Minimalism and The Good Life: How and Why I Keep it Simple

Diogenes Sitting in his Tub by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1860); Image Source

In recent years “minimalism” has been on the rise, especially among millennials. The philosophy is not a new one. For example, influenced by Socrates, the ancient Greek Cynics practiced extreme minimalism, rejecting private property, money, status, power and the myriad social conventions predicated on these. Like modern minimalists, Cynics lived in regular society, in full public view. Like their forefather Socrates, they went without many possessions, but not without people. Despite its name, “Cynicism” was a friendly and social philosophy. The word “Cynic” actually derives from the Greek word for “dog-like” (κυνικός), which highlights the cynics’ dog-like way of life. In any case, from the very beginning of civilization people have been challenging the very values upon which civilization as we know it was built.

MINIMALISM AND MORALITY [It takes two to create inequality!]

Unfortunately, minimalism has come under fire for being a “privilege”; only the well-off have the “privilege” of choosing simplicity and simple living. To some extent, this is true. However, social and environmental justice are not achievable unless those with the means to live lavishly choose to live modestly and simply instead — until this becomes a social norm. The fact remains that we live in a country that constitutes less than 5 percent of earth’s human population and yet consumes 1/4-1/3 of earth’s resources!

But I did not intend to write a post about all the compelling moral reasons for practicing minimalism. I actually want to write about the wonderful practical reasons for practicing minimalism.

WHAT IS MINIMALISM? THE BASICS. [Less is More]

Minimalism is a lot of things. In general, it requires “decluttering” your life in a multitude of ways. So, for example, minimalist bloggers write about letting go of inauthentic or exhausting friendships, in addition to excess material possessions and big houses. They also strategize ways to remove “mental clutter” — by, for example, imbibing less media, meditating and leaving their crazy careers. Minimalists reduce demands on their time, cultivating the ability to not overcommit themselves. They are under-scheduled, not over-scheduled. They avoid the ‘busy trap’. They also tend to eschew debt in all its forms, since debt causes people to take on more than they need and to commit to more than they want.

WHAT ARE THE MAIN BENEFITS OF MINIMALISM? [Being present for one’s own life]

Basically, minimalists want to be present for their own lives. They tend to value reflection, creativity and meaningful connections and projects above all else — all of which require free time, rather than conventional status and stuff. Anything that does not directly contribute to these ends gets “minimized”, sometimes ruthlessly. (For example, many minimalists do without a vehicle, more than one outfit, a smart phone or even Internet at home!) However, the payoff is huge. The payoff is inner peacefulness, joy, real (rather than “fake”) friends and “true freedom” — i.e., the freedom to spend one’s time actively pursuing one’s own agenda rather than playing one’s part in the “American Dream”.

HOW I PRACTICE/PLAN TO PRACTICE MINIMALISM

  • All of my worldly belongings fit in or on my vehicle.
  • I do not own a smart phone or a TV. (I watch films on my laptop.)
  • I read the news once or twice a week (long-form journalism, not soundbites).
  • I check out books from my public library. I donate many of the books I purchase.
  • I have one social media account at a time, and I sometimes deactivate it.
  • I live in a very small house, and I am moving into a studio condo/housing co-op in the city (in close proximity to everywhere I need to go).
  • I currently work part-time but save/invest more than I earn. (Check out this blog.)
  • I cook vegan fare, using basic spices and oils. I buy local produce or grow my own.
  • I plan to eventually use walking, bicycles and buses as my primary means of transportation.
  • I try to minimize drama; I have time and energy for healthy relationships.
  • I meditate and journal regularly.
  • I cut my own hair and make my own lotions. I buy used, especially clothing, cookware, appliances and furniture.
  • I have no credit cards and no debt, including a mortgage, car loan or student loan. (I do keep one credit card for emergencies.)
  • For long trips I have used Greyhound buses (and plan to do this more!).

How do you practice minimalism? Comment here or write me at sarahruthjansen@gmail.com!

 

 

 

 

 

Author: sarahruthjansen

Sarah Ruth Jansen is an American scholar, philosopher, writer and outdoor adventurer. Between trimesters teaching philosophy in Minnesota Sarah bikepacked the Colorado Trail (Denver to Silverton) in 2014 and completed the cross-country Tour Divide Race in 2015. In 2016 Sarah won the Arizona Trail Race. You may contact Sarah at sarahruthjansen@gmail.com.

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