There is a funny universal, among the minimalists I have met and corresponded with. We all feel the need to “confess our sins.” If the conversation goes on long enough, someone will say something to the effect of, “Well, I’m not as minimalist as some people…You see, I have [service for 8, two cars, a winter and summer wardrobe, a couch, a television—with no or limited cable, of course–or some incredibly indulgent cultural excess like that].”
Even here, I’ve felt the need to “come out” as a hypocrite. I worry about my own authenticity. Yes, I have a 12-piece wardrobe and 3 plates. But I’ve also got three cars, a tent full of mopeds, and even a projector that we use to watch movies. Who was I to call myself a minimalist? If I purged more, maybe…I have to admit that the whole 100 possessions thing kind of appealed to me, because I would have a concrete way of knowing and showing that I’d “arrived.”
Arrived where, exactly?
What is the point of minimalism? Why are we so drawn to the concept, to the purging and decluttering? What are we trying to accomplish? Are we trying to gain acceptance into a very small, very elite clique? Are we trying to find an identity for ourselves? What are our motives?
I think, to a degree, we are searching for our identity. We are trying to gain acceptance, among like-minded people.
But we were like-minded before we worried about gaining acceptance. There was something else that drew us to this lifestyle.
I often find myself thinking of the folk song, “Simple Gifts,” which is, more than anything else, a summary of the philosophy of voluntary simplicity. “’Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free. ‘Tis the gift to come down, where we ought to be. And when we find ourselves in the place just right, ‘twill be in the valley of love and delight.”
When we find ourselves in the “place just right,” we will be in the “valley of love and delight.”
That is our destination, and that is what drew us to this lifestyle. It’s the belief that by living simpler than the rest of society, by having just enough, we will be happier with our lives.
It’s about spending less time accumulating and managing possessions.
It’s about living in a calm and uncluttered environment.
It’s about being more mindful of the world around us.
And, yes, reducing the number of material possessions that we own is central to accomplishing these goals. Before embracing minimalism, I found myself constantly stressed out, unable to multi-task and make decisions as well as I would like to. I did not have time for hobbies, because I was always cleaning my house (which never looked clean, by the way). I found myself unable to relax at home, because everything was so cluttered and unsightly. We never had guests over, because our house was such an embarrassing mess. We spend a crazy amount of time looking for things that we needed, but couldn’t find, because they were buried in the clutter.
So we’ve pared down. We’ve pared down a lot. And we’ll pare down some more, over time. But the paring down has all led to making our lives easier.
I have only one outfit to wear, each day of the work week, so I don’t have to spend time wondering what to wear. I go to the closet, grab the day’s outfit, and go.
We have three plates, so that our dishes do not pile up. We eat, wash the plates, and put them away.
We don’t keep things that we do not use, so that our house looks clean and uncluttered.
Because we have less to put away, we spend much less time cleaning.
It’s all about making things easier, less stressful. Not about being as “extreme” as possible with it. It’s about finding the “place just right.” And it’s different for everyone.
If you host frequently, your life will probably be much less stressful if you do have service for 8.
If you both commute to jobs in different towns, you probably will be happier with two cars.
If you want to sit and watch PBS in the evening, to unwind, go for it!
The funny thing is, this all seems more common-sense than counter-cultural. But it is counter-cultural, because our culture is all about excess. We’re shown images of consumption, of trendiness, of houses filled with “conveniences” (that really don’t make life more convenient). It’s gotten to the point where we have to train ourselves to just have what we need, to live a simple, sane life.