Minimalism: A Complete Introduction

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Joël

Minimalism, what do you think when you hear these four syllables? Often the word sparks the imagination with images of people living on the street with little to no belongings. Otherwise of guys writing blogs about how they only possess 10 things, nomads that are always traveling, or people below the poverty line. However, is minimalism really about having nothing?

In this blog I cover the following topics:

  1. What got me into minimalism
  2. Where minimalism comes from
  3. What minimalism stands for
  4. How minimalism is a solution to everyday problems
  5. How minimalism can improve your life

Discovering Minimalism

As I traveled through South America I hitchhiked, I camped, I ran into the widest variety of people, and I experienced plenty adventures. It didn’t matter how uneasy the adventures were, in the end there was always a friendly hand that reached out. All the while though, I was carrying a backpack with 17 kilos of my belongings. Even though, I was carrying this tiny amount of my belongings, I still didn’t use parts of it. This made me wonder, why am I carrying this extra baggage around? Do I really need this stuff that only makes me tired when I walk in the burning sun? As a consequence, my interest in minimalism was born.

backpack

Now you might think: “you want to minimize when you are carrying around only 17 kilograms of your belongings, are you crazy?” Before I explain myself better here, let’s start with figuring out where the idea of minimalism comes from.

The Origin of Minimalism

Minimalism started out as a movement nowhere else than the United States. Why do I say “nowhere else than”? Because minimalism is basically the opposite of consumerism, and the US with around 21.000 trillion dollars has the biggest consumer market in the world. China comes in second place with 33% less.

I believe it’s logical therefore, that the counterpart of consumerism was born there as well. Somehow there were people that realized constantly buying stuff isn’t the way to happiness. Prominent people in this movement at the time were, and still are, Leo Babauta of Zen Habits, Colin Wright from Exile Lifestyle and the Minimalists Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus. Nowadays, Matt D’avella, a famous YouTuber known for the Netflix documentary Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things, generates a lot of interest on the subject as well. He uses attractive documentary style filmed and edited YouTube videos to generate attention for the lifestyle.

These minimalists show that there are huge advantages in owning less. Some of them travel the world, others maintain a healthy bank account because of it, and others inspire newcomers.

The Strength of Minimalism

Now you might think, these people were far from the first to engage in lifestyles aimed at possessing less. This credo is a central part of Buddhism for example, Jesus didn’t have a lot either and there are plenty other prominent people in history that were already aware of the toxicity of owning a lot of stuff.

If there are alternatives to minimalism, the following question is only logical: “Do we need minimalism at all?”. Yes, I believe we do. Western society is about earning more, buying more and owning more. This process puts immense stress on our planet and adds little real value to our lives. Nowadays depression is the leading cause of disability on the planet and there is no way to buy yourself out of it.

Minimalism is an answer to these destructive consumerist tendencies. It’s a comprehensible philosophy: own less feel better. Most importantly though, it has a name. The simple fact that it has a name makes it easier for you to integrate it into your life. Further, it allows you to talk about it to your friends and to find the latest information by googling it. And by giving it a name you can identify with it. You can feel good and say, “I am a minimalist!”.

Stuff drags you down and don’t make you happy. They cost money and fill your life with emptiness. Throw them out and be happy again. That’s a lot easier to understand than the thousands of pages that come from religious scriptures.”

Minimalism and Western Society

A closer look at western society shows that minimalism is way better to help people live a simplified and meaningful life, than for example, religion. Here is why:

  • It’s recent. Religion has a hard time applying it’s thousands of years old scriptures to today’s rapidly changing society. As a consequence certain teachings become unbelievable. Minimalism on the other hand, talks about something that is relevant today and has a clear cut answer.
  • It has a direct answer on one of today’s major issues. Stuff drags you down and don’t make you happy. They cost money and fill your life with emptiness. Throw them out and be happy again. That’s a lot easier to understand than the thousands of pages that come from religious scriptures.
  • It reflects western society. Religion usually comes from one or two hard to understand books. Minimalism however, is on social media, blogs, YouTube and in easy to read books.
  • It is easy to identify with for citizens in Western Societies. Western citizens went to school, enjoy above average opportunities in life, and have to worry less about money than most of the world. This feeds into the philosophy of consumerism. Minimalism however, provides an alternative to this paradigm.
wall-closet

Getting Started

As I am a white male from north western Europe I had and have all the opportunities I could wish for. However, that filled backpack got me thinking anyway. As I mentioned before, I was carrying too much and at the same time I had a hard time finding my stuff. It turns out I am not that organized after all. A variety of people I have lived with over the years have notified me repeatedly of this quality, however, I only realized it recently. It’s hard to blame someone else for your mess when you are traveling by yourself.

