Minimalism: A Complete Introduction

This blog was originally posted at QuestforAuthenticity.org (I moved my blog to another web hosting). Please subscribe there at the bottom of the page if you wish to keep reading my content. Thanks a lot!

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.
Advertisements

Why You Should Reduce Effort

Less is more, something I have to remind myself quite often. I like to eat a lot, I move a lot and I tend to be obsessive, before balancing out. Regardless, if this is in school or with traveling. However, the more I go through the motions, I realize that the less I do, more seems to happen. There have been multiple occasions that I have trusted this mechanism. Nevertheless, as soon as life moves just a little back to the fast lane, this conviction tends to lose it’s presence.

Church of Progression

It seems that during my everyday life there is no place for this idea. As things go, the most visited church in the west, the church of progression, tries to make us believe that there is only one way to do things. This being, the necessity to engage in any working activity to earn and spend afterwards. Bigger car, bigger house, new clothes and fancier food. However, except for more materialistic well being and a sense of physical comfort, how does this serve me really?

The Value of Leaning Back

To optimally function as a human being, it is important to take a break at least as much as it is to do something. What I am made to believe nevertheless, is that if I want to achieve something, I need to do something. Even though, both the idea that only by doing something I can achieve, and the idea of what “achievement” is, are another two inventions of us humans. To let our body get better at what we do, we need to give it a rest, just like we need to give our brain a break to let it process.

Though, this way of tending to our mind and body seems to be subject to effort. If I do not engage in anything, I am lazy. However, those awesome ideas popping up in my head, that creative perspective or that life-changing realization usually do not enter my mind when I am staring away at a computer screen, or working purposeless on a project for some big corporation. When I manage to reduce the things I do though, let my brain do it’s thing, it will present me with plenty of useful information that I can apply in my life after.

The same goes for engaging in an activity. Being it cooking, a project at work or commenting on somebody littering in the street. If I do not “interfere” in any of these, does not mean there will not be the outcome that I desire. Apart from that being a matter of perspective, a negative experience might just be what I need to get me “ahead”. Regardless, if I notice this in the moment or not.

When I manage to reduce active engagement in my everyday life and decrease the amount of thoughts I interact with, there is time to notice in what direction the energy of my life is flowing. As soon as I notice, I can hop on this train and ride the flow, rather than pulling it all by myself.

No Need To Finish

This might mean that I could start something new, being it work, a project around the house or a friendship. Where after, I decide in the middle to leave it as it is. The fact that I leave something for what it is, and continue my life in another direction does not mean I leave things unfinished. Rather, I trust that what I am leaving it for, is what is right for me now. That I do not know if I get back to the initial thing I started, does not mean I will not. I believe this emotional agility allows me to learn on a wider spectrum. Eventually, this allows me to see that leaving something, actually means starting something new. Ending and beginning are mere concepts, and actually dissolve as soon as I adopt a cyclical view of life.

I know there is a time for everything. A wider perspective on the meaning of things happening to me, allow for easier acceptance of it’s presence. Also, allowing for better integration and sustenance in my life. Finally, mingling less with life’s direction and trying not to be afraid to follow gut, head, and heart when everybody around me thinks differently, help me to keep levitating on the cloud of life.