This question is at the core of an intentional minimalist lifestyle because when we truly let this question spread throughout every part of our lives, few things are left to stay.
Look to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The above question is satisfied for every person by the bare minimums in this structure. Food, water, shelter, rest and security (minimum financial requirements incorporated) are built into the bottom two tiers.
The third tier includes our innate desire to be a part of community and be valued. This goes hand in hand with the fourth tier, esteem, that encapsulates our need to feel accomplished or good enough.
Minimalism (similar to stoicism) mends our struggles with the fifth tier, self-acceptance, in being okay with your potential achieved.
In theminimalists book, an exploration and subsequent action from the question, “what is most important to oneself”, leaves us with everything that remains. And everything that remains is enough (food, shelter, love, purpose). Minimalism is a lens- a question that seeks to guide you to the self-acceptance of who you are, unburdened and not defined by the stuff you possess. Seth Godin reminds us that you should not live in a deficit and “measure yourself against someone (there’s always someone) who has more (there’s always more) than you do.”
– As a college student, devoting time to study groups, gives back knowledge and time. Invest in the people in your closest rings.
– Look at your closet. Pick three items right now to move to a designated “give away” pile or box. Before doing anything else, locate the nearest shelter or food and clothing bank with open hours to bring your pile to after a week of downsizing this way. Invite your neighbor to join you. You will make connections and give back tangible amounts.
– Set a calendar reminder weekly to call a family member or old friend with whom you have fallen out of touch.
In the Bible, the book of Luke says, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
With the realization and admittance that the first four tiers are met to a satiable amount, you can begin to give back through your availability, disentangled finances and unbound love and creativity for people.
(note: i have intended to tell this narrative in writing for a long time with the intentions of further explaining why i write what i write. This account had to be written in frenzied outbursts and remains in long-form, not ideally, for the sake of the plot’s integrity. There are no experts in this story, and yet, everything remains as fact.)
In 2018, I experienced a life-changing paradigm shift.
I became a minimalist.
I began my search for the right college major as I approached high school graduation. I had always heard of the imperishability of a business degree and the high potential for someone to flourish in this field. Then I zeroed in on Accounting and Finance, the cash-cows of the business world.
*Median lifetime earnings (in millions) highlighting Accounting and Finance.
By the time I had researched the work details (a natural affinity for math helped with appeal) and metaphorically signed my soul away on the dotted line of the check I was preparing to work, blood, sweat and tears, for, I began planning my aspirations and five-year plan.
Then the waves came.
I was with a relative one week and was brought along to visit some of their colleagues. These people were very well off in the business world. Having recently decided to pursue the world these men inhabited, my proud relative was eager to display their kin’s pursuits. The successful enterprisers were eager to impress.
They grossly underestimated how little it would take to impress a fledgling entrepreneur, so by the third tale of multi-million dollar corporate hostile takeovers they had orchestrated, I was feeling overkill. My ambition to start the climb fell as these executives and managers (words here which mean, “he who executes” and “controller of man”… loosely) started to stifle my potential and, against my will, loft my plans to impossible heights of affluence.
Suffice it to say, I was confused after this meeting. Disenfranchised with the future I had been confident in, I wondered: what drives my ambition?
Money had never been an extreme motivator for me. I had always had it and intended to live an average life with it like I had grown up seeing. Business fit in my ring-house being a natural networker and big-picture viewer. The corporate ladder I planned to mount came into view. At its peak was a ceiling that I viewed as destructible given a big enough hammer. I wouldn’t stop climbing for anything. unchecked, I knew, I would push myself to achieve what I viewed as the “good life” and riches.
I realized in a moment, I did not want to be those men describing their corporate and personal lives in lavish detail. I did not want to be trapped by the captivation of promotions and corner offices. I broke down.
My entire life had been about winning with a capital ‘W’, and it would continue to be this way unless something changed.
Enter minimalism. I do not remember my first exposure to the community of minimalists across the country, but I remember the first time I heard the term itself.
