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.

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 voluntarily choose to live modestly and simply instead — until this becomes a cultural value and a societal 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. It is foolish to assume we will ever achieve equality within our country without addressing our prominent role in global inequality.

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 (or else negotiating more reasonable conditions and hours). 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 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 a few outfits, 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 passively playing one’s part in the American nightmare.

HOW I PRACTICE MINIMALISM

  • All of my worldly belongings fit in a 650-square foot condo.
  • I do not own a smart phone, a TV or car. I walk or bicycle everywhere.
  • I check out books from the library. I imbibe long-form journalism, not soundbites.
  • I buy (mostly used) products that can be made to serve multiple functions.
  • I minimize drama and poor friendships; I have time/energy for good relationships.
  • I use no credit cards, and I possess no debt. (Or rather, no debt possesses me!)

How do you practice minimalism? How might you incorporate minimalism into your life?