Even though, I was already a minimalist by living out of my backpack, minimalism is not about having little things. It is about having the optimal amount of things. The idea is to live a life filled with things that actually add value. For me the trigger to think in this direction was the literal weight of what I was carrying, and the difficulty I had finding my stuff in a 60 liter backpack.

For you though, this could be a simple question: “What things around me do not add value to my life?”. If you realize that that’s most of your stuff, that’s ok. If you feel like it’s too much to get rid of all of it, that’s ok too. I think minimalism is a process that everybody can engage in on it’s own terms. What for the one means living out of a backpack, could mean to you organizing the attic or cleaning the garage.

organized-closet

As you get better at seeing what really adds value to your life, you will notice that most personal belongings don’t add any value.”

The Advantages of Minimalism

To finish this blog, here are the advantages of minimalism:

  • It’s fun. Minimalism is a sport you can get better at. At first it might be hard to reduce your belongings, but over time you see more and more what really adds value to your life and what doesn’t.
  • It saves money. You buy less so you spend less. At the same time you can sell all the stuff you don’t need anymore to earn some extra money.
  • It clears your head. You reduce the mess around you, which reduces the mess inside your head. Once you organize your surroundings with less distractions, you will notice the increase in concentration and peace in your mind.
  • It helps you reduce your environmental impact. You consume less so you create less waste.
  • It helps you generate time for the important things in life. Unconsciously all these things around you demand time. Be it to clean them, to organize them, to use them, to not break them, or worse even: think about them. With all that stuff out of your life you can enjoy time with your family, friends, do sports, travel or whatever makes you happy.
  • It shows you progressively how unimportant things are. As you get better at seeing what really adds value to your life, you will notice that most personal belongings don’t add any value. More and more you can disconnect, and live happily regardless of what you have or don’t have.
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Value and Money (2)

Last week I wrote the first part of this two part blog post. There, I wrote about how my vision on money has changed over time. In this second blog post on the subject, I will explain how I try to incorporate this vision to find the right balance between value and money in my life.

Starting off, I believe it most important that I should not be afraid to be without money. Or if I have money, to lose it. In a recent blog post on fear-based life, I wrote about how fear can corrupt my behavior and does not serve me at all except for life threatening situations. This is not the case though, when it comes to losing or not having money. Nevertheless, I am made to believe that only through money I can acquire what I need. Consequently, making me prone to be afraid of not having any, because I can not survive otherwise. However, this is not the case. The true things that seem to be allowing us to live long and happy are: purpose, social contact, physical activity and a balanced whole food diet. The question is then, for which of these do I really need money?

The more money I have though, the more afraid I tend to get. When I would barely have enough money to buy my food, I will only lose that option. But what if I have so much I can buy a Ferrari, a boat and a house? When I lose money then, it seems I am losing a lot more. That is the moment life stops right? I lost it all, or not? As soon as I start seeing that money is corrupting my worldview I can start making decisions based on value. At the same time I believe, that when I run out of money, helping hands will be extended from places I could not have imagined before.

The second thing that I think is essential, is to do something I believe is valuable. Then, if it really is, the people around me will eventually notice it’s value as well. Regardless if this is expressed in my job, the way I treat my friends or how I use my garden. I believe this mindset will eventually spread in to every part of my life. Consequently, because we created a society that expresses value in money, the things I do will eventually be payed for in some form.

Equally decisive though, in this process, is that I enjoy doing what I do. This is more true than it is cliché. If I want to live a life that is sustainable for me I should be motivated and content with what I am creating. This supports my creativity, reduces insecurity and fear, but above all attracts positivism from the world around me.

Then, another thing that is critical, is to let go of the idea of retirement. From my perspective, retirement is the biggest anticlimax built in to our working society. Not before my 65th birthday when my body starts failing me, I am “free” to do what I want. Ultimately living with the physical and mental consequences of having been enslaved to this idea all my life. However, when I disconnect my purpose from money and I am concentrating on creating value doing something I love, I see no reason to stop when I am 65. Simultaneously, when I am young and physically strong there are so many things to enjoy I can not at that time. I believe it better to use these opportunities now and to not worry about the effect this might have on my retirement. As things go, my future I am creating today.

My final point is, that I believe there is no gain above a certain living standard. Once I have a safe and comfortable place to live, hopefully in an area I love, quality food to enjoy, means of transport, and I am lucky enough to be able to acquire the usual technologies, I do not see my quality of life increasing after that. I can turn my Fiat in to a Jeep and my Huawei in to the newest Iphone, but what am I really gaining here? The amounts of money I need to spend only make me more afraid of what might happen because I spent so much in the first place.

I think everybody should find their own balance between value and money. Nevertheless, I believe it is important to take in to account the false perspective that was drawn in my life. When I break down these walls I am more free to chose my own direction. Maybe even taking in to account that all I need to live a happy healthy life is whole food, physical activity, social contact and purpose.