I never knew then that I was meeting an actual minimalist, when I crossed paths with Emily, a cardiologist who is currently residing in the Netherlands. But in her own subtle and exemplary way, she did introduce me to this concept early on.
Her house did the most of this poignant talk. As I opened the main gate, I could see a big garden with a not-so-fancy trampoline, swings and other stuff. It was Spartan in comparison to what I had seen so far, but still looked quite eye-catching. As I was looking around, she welcomed me and took me inside. Soon I caught myself rolling my eyes.
If you think all minimalists live by enduring life with only a small bunch of things and mostly struggling because they chose this path – well you, and I, both have been quite mistaken. Her house was pretty-fancy and actually didn’t look like a big plate with just a bean in it. I could spot there almost everything that is required for a healthy living life. That was when I realised how soon and how far wrong ideas about minimalism had spread. Has always meant different things and joys to different people. For a technical student from the University of California, minimalism means getting rid of 5000 pictures from his iPhone because that meant his phone felt a little better than before. In contrast, to a 56-year-old man, minimalism meant a synonym for salvation.
What really minimalism is then? This thought must have got in your nerves, isn’t it?
It’s not a Yard Sale. Not always
Often dubbed as minimalism-crusaders Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus define minimalism as a tool that helps a person in finding freedom. This Freedom could be from anything or anyone or from the evils within us. They also say that it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with owning material possessions. To them and some of their followers, minimalism helped them in eliminating discontent, reclaiming time, and living in the moment, focusing on their health and what not.
It is not always about focusing on what to throw, but on what to keep. The main idea about being a minimalist is quintessentially around retaining things which add value to our life. A minimalist doesn’t own much but whatever he owns, adds value to his life. Minimalism is about letting go and moving on. Da Vinci says it the best, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
Being a minimalist also excludes holding onto things which carry a memory with them because memories are carried in hearts and not materials. We are too much indulged into materialism and have been walking away from emotions and relations so much; that these days; we don’t really use things and love people – but vice versa.
If we look at a very long-running research from Harvard (80 years – the Harvard Study of Adult Development study) we will find that close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives. It is people and their ties, not things that protect people from life’s discontents; help to delay mental and physical decline; and are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ, or even genes.
Doing the Math
Adopting minimalism is also a way of questioning ourselves with brave thoughts: “Do I really need this or simply want this?” Or “How might this add value to my life?” before buying anything.
From what we gauge by what a woman from Southern California who took up minimalism has shared online, “I began my minimalism earlier this year and got rid of five carloads of items. I also sold things on Craigslist and eBay (sold $170 things in this week) and even hauled a pickup truck load of stuff to the dump. Through this I not only got rid of most of the things but also realised that this made room for peace and anxiety-free environment at my place.”
Yes, it is about letting of clutter. To do that, however, one needs an abundance mindset and not a scarcity mindset. Blogger Kate Jones brilliantly argues this as she compares Lagom and Minimalism. The Swedish concept of Lagom – that can be inferred as ‘not too much, not too little, just enough’ – has perhaps helped 5 Nordic countries park themselves in the top 10 of a 2016 Gallup report which ranked 156 countries by happiness. This is the same list where the UK stood at 23rd, and the USA at 13th. In fact, when one is anchored on social support and generosity – even so-deemed poorer countries can score highly on the happiness scale – like Brazil surpassing Singapore and Luxembourg.
That’s why Nordic countries fare better than the UK and USA, where competitiveness between individuals gets an impetus while in the Nordic culture , emphasis on collective effort is paramount.
The Scandinavian Law Of Jante even strongly discourages individual success and achievement as unworthy and inappropriate. In cultures like these, open displays of egotism or exhibitionism are seen as vulgar and distasteful.
That, somehow, does not fit well what see and show-off every day though. The more we can exhibit, the more we can find ourselves secure in having ‘arrived in life’. The more material possessions or holidays we can boast off, the higher social acceptance stamps we grab. And stinking of money etc. – that’s not counted in bad taste!
Little do we realise when this smell wipes off the whiff of happiness and peace. Everything today is time-bound and man is chasing the clock constantly, ending up being physically-tired and mentally-tense.
What does it take to be a minimalist?
Just some long-due introspection, I guess.
Minimalism, unlike some other movements, comes with no age limit. Anyone and from any strata or bracket can adopt it if one realises its true meaning.
Even if some adults think that a minimalist lifestyle is simply out of reach or implausible for where they are in their life-stages, the truth stands far away.
The principles of minimalism are completely within reach; no matter how old you are or how many children you have or where you live.
Minimalism comes with ways that are completely possible with children. Moreover, it is a lifestyle filled with benefits for them as well by etching in them habits like:
1. To live within their means
2. To feel contented with what they have
3. To get better in the sharing factor
4. To get rid of clutter they do not need
5. To live life as real as possible
The bottom-line is this – we are not in the control of things but, instead, we control the materials.
More so, in this cosmopolitan and yuppie-lifestyle world where the greed of wanting more and more always leads to disappointment, stress, tension and anxiety.
Initially, taking up minimalism might or might not be easy but if we forget about the process and look at the consequences, it is not just possible but quite tempting and rewarding.
It is a way of life that helps oneself to exercise self-control, and widens paths for happiness, peace and tension; resulting in an anxiety-free life. A simple way towards starting the journey of minimalism can be my cutting down 1 material procession from our lives each day for 30 days.
The pace is ours, the choice is ours and so is the joy that we squeeze out of it – totally ours.