Earlier in life, my mom pointed out something about myself that would go on to aid me in my pursuit of simplicity. When spring came one year, the project of “spring cleaning” became paramount in our home, as is tradition even to this day, and all my sisters, my dad and the dog were enlisted to serve. We were each assigned a list of things in our separate dwellings that needed to be considered for removal. Things like, old clothes, excess trophy’s and memorabilia, toys and books that we no longer used and any other spare items or knick-knacks that belonged at a thrift store or lawn sale.
As I departed to my side of the home, I began to comb through the closet, shelves and shadows beneath the bed. After about ten minutes, I had a few things to give away, but I still came away feeling less accomplished than my sisters who toted boxes of items to impart. Feeling dejected and full of disappointment, I returned to my supervisor with head hung low to my meager loot.
Seeing me forlorn, my mom responded in love. “It’s okay. You’re just a little bit of a minimalist” she said. I thought of percentages and proportions, as I was prone to do at times, and realized that I had actually found more to clean out per capita than my sisters because of the already small size of my belongings.
My foundation for this new lifestyle had already been laid as I was partly wired this way.* Part of my biggest struggle at the time was my love of business and the trap I saw in it. I wanted to be in the corporate world quite badly but had come to a crossroads in the life of my personal philosophical groundings. How I pursued my goals would be impacted by the habits and paradigms I incorporated into my life. I needed this change.
*This is not to say some are made for minimalism while others are not, it just shows my tendency to exhibit the minimalist characteristic of dispensing with “stuff” more readily.
Diving into the research, the lifestyle, the downsizing- I found solace for the first time in the ideas circulated. I was able to reconcile the warring lives within me by keeping my focus on the parts of my life that would matter for longer than ten years. As I pursue endeavors of success, I constantly haveto be aware of how and why I got to where I am today.
Reminding myself what I’d be if I wasn’t who I am…
I still am learning everyday what minimalism looks like as a complement to my faith and the views I have about life. A simple existence is not an easy pursuit these days and requires great intentionality, as I have found.
I’d like to address an adage whose implication’s are as far-reaching as the implications of the law of gravity.
Historian and Professor Cyril Northcote Parkinson published an essay in The Economist in 1955 supporting his postulation that,
“work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” – The Economist
The significance in this idea expands to some ideas available for microscopic scrutiny (and I wouldn’t be me without over-examining these few).
Watching shows like House Hunters or Flip or Flop on home improvement networks, we can see themes emerge in how many people purchase homes. You always hear the criteria for timid couples shopping for their starter home to be, none other than, their budget. They ask “how much can I get with the money I have?” They provide a little wiggle room for renovations and emergencies, but put their life savings into the biggest and best house an over-eager realtor can find for them.
Ignoring the norm that most of the “budgets” shown include the largest bank loan that can be received by these couples (with interest), homeowners have already lost value by forcing themselves to live in spaces too large.
CNN and many more surveys show that in the 30 years before 2013, home sizes have increased by almost 1000 square feet. All this in spite of the fact that family size decreased from 3.37 members in 1950 to 2.5 members in 2016, so that we are living with, on average, one less person in a home and one thousand more square feet of space from person to person. The implications of this fact upon the family is massive and leads to more than just surface level problems.
Constraint: How we fail to appreciate the finite nature of land and energy resources. Jimmy Carter talked about the energy problems facing America, and our growing homes only contribute to this coming crisis. North America has a limited number of space and an increasing number of inhabitants who consume land in economically inefficient ways that will impact the future potential growth of our expanding nation.
The “tiny house” movement, often ridiculed or glorified for only the true minimalists or “new ageists,” it is not too extreme an option for those who are serious about using land and finances responsibly. (I remember a good portion of my growing up years wanting to live in a PODS storage shell.I think I wanted to be closer to the dog.) But more options exist for those willing to support reducing our ecological footprint and improving lifestyles, from designing and building their own conservative homes, to just buying smaller (which coincidentally amounts to cheaper).
