that comes with divesting yourself of excess stuff.

  • Less Stress

Less tripping over things. Less fighting over things. Fewer things getting under your feet during that 3AM trip to the kitchen.

  • Time for Things that Matter the Most

This is something that has to be experienced to be truly believed. You end up living your life for your stuff. It’s always on your mind, and that distracts you from the important things.

  • It’s Visually Appealing

Full-blown Zen style isn’t for everyone, but anyone can benefit from a less-cluttered home.

  • Do Work You Love

It’s true that many people feel stuck in their jobs: they hate them, but they cannot leave them because of all the stuff they have to keep purchasing. Think of how wonderful life could be if you were doing what you love and still had enough money for the basics.

  • Not Caught-Up in the Past

We hold onto the past in the hopes that it will somehow make our futures brighter, but all too often all it does is weigh us down with an anchor-chain of remorse and regret. Far better to cast off that anchor and free yourself for the adventure that is the future.

  • More Chances for Rest

Once you leave the rat-race you’ll suddenly discover loads of new time to do whatever you want, even if that involves just kicking up your feet and watching the rat-race.

  • Find Things Much Easier

Most people have experienced the frustration of not being able to find something because of all the clutter in their home. Wouldn’t it be much easier to have fewer things? You could find them so much easier.

  • Smaller Living Space

The small-home trend is still just a blip on the housing radar but it is growing. More and more people are discovering that square-footage is not the end-all / be-all of home ownership.

  • Display What You Value The Most

Having fewer possessions means highlighting the remaining ones. Visitors to your home will immediately pick up on what is and is not important to you.

Downsides

As in all things, where there is an upside there has to be a corresponding downside. Minimalism is no exception.

There are few downsides to minimalism except those that we create for ourselves. We cling to our old habits because they give us comfort, so it’s only natural that we would blame minimalism itself for problems that are rightfully placed in our own hands.

For instance:

  • You unplug from the television, and spend all your new free time on YouTube.
  • You get rid of your excess stuff and become obsessed with counting your remaining stuff.
  • You consolidate your work and play on the computer and forget to unplug.
  • You pare down your real-world relationships in lieu of on-line ones. Loneliness.
  • You become arrogant by living with less and try to convert everyone you meet.

In other words, like a heroin addict becoming addicted to morphine, you are just substituting one weakness for another.

A Radical Lifestyle?

Some people think that because I embrace minimalism I live a radical lifestyle. They claim that they could never be a minimalist. In actuality my lifestyle is not really all that different than yours, nor do I consider myself an out-of-the-ordinary person. If we were talking together today and we didn’t specifically mention minimalism, you wouldn’t even think to question my lifestyle:

  • I don’t own an excess of things. I only own the things I use on a daily basis, things that add meaning and value to my life; it’s just that I don’t have an excess of stuff, all those boxes of things in the attic and basement. I don’t hold onto things “just-in-case”. Of course, the way I define “excess” would change if my life circumstances also changed. For example, if I wanted to become a correspondent for National Geographic then I would need to ruthlessly reduce my material possessions. As it is, at this point in my life I’m happy being where I am and I have no desire to travel extensively. If that should change, then so will I.
  • I constantly keep aware of the growth of material things around me, and question their necessity on an on-going basis. I am ruthless. I question whether I really need it, or whether someone else would be happier with it. I am constantly thinning out my stockpile, getting rid of the deadwood that weighs me down – and it feels good. It’s the kind of feeling I wouldn’t mind having for the rest of my life.
  • I don’t assign meanings to any of my material things. Perhaps more succinctly, I acknowledge that my material things can all be replaced. I was recently asked what I would take if my home caught on fire. “The cat and dog,” I told them without hesitation. “Everything else I own can be replaced.” Much better than the alternative – that your possessions come to possess you.

Minimalism should not be considered a radical way of living. It is a tool we can utilize to remove unnecessary things and start to live a more meaningful life—a life that contains more freedom, more choices and more awareness. When you ruthlessly strip away life’s excess you can focus on the more important parts of that life: health, relationships and growth. That’s what living a life filled with meaning is all about.

The Most Important Thing

I think the most important thing to remember is … who we are is more important than what we own. Minimalists and hoarders alike, let the focus be on how you treat people, and live your life, instead of worrying about how much stuff you do or do not have.

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