Like mindfulness, minimalism gets a bad wrap sometimes. Both are often misunderstood, misquoted and often get people from western culture thinking that you have to sit cross-legged humming with incense burning to practice it. Also like mindfulness, minimalism is catching fire in our western culture, and mindfulness concepts and practices are making a huge difference with people suffering from depression, anxiety and PTSD. They are being integrated more and more into traditional Western medicine practices, this is a good thing.
Minimalism also originates in ancient Eastern philosophy, however it has taken on a whole new role in our American fast paced technology driven society. More and more I am seeing posts on social media and in the news that are talking about things like tiny houses, or phrases like, “reduce your clutter and reduce your stress”. So what is minimalism really all about and what does it realistically look like for people in suburbia?
Lets start with some frustrations I have when I do some reading and learning on these topics. I often feel like if I don’t sell my house, cars, and material possessions and go live in a tiny house, I am not really doing the work, I am not really making changes and living better. The stories in a lot of these books and blogs are always seem very extreme and drastic. They gave up everything to live simply, or sold it all and moved to a foreign country. And my heart goes out to those that were forced to make the drastic changes because of a job loss or major medical challenge.
The bottom line is, I like my Jacuzzi, don’t make me get rid of it. Does that mean I can’t practice minimalism concepts if I keep it? Taco Bell Doritos Locos tacos are probably the greatest fast food invention in my lifetime, but they are not paleo or organic. Am I a fake if I eat one? Stop making me feel guilty for occasionally enjoying some of these things. Deep down I know they are not trying to make me feel guilty, it is my own “stuff” that does it, but it does feel like that sometimes.
I am working on my physical fitness and diet, we canceled cable TV, donated a lot of stuff to good will and no longer spend $300 at Target every time we walk in. We shop organic as often as we can and read about this stuff all the time to find other small practices we can integrate. However, you will have to pry my IPhone out of my cold dead hands. We have traveled more and experienced more in the last couple years than the previous 35 combined. It has all been with some intention and purpose. I am not telling you this to brag, only to show you that it has been a slow process that is not and never will be done. It looks different for everyone.
The basics of minimalism are living with only what you need. There are great stories out there of people like Colin Wright who travels to places based on his blog readers’ votes and carries everything he owns with him in a backpack, I applaud you sir. That is just not realistic for a lot of us. Over the last several years my wife and I have worked really hard to change our thinking about how why spend our time and money. I have thought a lot about the treadmill of suburbia. The mortgages, car payments, swim lessons, gym memberships, credit cards, etc. It seems to be a never-ending cycle in where there is no way to get ahead. Maybe selling everything and wiping the slate clean is the right answer for you. For me, the right answer has been taking a hard look at what we can get rid of or donate that we are not using, and how can we spend more wisely in the future. Stuff in our houses and lives does weigh us down psychologically, and lightening the stuff around me has been a beneficial psychological practice. It literally and mentally creates space. Space for what has become more important to me, like family time and traveling.
Maybe it is time to have that garage sale, but this time do it with intention and purpose. Minimalism isn’t about how much stuff you get rid of, or how few things you can live with. It is a perspective and thought process to daily living that focuses on what truly is important to you and how you allocate precious resources like time and money.