Separation: A matter closer to the heart is the disconnectedness of families in homes whose halls echo the shouts of households stranded apart. Here is a huge contributing factor, I believe, to the destruction of family structure, whether you believe a desolation here is occurring or not. Given larger living spaces, even with working-from-home parents, a modern family can go about their day entirely at ease without passing another soul in their house.
Adrian Crook, owner of a video game consulting business and author of the blog 5Kids1Condo, examines how little of our home’s social spaces like dining rooms or porch sitting areas Americans choose to use on a weekly basis. The excess space in a home and the declined family size shows us a trend in an opposite direction that upsets family dynamics and cannot be positive for the future of the communities that are the lifeblood of our society.
Stuff: Here we put Parkinson’s Law, tweaked slightly, into use. “Things” accumulate so as to fill the space available to it. Joshua Fields Millburn, a co-writer of Everything that Remains, perfectly captures the social imperatives we believe to be subject to-
“… my first inclination was, of course, to purchase the things I still “needed” for my new place. You know, the basics: food, hygiene products, a shower curtain, towels, a bed, and umm… oh I need a couch and a matching leather chair and a love seat and a lamp and a desk chair and another lamp for over there, and oh yeah don’t forget the sideboard that matches the desk……….” (many things later) “… And a rug for the entryway and bathroom rugs (bath mats?) and what about that one thing, that thing that’s like a rug but longer? Yeah, a runner; I need one of those, and I’m also going to need…”
This is how we accumulate, not skeletons in the closet, but cardboard boxes in closets filled with “things” that we we had a use for at one point.
But wait… I gave up on learning how to cook the perfect Soufflé with this kit. And I guess I don’t use this elliptical now that I have a gym membership. And when did I plan on acquiring the accompanying speaker for this stereo system? (I’m not guilt-free here in the slightest) We think these thoughts and continue living the same cluttered lives in our ever-growing, but empty homes.
***(Update– 17 June 2019: I fail to even mention the emergence of the $3.8 billion self-storage industry over the past 20 years that holds even more of our junkas the amount of “things” we own increasesyear by year)***
Playing devil’s advocate, one could cite the growing number of telecommuters who work from in-home offices and workspaces like some articles suggest. A brief glance at the history of telecommuters, though, reveals that with only 4.5% of Americans currently telecommuting and using space in homes, an increase of only about 2.5% since the 1980’s when the mode of working emerged.
I hold a deep conviction that the “stuff” we own amasses to the amount of space we let it have and a true belief that it is not “things” that add value to our lives, but purpose, connection and furthering our identity as humans. For this reason I write: not to hurl stones at those who have built walls in their comfortable American Dream homes, but to plead with the few ready for change. Those sick of falling into the societal norms that tell us how to live. The speech of commoners is what drives a movement to become a revolution.
Jimmy Carter, 39th President of the United States of America, has been the strongest advocate of the last century for minimalism as a lifestyle in the US.
Bold claim? Yes, but I believe that this undervalued exemplar (in word, act, belief and agenda) in our country vocalized the core values of the true minimalist movement with urgency, heart and integrity.
The democratic Georgia native served as governor in his home state for four years before being elected president in 1976 amid the conclusion of the Vietnam War. Carter may best be known for his strong humanitarian efforts after he left office as his time in office yielded mixed opinions from both sides of the political aisle. His second act in office was to pardon draft-evaders of the war and would go on to highlight, not the battles waging across the sea, but a different battle on American soil.
On July 15, 1979, Jimmy Carter delivered one of the most misgiving addresses to the nation made by a President in his “Crisis of Confidence” speech, often called his “malaise speech” that managed to call out a nation for problems with its overconsumption and wastefulness. From the address:
“In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption.“
Carter’s two biggest legislative moves in his term centered around energy and oil as major players in commerce and production that (literally) fueled a consumer-driven culture. He believed he could wield these two powers to direct society away from the idea ingrained that “human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns” (Crisis of Confidence). In his book, Our Endangered Values, he talks about how the “new economic philosophy in Washington is that a rising tide raises all yachts,” expressing frustration to a nation not willing to give back and support societal efforts, favoring investments in personal gain and material wealth.
“…we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.“
In this line, Carter strikes upon the feeling that so many, myself included, have discovered within themselves in their lives. He stresses the core struggles that push many to become minimalists as a world dominated by advertisement and alluring Amazon purchases disenfranchises those who truly seek meaning in their lives.
Not as often as it praises the benefits of the lifestyle does minimalism degrade the culture that it is so counter-intuitive to in this time. Carter’s, “premonition” (my own term) of where our country was headed is rooted in the idea that we have begun to lose our identity in things that do not add value to our lives.
One needs look no further than Black Friday shopping spree videos (‘spree’, an understatement defined as a “sustained period of unrestrained activity”) or the increasing sizes of homes and spaces we fill with our “stuff.” Generational and technological change have created a culture that has lost confidence in who they are. We put societal “value” in things that are cheap and easy to come by, if one spends enough credit. Identity is devalued and misplaced in the things we own instead of who we are as a people. We have unified around ideas like greed and competition that create a culture of fear and fraudulence.
I am hesitant to write so despondently, but as we look ahead at the future of our children and country, Carter’s words are needed to be heard more today than ever…
“This is not a message of happiness or reassurance, but it is the truth and it is a warning.” ~Jimmy Carter
An interesting supplement to developing a minimalistic lifestyle I have found is the ancient philosophy of Stoicism. A Grecko-Roman methodology adapted today to be a framework for making better decisions and training oneself to be less reactive, ancient Stoicism spawned from many teachings of Socrates on ethics and rationale. Stoicism directly informs a minimalistic lifestyle in its adherence to simple living ideas, its focus on one’s self rather than one’s “stuff” and its goal in reconnecting people in community through shared bonds.
Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants…
Simple Living: Seneca said that philosophy (specifically stoicism as he held to it) “calls for simple living” and “conformity with nature” (Letters from a Stoic). In the same way, minimalism today is “simple-centric” (my own term) and some habits I use to try and reconnect soul with nature by first directing the mind out of distraction pair very well with stoic mindfulness teachings. Practitioners of both minimalism and stoicism use meditation as a way to slow oneself throughout the day and find peace of mind about the chaos in the world. As I have paired down the number of things in my life, I have tried to hold to many stoic precepts about the importance (or rather unimportance) of “things.” Marcus Aurelius said, in his published diary, Meditations, “how swiftly all things vanish away.”
Identity: Likewise, Seneca spoke of our identities linked to our belongings saying, “anyone entering our homes should admire us rather than our furnishings” (Letters from a Stoic). This can be seen to an extent in Minimalistic architecture and design, but also in how people practicing Minimalism build their lives. By designing my life around the things that truly matter and will not fade so swiftly, I am able to lead an intentional life with less clutter and more freedom.
Reconnection: The final kinship shared between these two methodologies is in their emphasis on reconnecting with the people around us in the truest sense.“The first thing philosophy promises us is the feeling of fellowship, of belonging to mankind and being members of a community” (Seneca, Letters from a Stoic). As Joshua Fields Millburn of theMinimalists says, “Love people, use things. The opposite never works.”
“And this you will only achieve in one way, by convincing yourself that you can live a happy life even without (riches), and by always regarding them as being on the point of vanishing.”
One final word about the duality of these two applied lifestyles that are adapting to our evolving culture: Stoicism is a philosophy and minimalism is purely a lifestyle that has no established connections to the antiquated worldview. While supplementing Stoicism in parts of my personal life has been effective, it is not something that created the part of my identity that is being a minimalist. It simply helps me organize parts of the chaos…